Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Christians and the Government

There is a wide variety of opinions on how Christians should relate to the government and politics.  We have on one extreme, those who do not even feel they should vote.  On the other hand, you have those Christians who just about see the Constitution as part of Scripture.  Today I want to see what the Bible says about how we should relate to government.  I am speaking particularly of America today.  The prevailing Scripture often cited is Romans 13:1-7.  Let's take a walk though those verses.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.  Romans 13:1-2 NKJV
We see from the start that God is the one ultimate authority.  All authority on earth is appointed by God.  Therefore, those who are in authority are in their position by the will of God.  Now I know many of you are thinking that so many leaders are evil, reprobate, ungodly, and are leading the nation astray.  This is nothing new.  God appointed Saul, who turned against God.  If you look at the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible, you will see many evil kings raised up by God.  Jesus even told Pilate that his authority was given by God.  God raised up evil nations for judgment many times.  God does this because we have, as a nation, forsaken him.  The leader is a reflection of the heart of those who are led.  In other words, we get what we deserve.  This is especially true in America where we elect our leaders and our constant compromise of voting for the less of two evils has led us to where we are today. 

In America today, as in many other countries, our ultimate earthly authority is not a king, but a document.  In America, the Constitution is our ultimate authority and just as our leaders are (supposed to be) bound to it, so are we.  I do believe that as Christians, we have the right to resist government that is contrary to our governing document.  I believe that we have a right under God to hold our leaders accountable to the document is our highest earthly authority. 

As Christians, we also recognize that God is the ultimate authority.  God's Law goes beyond our officials and even our Constitution.  We are never to follow man's law when that law is contrary to the law of God.  We see the examples of Paul and the other apostles, the early church, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego, and many others who righteously resisted earthly authorities when those laws were contrary to God.  One thing to note is that all of these examples accepted the earthly punishment for their actions.  Some were miraculously saved by God and some were not, but all accepted with joy the sufferings for Christ and became (even in death, torture, and imprisonment) great witnesses to the Glory of God.  The became martyrs and heroes to our faith. 
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  Romans 13:3-4 NKJV
Many people see this as a limitation for us as Christians.  While it does give us guidelines, I believe it is just as much if not more a limitation on government.  Christians should not perform evil under any circumstances, so this is nothing new.  It is merely warning Christians of the earthly consequences of those actions. But it also limits government.  Government is appointed to be God's minister for good.  If we are living rightly, the government has no authority to judge us.  If we are living as evil, the government has the responsibility to judge us.  Unfortunately, that is not so in today's world.  Evil things (such as abortion) go unpunished and righteous things (praying in many places) are considered illegal.  We do not have to obey a government that oversteps the authority granted to it by God for God as the ultimate authority has placed limits on the power He has given them.

Now there are also many laws that are not good or evil, but just for general governance.  I speak of things like speed limits and stop signs etc.  The rule is to obey laws except when they are contrary to God's law.  There is nothing ungodly (or even unconstitutional) about traffic lights and speed limits.  Many laws are annoying and make our lives more difficult, but that is a consequence of our own state of affairs and who we as a nation elect to office. We are to obey those laws because to disobey them is to disobey God.
Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. Romans 13:5 NKJV
The reason we subject ourselves to the prevailing government should not just be out of fear of retribution, but also for conscience sake.  If it were merely for fear of wrath, we would obey even laws contrary to God.  If it were merely for fear, the law would take precedent of God because we are only to fear Him.  Conscience is a matter of the heart and the heart is under the jurisdiction of God alone.  We do good not because the government tells us but because that is what God expects of us.  We do not do evil because it is unpleasing to God.  We follow the law of man because we follow God.  God, as the ultimate authority, appointed those in power over us and therefore we are not following government for government's sake, but out of our obedience to God. 
Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.  Romans 13:7 NKJV
I see so many Christians disrespecting our president or other government officials they disagree with.  While I do not agree with our current president, I do have respect for the position he is in and so I will not resort to slander and name-calling.  We are to honor those who are due honor.  And the title of president deserves that honor and respect.  We are also to pay our taxes.  Yes, taxes are burdensome, but is that not what God promised would happen when man rejected the direct authority of God?  Our burdensome taxes are the result of man choosing to follow man rather than God.  We are not to try to cheat the government.  Even Jesus himself said to pay taxes. 

One more passage is commonly used in man's relation to government. 
And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:16-21 NKJV
Many of us disagree with what our tax money is used for.  It pays for so many things that are contrary to God and many are hard-pressed to feel right about paying into an evil system.  Jesus teaches us here that we are to pay into that system our due taxes.  The Romans were not a godly group of people and that tax money went to fund destructive armies, lavish sinful lifestyles, worship to false gods, and more.  Jesus made the interesting statement about rendering unto Caesar his due in terms of taxes along with rendering to God what is God's.  The fact is that not paying taxes does not change the system.  It does not change the hearts of those who use the tax money for sin.  Government may have due the money, but God has due our hearts.  To change the evil things that government does, the answer is to change the hearts of those who serve in that government.  In our system, that involves changing the hearts of the nation that votes for those men and women.  In order to change those lives, we have to live ours for God as the light and salt of the earth.  We have to share and live the Gospel to change our nation's heart towards God.  Not paying your taxes is pointless and in the end it is the easy way out.  Live the life God has called you to live and you will have an effect. 

And finally, what does the Bible say about participating in government and politics.  The Bible is full of examples of men of God who were both religious and civil leaders.  We have many of the judges, King David, Joseph, Daniel, and more.  There is much Biblical precedence for being involved in politics. Furthermore, being involved is part of being obedient to God and our government.  Our form of government is a participatory one.  We all have a right to vote, to speak our mind, to protest, to seek redress in courts, and to petition the government.  God has given us those rights through our government by virtue of our humanity. It would be wrong for us to sit idly back when evil runs rampant with our government's consent when we have the right and responsibility to make our views known and try to change that.   We can run for office, vote for righteous leaders, petition courts when an evil law is passed, protest evil policies, petition our elected officials to affect their vote as a representation of us.  We have those rights and we need to take full advantage of the good gifts God has given us in that regard.  To do so would be to be disobedient to our following a system of the people, by the people, and for the people.  If we do not represent ourselves in that system, then we share the blame for the moral decay and subsequent judgment of our nation.

If you want to live as a Christian in this land then you have to participate. If you want to change the heart of the nation, we have to speak and live the message of the Gospel to change the hearts of the people.  Above all, though, we need to pray.  Prayer is not the act of last resort, but the initiator of all our actions.  Pray for guidance in how you participate and even more pray for those who lead us.  If you want to live in peace, pray for those who are your leaders.  God would not have asked us to do it, if He did not plan to affect the hearts and minds of our leaders through it.
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV

1 comment:

  1. Catching up on your blog after a busy week. Another good message Ben.

    I fear that too many Christians on both the left and the right look to politics and politicians as a means of ushering in the Kingdom. An encouraging and thought provoking message. Keep it up!