As we read through the Book of Jeremiah you can’t help being struck by the similarity between the sins of Judah and the sins of the world today. If God warned Judah of the coming day of judgment for its sin and rebellion against God, can we expect God to permit our sin and rebellion to go on forever? In the heart of Jeremiah’s message, the leaders of the nation Judah, had failed God and failed His people in two important areas of their leadership responsibilities. They had permitted the destruction and scattering of the people of Judah. Can that same charge be laid on the leaders of our nation today? Leaders are to view themselves as ‘shepherds’ of the people, watching over them…not controlling their everyday lawful lives, but defending their rights, and protecting their lives, well-being, and property. So, what are presidents, prime ministers, representatives, governors, and so forth expected to do, in God’s view? As citizens we have the challenge of not giving to Caesar what belongs to God, or to God what He has entrusted to Caesar.
In the second century AD, a respected Roman scholar, Celsus, leveled an incredible accusation of atheism against Christians. Because believers in Jesus Christ did not worship the gods of Rome or revere Caesar as a god, he charged them with adhering to treasonous, atheistic beliefs. Their radical worldview subjected them to oppression at the hands of an unsympathetic government. Whatever persecution came their way, those early Christians endured it. Today in many parts of the world, that persecution continues.
During World War II, Christians were among the boldest defenders of another oppressed peoples group. Devout believers played a major role in organizations such as the Dutch resistance and the French underground that opposed Nazi aggression. Most of these heroic resistors used peaceful means of protest. Some, however, engaged in acts of violence. The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis for his part in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. A few years later, another Christian at odds with certain aspects of the government took a path that he called ‘nonviolent direct action’. In his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “There are two types of laws: just and unjust…One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” He had been arrested for demonstrating without a permit. When was the last time you heard such a message from the pulpit of your church?
As long as we have had human government, there have been citizens who disagreed with the policies, decisions, and activities of those governments. Such dissent can escalate into a crisis. It is then that national leaders must make a crucial decision. Should the government use the sword to force compliance? If they do, will it be for the legitimate good of the people? Or will it be for the government’s own self-advancement? History has given us examples on both sides of the equation: The American civil war and the German invasion of France are only a few. Today, we have an aggressive nation…Russia…invading a small peace loving democracy…Ukraine. This is blatant Communist aggression and when liberal/progressive policies support Communist policies, they must take equal responsibility for this war type invasion.
We sometimes condemn conservatives for wanting to take a stand against such aggression, but is ignoring aggression what God’s Word would have Christians doing? Citizens must decide. Should they take the risks of protest and military action on behalf of a just cause? Do they owe the government the discipline of due process, patience, and respect for authority? What if that government has not earned respect? Where should the line be drawn. We must temper our need for social accountability and law enforcement with an awareness that governments…like all human institutions…will fall short of the purposes for which they were established.
We will now get into an area of God’s Word that may be difficult to understand or even accept no matter how much we want to live our lives in compliance with God’s Word. I must be truthful…it is difficult for me. From some source…I have a warrior spirit and want to take a stand against injustice when I see it.
Two familiar statements from the New Testament comprise the scales on which our considerations of faith and state must be weighed:
Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 13:1)
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are established by God. (Romans 13:1) I would imagine that even Hitler, Stalin, Tojo, and Putin, etc. could agree to this. Should we thank God for these tyrants?
As humans we have twin pillars to uphold…the overarching truth of our dual citizenship.
> We must know what belongs to God.
> We must know what God has entrusted to the state.
We are citizens of the kingdom of God as well as the nation or state in which we live. Here is our challenge: Do we have a moral duty to comply with the authority of human government? That’s the same government that has given us same sex marriage, abortion, pornography as a freedom of speech, etc. How can we make sure that we are not giving to the state something that belongs only to God…and to God, what He has entrusted to Caesar?
For a moment, let us try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus’ disciples. These men had been invited into the inner circle of the future ‘King of Israel’. In doing so the disciples anticipated political liberation. Shockingly, Jesus taught His followers to respect even a pagan ruler. I refer back to Romans 13:1,5. Paul urged his audience to recognize the God-given authority of a head of state who required worship of himself. Paul’s intent was to encourage us to honor leaders, secular or pagan, who deserve the kind of law-abiding compliance that God-given authority merits. We were not told to honor our leaders because we agree with their personal character or public policies. He explained that God instituted government to restrain lawlessness. Here is where I find much to question. What if that authority has instituted practices and laws that are themselves in violation of the Word of God? Romans 13:4-5 somewhat counters this approach by showing that civil authority acts on God’s behalf to maintain order, uphold justice, punish wrongdoing, and restrict violence. Laws against murder, rape, robbery, vandalism, bribery, and fraud reflect God’s value on human life and personal property rights. Then I must ask…what if the authority expects the citizens to obey the laws when the authority itself is violating them? Is it the intent of Jesus and the apostles for us to respect and honor positions of authority and not individuals in those positions? Paul knew what it meant to face leaders who unfairly exercised religious and civil authority. What if the government tells us to renounce our faith, abort our children, accept the abomination of same sex marriage, or serve in a military waging an unjust war? Actually, the Scriptures make it clear that respect for leaders does not mean unqualified compliance. “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20), spoken after the Jewish rulers forbade Peter and John from talking about the resurrection of Jesus. These apostles were not criminals because they took a stand against authority. The courage to comply with God’s Word rather than obeying human leaders who make sinful decisions is one thing. Dishonoring those leaders is another. We can show honor while respectfully dissenting and disagreeing, but nonetheless we must be willing to take a stand. The liberal/progressive/communist element would want to deprive citizens of that ability while at the same time those who are willing to take a stand must be backed by religious leadership that is not afraid to take a stand against those who would violate God’s Word and inflict injustice on those taking a Godly stand.
Next week we will continue to look at government impact on society and how that impact can be and not be in compliance with God’s Word.
“God’s purpose for our lives is that, in everything we experience…even as we endure hardships…our joy would increase.” A Nation in Crisis by Ray C. Stedman