Dave spoke this morning on Luke 20:20-26 TNIV, focussing on the question as to what the Christian response to the government of our country should be. Since this is the prayer topic for August, it’s important to think about such issues, since often we feel very ambivalent about politics and what our response as Christians ought to be.
Spies were sent to keep a close watch on Jesus, hoping to catch him out by asking the question ‘is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ They reckoned this was a question demanding a yes/no answer and that either way would trip Jesus up. If he said yes, he could be accused of being a tool of Roman oppression; if he said no, he would be open to accusations of being an insurrectionist.
Jesus’s response was not yes or no, however. He asked about the inscription on a denarius coin and said, ‘Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’
The question about the relationship of personal faith and politics has been asked throughout history. Paul tells us that the institution of human government (also known as the ‘state’) is a gift from God (see Romans 13:1 TNIV). Peter echoes these views in 1 Peter 2:13-16 TNIV. It’s easy for us to be cynical and doubtful about governments, but clearly there is a role for government to restrain evil: as Brooke Alexander writes, ‘The State is called upon to act as God’s firm hand, restraining…by effective force if necessary… the expansion of evil and chaos.’ It is not the State’s role, however, to try to renew spiritual life. There will always be a separation of State and Church because governments so easily step outside God’s intentions for the State, being made up of sinful men!
Just as Jesus didn’t allow Peter to use the sword (He gave that prerogative to the State), neither did He give the keys of the Kingdom to Caesar, but to the Church. If we are to follow what Jesus taught in this passage in Luke 20, then we need to respect authority in political matters but must also give to God what is God’s:
1. We should remind elected officials, by vote and voice, of their God-given duties when they fail to carry these out. If government fails to restrain evil, to preserve order, to protect the defenceless and to promote justice, Christians should speak out about these things. If governments claim power to dictate religious values or persistently violate the higher law of God, Christians have a responsibility to prophetically and strenuously challenge this.
2. Christians can render honour to God and improve the work of the State by stepping forward to serve in the public arena. Christians have been at the forefront of many campaigns to bring about change (the abolition of slavery, the gaining of civil rights, tackling pornographic and drug trades in many neighbourhoods etc.) God’s people, modelling Christ-like love and a persevering commitment to reason intelligently, to listen humbly and to exert creative influence through the political process, have the power to see change occur through their servant leadership.
3. Christians need to ‘come out of the closet’ about their faith. Will Durant has said, ‘The greatest question of our time is whether people can live without God.’ We need to speak out about our faith and not be intimidated. As columnist Michael Novak observed in Forbes magazine, “If you seek a sopiritual community, a link to a higher purpose, a renewal of the honest questioning and courage that are at the base of an ethic worthy of the human person, you don’t simply join a political party. You join… a church.” We have a duty to share Christ with others – not using the political forum as a place for insensitive Bible-banging, but understanding that justice, equality and reconciliation cannot be fully explained in humanist terms alone.