As history marches onward, one anthem rings louder and louder in an ever-increasingly poly-religious nation: we must maintain the separation of Church and State! And while it is most certainly true that we desire to have the freedom of religion, and that we do not want the state regulating how we run our churches and conduct our worship services, it is also true that within the democratic federal republic mindset, the government should represent the values of her people. Laws should define right and wrong, and because we are citizens we have a say.
So should we leave our religion at home when we consider presidential candidates, new laws and our submission to the government as a whole? Is our religion simply for the well being of our soul, while our nation is for the well being of our livelihood?
The Bible tells us the history of the people of God, from the beginning of time, through the choosing of the people of Israel – their successes and failures, to the coming of the Messiah and welcoming of all nations into the Kingdom of God and the command to draw people in from every corner of the Earth. The Biblical and godly form of government exemplified for us in Scripture is a Theocracy. God set up the nation of Israel as one who had no king except Him. Eventually the people rebelled and wanted a human king, and after only three, the kingdom was divided and the nation suffered for replacing God’s leadership with man’s. The nation crumbled and suffered many oppressions and captivities. By the time Jesus came, the Israelites were under the rule of the Roman Empire, and as governments have come and gone over the last two-thousand years, there has never been another Theocracy as God established for Israel. There has never been another government that was perfectly aligned to God’s will, and there has never been another “Christian nation” or “nation of God”, even though many erroneously believe The United States to be just that.
Jesus and Paul both gave very clear instructions for living under worldly governments:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due;custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
– Rom 13.1-7
Even though Theocracy no longer exists, there is no government throughout history or around the world which God has not placed in power. God is sovereign over kings and rulers, just as He is over the wind and the seas. In this passage, Paul is speaking directly to the average citizen who has no say in the government. Laws that have been established by the government must be obeyed, if they do not contradict God’s moral and perfect Law. We know from history, from Biblical examples, that it is good and right to disobey the government when it seeks to establish worship for the leader (Dan 3), and it is also good and right to stand up to authorities who would silence or witness of the Gospel (Acts 5.29). But as a citizen who has no ability to impact the making or enforcement of laws, we should subject ourselves and honor the government that God has in place – even if it is a dictatorship or oppressive regime.
Living in a society where the individual is valued and every citizen is given a voice to contribute, however, we have a unique circumstance through democracy. Our voice can still be heard! We have a legal right to stand up for what we believe, and laws that protect us in verbalizing what we believe. So then, as a Christian, to whom do we credit all morality? God. God has revealed Himself to everyone through creation and conscience (Rom 1), and therefore everyone has the basic moral and ethical law of God written on their hearts. Some have dulled their senses to these elementary truths through a variety of means, but we believe that God is the author of morality and thus there is an absolute truth when it comes to basic human actions. Murder. Theft. Adultery. Lying. These things are all morally reprehensible because God said so, and most of humanity would agree.
The intricacies of how these truths apply to government can be difficult. But many have given their lives to the discipline of Biblical interpretation and governmental application. William Wilberforce is one such man. And we as Americans are encouraged to speak up to impact our nation. Therefore, we as believers, not only have the platform but the right to be the voice of Christians nationwide in our government.
When a government breaks God’s moral law, we then have the expectation upon us to disobey. “We must obey God rather than men” should be our life theme (Acts 5.29). If the government condones the murder of babies, then we must stand up to protect the defenseless (Ps 82.3). If a government becomes so corrupted that it is using the full force of it’s national influence to murder and entire ethnic group, then we must oppose the government as a whole, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did during World War II in Nazi Germany.
So in short, should Christians keep their faith to themselves and stay out of politics? Most assuredly not. We understand that no man can come to salvation except for the drawing of the Holy Spirit in His life, and therefore we cannot and should not command or expect a person to become a Christian by any force, especially governmental (John 6.44). We must also be careful to not affiliate governmental power with religious piety, else we will be overrun with false converts who are seeking power and not God – much like the Roman Empire did after the reign of Constantine. But we, as Christians, must uphold God’s moral law and since we are given the opportunity to impact our government by becoming a part of it, by voting, and by speaking out against injustices, we most assuredly should get as involved in politics as possible: all to the glorification of God and upholding of His law.