Most would like to keep the sacred and the secular at polar opposites of the conversation when it comes to politics and the pulpit, however to say that the one has no relation to the other is to say that the sovereign King of all does not have a say in the theory of politics that he himself gave man as a gift.
Though this might be the sentiment of most believers and unbelievers alike, if Christians hold biblical conviction and those who operate in the political realm of government truly want to see success in their respective corners, the culture today cannot deny that there is a close tie between Jerusalem and Athens.
We have already discussed if Christians should be active in the setting up of and involvement in government (which is a resounding yes), however the next question arises, since Christians should be involved in the setting up and maintaining of government, what should be the role of government?
To better set up this idea, I would like to set up first the dangers seen in history when the wrong understanding of government is implemented by believers, and then define what Christ himself reveals to us about what government should be doing.
If we recall mainstream and popular history, we can recall a time whenever society was given into the total influence of the “religious sector”. We cue in now, the Middle Ages, or most popularly known as the Dark Ages.
What is seen in the Dark Ages is the abrupt halt in the evolution of society due to the religiosity of the church, not so much because of theology. The Church (capital “c” as in Roman Catholic) held hostage major parts of the culture, so much so, that they were law and order. This was a disaster; we see that even the church needs to be limited in what it should and can do.
We see that great theologians don’t necessarily yield good government policy.
The church doesn’t know how to fairly wield the sword without showing the pride in denominationalism and at the same time, it was never its God-given mandate. It could be said like this: the ministry of implementing justice belongs to the state, and the ministry of mercy belongs to the church.We see the many injustices that the Christian church of the Middle Ages committed (such as the Crusades), and we must learn that the institution of the church should not believe themselves to be apt to develop the ministry that belongs to the state.
The Medieval church did not do justice as the government and it did not give mercy as the church, the government is not a tool of the church but instead its co-laborer
Job of the State
It can be said that the State’s job is dual. To render God the service that is owed to him as he commands it since he defines justice, and also to render unto God the obedience he is owed being that he has bestowed the power to the state. Though these can be interchangeable ideas, “service” presents to “who” service is owed to, and “obedience” presents “how” service should be given. In other words, God shows and expects of the state, what justice is and how it should be accomplished.
No matter what form of government, what needs to be understood is that the biblical obligation of the state is (according to Jesus) to render service to God. The government, as a God ordained institution must give to God what belongs to God, service.What exactly does this idea of the government’s allegiance, submission or service to God look like? It definitely isn’t being subject to the institution of the church.Jesus stated that the submission of the citizens to the state must be seen, however allegiance is solely to God himself. This can be seen in the well-known passage in the gospel of Matthew.
And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s. Matthew 22:20-22
Tim Keller presents an explanation of this passage in his sermon “Arguing about Politics,”;“Give Caesar the money because it’s his money—he printed it—but don’t give him the allegiance…”
Since the money carried the face of Caesar, it shows that it was lawful to give what belongs to the Empire of Rome what it asked of its citizens. Still, a distinction must be made. To give homage to or honor, is not the same as giving allegiance to. We can see that the jurisdiction of Caesar was limited to his currency which was his property. We can give him our money but we can’t give ourselves. However at the same time, what is seen is that even Caesar was to render to God that which belongs to God. Being that Caesars Lord is Jehovah God, Caesar must also render his loyalty to God.
We can state that government officials, made in the likeness of our Creator, must give themselves to the Lord of all, in total service. Government must do what God says to do since all things are his, which in this case is to do justice. The government should be subject to God in the sense of establishing civil law and order they manner the written Word of God demands it to do to secure justice. This doesn’t imply theocracy or feudalism (having kings and subjects or priests as law-givers) but instead it implies that whatever government is set up (monarchy, oligarchy, aristocracy, democracy, republicanism, and yes even the sketchy ideas of “Christian communism” and socialism) the command is to be just as God would be just.
The government must operate on the standard in which God himself establishes, since God is the one who gives the government its power.
Not only is the government called to serve alongside the church institution, but also it must render its loyalty not to its constituents, voters, or citizens but to God himself as well as learn its methodology not from constituents, voters or citizens but from God himself.
Jesus when speaking with Pilate reveals that Pilate only operates on the delegated power from above. He says to Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it has been given you from above” (John 19:11).
Jesus tells Pilate that nothing he does is done on his own doing but instead that all that Pilate does is under the sovereign rule of the Creator and sustainer of all.
Since the entity that gives the government its legitimacy is God himself, government cannot exclude the dominion of Christ over it. This means that God expects government to do justice, by the means God has ordained not by popular belief.
What does this mean?
The government’s role is to be good administrators of the influence, wealth, power, and strength that God himself bestows on it, for all things are still yet His and all man-made government is obligated to render to God all that he demands of the government, which is to do justice for all men by the means of service and obedience to God.
We as the church with the institution of civil government are co-laborers. We are not to serve our government institutions as we would serve God but hold the government accountable to the standard of godly service, just as the government needs to hold the church to the biblical standard of order and service and not be the subject of the church.
This affects the church in that it demands that the church be faithful to the ministry it was given unto, the ministry of mercy. The government is given the ministry of justice, the church was given to the ministry of mercy; with these institutions working together, can there be hope in the world of fallen man.
Looking at this in a more practical manner, the government was never ordained to give goods and services, but instead to impart justice and order. Likewise, the church was never called to wield the sword and set up civil order through its institutions but instead it was called to impart mercy and service.