Christians and the State
(for Christians only)
In an unredeemed world, the primary role of government is to restrain sin. This manifests itself in
many ways. Police and court systems deal with individual transgressions. Armies and diplomats are for transgressions or encroachments between nations. Laws and regulations allow for progress and
industry while keeping greed and oppression in check. Departments and Ministries protect people and environments from unrestrained exploitation, lack of personal self control (and addiction), and the
inertia that keeps putting off wise improvements and undertakings (like an education, highways, and public health). Limitations are only necessary in society to contain corruption and abuse. As long
as there are injuries and disagreements and the desire to be treated fairly, there will be judges and attorneys.
This is why anarchy is such an untenable position. Left to ourselves without the protection of government, we would eventually divide into oppressors and victims. Oh, not everyone, but far more than there is now. This also applies to the proliferation of vices and addictions. When life is serene, no mediator is needed. When conflicts arise, without an “authority” to adjudicate, people can become vengeful at worse, or resentful at best, if they don’t feel they have been treated right. It would seem our need for an authority to administer justice is bound up in our very being, in our very existence. Complete and unhindered freedom without a morality (laws, ethics) is a curse. I believe this is why there has never been a successful utopian community on earth. Sinful humans. A fallen world.1
In Heaven there will be no need to restrain sin because sin will not be present. The concept of private ownership of property (or anything) will be a constant source of jokes and humor. If there is competition, it will be to see who can serve best, who can thank the most, or who can bless the most winsomely. And even if there is a transgression (doubtless from ignorance), once revealed, it will be followed by a quick repentance and quick forgiveness. Indeed most will not have a care how they are treated since they can abide in the Love of God and that’s all they want. A world without sin is difficult to imagine (because we are so used to living with sin). And note: This new way of being will be both spiritual AND physical. The Bible promises a new Heaven and Earth. Jesus has a resurrected physical body (that also has spirit abilities)(? You do know that we get one of these, don’t you? 1 Jn 3:2; Phil 3:21).
But until Jesus returns, the question arises as how a citizen of Heaven should participate in or cooperate with a “foreign” government, as it were. First let it be noted that the Bible explicitly says that we are not to resist the governing power. Indeed, the Bible says that God ordained government… all government; not only the just governments, but also the oppressive ones too. Rome was not a democracy. It was an aristocracy (“rule by the best”). Roman power was built on conquest and slavery. Greed, debauchery, and vice were only modestly checked, if at all.
Likewise, the witness of the early church shows that neither are we to cooperate with the ruling power (or culture) when it involves violating our faith. This mandate was written in martyr’s blood. It is the Pacifist’s guiding principle. The core of civil disobedience. To summarize succinctly, we are to “render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s.”
So then, can a Christian be a policeman? a soldier? a politician? a teacher? (who is also an employee of the state) a trash collector? The apostle Paul encouraged those in the Corinthian church to not leave their vocations but rather to redeem them. John the Baptist didn’t tell soldiers to quit the army, but to behave justly.
In the Kingdom to come there is no war, violence, or oppression. That’s because there is no sin. However until that time arrives, here sin must be retrained. But who will do it? Christians? Those who profess forgiveness, compassion, and love? Won’t they be too soft, too merciful? Who would you want to do it? Wouldn’t a Christian do the best job? I mean, don’t they have a higher mandate since their obligation to act justly is to God and not just to the State? I believe they would be the best choice if they are complete Christians, namely, ones who fold wisdom and justice and kindness and mercy in the same embrace.
Actually any person who takes their religion seriously is a good candidate for civil office. Listen to what Jethro advised an over-worked Moses: "But choose capable men from all the people, men who fear God, men you can trust, men who hate corruption.” Who can deny that any nation who has public servants with these 4 qualities will not be blessed?
But let’s pose a hypothetical case: Confronted with the love of Christ, Zacchaeus the tax collector gave half of his goods to the poor and restored fourfold to those he had cheated. Which path would you now choose for a converted Zacchaeus? Quit being a tax collector since that profession was so scandalous to the culture at that time? Or, continue to be a tax collector, only now, a fair one? Cast your vote.