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Home The Light Articles from 2000 The Christian and Government

The Christian and Government

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The Christian and Government

by Delton Cogburn

To what kingdom or power should the Christian pledge his allegiance? His citizenship? May Christians become involved in the political activities of the nation where they live? Is it right for a child of God to demonstrate and take part in political rallies? Can a disciple hold any political office in this world? Should he be able to cast his political or "patriotic" vote in electing candidates to public office? Must he submit himself to the ordinances of man? To what extent is he obligated in being submissive to these "powers that be"? What about paying taxes? Is it right to rail against our national rulers? These and perhaps other topics, we hope, with the help of the Almighty, to discuss in the light of Sacred Truth. We want to re-affirm our "high calling in Christ Jesus, our Lord," in this endeavor.

Pledging Our Allegiance

It is not uncommon to hear people speak of pledging their allegiance to the nation or kingdom of which they are subjects. Allegiance simply means loyalty or obligation to loyalty. In recognition of this fact, we think it proper to call on Peter in his first epistle, chapter 2, verse 11, to show us that we are "strangers (sojourners, ASV) and pilgrims" merely residing here for a period of time. The very tenor of his statement indicates that we owe our allegiance to a kingdom other than that in which we live. A sojourner is described as a foreigner, in a strange land for a short period of time. A pilgrim is considered to be a traveler in a given locality but for a brief stay.

Our residence here is of a very temporary nature. We do not expect to be here but for a while. Thus, it is befitting that we direct our devotions to a more permanent residence. Peter, well aware of this fact, in verse 11 so much as tells us to pledge our loyalty to God by refraining ourselves from those things of carnal life that are detrimental to our higher citizenship. He shows us that our actions are influential in causing our peers to glorify God.

Now Peter had earlier pledged his own allegiance: Matt. 26:33, "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I not be offended"; verse 35, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee"; and John 6:68-69, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art Christ, the son of the living God."

This thought is advanced further very well with regards to Abraham (Heb. 11:9, 13) in that "he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country" and "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." In doing so, it is quite evident he pledged his allegiance to God. He was referred to as the "friend of God."

When we surrender ourselves in obeying the gospel of our Lord, we declare to the world that we belong to God. We confess to the masses that we believe Christ to be God’s dear Son. We show them that our allegiance belongs to God and that all else becomes secondary to us. With great joy we pledge our allegiance to God.

Our Citizenship

Paul said, "God hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son" (Col. 1:13). (Goodspeed says of this: "He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness.") He shows us that our loyalty belongs to a higher and divine power. He alleges that we are free from the grasp of carnal rule; that our priorities have been elevated; that we no longer allow these man made laws to have complete dominion over us. We understand the transition principle herein of doing away with one powerful influence, in acceptance of one that is much to be desired over the other. It is a matter of the former being subdued by the latter.

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." (John 18:36). Further, He said in the prayer for his disciples (John 17:16), "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." In verse 11 he had said they were in the world. Christians are citizens of a heavenly dominion serving a heavenly King even though they reside in an earthly domain. The desire of the Lord was that the disciples not be taken out of the world, but that they be kept from evil, verse 15. The conclusion is that the follower of Christ is to live in the world wielding the influence as of light to the world, but not being of or like the world. In doing so, we cannot draw ourselves into shadows and plant a hedge about us. How can we expect the world to see the glow of Christianity if we put it under a bushel? Contrariwise, "a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid" (Matt. 5:14).

Peter describes us as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Christians are selected people; a people distinct from the common world; of another spirit, principle and character. These they could never be if they were not chosen in Christ to be such citizens. They are called to exercise a spiritual dominion over the lusts and passions to which those "of the world" are enslaved. Being citizens of the heavenly kingdom we are a royal priesthood separated from sin and sinners. All Christians compose one nation or citizenship under the authority and leadership of one head and are governed by the same laws. As a member of the Lord’s church and in honor of Jesus as our guide, we ought to display our heavenly citizenship even though we reside in an earthly nation.

As citizens of this heavenly kingdom, we are allowed to participate in many of the blessings in store for God’s people. We feast upon them daily in this life and anticipate the eternal showering of them in time to come. No backslider nor unbeliever can make this claim. We are constantly reminded by His Word that we are changed and different people than those who remain subjects of the world.

Further, we are blessed in that "sin shall not have dominion over us" (Rom. 6:14). God has so shared His redemptive plan with us that we can overcome sin and its ugly characteristics. He is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear. He sent His Son to become victorious over death, hell and the grave. Friend, this includes all manner of sins, whether great or small. If we be willing, as citizens of His kingdom, to give Him complete control over our beings, we need not worry about Satan and his allurements; they will become secondary to us; our priorities will have been elevated above them and under the masterful leadership of our King we shall gain the victory.

Political Involvement

As citizens of the heavenly kingdom and having pledged our allegiance to the mighty King, can we take part in the political doings of the world? Emphatically we say NO! Can we hold any political office? Again we say NO! God never intended that we get wrapped up in these governmental affairs.

It is to our shame that some folks who have affirmed their loyalty to God, show more interest and concern for these earthly kingdoms than they do for the heavenly kingdom. Too many times they expend their time, energy and monies in supporting these institutions and have very little of the same when it comes to supporting the greatest institution known to the human race. Do they forget their pledge? Have they more loyalty to man than to God? Do they expect Him to become secondary in life? We are not amazed that He is a jealous God.

We must recognize the fact that there is a major contrast between the governing bodies of this world and that of the saints. This contrast and the recognition of the two being totally separated and apart has confused many people through the ages. Failure to understand this principle seems to be the very thing that prompted King Herod to order all the young male children destroyed under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas. He, failing to understand Christ’s kingship to be spiritual rather than carnal, felt as though his own throne was in jeopardy.

The sooner the child of God recognizes and accepts the principle of separation of these two powers, then the easier it will be for him to abstain from involvement in the earthly kingdom.

Paul understood how vital our role in life is. 2 Tim. 2:3-4, "Take your share of sufferings as a good soldier of Christ. No soldier in service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him" (RSV). From these verses it should be clearly seen that we are not a part of civil affairs. They are to be handled by those who are of the world, rather than we who have been called out of the world.

There are numerous pursuits in civil life which are for the good of the human race and Paul shows how they work for us. Rom. 13:3-4, "The man who does right has nothing to fear from the magistrates, as the wrongdoer has. If you want to have no fear of the author-ities, do right, and they will commend you for it, for they are God’s agents to do you good. But if you do wrong you may well be afraid, for they do not carry swords for nothing. They are God’s servants, to execute His wrath upon wrong doers" (Goodspeed translation).

The powers that be render a valuable service to the peoples of the universe and although many times they are very corrupt by nature, we view utter chaos without them. We are astonished to even think what life would hold if there were no laws or standards for the human race in general to be governed by. It is to be regretted that rulers do not more generally recognize the fact that they are to be a minister of God for good and those who do good are worthy of praise. Many of them appear seldom aware that they are placed in office merely as God’s servants. Too frequently they merely serve self, with no regard for God, and but little for anyone else.

For anyone to hold a political office, they generally must have been a resident of a given locality for a certain period of time with intentions of remaining so, at least for a while. A stranger or pilgrim, as heretofore shown by Peter, would not be qualified to be a candidate for one of these political offices. Their purpose and citizenship disallows their enforcing of the laws of the political kingdom.

Christians are to be like God. Like Him in integrity; like Him in holiness; like Him in love. However, in vengeance they cannot be like Him. Vengeance belongs to Him, not us (Rom. 12:19). God has ministers of vengeance, but their ministry is not the Christian’s ministry. As such, the Christian must realize he is to abstain from the political rallies and demonstrations; that he is to have nothing to do with them; his call of duty is far superior to these and there is no place for him in them. On the other hand, he needs to demonstrate by his life the wondrous works of his King.

Barton W. Stone, one of the restorers of Christianity, and as one who lived during a period of time when civil matters were very much in controversy, had the following to say: "Israel was (sic) always scattered when they forsook the laws and ordinances of heaven and followed their own devices. Their enemies prevailed against them, and led them into captivity; nor were they ever gathered together from their dispersions, till they returned to the laws and ordinances of God which they had forsaken. These things were written for our example, on whom the ends of the world are come. We must return to the government, laws and ordinances of our rightful King, the Lord Jesus, before we shall ever be gathered together and become worthy subjects of his kingdom. We must unite our energies, advance the government and kingdom of our Lord, and meddle not with the government of this world, whether human, ecclesiastical, political or civil; all other aside from that of heaven will be put down by a firm decree of our Lord before the end come." (James M. Mathis, ed., Works of Elder B. W. Stone, Vol.1, 2nd.ed.; Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstack, Keys, and Co., 1859.)

History further bears out the Christian’s duty in the following: In answer to Celsus, the pagan philosopher, to the charge that Christians should undertake the civil offices, a Mr. Origen replied, "But we recognize in each state the existence of another national organization, founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the church of God. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God, the Word. And if those who govern the church, and are called rulers of the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy. And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the church of God–for the salvation of men." (Origen, "Against Celsus," Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, pp 668.)

May a Christian Vote?

No doubt many more people have been confronted with the decision as to whether they should cast their political vote than that of holding any political office. We are well aware of the fact that the world in general (and even the religious world to a great extent) considers it an extremely important patriotic duty for individuals to go to the polls and cast their vote at election time. Almost annually this decision must be made.

There are several reasons on which we base our conclusions that a Christian should abstain from voting in political races:

(1.) We must acknowledge that it is God who makes the final decision in the selection of the earthly rulers. In Daniel chapter 5 it is pointed out that God gave Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom with the majesty thereof. It is also pointed out that God took this kingdom from him because he was lifted up with pride. In verse 21 of this chapter Daniel reveals "that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that He appointeth over it whomso-ever He will." In chapter 4, verse 17 he says, "To the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the basest of men." Again in chapter 2, verse 21: "He removeth kings and setteth up kings." Now if Daniel knew what he was talking about (and he did!) whoever the Father desires to fill these offices will be placed there regardless of what our desires may be. Our abilities fall into complete insignificance in matters of this nature.

(2.) Romans 13:1, "The powers that be are ordained of God." Understanding that these powers are established by God, there is a good possibility that if we cast a political vote it may be in direct contrast to what our Father directs. We conclude it is best for us not to meddle in the affairs over which we have no control. Paul admonished that we "are laborers together with God" (1 Cor. 3:9), rather than working against Him. Pilate in claiming to have power to crucify Christ or release him was told, "thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above," John 19:11; thus again showing that the power in the earthly governments is given by God. We, as Christians, have the noble duty of a royal priesthood in the heavenly kingdom, the church. Our deeds ought to be performed to this end.

(3.) Heretofore, we have shown the incompatibility of our citizenship and that of worldly citizenship. In view of this, logic should instruct us that we best not take part in these elections. The vast differences between these two kingdoms allow no participation of God’s elect into the workings of the political world. The thinking Christian will understand that the basic philosophies of Christianity and human government are totally incompatible. There can never be any connection between them. Any attempt on the part of a Christian to become actively involved in the government of men is a betrayal of the very principle on which Christianity is founded. The church is not sent to police the world. It is sent to evangelize the world. If given the power to establish boundaries and decree government, the church and the Christian are unqualified to do so. A composed mind keeps the Christian with the proper appraisal of himself.

(4.) If the basic principle of Christianity and human government are totally different, how could a child of God participate in human government? When we take part in a civil election, the person elected becomes our proxy in office. That person acts in our stead. Therefore, if and when we cast our vote, we become a participant in the office for which we vote and we are responsible, to some extent at least, for the actions of that office whether it be the judge who grants divorces or the supreme court that legalized abortion. We cannot (and would not directly, probably) make these concessions. How, then, can the Christian harmonize voting in civil affairs with loyalty to the "Prince of Peace"? The workings of civil government are so far out of harmony with the doctrine of Christ that it is not possible for Christians to be active in them and be faithful to our Master at the same time. It has been well said, "Let sinners do what they may, but let the saints serve the Lord."

Submitting to the Ordinances of Man

The question of submitting oneself to the ordinances of man has perhaps been pondered in the hearts of multitudes through the ages. During the ministry of Jesus it seemed to be an issue. In Matt. 22:17-21 Jesus shows the necessity of "rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s." That God intended His peo-ple to be submissive to the laws of the land should be clear to all. We have noticed in the foregoing that the "powers that be are ordained of God."

In Romans 13:1-2 the apostle wrote, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." In verse 5 he says, "ye must needs be subject, not for wrath, but also for conscience sake," indicating the deep inward feeling we are to have in accepting these earthly laws, even though our citizenship is in heaven. In writing to Titus, the third chapter, verse 1, "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work." Paul again shows us our duty in obeying the laws of the land.

Further, Peter wrote (1 Pet. 2:13-14), "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well." Paul had said to be subject for conscience sake and now Peter says for the Lord’s sake. So then, for our own well-being and for our love and concern for the Lord are we to obey the laws of the land where we live. This, along with many others, is an avenue through which we can emit the kind of influence to the world God would have us display. We are telling our peers that our submission to these laws mean more to us than the "letter of the law" and fear of man.

As a member of the Lord’s church and in honor of Christ our head, we need to display a supreme citizenship as temporary residents of this world. The service rendered us by the government is due our highest moral attainments. Our debt to the government is not all that is involved. Our very loyalty to Christ is at stake, for we not only wish to be fair and reciprocate the services rendered us, but we must needs be in subjection for conscience and the Lord’s sake.

Note the following from the pen of a scribe many years ago: "The civil obedience upon the part of members of the church of Christ is our duty. Our fulfillment of this duty is borne out by actual records. It must be admitted that occasionally a criminal act is committed by a member of the church of Christ. Such misconduct is greater embarrass-ment to the church than it is to the government. It is against the teaching of the church, it is against the aims of the church, it is against the reputation of the church. Yet no religious group of any age has ever been able to hold all its members in perfect standing. If ever a group does score 100% it will be, it can be, only because that group stands for nothing in particular and allows everything in general. Nevertheless, the church of Christ has an enviable record. The percent of its membership that burdens the government with court costs and prison upkeep is so small as to be almost beyond detection. This church as a church ranks high in every land as model and superior citizens. For this God is to be thanked," (The Kingdoms of This World, by J. Harvey Dykes, 1939). The record as given by bro Dykes is impressive and appreciated. We trust that it still holds true and shall continue to remain so. However, this is nothing more than that which is expected of us by our Lord.

Submissive–To What Extent?

Having established that Christians are to submit to the laws of the land, any thinking student is immediately confronted with his obligation to country versus his obligation to God. We affirm Peter again used one of his keys to the kingdom of heaven to unlock and clarify the wisdom of the Almighty in this matter. In Acts 5:29, Peter and the other apostles, after having been commanded not to teach in Jesus’ name said, "We ought to obey God rather than men." When Peter made this statement he forever settled in the Christian’s mind where his affections were to be directed. Again in Acts 4:19-20, when Peter and John were commanded not to teach in Jesus’ name, they declared "whether it be right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (RSV). Now this was the same Peter who later said, "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake" (1 Pet. 2:13). He simply appealed his case to the higher court. There are numerous things of which man may command us and it may be necessary that we plead the instructed verdict "it is written" as did our Master.

The allegiance due the kingdoms of the world is a limited allegiance. God is obeyed without qualifications, limit, or condition. Nothing may go contrary to the King of kings and demand our obedience. The husband is God’s appointed head of the home. There are conditions where obedience to the husband would mean disobedience to God on the part of the wife. So with bishops over the church and parents over children and governments over men. Cases can be found when these, appointed by God for certain things, have presumed to attempt to do things outside their bounds. All laws and declarations of authority in earthly kingdoms must fall into inferiority when they conflict with the authority of the Heavenly kingdom.

Allegiance to earthly kingdoms ceases when the law of the land seeks to subvert the law of God, and Paul teaches nothing to the contrary in Romans 13.

History reveals that the martyr Polycarp said to the governor who bade him denounce Christ and swear by the fortunes of Caesar, "We are taught to give honor to princes and potentates, but such honor as is not contrary to God’s religion," (Standard Bible Commen-tary on Thess., Cor., Gal. and Romans, p. 510, McGarvey-Pendleton.)

The conclusion then is concrete: Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13 must be qualified by such scriptures as Acts 5:29 and 4:19-20. We need to be submissive to the ordinances of man so long as they are compatible with the ordinances of God. On the contrary, however, when the two ordinances are in conflict, we have no choice but to prove our loyalty to the Supreme Ruler of all rulers, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

The Paying of Taxes

We suppose that no one really enjoys paying taxes. However, the idea of being taxed is not limited to the current generations. For many, many centuries man has been required to pay some sort of tax to the earthly government. For any government to function it must have its finances. That government renders valuable services to its people, all would agree. It follows then that the beneficiaries of the government owe a debt for the services received. These, regardless of how they are levied, are called taxes and in this way is the indebtedness satisfied. However, this should be the limit of the Christian’s involvement in the physical workings of the government. For what and how they use these funds is out of our control. Jesus apparently felt this way himself when asked if it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. His reply was: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s and unto God the things which be God’s" (Luke 20:25). Paul further agreed with this logic, "Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" (Rom. 13:7).

During Paul’s time it is said "as the Christian paid his taxes, so he was to go on dis-charging his other duties, fearing those in authority as those whom God placed over him, and honoring all those in governmental position because the officers are part of God’s ordained plan and those who hold them have been placed there by His general providence. Some one hundred years later Paul’s words about taxes were being strictly obeyed, for Tertullian, representing that time, says that what the Romans lost by the Christian’s refus-ing to bestow gifts on the idolatrous temples, they gained by their conscientious payment of taxes" (Apolog. 42, Vol. 1, pg. 494).

We then are obligated to pay our taxes regardless of how distasteful it may be. After all, we doubt there is a one of us who would prefer abolishing our taxes and doing away with the help and protection afforded us by our rulers. We enjoy so may blessings that are not afforded Christians in some countries.

Railing Against Our National Leaders

Human nature seems to be that of speaking evil and being rather disrespectful of our rulers. We are often amazed at how well some speak of potential leaders until such potentials are actually in their official position for a while. It doesn’t take long, it seems, until folks are complaining against him. Christians are to be concerned about the rulers, but in a different manner. We are so clearly instructed to honor the rulers rather than belittle them. We must be aware however that honor to the authorities does not imply participation in that position.

Perhaps Paul gave the key to the Christian’s position regarding praying for rulers: "For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Tim. 2:2). This, perhaps, we need to do more of rather than complaining about them. After all, we love peace and quiet, while on the other hand we fear war, strife and persecution. Paul further instructs, "Pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" (Rom. 13:6-7). In praying for these rulers, it is our desire and purpose that the kingdom of God may increase and have free course; that its borders may have no limitations. Thus we need to pray for rulers world-wide, not just those under whose juris-diction we live.

It appears that God has required respect for rulers through the ages. In Ex. 22:28 it was said, "Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the rule of thy people." Apparently this is the scripture Paul made reference to in Acts 23:5, "Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." Evidently Paul did not recognize Ananias (who commanded Paul to be smitten on his mouth) to be a high priest when he said, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall." He was quick to correct his mistake when he knew to whom he spoke.

Peter knew the bounds of respect for rulers and deeply felt the obligation of Christians’ attention to this matter, ("Honor the king" 1 Pet. 2:17). It is said that Nero, Emperor of Rome, was the king Peter referred to; that he was one of the most wicked and ungodly kings who ever reigned; that under him Paul became a martyr and that multitudes of saints died rather than deny their faith.

From these scriptures it is clear that railing on our rulers is forbidden and that we have a much more noble duty of praying for them. We know that their tasks are not easy and their decisions affect us for good or evil.

Violence and Demonstrations

In conclusion, we want to point out that we are to be a peace loving people and that, if and when, we must disobey the earthly rulers and appeal to The Highest Court, we are in no way trying to excite worldly disobedience to the powers that be. We cannot and will not be a part of any organization which advocates violence and demonstrates against our government; that encourages overthrow and disruption of our government. We want to go on record as a people who can be trusted by our government; that violence and overthrow are not our lot. We will have nothing to do with the likes thereof. Our God is the God of the universe and our obligation to Him is the same regardless of the form of government we live under. We simply feel and know our duty to a Higher Power. We MUST obey God rather than man. –P. O. Box 332, DeLeon, TX 76444

 

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