Saturday, October 07, 2006

How should Christians work with Government?

It's pretty obvious and clear what Christians should do when under a non-Christian government that is either neutral or hostile to them. When the government is neutral and has not banned Christianity in whole or part, then we should do as Paul wrote in Romans 13 and "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." And when a government is hostile and persecuting Christians we go ahead and disobey them when it comes to prayer, worship, fellowship, reading scripture, and sharing our faith, whatever the consequences. But what are Christians suppose to do when they have the opportunity to be in power, and the temptations that go along with that power? Unfortunately, we don't have in the Bible any epistles to Christians in a pro-Christian state, a democracy much less. It would be interesting to see what Paul would have wrote to Christians in the US today, but I will not attempt that as I am obviously without Apostolic authority.

First of all, I believe we must understand the difference between the new covenant and old covenant, between the New and Old Testaments, before we can begin to understand how Christianity and government should work. In the Old Testament we see a theocracy, which God ordained. The disobedience of religious and moral laws had punishments to be enforced by the state. Some of these punishments seem harsh to many of us today, such as stoning for being rebellious to your parents. And forsaking God would lead to death. Now in the New Testament we don't see any calls for theocracies. They were dealing with oppressive governments that persecuted the early Christians. Now we don't see a drop of discipline for God's people though. Members of the Church are to be disciplined. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you,youu have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17) Now under the Old Covenant, members of it could be killed for disobedience, but under the New Testament, we are never told to kill, but rather if worse comes to worse kick them out of the Church.

So why the change? In the Old Testament, God was establishing the Israelites as his people in a land full ofnon-believerss with all sorts of vile practices. God commanded the Israelites to kill them so that they would not corrupt his people. "But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God." The Israelites did not do listen to God, and thus were led astray and suffered the consequences of having their nation attacked and deported. (God knew this would happen.) So why would this not apply today, to us under the New Covenant. First of all, America nor any other state including the modern state of Israel are not the nation-state of Israel as known in the Bible. Second, the Great Commission, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20) The roles have reversed, and instead of fearing that believers will be taught bynon-believerss abominable practices and thus killing them, we are to teach them and make disciples out of them. Now it seems pretty obvious to me we can't teach and make disciples out of people who were are killing for being non-Christians. Under the Old Testament non-believers were like a virus that threatened to infect God's people, but now believers are like a virus that is to infect non-believers. This is why many Old Testament laws can't be made law here in the US even if there was enough support to do so.

Now would it be wrong to go establish Christian only communities, a Christian only state? "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household." (Matthew 10:34-36) This passage would seem to suggest that would not work, since households are generally not divided by national borders. A Christian state would not work since as soon as people started having children their would be non-believers. Yes, you would teach them about God, but that would mean everyone of them would accept what you tell them. No, like it or not under the New Covenant the Church and State are separate. Members of the Church are members of states, but members of a state are not all members of the Church. And if you somehow tried to force people to be members of the state to be members of the Church, you would only end up with nominal Christians who are not saved and the church would be weakened by this, as it once was. Plus, how would one evangelize if you lived in a Christian only state, a giant Christian bubble.

So when Christians are writing laws, we must remember that the state is not, will not, and cannot be the Church. We cannot legislate morality, and certainly not salvation. We cannot save people through laws. Even if everyone stopped all the obvious sins because of the threat of prosecution by the state, they would still sin, if just in thought. And if they are sinning without having accepted Christ as thsaviorur, as one who atoned for their sins, they will still go to hell. What it might do is give people they false idea they are good people because they don't break the civil law, and will deserve to go to heaven because of that.

Now perhaps part of the problem is churches are largely failing in America to do their jobs of teaching and disciplining, and so we are somehow trying to resort to the civil law to enforce what we should or should not be doing as Christians. If we had the IRS collect tithes along side taxes, we would sea lotot more Christians tithing.

This is not to say that we don't need laws because they don't do any good. They do good, they restrain sin and protect us from the consequences of sin that would ensue under a state of anarchy. We should thank God for government to protect us. But the government cannot save us eternally. Laws that protect people from other people's sin arcertainlyny good and we need them. But laws that are somehow suppose to forcefully protect people from their own sin perhaps need careful examination, to say the least, as they will sin anyways. And since government must be based of a moral system of some sort, it might as well be based off that of Christianity, as that is right. I seemed to have digressed from the role Christians should play in government to why we shouldn't have a theocracy. Perhaps this discussion on why we shouldn't have a theocracy is largely unnecessary, as not too many people are calling for a theocracy, but I think it is still good to have. So I will soon again try to address the role Christians should play in government, hopefully without digressing.


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