When you see a politician in a church pulpit during worship time, alarm bells should ring in your head. When you hear a preacher preach politics instead of the Gospel, those same alarm bells should ring in your head. Both are abominations before God and mankind. State and Church each have their own lane with distinct principles and goals. Yet we Christians do not stop being Christians in our civic life. God’s Word continues to be our guiding star even as citizens of God’s left-hand kingdom.
The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians correctly state our belief concerning Church and State issues: Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully. What was meant for hypocrisy and evil intentions ends up being the right thing to say to our Lord. The Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 119: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path also applies to our way of life as citizens under Caesar, or in our case, under a federal republic. You are a faithful Christian and a good citizen when you learn what part of your life as a citizen and a follower of Jesus Christ belongs in what particular lane.
Jesus gives the guiding principle in Matthew chapter 22 when He says: render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Christ confirms Roman government in Judea. He reminds the Jews to give the ruling authorities what is entitled to them for the sake of good divine order, recognition, and honor.
Worldly authority is a good gift from God. No matter whom you vote for, no matter what political party you identify with, everyone might agree that sounds wrong. If worldly authority was a good gift from God, shouldn’t it agree with everything I agree with, especially as a Christian? Stay in your own lane! Don’t cross lanes and make earthly authority into some sort of theocracy. Jesus confirms worldly authority no matter how it came to authority and what kind of authority the state has. Saint Peter confirms our Lord’s words when he says in his first epistle: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
We citizens of the United States of America recognize and honor the authority elected by the people as God’s order even though the authorities are not exactly our personal choice. The last twelve months have shown us how important this principle is. Some Episcopalian priests have stated they refuse to pray for President Trump. Other Christians believe President Trump is God’s personal choice for President of our country and uses him as His hand-picked servant to do good things for us. Both ideas are wrong. They have gone out of their lanes.
Worse yet is when we go out of our lanes by hurling insults at our authorities. Whether or not you voted for the officeholder, he or she is your public servant. He or she is a gift, even if their conduct is less than honorable.
The Jews in our Lord’s day used Caesar’s money. They stood under his protection. They were to pay taxes in order to help fund the government so they could be protected from enemies and so government could run smoothly. This is why Christ says render to Caesar.
Our Lord’s statement remains true today. Saint Paul reminds us in Romans chapter 13: one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
These words of our Lord, not to mention Saints Paul and Peter, are our guiding star when it comes to living in both the secular kingdom as well as the spiritual kingdom. We might hold our nose when we pay taxes, but we do so conscientiously and accurately. We take advantage of tax breaks, but not so that we might forget to pay our taxes. We also, when necessary, submit ourselves to military service if the draft is reinstated. All these things are matters of good order in the secular kingdom.
One of the most important duties in the secular realm is to vote in elections. When a Christian stands for office, he or she doesn’t do so in order to seek advantage. A Christian stands for office in order to serve the country or the state and, in so doing, serves their neighbor as well as God. The same goes for the right to vote. Christians do not seek a bribe in return for voting for one particular candidate, not to mention the candidate making promises they cannot keep to the electorate. When a Christian is elected to an office, he or she serves with faithfulness and conscientiousness as God’s servants.
Then comes the last part of our Lord’s counsel: and to God what is God’s. Here Jesus separates God’s kingdom from the state. The Jews fulfill their civic duties, yet these duties do not interfere with their way of life. The State, in return, does not interfere with the exercise of their faith.
Our founding fathers in this country were clever not to establish a state church, as well as allowing for the “free exercise of religion”. Some politicians see this as merely a freedom to go to church, leaving other matters of faith to be controlled by the government. Yet as of now, the free exercise of religion enjoys a wide berth not only among Christians, but other faiths outside of Christianity.
Simply put, we give to the state what belongs to the state. However, we don’t cast aside the law regarding what belongs to God. There are some things the state has no business settling. Only God’s Word settles matters of the Christian faith. If Congressman Robin Kelly came to our congregation and forbade us to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life, we must tell her to stay in her lane. The same goes for us if we tell Governor Rauner or even President Trump that Christianity should be the only religion allowed in our country, or even that prayer in school must be mandatory. We must stay in our own lane as well.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. A simple statement with profound applications. When the state stays in its own lane, we are protected from harm and help maintain good order as citizens. This includes paying our taxes and voting for qualified candidates in elections. When the Church stays in her own lane, we rejoice in receiving forgiveness and salvation from our heavenly Father through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We are pilgrim people, traveling through this time and place looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. While we walk here, we hear Christ’s words concerning Church and State, giving to both what is due both while staying in our lanes as citizens of the state and children of the heavenly Father.