06 February 2008

giving to caesar what is god's

Perhaps you have been hiding in a cave somewhere and haven't noticed that the United States is in the middle of a presidential election cycle.  This has indeed been the source of many stress-related illness, aggravated heart conditions, indignant prayers and overall social stupidity being paraded around - and not just at home, but abroad as well.  This is, at its core, not a bad thing since no matter how bad one side might perceive another there will be no uprisings or revolts, no coups or lockouts, only the resolve to move forward regardless of the situation.  But the majority of Americans can easily agree that these are very uncertain times (for many reasons).

And it seems that while you expect to see everyone from television news networks to (in)famous politicians to blog conspirators throw in their endorsements for their own candidates, it is now particularly intriguing to see how church leaders (and self-perceived church leaders) are also stuffing into the political bandwagons.  Especially in an internet age, it seems that more and more biblioblogs and theoblogs are using their outlets to endorse, support, or decry their own political candidates on the basis of their religious points of view.  Although there is nothing wrong with voicing an opinion from within Christian perspectives, this is beginning to be given as the outworking of theological systems.  In other words, the perception which is being presented is that the most "christian" thing to do is endorse so-and-so or such-and-such.  While I recognize that this is not new, I am concerned with the current rhetoric of political debate which is invading theologically-centered arenas.  I believe, quite firmly, that this is to the detriment of the kingdom.

Unfortunately, most people never investigate the roles of church and state further than quoting Jesus' quite famous dictum, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22:21).  It is rather interesting that the majority of those who often cite this phrase spend very little time investigating its implications.  While it might be wrong to use separatistic language of detaching church and state, it is more than appropriate to identify hierarchical connections which affirm the sovereignty of God regardless of the political landscape.  The reason why I am convinced of the damage being done to the work of the kingdom is that too many within the church seem to believe that the only way in which the work of the kingdom is going to advance is through various legislatures and executives (and even judicial bodies) being instilled within our country.  

But is not the mission of the church to proclaim the sovereign Lordship of Christ over and above every power which exists in the world?  Is the charge given to the church different today than it was in previous governments?  Will the power of God's people diminish if we do not elect the *right* person?  When I see how believers (on both sides of the aisle) equate a candidate with their theological points of view, then I see the diminishing effectiveness of the kingdom of God.  Also, I see half-baked rhetoric being thrown back and forth, filled with ignorance and quickly falling prey to the world's own characterizations and stereotypes (this happens when Christians call one president stupid, and decry another president to eternity in hell).

It should be no surprise that American evangelicalism is so impotent for advancing the work of the kingdom, when we seem to be devoted to nothing more or higher or nobler than the world which surrounds us.  There are ways to create social, political, economic and moral change as an outworking of the Spirit within the church.  But it does not come when we surrender our freedom to live and chain ourselves to the ways of this world.  One nation will not be the savior of this world; one nation will not be the final evil of this world.  More than anything else, governments are created to be governments but the church is called to be the church.  Both have their roles, and do not exist independent of the other - but one clearly calls out for a higher allegiance than is being demonstrated.


grant said...

In Jesus' day, when Cesar owed somebody money, he stamped his image on a coin. Eventually, he payed so many people that the coins went into circulation.
Jesus was pointing out that we have God's image printed onto us and I think the "render unto Cesar" passage is not about separation of church and state at all. I think Jesus was saying "Stop arguing about the state, you have God's image printed on you, so give yourself back to God."

:mic said...

I agree that Jesus' primary thrust here is to honor God with the value of ALL creation, echoing many psalms which have the same motif of CREATOR therefore RULER.

But, we should also notice what he does NOT do, mainly fall into the sentiment that Rome is the biggest problem facing the restoration of Israel. The question comes in the context of messianic revolution, which Jesus redefines without usurping the role of government or the role of God's people. He does so by appealing to the higher plane of God's sovereignty.