This Is What the Lord Says
By: T.M. Moore|Published: June 10, 2009 8:56 AM
Caesar's Due, Part 7
To what authority is government ultimately accountable? On the one hand, we might say this is a matter for each nation to determine: tradition in some cases, the will of the people in another, or some mandate or covenant in yet another.
On the other hand we have this striking testimony from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ to the regional representative of the greatest political power of the day: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).
The apostle Paul insisted that governments are servants of God, established by Him to pursue His good purposes in allowing people to live and flourish together in peace (Romans 13:5; 1 Timothy 2:1-3). The apostle John described the ascended Jesus as the “ruler of the kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5). Presumably he meant that governments are ultimately accountable to Christ for their policies and practices, for everything that relates to the exercise of rule on earth.
Does it matter that virtually every government on earth at present would reject this idea? Certainly it does, that is, if it’s true (and it is). For if governments are to fulfill their divinely given charge of ruling their people for good, then they must know what the good is that God requires of them, and they must be held accountable by God’s temporal ambassadors for doing that which He expects. Otherwise, they may be considered to be in rebellion against the King of Kings and, as such, subject to His discipline.
Part of what we in the Christian community must render to our government is clarity and boldness in proclaiming the Word of God to our political leaders, whether they accept that Word or not.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
At some point in his ministry he must have had an audience with Herod, the Edomite puppet of
The confrontation between John and Herod is important for at least three reasons. First, it demonstrates that the Law of God was not given only for the governance of the people of
There is an objective standard of goodness which God has designed in order to ensure that people in society have respect for one another and conduct themselves in ways that honor God. That standard is His Law. Most governments of the world recognize the value of God’s Law for securing the well-being of their people—although they may not admit it—and readily adopt large portions of it for the common good. This is because the works of the Law of God have been written on the hearts of all men as the image bearers of God (Romans 2:14,15). Thus, murder, perjury, and theft—among other things—are routinely proscribed in most nations.
Indeed, nations adopt many laws which can be clearly seen to have their root in Biblical precepts (such as requiring certain building code laws, the precedent for which is in such Biblical statutes as Deuteronomy 22:8).
No Christian would propose the Law of God as a guide to writing civil statutes without making adjustments to take into consideration the change of circumstances between theocratic
However, no Christian should want to withhold from government the benefits for the public weal which can come from laws and statutes modeled on biblical precedent. We take for granted many rights, privileges, and safeguards which are ours today because our colonial forebears established many of their laws on the basis of biblical legal statutes: trial by jury, retributive as well as restorative justice, property rights, fair and honest contracts, distinguishing between manslaughter and murder, and much more. The neglect of biblical law by Christians in recent years, and the substitution of “progressive” interpretations of the law by liberal courts have made the benefits of God’s Law rather more elusive, and have rendered God’s Law itself altogether suspect as a resource for promoting and ensuring the public weal.
Second, John shows us by his example that, even though we may not be called to work in the political realm, every believer must be ready to speak an appropriate word to Caesar when he has strayed, or is in danger of straying, from the path of goodness marked out in the statutes of the Lord. Herod’s sin was not a political one and would not seem to have had any direct bearing on his ability to rule the nation well. However, John called Herod to repentance in this matter of moral compromise, because a ruler must embody goodness before he can presume to govern for goodness. Herod’s moral compromise would certainly, John seemed to think, disqualify him for rule if he refused to repent. Here again the Law of God provides the touchstone for bringing all sin to light, so that men might turn from wicked ways to seek those which are good (Romans 7:7,8).
But unless and until the members of the Christian community begin to see the Law of God as a legitimate source of moral, political, economic, cultural, and social guidance for discerning what is holy and righteous and good for a people (Romans 7:12), we will not be able to hold our leaders accountable for walking in the path that leads, not to salvation, but certainly to temporal blessedness. In daily conversations, responses to the media, communications with political leaders, and during political seasons, Christians must prepare themselves to be able to speak the Word of God into the political arena, across the whole spectrum of political and moral issues that may be involved.
Finally, John shows us the cost that must be endured by all who take up this challenge to speak the Word of God to power. John’s demand for repentance on Herod’s part cost him his freedom, and ultimately, his life. Other prophets before John had known the same experience of backlash from the powers that be—Elijah, Micaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and others. As believers we can expect to be shouted down, mocked, warned against violating the separation of church and state, and a host of other usual accusations. But this no more relieves us of the responsibility of rendering to Caesar our clear understanding of the requirements of God’s Word than it relieved John the Baptist or the Lord Jesus of theirs. We must be willing to suffer the opposition, opprobrium, and even oppression of men for the sake of the Truth of God.
TAKING OUR STAND ON TRUTH
First, Christians need to rediscover the Law of God as a legitimate, useful, and necessary body of Scripture, both for personal well-being and for the benefit of the nation. God’s Law is able to make His people wise (Psalm 19:7). That wisdom, observed by our unbelieving contemporaries, can be very appealing, even to the point of leading them to want to learn more about the Truth of God revealed in His Law and in all His Word (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Micah 4:1-5).
The person who would be righteous and follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ must be a student of the Law of God, which Jesus fulfilled (Psalm 1; 1 John 2:1-6; Matthew 5:17-19). The old canard, “I’m not under law; I’m under grace”, is true only so far as salvation is concerned. But we do not recommend the Law of God as means of attaining salvation, but of working out our salvation according to the purposes and plans of God’s Spirit (Philippians 2:12,13; Ezekiel 36:26,27).
Begin to make regular meditation in the Law of God part of your daily discipline of reading and studying God’s Word, and you’ll find that rediscovering the holiness, righteousness, and goodness of that Law can greatly enhance and enrich your relationship with the Lord.
Second, be sure you practice what you are learning (James 1:22-25). It’s not enough to know the Law so as to be able to speak it to those in power. We need to know the Law of God so as to live it, for the Law of God is a powerful source of life for those who trust the Lord (Leviticus 18:1-5). The Law of God is variously described as the law of love (Matthew 22:34-40), the law of liberty from sin (James 2:12), and the source of glory and transformation for the believer (2 Corinthians. 3:12-18). Surely there is always room for more of love, liberty, and glory in each of our lives. We may expect to know more of each of these by studying, learning, and obeying the Law of God.
Finally, each of us needs to find ways of making the Law of God a focal point of political conversations and action. We must bring the Law of God into conversations about politics and government, not to condemn those in power or denounce their views, but to point the way to improving the public weal through seeking the love, liberty, and glory God promises to those who walk in the ways of His Truth. It will take boldness on our parts to do this, and the ability to speak clearly and convincingly about such matters. We should therefore practice often conversing with fellow believers so that we can gain the confidence and clarity we will need to be able to speak and write boldly about such matters in the public square.
This doesn’t mean that we need to thunder like the prophets every time we venture to speak. We can say, “This is what the Lord says,” without actually saying it. We can point to the reasonableness and benefits of following the path of divine Law without citing chapter and verse in every situation. We should be ready to do so, of course, but in conversations with unbelievers or in the public square we will want to express our views in the language of the hearers, only introducing them to the language of Zion when the situation absolutely requires it.
We owe this to our government, which has been established by God to rule this nation for His good purposes. Government cannot do this without insight from the holy and righteous and good Law of God, and it is unlikely to gain those insights unless those who know and live that Law speak it clearly, boldly, and consistently in the public square.
T. M. Moore is dean of the BreakPoint Centurions Program and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. Sign up at his website to receive his daily email devotional Crosfigell, reflections on Scripture and the Celtic Christian tradition, or sign up at the Wilberforce Project to receive his daily study, ViewPoint, studies in Christian worldview living. T. M. and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Hamilton, Va.