When Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25), which things belong to Caesar? How should a Christian under the authority and allegiance of Jesus Christ render unto the authority of their country or state?
1. Pay your taxes. To the authorities of this country, Paul says, “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” (Romans 13:7). Paying your taxes, not evading them, is an act of obedience to Jesus Christ—even if you do not agree with the way government spends that money.
2. Pray for your leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Paul urged that prayers and thanksgivings be made “for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” This pleases God. We may not attain a high office, but we as Christians sure can pray for those who are there, that they would have God’s wisdom and seek Christ in all they do.
3. Practice civil obedience. The Apostle Paul says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). If we resist governmental authority, we resist God—unless it directly conflicts with God’s revealed will. If our government outlaws sharing the gospel, we disobey it because, as Peter and John said to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Even then, we must face the penalty of that law with quiet submission.
Participation in public life. As Christians, we may be called to serve our fellow citizens in the military, police officers, firefighters, etc. We as Americans have been given the right to vote, and so we should take this responsibility seriously. Remember the numerous examples of when centurions and soldiers would come to faith in Christ—Jesus never told them to quit their jobs. Churches must also speak about public issues in regards to poverty, business, education, racism, abortion, marriage, war, the environment, and many other issues with a moral dimension. How? Not necessarily by gaining more political influence, but by prayer, preaching the Word, deeds of mercy, and winning people’s minds and hearts with the love of Jesus.
American Christianity has always intrigued me. I do not equate American Christianity with biblical Christianity because American Christianity is too wedded to government, politics, and materialism. Biblical Christianity addresses these things as an outworking of the gospel, not a replacement of it. I am so interested in this topic that I secretly would enjoy doing PhD work in this area (yet, I shall just read up on it as much as possible in order to stay at my church and help my people discern the difference).
Russ Moore once again has nailed the issue on the head with his reflections on Glenn Beck’s political/religious/American “revival” speech (“God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck”). Beck, an avowed Mormon, was embraced by many evangelical leaders and could likely be a flash point in the upcoming elections in 2010 and 2012. Here’s an extended excerpt:
We used to sing that old gospel song, “I will cling to an old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.” The scandalous scene at the Lincoln Memorial indicates that many of us want to exchange it in too soon. To Jesus, Satan offered power and glory. To us, all he needs offer is celebrity and attention.
Mormonism and Mammonism are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They offer another Lord Jesus than the One offered in the Scriptures and Christian tradition, and another way to approach him. An embrace of these tragic new vehicles for the old Gnostic heresy is unloving to our Mormon friends and secularist neighbors, and to the rest of the watching world. Any “revival” that is possible without the Lord Jesus Christ is a “revival” of a different kind of spirit than the Spirit of Christ (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
The answer to this scandal isn’t a retreat, as some would have it, to an allegedly apolitical isolation. Such attempts lead us right back here, in spades, to a hyper-political wasteland. If the churches are not forming consciences, consciences will be formed by the status quo, including whatever demagogues can yell the loudest or cry the hardest. The answer isn’t a narrowing sectarianism, retreating further and further into our enclaves. The answer includes local churches that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and disciple their congregations to know the difference between the kingdom of God and the latest political whim.
It’s sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not pessimistic. Jesus will build his church, and he will build it on the gospel. He doesn’t need American Christianity to do it. Vibrant, loving, orthodox Christianity will flourish, perhaps among the poor of Haiti or the persecuted of Sudan or the outlawed of China, but it will flourish.
And there will be a new generation, in America and elsewhere, who will be ready for a gospel that is more than just Fox News at prayer.
Do yourself a favor and read the rest.
“Everywhere he went, Lincoln carried a book with him. He thumbed through page after page while his horse rested at the end of a long row of planting. Whenever he could escape work, he would like with his head against a tree and read. Though he acquired only a handful of volumes, they were seminal works of the English language. Reading the Bible and Shakespeare over and over implanted rhythms and poetry that would come to fruition in those works of his maturity that made Abraham Lincoln our only poet-president. With remarkable energy and tenacity he quarried the thoughts and ideas that he wanted to remember. ‘When he came across a passage that Struck him, ‘ his stepmother recalled, ‘he would write it down on boards if he had no paper,’ and ‘when the board would get too black he would shave it off with a drawing knife and go on again.’ Then once he obtained paper, he would rewrite it and keep it in a scrapbook so that it could be memorized. Word thus became precious to him, never, as with Seward, to be lightly or indiscriminately used.”
(Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006, p 52.)
Recently, our country celebrated its 234th birthday, acknowledging its birth not with the ratification of our Constitution in 1787 but with the penning and signing of the Declaration of Independence. As you read through this latter document, we find some high and lofty rhetoric regarding the equality of all men who have “been endowed by their Creator the inalienable right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Three other times, a reference to ‘God.’
Repeatedly, one reads of how the Founding Fathers embraced the principles of Christianity. Yet, some questioned the Bible’s revelation on the nature of Christ. Look at Benjamin’s Franklin’s thoughts in a letter to Ezra Stiles:
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of who you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England some doubts as to his divinity (The Autobiography and Other Writings, ed. L. Jesse Lemisch, New York: Signet Classic, 1961; quoted in Jesus Made in America by Stephen Nichols, Downers Grove: IVP, 2008).
John Adams, the second President of the United States, was a Unitarian.
Adams was raised a Congregationalist, but ultimately rejected many fundamental doctrines of conventional Christianity, such as the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, becoming a Unitarian. In his youth, Adams’ father urged him to become a minister, but Adams refused, considering the practice of law to be a more noble calling. Although he once referred to himself as a "church going animal," Adams’ view of religion overall was rather ambivalent: He recognized the abuses, large and small, that religious belief lends itself to, but he also believed that religion could be a force for good in individual lives and in society at large. His extensive reading (especially in the classics), led him to believe that this view applied not only to Christianity, but to all religions [source].
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was an interesting character. Jon Butler describes Jefferson:
Jefferson rejected the divinity of Christ, but he believed that Christ was a deeply interesting and profoundly important moral or ethical teacher and it was in Christ’s moral and ethical teachings that Jefferson was particularly interested. And so that’s what attracted him to the figure of Christ was the moral and ethical teachings as described in the New Testament. But he was not an evangelical and he was not a deeply pious individual.
You see, there is a difference between holding to the principles of Christianity and surrendering to Christ! As we have addressed in an earlier post, you cannot separate Christ from true, biblical Christianity! We must differentiate and distinguish (and yes, discern) between the great American civil religion which permits religious freedom and true, subversive biblical Christianity which surrenders all personal rights to Christ alone.
I enjoy reading Stephen Prothero. He is a religion professor at Boston University who has a gift of writing in general, but also of evaluating American religious trends. He and Stephen Nichols are my two favorite writers in this arena.
Two of Prothero’s books are sitting on my office shelves: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t (Harper One, 2007); and American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004). He has a new book coming out called “God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—And Why Their Differences Matter” (HarperOne, 2010).
Prothero has written an op-ed piece in the USA Today on “Millennials Do Faith and Politics Their Way.” It’s worth the read.
I have just finished reading Clement Eaton’s 1979 biography, simply titled Jefferson Davis. Eaton gave a balanced understanding of one whom historian Joseph Ellis calls “the sphinx of the confederacy.” Biographies of Davis are hard to come by, but I was blessed to find one at a discount book store here in Lexington.
One of the great interests of my life is seeing how Americans interpret Scripture in very… well… American ways—especially our leaders.
Gary Bauer has written an interesting article (“Does Obama Use God’s Name in Vain?”) regarding how Obama’s use of ‘God’ and the Scriptures in rather interesting places. Keep in mind, Bauer served with Ronald Reagan during his presidency and is a die-hard Republican. That being said and understood at the beginning, this particular quote caught me by surprise:
Whereas Bush was excoriated by the left whenever he cited God, Obama’s religious imagery receives silence from both sides of the aisle. The left won’t criticize him, while the right ignores any politician invoking the Almighty. But it’s how he invokes the Lord’s name, so to speak, that’s unprecedented.
“…the right ignores any politician invoking the Almighty”?!? Bauer says that he does not question Obama’s faith, just the language. I’d appreciate your thoughts on the matter.
Recently, President Obama engaged in a phone conversation with some rabbis over health care reform. In the process, the President strongly invoked moral and biblical language in order to make the case for support of this reform. He keyed in that many were “bearing false witness” about the plan. He goes on to the key paragraph from Obama’s call:
“These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation. And that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper, and that the wealthiest nation on earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call.”
The point of this blog is not to debate the finer points, but to see how administrations past and present use biblical language to push forward their agenda. What about this? From George Washington to our current president, this has been a common practice. What do you think about Obama’s use of this rhetoric?