This is not a theoretical question, I found out last January. As a matter of fact, a newspaper reporter asked the question and used the specific office of U.S. Attorney General. Then President-elect Bush had nominated a former governor of Missouri, John Ashcroft, to be attorney general. Ashcroft is noted for his profession of deep religious faith and his opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and for other positions that religious conservatives tend to take.
With an obvious knowledge of the Bible and its implications in practical life, the reporter noted, "The New Testament that Ashcroft believes in calls on everyone to 'render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.'"
He aptly noted that the people of the United States need to know what John Ashcroft would do when rendering to one will offend the other.
I am convinced that the reporter had a clearer understanding of the dilemma of a Christian serving in government than many "conservative" Christians have.
Politics is by its very nature the art of compromise. Even a professing Christian in politics is going to have to compromise Christian principles at times. Ashcroft's supporters even pointed out that when he was governor of Missouri, he efficiently established a state lottery system in spite of his religious opposition to gambling. The state voted to establish a lottery, and it was up to him to see that it was carried out. As Attorney General of the United States, he would need to enforce the abortion laws on the books.
I am not a judge of Ashcroft's spirituality (or of President Bush's for that matter) -- I leave that in God's hands. But Acts 5:29 says without compromise, "We ought to obey God rather than man" [when God's laws and man's conflict]. The word ought there is not optional -- it is our duty. Rendering to God the things that are God's and to Caesar the things that are Caesar's is not optional either -- the choice is clear-cut.
The Bible teaches a two-kingdom ethic -- the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this world. Romans 13, for example, clearly delineates the responsibility of the government (he) and of the believers (ye). The believers' main purpose is to be salt and light, influences for truth, and witnesses of the power of Jesus Christ to transform laws. The purpose of the government is to maintain law and order, to protect the good, and to punish those who violate its laws. The attempt by many to blend these two purposes has resulted in confusion.
I was surprised and disturbed (in light of the Scriptures) by many during and after the last U.S. Presidential election who appeared to insist that the future of Christianity in America hinged on electing "Christians" to high places to preserve moral values. While Christians can appreciate when people of principle are in control, the salvation of the United States as a nation or of individuals within the nation does not hinge on Christian involvement in politics. Far too many have taken their focus off working to meet man's spiritual need and focused on political action to Christianize laws and government institutions. Would someone who stands consistently for Christian principles ever get elected in our secular and pluralistic society?
Do we forget Rome after it was "Christianized" and other governments since that have tried to enforce Christianity? All of them failed? Many people suffered? For Christianity, by its very nature, is a voluntary faith. It is a faith of love that does not force itself on the rest of the world.
I fear that many who profess to believe in complete separation of church and state and who give lip service to the Scriptural teaching of a nonresistant, witnessing faith have yielded to temptation. The temptation is to trust in the hope that somehow Christianizing politics and government will lead to the betterment of society. In the last half century, numerous government leaders from the top down have professed to be born-again Christians. But it is also true that society in general has been on the skids spiritually as never before. I believe that the fault does not lie at the door of the government as much as at the door of the church that has trusted in politics to promote its standards and has failed in the call to point men and women to the Christ who alone can change their lives.
The Christian's "politics" is not earthly or carnal but persuading men and women to be reconciled to Christ.
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