The Christian's Relation to the Nation

by Ralph Shank

Tract 31E97
published by Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc.

Much confusion surrounds the Christian's relationship to the nation. The lines that God has established which separate these two organizations into their distinct and specific areas of service have become foggy. In many cases, religious organizations have pursued a course of trying to Christianize the government. This work is an attempt to present clear Bible teaching on the subject.

The state is an institution by divine appointment. Paul says, "The powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1). To Abraham, God said, "I will make of thee a great nation." God chose a special nation as the instrument through which our Lord came into the world.

From the early part of Genesis to the latter part of Revelation, the Bible speaks of the nations. There are hundreds of references to nations, kingdoms, kings, rulers, governors, and so on, in the Bible. God's interest in the nations is seen in His declaration that He will "break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms" and that His kingdom will then fill "the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34, 44; Revelation 11:15).

When one rightly divides the Word, it becomes very clear that the relationship and duty of God's people to the state under the Old Testament was vastly different from that of the Christian under the New Testament. God is "the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever," but this does not say that He cannot use different methods under different conditions. I may remain the same in character through the years, and the fact that I begin to use a washcloth where I once used a comb only means that the condition has changed and not the character.

Under the former covenant Israel was both the church and the state in one organization. Thus Samuel was a prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:20) and also a judge who judged Israel all the days of his life (1 Samuel 7:15). Elisha was anointed to take Elijah's place as a prophet and to be an officer to slay certain wicked people (1 Kings 19:16, 17). In those days it was required by God that His people participate faithfully in the national affairs of the state of Israel (Nehemiah 2:17, 18).

New Testament Relation

Under the New Testament God's plan is for His people to go into all the world with the message of salvation through Christ the Prince of peace, who left us an example, "that ye should follow in his steps; Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not" (1 Peter 2:21-23). Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight" (John 18:36). "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Hebrews 7:12).

It is noteworthy that the Apostle Paul, when referring to the church in Romans 12, uses the terms "ye" and "we" but when speaking of the state in Romans 13 he always refers to them as "they" and "he" (Romans 13:1-7). Not only are civil authorities referred to in the third person but the ones who resist them are likewise, showing that such action does not belong to "us" (Romans 13:2).

Responsibility to Government

There are some who argue that we are not obligated to obey the law today because of the corruption in our government. "Paul" they say, "lived and wrote under a benign government." This argument is indeed strange, since we are enjoying religious liberty now, and most of the apostles died a martyr's death at the hands of the state.

One duty, therefore, of the Christian is submission and obedience. The Christian and the anarchist such as Jehovah's Witness, (falsely so called) have nothing in common. Their request for exemption from military service is because they are opposed to the government. Our refusal to bear arms is because of our relationship with and our loyalty to the One who suffered for us.

To disobey the civil authority's laws when they do not conflict with the higher authority of God (Acts 4:19; 5:29) is to bring upon us both the punishment of the state (Romans 13:4) and the damnation of God (Romans 13:2). Paul emphasized this again in Titus 3:1 when he said that we should be subject to and obey the state and that we should "speak evil of no man." It is interesting how those who know little about politics are free to denounce the chief executive and other statesmen.

The Christian also obediently pays his taxes (Romans 13:6, 7; Luke 20:25). One pacifist used his "fist" against the government by calling upon Christians to withhold some of their taxes (war taxes) by saying that when Christ said, we are to "render . . . unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's," He did not say how much.

May we remember that Christ did tell us how much to pay to the state when He said that we should render that which bears his image. Therefore, when the nation asks for it, we give it to them and its never our responsibility to tell the government how it may use its money. If I owe a person some money, I have no right to refuse to pay it on the grounds that he will not use it properly. Nor can I refuse to pay it unless he promises to use it the way I say he should.

First Allegiance to Heavenly Government

While we find it our duty to pay to Caesar his required tax, it would be contrary to the principle of the Scripture to voluntarily or otherwise invest in war bonds, thereby becoming an investor in the war program. No nonresistant person would want to make a profit on the war.

Various portions in the Bible make it clear that we are pilgrims on this earth and that our citizenship is in heaven. As pilgrims we do not have citizenship responsibilities. As foreigners we can expect alien recognition of the state, which is different from citizenship privileges. Therefore, Paul says, "He is the minister of God to thee for good" (Romans 13:4a). He is also "for the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:14b).

Benefits From the Government

Certainly God has not ordained the state for the benefit of the ungodly only, but, as these Scriptures show, it is ordained for us as well.

Many are the benefits we enjoy because of the powers that be. We travel far and wide with ease on state roads and national highways. In case of emergency, a state trooper may escort us speedily through heavy traffic to a hospital. The U.S. Postal Service is enjoyed by all.

We are happy to live in a country where riots, robberies, and plundering are held in check by the one who "beareth not the sword in vain." Court houses keep records of our ownership of property. All of these privileges and many more an alien may enjoy.

We believe that as strangers it is not wrong to use these provisions which God has made for us. Paul appealed to the law when he was on trial (Acts 25:11) and enjoyed the protection of the authorities (Acts 23:15-24). According to the New Testament teaching and example, we then have the right to certain benefits from the state.

Boundaries of Separation

Some people seem to be confused on this point and see no difference between an appeal to the government for Christian consideration and an appeal to get them to run the affairs of the state on the basis of Christian principles. God never asked the government to try to operate without the sword. Neither has He commissioned the church to advise the state. On various occasions the apostles witnessed to statesmen of their need of salvation but never did they tell them how to run the state.

We would certainly not appreciate a delegation from Capitol Hill at our meetings trying to instruct the church how to choose church leaders, how to observe communion, or administer baptism, and so on. We would likely say as Nehemiah said to Sanballat the Horonite, "Ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial" in the church (Nehemiah 2:20).

Why then should we leave our high and holy calling and go to the state to tell them how to operate. While statesmen have expressed their appreciation for the prayers of God's people, they have expressed their disgust at churchmen trying to meddle into their affairs.

The folly of Christians trying to advise the nations was glaringly brought to our attention a few years ago when the president of a Mennonite college wrote to Mr. Nixon, telling him in essence that he could have an army but that it should not be too large.

God has clearly given the sword to the state, and it is not for us to tell him how or when, or whether or not, he may use it.

"Let Christian people mind their own business by teaching the doctrine of Nonresistance for Christians and stop meddling with the policies of nations. It does belong to us as Christians to petition governments to give standing room for our conscience in their militaristic policies but not to become political advisers" - George R. Brunk, Sr. (Sword and Trumpet Editorials, October 1929, p. 6).

Witnessing to the Nation

The muddle in the minds of many in this area seems to come from a feeling that they should witness to the state. One Mennonite writer thinks that it is our duty to go to the president of our nation when he is elected and tell him that war is sin. It seems rather strange that this one concern should be singled out.

Why, in the face of the moral breakdown in our nation, do they not send a delegation to government headquarters to try to get a bill introduced to have senators observe Feet Washing, or any other Bible doctrine? We have no more right to seek to saddle one part of the Gospel on unregenerated men than any other part.

Here again the Bible gives a clear directive. Paul witnessed to the statesmen in the same manner in which he witnessed to people of lesser note. Felix and Drusilla heard Paul "concerning the faith in Christ" (Acts 24:24). Is it not a very Pharisaical approach to try to get sinners to practice Christian principles rather than to experience the New Birth? What did Christ say about such? (See Matthew 23:15).

Because the burden of "witnessing to the state" seems to have been almost totally in the area of disarmament, one wonders whether a great deal of communistic propaganda has not seeped in where it ought not to have.

Since it is clear that the church and state are two different organizations, it should be clear to all that we have no part in holding office or putting men in office. While many good fundamentalists (so called) and some poor Mennonites believe that church and state are two separate organizations, yet they believe that it is a Christian's duty to try to elect the best man for political office.

Since our citizenship is in heaven, as Philippians 3:20 (margin) says, we cannot vote. No person without citizenship status may rightly vote or hold office. Would it be reasonable to have part in placing a man into an office that places a sword in his hand and then refuse to assist him in the use of that sword? A person in office certainly has the right to expect the ones who put him into office to assist him in executing that office.

The Christian's attitude toward politics need not be one of unconcern or disinterest. (At the same time we would caution against becoming overly anxious or concerned about it.) Since we are to pray for "kings and for all that are in authority" (1 Timothy 2:1, 2), we believe we should have some interest in the affairs of the nation.

Do we believe in the power of prayer? Then we can certainly do more on our knees than at the polls. Two devoted children of God agreeing to pray earnestly can do much to move the mind of God to set up whom He will to the blessing of both the church and the nation (Matthew 18:19).

Here lies our power and calling. Let us not forget our civil leaders after the election. Here is a Biblical prayer request. When did you last pray for this request?

The Christian who properly fulfills his role is the most valuable subject the state has. Let us take our place as submissive, obedient, praying, taxpaying aliens. In this way we will be the preserving salt as God has intended. When we are faithful in this manner, then our witness will be effective as we reason with statesmen of "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come" (Acts 24:25).


This material was typed in by Dick Sullivan. Thanks a lot, Dick!


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