Editor’s note: The following commentary is based on the book Jesus, Politics and the Church, Updated and Revised.
By Tony Nassif*
August 2000 – The Founding Fathers of our nation understood the spiritual dynamic to human existence. In the Declaration of Independence, they wrote: We therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…
The title of “Supreme Judge of the world” expressly implies that the Creator, the Benefactor of human rights, is also a judge with immutable standards of right and wrong.
However, unlike the Founding Fathers, today Christians wonder if they should be involved in politics. What does the Bible say? Does the early church provide insight?
The first human government was established when God made Adam the federal head of creation. His disobedience to God subjugated him, his family and all creation to the curse of death. Because of one man’s disobedience, all of mankind was put at enmity against God and each other. Thus, we have what I term the Law of Subjective Responsibility.
Likewise, Egypt suffered the ten plagues because one man, Pharoah, refused to release Israel from captivity.
In the book of Esther, Haman used the office of prime minister to bring evil against the Jews. When Mordecai replaced him, he brought good to the Jews. The same office used to perpetrate evil against the Jews was now used to bring goodness to them.
From these examples we learn that a government itself has no morality, but is judged by the morality of its leadership.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist came out of the wilderness preaching repentance. Publicans and soldiers asked what they should do. What an opportunity for him to say, “Leave that god-forsaken system and follow me.” Rather he said to go back to their office of authority and take righteousness with them.
When Jesus was asked if his followers should pay taxes, he said “render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” He is saying that there are two realms of human existence, one physical and the other spiritual, each with corresponding responsibilities.
During the Roman Empire many Christians successfully occupied government offices. Yet many left government to pursue a monastic life. When they did, the emperors followed them for their prayers and advice.
Jerome said that God gave two great gifts, the priesthood and government. Cyril of Jerusalem, speaking of the “Great Commission,” said that the Church is called Universal and thus, includes government.
John Chrysostom, in his commentary on the angelic proclamation to the shepherds at the birth of Christ, asks the rhetorical question, “How can there be ‘peace on earth and good will toward men’ and it not affect government?”
At the same time, many clergy discouraged Christians from holding public office. Edward Gibbon, historian and author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, attributes much of the blame for the fall of the Roman Empire to the fact that Christians withdrew from public life. This left an empire bloated with corrupt and incompetent officials. Why does this sound familiar?
Today there is a great conflict over the “separation of church and state.” First, this phrase doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Second, this doctrine presents a threat to our national security in that it credits the state as benefactor of our civil rights, and not God. The danger: What the state gives, the state can take away. Such is what happened in the former Soviet Union, Red China, Cuba, etc. where millions have been killed, imprisoned or tortured.
My question to those who support the separation of church and state: Do they believe that Martin Luther King was wrong in applying the gospel to public policy which resulted in the 1965 civil rights legislation? Are they advocating the repeal of this law since its basis is upon a movement arising from a Baptist Church?
Many Christians feel that no matter what they do, nothing will change. Some even say that God is going to judge the world, so it doesn’t matter if we’re involved. However, the Scripture is full of admonitions to obedience despite perceived results. For example, God told Ezekiel to warn Israel of judgment, but they wouldn’t listen. Ezekiel based his actions upon obedience to God’s command, not on perceived results.
Many excuse immorality and criticize Christian activism by saying: “You can’t legislate morality.” In truth, every law is an attempt to legislate morality. The question is, will our laws be based on the Judeo-Christian principles which have prospered the nation, or will they be based on humanism which inevitably leads to failure?
* Tony Nassif is an author and film producer living in Los Angeles, California.