How should Christians interact with government? The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Christians are to have no interaction at all. They teach that Christians should not vote, should not participate in national holidays, such as 4th of July and Memorial Day, and that Christians should not even pledge allegiance to the flag.
Others not only condone voting, participating in holidays and pledging the flag, but they also take money out of their church treasuries to directly support political candidates running for office or to support political causes. Some denominational preachers in the name of Jesus and justice lead protests and demonstrations for or against government and its policies.
Who is right? Who is wrong? What should a Christian do when it comes to his involvement with civil government? As with any other question about what should a Christian do, the answer is to follow Jesus’ example. After all, to be a Christian means to be a follower of Jesus. Christians can’t go wrong if they will but follow Jesus’ example.
Two World Sectors
Before we look at Jesus to see how He interacted with civil government, we need to recognize two world sectors ordained by God. The first and most important sector is the religious or spiritual sector. This sector is the Kingdom of God, i.e., the church. Jesus is the head of this sector. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36).
The second sector ordained by God is world governments. The second time Jesus was brought before Pilate, before His crucifixion, Jesus affirmed that civil government gets its authority from God (John 19:10-11). Paul by inspiration taught the same thin in Romans 13:1-7. “Let every soul be subject unto the highest powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” In verses 4 and 6 Paul wrote the civil authorities are actually ministers/servants of God.
Sadly, there have been a lot of civil governments down through the ages and holders of authority in these civil governments that did not know or did not care that they were God’s servants. The same can be said for most if not all governments today. There have been and there are many rulers and governments that in no way, manner, shape or form resembled anything Christian or good. Their actions don’t change the fact that they were and are still God’s servants and God will hold them accountable in the end for not behaving properly as His servants.
Everybody who holds an office in government or is thinking about running to hold an office in government, be it city, county, state or federal needs to understand that they first work for God adn then, here in American at least, they secondly work for the people they represent and last and least for the government. Civil authorities need to heed the words that King Jehosaphat said to the judges of his day in 2 Chronicles 19:6-7. “Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.”
How Jesus Interacted
Now let’s look at how Jesus interacted with earthly government. Most people are familiar with what Jesus said about paying taxes (Matt. 22:17-21). Even though the Roman government used tax funds to build and maintain pagan temples and to support a conquering army that was suppressing the Jewish people, Jesus still said, “Pay your taxes.” Jesus peacefully submitted to His arrest even though it was unjust and illegal. Jesus was a radical, but He never led a riot, organized an underground movement nor criticized civil government. Jesus never took part in the Jewish movement against Rome. He never offered Himself as an advocate against society on behalf of many innocent victims of social injustice. Jesus was not a revolutionary in any modern sense of the word. He respected civil authority. But, he caused the greatest revolution the world has ever seen.
Peter wrote, “Submit unto every ordinance” (1 Pet. 2:13f). Paul wrote that civil authorities were “ordained of God” and were “ministers of God” (Rom. 13:1-7). There is no hint in the New Testament or early church history of Christians ever organizing to change or nullify civil laws.
Some ask, “But what about unjust laws and government treatment?” Jesus’ arrest and His trial were unjust and illegal, but He did not protest. We consider slavery unjust and unChristian. But, in the book of Philemon Paul tells Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave and new convert, to return to his slave master. Christianity put an end to slavery not with civil disobedience, but by conversion.
What should a Christian’s relation to the government be like? Like Christ we must obey and submit. We, however, must disobey if we are commanded to disobey God. “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19-20).
Can Christians speak out against corrupt government officials? Yes, but it must be done in a legal and orderly way. Can Christians vote? Yes. In fact, voting is one way Christians are to be “the salt of the earth” and a “light of the world,” one way Christians can influence society in an orderly and civil manner, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:13-16. Christians can be a positive influence for good by their votes. Can Christians run for and hold political office? Yes. Who would want only the most despicable among us to seek and hold public office?
The Bible does not say that all governments will be Christians, that all laws will be just, that all laws will be fair, there will be no prejudicial laws. But the Bible does say we are to follow Jesus’ example and Jesus never spoke out against or disobeyed civil laws. Jesus did not rebel, protest, or fight against and outside of the law. We need to remember Paul’s warning: “Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Rom. 13:2). Christians need to be law abiding citizens who work inside the law to make their country a better place. firstname.lastname@example.org