God and Caesar: an Ever-present Dilemma
by Major Chick Yuill –
The issue of the relationship of the Gospel to politics has been with us since the time of Jesus. The religious leaders who challenged the Master to tell them whether or not they should pay taxes to the emperor may have had mixed motives, but the subject of their enquiry was certainly not trivial. The need to decide what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar will not go away–just as how we render each the proper due is not an easily resolved matter. It seems to me, as a relative newcomer to these shores, that it is a particularly thorny problem for Americans. So, let me be so bold as to offer what I believe to be a Biblical perspective on the matter.
The first point I want to make is that it is not only permissible for Christians to be involved in the political process, in a democracy it is a Christian duty to participate in the business of government. The New Testament makes it plain that good government is part of God’s will for a proper order in human affairs. (Romans 13:1-6) That being the case, it is only logical to conclude that Christian people should seek to influence the properly elected authorities to govern according to biblical values. For most of us, our participation will be at the ballot box. For others who are called and appropriately gifted by God, participation will mean standing for elected office as a member of the party which they feel comes closest to fulfilling God’s will for the nation.
That brings me to my second observation. The Gospel is bigger than the agenda of any one political party. Politics at best is the art of the possible. At worst it is a murky mixture of compromise and half truths. The political process will always be conducted by frail and fallen men and women. It is vital that we, as Christians, take our values from Scripture and then see how we can best put those into practice through politics.
That will not be easy, for the Gospel is radically different from any human thought system, and it will challenge the programs and policies of both left and right. For example, on the matter of abortion my position in political terms would be considered to be right of center: Scripture teaches me that every human life–even in embryo–is of eternal value. But that same Scriptural teaching means that, when it comes to warfare and the euphemistically-named ‘defense industry,’ I must take up a position which would probably be characterized by political commentators as much more liberal. So I must resign myself to the fact that I will sit uncomfortably with any political group.
The recognition of this truth has led many to conclude that we should seek to form a ‘Christian party.’ Trust me on this one–that would be the worst mistake of all! Because we are fallen creatures, power will always tend to corrupt. And all of history proves that when the church takes power it become the most corrupt institution on earth. It is our task to participate in the political process; it is our task to speak prophetically to political leaders. It is never our task to seek to take power ourselves. That is a truth evangelicals ignore at their peril and at the risk of compromising the Gospel for which they seek to stand.
One last thing. I am writing this article on the day the President will testify before the grand jury. I do not know what he will say. I do know that he, like all of us, must be subject to the authority of the law. Whatever the outcome, nothing frees me from my Christian duty to pray for those in authority. Princes and presidents are sinners in need of God’s grace just as much as paupers and common people. Complaining about our politicians is a national pastime. It is not altogether a bad thing. Those who seek public office need to be subject to the scrutiny of those who elect them. The Christian may legitimately seek to remove a bad representative. But hatred is never an option. And ongoing prayer is a biblical command. On that much, Bible-believing Republicans and Democrats must surely be agreed.