“The Christian as Citizen”
First Published: September 28, 2000
Does it amaze you that the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular have so much to say about Christian citizenship? Think of it. In the days of the earliest Christian era, believers were marginal to society and living under totalitarian regimes. Surely in such settings, the Lord was not interested in fostering their patriotic responsibilities. Well, if that’s our attitude we are wrong. For, to those politically disenfranchised and socially peripheral people, the Lord gave many instructions about how to relate to their rulers, governments and nations.
That should speak volumes to us. We live in a democratic republic. We are part of a large and influential constituency in our nation. We have more individual political influence that most early Christians. And yet sometimes we fail to exercise our God-given responsibilities and allow our feeling of alienation from the society because of our “out-of-stepness” with prevailing cultural norms to lull us into apathy about our civic duty as Christians.
There has never been a more dangerous time for such apathy. Our culture is at a turning point – really, a point of no return. Christians still have the ability to have a say in the final outcome. The raging issues of abortion, homosexual rights, and toleration/intolerance are but symptoms of the deeper conflict between worldviews: one based on transcendent truth and abiding moral principles, the other based on relativism and transient, societally-created virtues.
The Christian citizen must be concerned about these things and be prepared to do his or her utmost to honor God in civic duty as a follower of Christ. But on what basis? How? Well, the Bible (as we have already noted) gives us some principles.
First, the Scripture contains a number of passages which explicitly instruct Christians in matters of our relationship to rulers and government.
Second, Jesus’ neighbor and enemy command comes into play.
Third, Jesus’ teaching on our “salt and light” responsibilities are directly relevant to our citizenship obligations.
Fourth, our stewardship responsibilities (part of the original creation mandates given by God to Adam, and to all people) inform our role as citizens. Let’s explore some of these passages and then draw some conclusions.
The First “Guiding Biblical Principle” for Christian citizenship is to obey the teaching of the Bible as to how we are to relate to and understand the role of the state. There are many Scriptures which explicitly address citizenship issues, but six key ones come immediately to mind: Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Matt 17:24-27; 22:17-21; Titus 3:1; and 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
In Romans 13:1-7, Paul says: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”
There is more to say about this passage than space available allows, so we will return to this subject again.