Of God and CaesarChristians who apply Scriptural solutions to community issues can be denounced these days. When Jesus encountered that problem, He solved it with a penny.
Religion. Politics. We are told that these two topics are not appropriate in polite conversation. Service clubs ban such talk faster than four-letter words. Mind you, you can talk about either, or both, if you're not serious — if the savagery of a late night talk-show host's satire on politicians or "fundamentalists" seems to get laughs, it's for laughs!
… biblical Christians may find one day they have entered their closets to pray …
The secularism of our cultural, educational and social establishment has in recent years muddled the popular mind on these subjects with the intent to outlaw God's Son, God's Word, and God's people from public life. With the Orwellian new-speak" which has neutered us all into persons, and shorn womankind of marital dignity with the moniker "Ms.," the pundits and nabobs have re-defined several key concepts into dangerous deceits.
"Tolerance" used to mean the political freedom of citizens to promote, propagate, and practise their religious views without state interference or coercion. Today it seems to mean the demand of the state that Evangelical Protestants acknowledge the claims and outlook of every other as equally valid as our own, renouncing even the most peaceable attempt to persuade others to embrace its distinctive views as absolute truth.
"Separation of Church and State" used to mean that no one religious denomination could be made an established religion of the state, nor enjoy benefits or privileges unique to itself and to the disadvantage of others. (Perhaps Canada has never had such separation, given the historic inequity of publicly funded Roman Catholic schools, which still persists despite the censure of the United Nations). Today, the phrase is used so as to mean the total marginalization and privatization of biblical, Christian beliefs and values from community life and public policy. To dare to apply a conscience informed by Scripture to wider community issues is to be denounced as a social conservative, a pawn of the religious right, or worse yet — a fundamentalist.
If such minds prevail, biblical Christians may find one day they have entered their closets to pray—only to be locked into a ghetto and shut out of the public square.
Our Lord Jesus Christ talked about religion — and politics. After laying claim to the hearts of Israel as the Messiah, entering, cleansing, and teaching in the Temple, the establishment sought to "entangle Him in His talk." They set upon him two opposing political factions to impale Him on a dilemma. The Herodians were the party of collaboration with Roman authority; the Pharisees were the zealots of religious nationalism. Both "scrummed" the Saviour with the question: "shall we pay tribute to Caesar, or no?" The Herodian endorsed it as enlightened self-interest; the Pharisee resisted as an idolatrous submission to a pagan overlord.
The Saviour solved the problem with a penny. Our Lord had no patience for the pandering flattery of politicians: "Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?" Taking in hand a penny, the going rate of tax, He asked, "Whose image and superscription is this?" The answer was plain: "Caesar's." Then the Prince of life made His ruling: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." The coin may return to the coffers of the state; but every man, woman, and child is made in God's image, with the superscription of God's law upon the conscience. Ours may go to Caesar; but we belong to God.
Every true, born-again, blood-washed, Bible-loving Christian must follow that rule. To the state we gladly, freely, respectfully render its due—taxes, customs, honour, compliance. "Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake. … Fear God; honour the king." But to no state can we yield our souls, our consciences, our bodies, or conduct or our calling to worship and witness to Jesus Christ. "We must obey God rather than men." We must bear testimony to His grace; we must pray in His name; we must keep His commandments; we must submit to His supreme allegiance as our Prince and Saviour — in private and public, in family and community, as church members and citizens.
Pilate and Herod, the chiefs of those two parties, reconciled only long enough to crucify our Saviour; we can expect little better when those who promote ecumenism or Roman Catholic privilege ally with secularists. "The disciple is not above his Master; nor the servant above his Lord." Every believer, as an informed, engaged, peaceable and honest citizen, must bear the cross and follow Christ here.
… when a democratic state lacks the social and moral network … society deteriorates …
The historic social foundation for democratic institutions in the West — whether Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Great Britain, or America is religious. It is in biblical, Evangelical Protestant Christianity. Democracy is in many ways a fruit of the Gospel of grace. And, as commentators on modern democracy have noted, when a democratic state lacks the social and moral network of community groups, common interests, and churches, which nourishes democratic citizenship, society deteriorates into a patron/client relation between state and individual citizens redolent of Caesar's "bread and circuses" for the multitudes of Rome. By-laws, surveillance technology, school systems, social workers cannot plant the democratic virtues of honesty, integrity, responsibility, decency and respect into the hearts of our citizens. Only the Gospel can.
To Caesar, Caesar's—To God, God's!
John Peter Bodner is the general secretary of the Canadian Protestant League.
Originally published in The Protestant Challenge, Issue 3, 2004. For more information, contact The Protestant Challenge, 14-4218 Lawrence Avenue East, Suite # 100, Toronto, ON, Canada M1E 4X9; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Used with permission of the author. Copyright © 2005 Christianity.ca.