Thursday, November 4, 2010
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Two Kingdoms:
Q: What is a Christian to do when the laws of the state and the laws of the Bible do not match up? Must a Christian obey laws which go against Biblical commands? Can a Christian still support and participate in a government which rejects and sins against God by its laws and actions?
This is a question which has been in play for the majority of Church history. In fact, this is the scenario into which the Church was originally born nearly 2000 years ago. During the first three centuries of Christianity, it was an illegal religion, and Christians faced the death penalty if they refused to worship Caesar or other idols as God alongside Jesus. At the time of the Reformation, Christians who left the Roman Catholic Church or opposed the ideas of its leaders faced persecution and sometimes death for their stand. Even today, in many parts of the world, especially Muslim or Communist nations, Christians are still killed and imprisoned for their faith.
In the book of Romans, Paul writes to Christians who are facing just such a scenario where their religion has been outlawed, and their lives are in danger for their faith. In chapter 13, he reminds them that all authorities, even those who rule contrary to God’s commands, are placed in authority by Him and should be obeyed. He even calls these authorities “servants of God” in spite of their opposition to His Church. Hebrews 13:17 and Ephesians 6:9 reveal an additional detail, that rulers, even non-Christian ones, are responsible for ruling in a God-pleasing way, or they will answer to him for their actions at the last judgment.
When describing this teaching of the Bible, Martin Luther describes God as ruling two kingdoms with His two hands. With His right hand, He rules the Church, and with His left hand, He rules the kingdoms of the world. It is not only within the sphere of the Church that the Christian lives under God’s authority, but also in the sphere of the earthly estates of employment, family, and government. Accordingly, a Christian ought to obey their earthly rulers as if rendering obedience to God.
However, there is one instance when this is not the case. If an earthly ruler would command a Christian to do anything that is not a sin, it is the Christian’s duty to obey, but if a Christian is ever commanded, whether by parents, masters, or government officials, to renounce Christ or to sin against God, it is their duty to disobey that command and obey God instead. The apostle Peter clearly expresses this in Acts 5:29 when he disobeys a sinful command and says, “We must obey God rather than men.”
As American Christians, today, we also live in a situation where there is tension between our faith and the laws of our land. At times, these laws allow actions and behaviors which Scripture clearly forbids. In other cases, regulations and judicial rulings attempt to restrict the rights of Christians to practice their faith in the public square. In the past, it was often assumed that the United States was a Christian nation. Each day, fewer and fewer people would defend that assumption and many mourn the loss of Christian influence on the laws of the land.
However, whether our government embraces or rejects orthodox Christianity, the Church will still remain. Even if she is persecuted and marked for death, she shall remain. An old hymn puts it this way:
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand
Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land;
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.
Christ’s people will remain faithful to Him, and the Church shall still remain until the last day, regardless of the opposition of kings, presidents, or any other authority. As Christians in America, we have the privilege to influence our government in lawful ways: through free speech and protest, through military or civil service, by running for elected office and by our vote. We ought to make use of these means whenever possible, but even if our influence does not prevail, Christ remains our foundation, and we follow Him above any man-made law or human authority, regardless of the cost, for He is our Lord.