Last evening the Canadian government did not survive a vote of non-confidence by the opposition parties and so Canadians will be heading to the polls to elect a new government within the next few weeks. It is a time when Christians in Canada need to consider their responsibility to bring glory to God in all that they do which includes their participation in the political process as citizens of this country. Too often politics (like law, education, the arts, the mass media, and many other areas of life) is considered too corrupt for Christians. This is a shame. The retreat from active involvement in real life and the tendency to try and escape the pollution of the world by hiding away in little groups where they feel safe and secure does not benefit the surrounding society nor those who are trying to avoid it. When this happens the society does not profit from the “salt and light” effect that Christians are supposed to have on those around them no matter where they live (Matthew 5:13-16), and isolationist Christians only become increasingly irrelevant in the day in which they live and unable to interact in normal ways with those they should be trying to influence for Christ. Concern for truth and personal holiness is one thing, hiding so that we can avoid the trouble of having to explain ourselves to others who might strongly disagree is something else. It is good for Christians to have to explain themselves. I am convinced that it is one of the ways in which God continues to shape and mold our understanding of his truth so that we communicate it accurately instead of uncritically defaulting to the ideas of the current slate of self-promoters in the evangelical world or old formulations that we have probably never thought through for ourselves. It is easy to be confident and self-assured when we avoid criticism and scrutiny from those outside our cliques, but it is does not produce the kind of sharpness and dependence on the Holy Spirit which is necessary if we are going to be useful in the time that God has given to us.
With regard to participation in the political process, we need to remember the response of Jesus to the Pharisees and Herodians when they came trying to trap him in something he might say so that they could accuse him before the Roman authorities. They asked Jesus if it was right to pay the hated “poll tax” or not. They knew that if he said “no” he would be in trouble with the authorities and if he said “yes” he would lose the respect of the people who generally viewed the tax as a dismal reminder of their subjugation to Rome. In response Jesus asks for a denarius, the coin used to pay the poll tax, which had a picture of Caesar’s head stamped on it and was inscribed with “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus,” on the one side and “Pontifex Maximus” (High Priest) on the other. Then answering their question Jesus says, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21).
If Jesus were merely saying that they should pay taxes to those who are in power because they have been placed there by God, it is unlikely that the Jewish leaders would have been amazed, as Matthew reports. When placed within the context of the larger teaching of the New Testament we can see that there is something more going on here. Without going into too much detail, Jesus is indicating that the days of the Jewish theocracy are over. The kingdom that Jesus has come to establish is not like the old theocracy of Israel. This new community is the result of eternity breaking into human history in advance of the consummation and consequently the members of this community are called to live in two worlds at the same time until the end of the gospel age. In this epoch of redemptive history, his people must give back to Caesar, or whoever is in a position of political power, what belongs to him as one of the rulers of this world, and to God what belongs to him as the ruler of all. In other words, Jesus is introducing the separation of church and state. Each have legitimate spheres of authority and responsibility given to them by God that are to be respected. Where there is conflict, the claims of God must always take priority, but until the end of this age, there is a separation of powers, and God’s people need to be mindful of both.
Framed in this way, we see that matters of state and government and politics have been ordained by God. Governments have a role to play until the revelation of the New Jerusalem. While Christians should never use the legislative power of government to advance the cause of the gospel per se, we should be involved where we are able in the political process and in the discussion of political issues. We need to put forward our positions and try to persuade people to reconsider their view of life, liberty and everything else. We have something valuable to contribute to the discussion. We know who made us and for what purpose. We know what it means to be human and what is wrong with human beings as a result of their departure from God. We know that there is such a thing as right and wrong, justice and injustice, morality and immorality. We know that a return to what it means to be fully human can only be found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. If we keep silent, who will articulate these great themes. Sure we should be doing that week after week in our meetings, but here are opportunities to proclaim the truth beyond the “synagogue,” in the “marketplace” and the “Areopagus” just like the great Christian preacher, evangelist, and missionary, the apostle Paul (Acts 17:16-34).
Something to think about… at this election time!