So What Now: Reflecting on the Church’s Response to Government
A couple of weeks ago many of us woke up on Wednesday, post-election, feeling one way or another about the outcome. As a youth pastor, I immediately saw the troubling effects it had on my students. The devastation I’ve witnessed surrounding this subject matter drove me to the scriptures. As I began to review God’s wisdom and perspective on governing authorities, I was reminded of a few truths that comfort and activate the church in times of political confusion.
1. The Church Has Been Here Before
This is not the first time the Church has experienced an issue with the governing authorities. All throughout scripture and church history believers have encountered differing degrees of corruption from Nebuchadnezzar and Herod, to Pharaoh and Hitler.
Given the Church’s familiarity with such rulers and the disparity between the degree of corruption of their government and ours, we ought not be dismayed. Instead, we should look to our kingdom roots for figures like the apostles who started the Church in spite of political and religious oppression.
St. Augustine of Hippo, after the sack of Rome, reminds his readers in the City of God that though the earthly kingdom of Rome had fallen, the Kingdom of Heaven was eternal. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor during the Holocaust, demonstrated what serving God looked like, even when the threat of death is imminent in his biography and other writings. More recently, Martin Luther King Jr. also teaches how to serve God by establishing kingdom principles, namely justice, through activism and civil involvement.
2. Read Romans 1-12 Before 13
Facebook feeds everywhere have been flooded with “submit to authority” in reference to Romans 13. That is a true statement, but an incomplete explanation of the solution. It essentially says, “Even if it’s not right, just go with the flow.” It leaves out a number of nuances, such as the definition of what submission is and isn’t. Submission is obedience, but we are ultimately called to obey God. When religious leaders instruct us to do otherwise (as was the case with the apostles in Acts 4:19-20), we are called to follow Christ and yield to the consequences. Submission then becomes a posture for action rather than an excuse for passivity.
Moreover, Paul takes twelve chapters to develop the theology of the readers to know they have peace with God, are children of God, servants of God and inseparable from God. Such a person is called to live a life of “spiritual sacrifice” to God as to search and discern His will.
Often 1 Corinthians 13 is called the love chapter, but I would argue Romans 12:9-21 provides an echo, if not a continuation, of the identity of love. It is only after we have contemplated our relationship with the Divine and our responsibility to “love genuinely”, that Paul urges us to submit to authority. For once we locate our true allegiance and discover our ultimate responsibility, we realize that the governing authority poses no threat to us in light of eternity.
3. An Eternal Perspective Leads to Kingdom Advocacy
Every situation and trial we face will seem bleak and hopeless if we fail to view it in light of eternity and the Kingdom of God. We know that all authorities (even the “good” guys) fall short of the Perfect Ruler, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thus, all of these political issues and conversations surfacing around us are gospel opportunities.
However, when I say ‘gospel opportunity’ I don’t mean an opportunity for the tactless John 3:16 drive-by coupled with an empty saying that only those within the Christian culture can make sense of. These are quick, ineffective remedies for issues that require much more time, thought and grace. Instead, I’m suggesting that these are opportunities for the church to put some skin in the game. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve others and give His life as a ransom for many.” Our example has demonstrated how we ought to win the world for His name sake, and it is through service.
View each complaint in every conversation that you engage in as a survey to learn how you can better serve your community. If the Hispanic/Latino community around you is feeling rejected and unwanted, maybe your Church can engage them in such a way to show them that they are loved. See this as an opportunity to demonstrate our unshakeable joy and confidence in Christ. Note, don’t fake it though, if you are legitimately shaken by the current events, seek the Lord for strength and understanding. The world needs to see Christians wrestling, too!
My ultimate hope is that the Church would not be undone, but engaged. That we would live as though we truly have the Holy Spirit living within us, who comforts, that we may also comfort those around us. We have been equipped for times such as these.
Matthew 12:21: In His name the nations will put their hope.