a bit monkish.
Is it just me, or are Christians in the United States more vocal this Presidential election season? Perhaps it’s the volume of Donald Trump’s voice and his dominance in the polls over the evangelical candidates. Maybe it's the images of filled stadiums cheering for unlikely candidate Bernie Sanders. Whatever it is, something seems to have awakened Christians to the political process in the United States, and the tone is somewhat angry.
In evangelical circles (particularly among Republicans), the idea seems to be that having an evangelical Christian in the White House will solve the nations erring ways. The focus is on a person’s character rather than a person’s competence. Many evangelical Christians who are seeking a candidate with solid Christian character so do because they have a deep commitment to the Bible as God’s revealed Word.
So what does the Bible say about the government and those who run it? In looking at the image of the Emperor on a coin, Jesus famously said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus seems to be setting up a separation here between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God. In fact, as he’s standing on trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus tells him,“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
In Romans 13, Paul writes that we’re to submit to the authority of those in government, for God has placed them over us. Paul sees the governing authorities’ roles to be collecting taxes and keeping the peace by punishing wrongdoers. Paul writes that Christians are to submit to the governmental authorities because God has allowed them to rule. Paul gives no exceptions to this. The implication is that even when the government or governmental leaders might persecute Christians, we are still to obey them.
From a New Testament perspective, we see a separation between what Jesus ushers in as the Kingdom of God and what the world sees as the kingdoms of the earth. Paul never writes that if the Emperor accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord then the Roman Empire would prosper (centuries later, when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, little changed socially).
This is where I’m confused by evangelical Christians in the United States. According to what I read in the Bible, our primary citizenship is not in the country where we reside, but in the Kingdom of God. To be a disciple of Jesus is to have a Kingdom identity, not a political party or national identity. The government and the Body of Christ have different roles in society. That’s not just my opinion. It’s in The Book.
Yes, I’m a proud American. Yes, I have political opinions. Yes, I’m going to vote. But as a lifelong student and follower of Jesus Christ with a high view of Scriptural authority, I know where my true identity lands: I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of God. With that citizenship comes responsibilities that are above my responsibilities as a United States citizen. I hope Christians put as much money and focus into missional Kingdom issues as they do political issues.
As a wise person once told me, “Do you want to hire a so-so plumber who is a Christian, or a master plumber who is a pagan and can fix your leaky toilet?” I want the next President of the United States to be the person best equipped to run the Executive Branch of the federal government and who will uphold the constitution as the presidential oath stipulates. If that person does not know Jesus, I’d cherish an opportunity to share the Good News with them. But I desire the most qualified person to be President, regardless of his or her faith.
Whoever the next President is or whatever political party is in control, my hope is that it’s not going to affect my life in the Kingdom of God. Whether in times of blessings or under threat of persecution, I pray my commitment to Jesus Christ will be the same. My allegiance is to the Savior of my soul, and His Kingdom will outlast any political party or nation.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.