Thursday, June 4, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Survey of Biblical Priorities, Part 1

Carson takes Mark 12.13-17 (“Give to Ceasar what is Caesar’s…”) as the passage that best defines church/state relationships. There are some creative interpretations of it, but it means that, while Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28), it will be contested until He returns and Christians live in the tension of being good citizens while not primarily identifying with any nation or state. This fits with Paul’s exhortations in Romans 13. This fits in our world because many can do good today “within government” in ways that Paul’s people couldn’t. There’s also an OT directive to work for the good of the city – even when they’re in exile (Jer. 29.7). Daniel is a model for serving in government without compromise – even if it meant his death. And Christians are encouraged to do good to all in Galatians 6.10. These basic principles can guide in different cultural contexts and tensions Christians have to think through and navigate.

Opposition and Persecution
Despite the support we should show for governmental authorities, it is clear that there will be opposition and persecution because we operate out of a different set of “norms,” according to Carson. Matthew 10 expects opposition and persecution and it is evident in Acts and Revelation as well (though it shows Christians winning official trials in Acts, too). Sometimes there will not be nationalized persecution, but it may operate on a lower level – state or local. This is also evident in Acts and Revelation.

Differing Fundamental Allegiances

But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." Acts 4.19-20
Paul lays expectations on the church in his letters, not the culture (see 1 Cor. 5.12). There was much sin in the Roman world, but Paul felt no need to legislate against it. The church’s citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3.20-21). The early church had Roman citizenship, but their ultimate citizenship is in heaven. This will set us at odds, inevitably, with those who have no allegiance to heaven.

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