Most Christian churches hold to a set of beliefs that incorporate what they call a “philosophy of government.” Some denominations go so far as to include human government in their confession of faith.
One at least, the “FourSquare” denomination, actually incorporates government as one of the four “squares” or pillars of their existence. Other churches have been directly created by and remain under overall government control. Many supposedly independent churches exist under special state privilege, state funding or a tax exemption not enjoyed by their members – in return for reporting to the state, keeping quiet on sensitive subjects, and complying with various requirements.
Whatever the varying details of each church “philosophy of government”; almost all are agreed about one thing: The divine creation and ordination of government itself.
And yet… not one can point to that moment of ordination:
In the beginning, God did not create a hierarchical group. Adam was created as a free individual – able even to choose wrongly against God. When he did so and caused the fall of mankind after him, there is no record that God then established government in order to somehow compensate for sin.
Then came Abraham the “patriarch“ who, after passing an extreme test of faith, entered into a special covenant with God that served as the legal vehicle for establishing first the Old and then the New Covenant. That Abrahamic covenant remains in force to this day: “if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). Through many challenges, Abraham lived absolutely free from state control – to the point of defeating all the hostile kings around him.
Four hundred and fifty years later under the Old Covenant, Abraham’s descendants – unlike the heathen nations around them – also lived under a patriarchal civil and judicial order, free from government. This condition lasted for around another 450 years – until they demanded a king (Acts 13:20-21, 1 Samuel 8).
Then when the time was right and in accordance with the prophets, Jesus came into the world and established a New Covenant not just for Israel; but for the whole world.
So, here is a question: Did Jesus reintroduce those ancient entities – governments – which claim the right to rule over all other natural civil, social and economic authorities, in all areas of life?
Did he in fact endorse earthly government so that God could now work through them, for the general good? …A kinder, gentler form of democratic state perhaps, to provide for the weak and vulnerable? Or to protect our property and keep us safe from danger? Or to teach our children for us? And to protect workers’ wages and oversee commerce?
Certainly, if anyone had the right to do so it was Jesus – the prophesied “Christ” or, “anointed one”. Because when Jesus came, it was not merely as a prophet or teacher, but as God the Son manifested in human form. Jesus did not say “thus says the Lord” he said, “most assuredly, I say unto you“.
His earthly life was the perfect example for Christians and the world – the living embodiment of the Word and the will of God the Father. According to the first chapter of Hebrews, the words of Jesus are therefore far superior to and supersede all of the earlier Law of Moses – while remaining consistent with it:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets perfectly, and so rendered the Old Covenant obsolete:
In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. – Hebrews 8:3
God.. made us.. ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious… how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? – 2 Corinthians 3:7-8
The point is this:
Anyone who claims to believe in Jesus as their Lord, should therefore give the greatest possible weight and submit fully to anything that Jesus did or said about human government.
The Word of the King
Earthly kings and princes are of course mentioned in the Gospel record as a fact of life – and Jesus certainly did not oblige us to physically overthrow them. But neither is there any call to government action anywhere in his teaching.
Instead, Jesus always placed the responsibility directly upon each one of us personally.
To pervert this divine instruction by abandoning our personal obligations and reassigning them in part or in full to the state, is to oppose and undermine the Word of our King.
This is true for the specific teaching of Jesus in all areas of life – including social welfare, the protection and enforcement of property rights, giving to the poor, and helping others.
For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect – Mark 7:10-13
When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. – Luke 11:21
So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. – Mark12:8-9
…give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me. – Mark 10:21
“A certain man… fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. …a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite… But a certain Samaritan… brought him to an inn, and took care of him. …when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said… “Go and do likewise.” – Luke 10:30-37
The reality is this:
In everything he said and everything he did, Jesus was an enemy of the state all the way from his birth until his death. Until finally, the Roman state killed him at the behest of local state-empowered religious officials
The Greatest Enemy of the State
Look at the record:
- From birth, Jesus’ earthly family was on the run from Herod, the king of Judea – in active disobedience to the law of their land.
- For three years of public ministry, Jesus was frequently in hiding from the ruling elite, who sought to kill him. In public at other times they sought to kill him also, but dared not because they “feared the people“.
- In the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan with all the political power of the world: “Then the devil… showed Him all the kingdoms of the world…. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.'” But Jesus spurned the offer of “godly” government: “Get behind Me, Satan. For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'”
- Government was locally administered by state-empowered religious leaders with their own armed forces, and nationally by King Herod under Caesar: Every rebuke of a Pharisee or Herodian was also the rebuke of a government official.
- Jesus and the disciples openly disobeyed the arbitrary regulations of the Pharisees and Sadducees – while upholding and fulfilling the Law of Moses. (Matthew 12:1-6, Mark 2:23-28)
- Jesus condemned human legislators and regulation: “woe to you lawmakers, for you lay burdens hard to bear and yet lift not a finger yourself”.
- Jesus spoke out against officials of King Herod as well as the Pharisees: “beware the leaven of the Herodians“
- Jesus publicly characterised the Pharisees as hell-bound “serpents” and King Herod as a “fox” (Luke 13:31-32)
- Jesus condemned government officialdom and bureaucracy outright: “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you.” (Matthew 20:25-26)
- Jesus directly condemned taxation – yet without calling for an open war of resistance: “the sons (i.e. of God) are free; nevertheless lest we offend them (i.e. tax collectors) pay the tax” (Matthew 17:26-27)
- Jesus was thus accused of opposing taxation at his trial:
“And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” (Luke 23:2) Clearly then, the “Render unto Caesar” passage was not a public endorsement of tax. Instead, Jesus challenged the hearer’s personal allegiance – to Caesar or to God.
- Jesus instructed soldiers not to bully (or therefore, to kill innocent people. (Luke 3:14)
- Jesus taught the use of force by private landowners (Mark 12:8-9). He also exercised that right in the temple, by “taking the law into his own hands” and beating moneychangers and Pharisees with a whip (John 2:15, Mark 11:15, Matt 21:12): “When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple. And He said… ‘Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!‘”
- Jesus teaching supported an employer’s absolute right to hire and fire, to pay more or pay less, by private contract: But he answered one of them and said, “Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” (Matthew 20)
- John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, a task which included rebuking Herod publicly: He was jailed for applying the laws of God to the head of state, like everyone else: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:18)
But churches typically skim over all of these sciptures and many others like them, while allowing myths of the state to flourish.
There are a number of these common, state-friendly misinterpretations of Gospel passages, including the following examples of “doctrinal spin”:
Doctrinal Spin – State Violence
Many Christians have joined military ranks and worse, are willing to kill based upon an order from above – be it right or wrong. Yet they cite Jesus’ treatment of soldiers to justify this..
Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” – Luke 3:14
So it is true that Jesus did not require soldiers – or tax collectors – to immediately go “AWOL”. These were the collection and enforcement agents of the Roman state. In the case of soldiers at least, they could not simply leave or abandon their post without incurring serious penalty, even death.
However, Jesus instructed both to do no harm to the innocent and take no more than that which Rome required. In this way, they were not to become personally responsible by adding their own threats or thefts.
In no way did Jesus endorse the Roman military tyranny, nor absolve those individual new believers from wrongdoing that was within their own power to prevent.
Nor did Jesus institute moral immunity on the basis of order following: Heroes of the faith such as Daniel – who was thrown into a lion’s den by the emperor – are heroes because they actively refused to obey the state.
Doctrinal Spin – Obey Rulers
The Pharisees were largely corrupted and in league with Caesar and Herod. As priests, they were never intended by God to be agents of or empowered by the state, but they did have a legitimate foundation in their original priestly role.
The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. – Matthew 23:2-4
Insofar as that priestly function extended, Jesus did instruct the people to obey them – while not behaving as they did. Along with other civil leaders, they are referred to as “rulers“.
But their sphere of legitimate authority was strictly limited to religious matters and related sections of the pre-existing Law, as given by God. To some degree, they might misinterpret, misjudge or impose improper burdens within this remit, but they had no arbitrary power from God. This was demonstrated not only by Jesus, but also by the disciples when they plucked ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath – contrary to the regulations of the ruling Pharisees (Matthew 12:1, Mark 2:23, Luke 6:1)
The Greek word often translated “ruler” is also used in Romans 13 and other passages. It is an English translation which can suggest a more aggressive force than is necessarily intended. That original Greek word is, “archon” and it is actually a general term for any kind of leader with influence or jurisdiction, public or private. Its meaning can also encompass both evil and good forms.
Jesus specifically made this clear in Matthew 20:25:
“…the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.”
Jesus then, taught that there are two kinds of “rulers” – and that there are two ways of becoming “great“:
- One is by performing a valuable service to others.
- The other is by violently lording it over others and demanding their submission.
Government may not be the only form of that second kind – but it is the full grown institutionalised manifestation. Those who would lord it over others but are not yet part of the state system, are inevitably friendly to state power and inexorably gravitate towards it.
Doctrinal Spin – Render unto Caesar
Of the various attempts to morally validate the state, the distortion of Romans 13 is by far the most pervasive.This matter is covered at length under such titles as, “Romans 13: Armed Liberty” and “Rights, Liberties and Romans 13“.
However, the single most abused scripture within the four Gospels must be that famous passage, “render unto Caesar”. Here is Luke’s account, from chapter 20:
…the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people — for they knew He had spoken… against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.
Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favouritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?”
They answered and said, “Caesar’s.”
And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marvelled at His answer and kept silent.
So Jesus left the interpretation up to the hearer and, true to form, it is no wonder the modern church interpretation amounts to a divine blank cheque for Caesar.
But in what way could the Pharisees and Herodians have been seeking to ensnare Jesus?
Only one: The passage specifically says they wanted to “deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.” But how could there be any threat of arrest, if Jesus really had come out in support of taxation in the way churches do today? That threat could only come with a moral position against taxation.
If as is so often taught, Jesus did fully support taxation, then why did he not speak plainly to the people – as he did about their rebellious ancestors, and about adultery, divorce and sexual behaviour, for example?
He did not because, as always, he was against slavery to the kingdoms of this world and was introducing a new Kingdom. But, unlike John the Baptist, who did speak out publicly against Herod and was arrested for it; Jesus had a much more important task to accomplish – one that would only be hindered by any arrest over the subject of taxation.
Clearly, Jesus did not obligate his disciples either to physically resist Caesar or taxation unto arrest or death. But to interpret this as an endorsement of unlimited taxation is a travesty. In fact, Jesus position was made crystal clear in private to his disciples:
Paying up to the “kings of the earth” – on demand and for prudence sake – was not equal to a moral endorsement of it:
…those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”
He said, “Yes.”
And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”
Peter said to Him, “From strangers.”
Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
So according to that lesson from Jesus, his followers should not be so quick to just say “yes” to taxation – especially if it can be avoided. If not, then according to this example, we can ask in faith and expect God to help us pay it with some sort of compensating financial bonus or increase, above and beyond day to day funds.
Note also that at the time Jesus spoke of “rendering to Caesar”, all those present were well aware that the denarius coin of the time bore the inscription of a “divine” Caesar with the words, “son of the god.” By focusing upon that coin, Jesus offered to the hearers a free will choice of allegiance – to God or to a pagan deity, the head of state.
But the Pharisees could never come out in open support of Caesar against God, because they “feared the people,” who would riot or even kill them. So the ball was cleverly bounced back into the court of the Pharisees. They could either be silent, or speak the truth and face the wrath of the multitude they feared.
Eventually, in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus and secure in the presence of armed Roman guards, they did speak the truth:
“We have no king but Caesar!”
Only in that secure environment, having their friends and allies around them and having made their own allegiance clear; did they then openly accuse Jesus of tax resistance.
“And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” – Luke 23:2
The New Kingdom
All that Jesus said and did confronted the state at all levels, because He proclaimed a new kingdom – the Kingdom of God.
Jesus went about all the cities and villages… preaching the gospel of the kingdom – Matthew 9:35
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:14
And yet, Jesus chose not to physically overthrow those kingdoms and governments because they existed due to the will of human beings on earth. That freedom of will is the exercise of human dominion, which was established by God from the beginning of creation and so is upheld absolutely, throughout the process of redemption.
The Kingdom of God, Jesus said, “is within you“. That is, it was to begin inside willing believers and work its way out to every area of life and influence. It was of course, clear to Satan and to the rulers of his evil kingdoms, that the inevitable end of this road could only be the dissolution of those visible kingdoms founded upon violence.
When the human “lease” does finally run out on this earth; the ultimate end of that road will indeed be the return in power and glory of the only true King. At that time, the fate of the kingdoms of this earth will be sealed once and for all:
…in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. – Daniel 2:44
Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. – 1 Corinthians 15
In the meantime, it is our “great commission” to invite as many as will accept it, to opt out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of Light. We are to be Ambassadors of the King.
There is much opposition to the Kingdom of God, and there are many challenges to the seed-like process of expansion. It takes patience and unwavering faith, to maintain good cheer through adversity – and on to victory:
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and… whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. – 1 John 5:1-5
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. – John 16:33
The tribulations that local government officialdom brought upon the early Apostles could be gladly endured only with the supernatural comfort of the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations.” Thankfully, we can all call upon God’s comfort, rescue and protection in life – remaining faithful is not a matter of having a high pain threshold…
Even the very worst case scenario – death – is for the Christian, a wonderful early promotion to the Kingdom of perfect liberty. Ultimately, we can never be defeated.
But there is much more for right now: If we will be faithful to deliver and hold to this good news of the Kingdom of liberty, uncorrupted by the kingdoms of this world; then we can also experience daily victories over every kind of adversity.
For those who will choose to keep the thoughts and Words of our King – the greatest enemy of the state – uppermost in their minds and hearts, there is never any need to fail. On the contrary, we can bring the good things of that heavenly Kingdom to pass here on earth, for ourselves and for others:
If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. – John 15:7-12