Jesus said some very clear things about how things are. One thing that He said very clearly, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Yet here He is in the world to save the world.
Not Everything is a “Political” Issue
Jeremiah 29 tells God’s people to do something that is key for any Christians involvement in the culture in which it lives. Ready? Even when living in a “hostile, or unfriendly environment,” 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:6-7). Translation… Do the basic things for a healthy community and then seek to be a blessing there with the wisdom from the God who created us for liberty and life, righteousness and peace.
There are ways to be a blessing for others that are bigger than the winner of the election or the passing of a law. It is living a public life for the sake of one’s neighbor. There’s an attitude that God’s people bring to a world that tends to politicize everything. In the ancient world, the motto was “Don’t do to others, what you don’t want done to you.” Jesus turned that all around when He said, “Do unto others and you would have the do unto you.” And, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s something to strive for even when the political winds don’t blow one’s way.
What Would Jesus Do? Or, What Would the Father Do?
Christians often confuse their involvement in public issues on morality or policy by citing the phrase “What would Jesus do?” Unfortunately, that confuses the way the Bible talks about how God works in the world. In general, the church teaches that the Father is the creator of the world, the one who orders the world, and we can see that ordering throughout the cultures of the world and in the consciences of people in the world. The Bible also teaches that the Father sent His Son Jesus to redeem and restore the world through His cross and resurrection. So, what’s the point? Well, when it comes to how the church should seek to reach out to people, to share the Good news of the Gospel… That’s a “What would Jesus do?” type of question. That’s a turn the other cheek type of answer. That’s a “serve others as God in Christ serves you.” That’s how God orders His Right-Hand Kingdom work, the work of His church.
But that’s not how He orders governments and magistrates and law-enforcement etc. That’s a “What would God the Father do?” type of question. That’s an “if a person won’t work, neither shall he eat,” type of issue. That’s “let the punishment fit the crime,” type of issue. That’s a “Fathers… Love and respect your wife and children; Wives… Respect and love your husbands and love your children; Children respect your parents,” type of issue. “What would God the Father do?” is a question of how to order a safe, prosperous, and humane world with sinful, broken people at the helm. God the Father does that through the fundamental laws written in the hearts of people. The common dignity afforded to all people because they are created by God, that’s a foundation for a civil society. The challenge to encourage strong families, Fathers, Mothers, having and raising children in the context of love and respect, that can ward off many ills. Honoring the temporal liberties of freedom of religion and freedom of speech so that people can freely serve others, that’s a temporal life worth striving for. What would the “Father have us do?” I think that in the American Context it is that we are to “put our temporal liberties to work for the sake of the common good and for the sake of the proclamation of the eternal liberties that only Christ can give as a gift.
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? OR, WHAT WOULD THE FATHER DO? It’s a both/and thing!
Honor Your Local Sheriff, Support Your Local Families
A Christian, a Two-Kingdom citizen realizes that God is at work in the world two distinct ways to bless. In the “Left-Hand” kingdom engagement, God works through the orders of His creation as well as through the blessings of good government. So many of the issues that we face today are some form of breakdown in these orders or through these public vocations. But, so many things are tied together, are in relationship with each other. A healthy society can be traced back to healthy families, healthy children, strong moms and dads in the home. In those places, police and government can be “limited” because people are disciplined and motivated to do right by one’s own, and to do right by one’s community. When such things break down, when fathers and mothers stand down, often vocations of force tend to rise to curb potential violence or discord. The Romans 13 view of life is also predicated on the fourth commandment view of life where the Bible teaches that we are to “honor our father and mother that it may be well with us and that we may live long on the earth.” Honor our local authorities yes, but support and encourage strong families… That’s a Two-Kingdom dialogue that can bless a community.
So, the key to any discussion about policy or public solutions for a sinful, broken world like ours is always a “compared to what,” discussion. In a world that cannot fix itself, the solutions will always bring tradeoffs. But just because we can’t create perfect solutions, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t want the “better” solutions in our communities and neighborhoods. Even the Apostles were blessed by the “Peace of Rome,” and the good roads which provided opportunities for sharing the Gospel.
It’s a Broken World – So No Utopianism Allowed
One of the hardest things to read in the Bible is when, in John 16:33, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Paraphrase… This world is a broken, sinful, even evil place. And Jesus didn’t come to make an evil place a bit better. He came to bring a brand new, eternal Kingdom because of His work in this world for all. So, when it comes to perfection, eternal life, that’s a God thing on God’s terms by God’s work for all. But we live in this world with that comfort and peace. We live in this broken world and in many ways, we are trying to make it the best place it can be while proclaiming that “you ain’t seen nothing yet” if you put your trust in God.
So, how should we handle those temporal questions about how to get along with each other in this world? How should we organize ourselves for the sake of liberty, justice, and peace? Well, whatever way you try to do that, don’t forget the fundamental truths. You are dealing with sinful, broken people through and through. Whatever policy or temporal solution you put forth, there are going to be side-effects and tradeoffs. Why? Sinful people never are going to get things perfectly right and as someone has said, “The demand for perfection is often the enemy of a “good” solution.” No utopianism here because this world is always going to be “full of trouble.” So, here’s some practical how to’s when thinking about what to vote for, what to vote on, or how to engage in conversations with others about what might be better for us all… It’s always a “Tradeoffs conversation.” If someone asks you about public issues or topics, you might say, “Compared to what?” There will always be unforeseen consequences and side-effects. The key through it all would be to create the most good while tempering the most bad, and always realize that God has the final answer in all these things anyway.
Christian Public Engagement – Reformation Restraint… Cautious Because of Our Callousness, Suspicious of Puritan, Utopian Absolutism
Oh, there is so much to be angry about today it seems, right? Everyone thinks that they have the answers that will make everything better, or do we? When it comes to radical changes, a Two-Kingdom citizen probably will be hesitant at first. Why? Well, there’s that teaching that God is at work in the world in the Left-hand Kingdom, even through people who might not be believers in Him. Crazy, right? Not really. When you understand, what God is doing through His Left-hand Kingdom, you can understand how He can even use “sinful, unbelieving” people to keep things relatively peaceful and temporally just. There are people right now who are doing a “good” job in their vocations as politicians, police, entrepreneurs, business people, even fathers and mothers, whose “heart may not be totally in it,” but they know they need to do the right thing for others in their work. Is that optimal? No. But God can even work through that to keep a nation, a community, or even just a neighborhood from imploding.
In Romans 13, the Bible teaches a basic relationship to all authority that is honoring, holding it in respect. It is not “absolute,” for the Bible teaches that when such authority, which is under God’s Left-hand Kingdom rule, oversteps its boundaries or teaches something contrary to the fundamental teaches of the Bible (see Acts 5:29), the Apostle Peter teaches that “we must obey God rather than men.” But even here it is not with a rebellious heart, but a heart that wants what is best for others as well as oneself. Reformation Restraint is the belief that God is at work in the world, and He is ultimately seeking the best for each person. Jesus himself tells us that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Him. Restraint, even if it becomes proper resistance in time, eager waits to see what God is up to first. Count on it.
Christian Engagement of the World – Dynamic Differentiation
Again, Jesus’ words in Luke 20:25 guide us… Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s. The question for “public” engagement of issues and policies, is what does God desire of Caesar? And, what does God want His people to do in support of Caesar. In Romans 13, Paul writes…
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but too bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Give honor to the work, respect to those in authority but realize that their leadership can’t solve the big issues of life. Power can control bad folks to a degree. What is finally needed is a changed heart, and the Bible says that only the message of the Gospel in Jesus Christ can do that. So, when it comes to public engagement, Christians realize that we are to be “Dynamically engaged,” yes, but to realize that God works to bless in very different ways through His Two-Kingdom blessing. He curbs evil through government and taxes; He blesses the common good through people getting married, having children, and working hard to take care of one another, but His ultimate work is to bring salvation to all as a gift. Law and Gospel, Kingdom of the Left – Kingdom of the Right. We take them both seriously, but one is for a time, one is forever. Differentiating between the two is key!
In America, it gets even better since the constitution sets up the citizen, the disciplined, religious citizen as the “Caesar.” So, Paul’s admonition brings more work for the Two-Kingdom citizen to do. We don’t just need to honor those elected officials, we too need to be honorable. We don’t merely submit to the laws of the land, we get to participate in creating those laws for the good of all. Even there, God gives us wisdom through His Word, but the wisdom of the Law can be seen in God’s created order too. To that end… Be Dynamic… Get involved, but realize what is ultimate, what is fundamental, and what is the best that sinners can do to keep the peace and which ones matter most!
IF THAT’S TRUE… AND WE BELIEVE THAT IT IS… Then it calls for Christians to be a unique kind of citizen no matter what country they are in… But in America, it gives us a wonderful way to.
Two-Kingdoms – Church and State?
When the Bible teaches, that God engages the World for the sake of the world in two distinct ways, modern people tend to hear “Church and State” alone. Or, even worse, they hear the “separation of Church and State,” as if the Church needs to avoid having a voice in the public sphere of things in American culture. The Bible doesn’t teach such a nice, neat package. And, the founding Fathers of America weren’t afraid of too much “church” in society. They were afraid of too much power being amassed in and overarching government.
So, what’s the point? Well, when talking about “Church and State,” remember that the Bible sees this in a much bigger picture. Both the Church and the State are public entities under God’s authority and direction. But, the State, the public ordering of the world for the sake of civility and temporal justice and peace, that doesn’t just include politics and law-enforcement, that includes the vocations of Father and Mother, families… That includes the value and purpose of “work and enterprise.” That includes the various ways that people seek to serve those they love and care about with honest enterprise and committed friendship and love. When these things are ordered well, the Bible’s view on this is that “Believers strive for excellence in all they do to give God glory and to serve others in His Name.” A country that seeks to set that attitude “free,” is one that will find a way to put Church and State in proper tension and balance.
God is at Work in the World to Bless – Two Distinct Ways
Jesus said a very interesting thing in Luke 20:25, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are Gods.” And later to Pontus Pilate, the governor of Judea, who claimed that he had authority over Jesus himself, Jesus responded… “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11). Wow… God is at work. He saves the world through the person and work of Jesus, THAT’S THE MAIN MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE. But to make sure that message “gets out” for all to hear…. God keeps the world civil, humane, just, and safe (outwardly) through people like Pilate. So, God is at work in the world in two distinct ways… One to keep things civil, humane, just through His created orders of Family, Work, and Government… Or, as I like to say… God works through Fathers, Mothers, Businesspeople, and Leaders… Broken and sinful as they are, He still works through them to prevent, chaos, all Hell from breaking loose… That’s God’s Left-hand Kingdom rule, His engagement to bless. Of course, that’s not the “good news,” the great news of His Salvation by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus… But that “Left-hand Kingdom work of God,” through even “relatively, moral” unbelievers are part of His work of blessing too. When Christians engage the Public realm, full of philosophies, ideologies, and appetites emanating from sinful, broken people just like us… We know that there is work to do to keep things sane, humane, just, and safe. But that work is part of God’s greater work to get the ultimate message of Christ out there for all to hear. Keep it safe, so the Church can speak. Keep it just, so chaos is kept at bay. Give us “rules to live by” in peace, so there can be opportunities to share a message of Grace over the fences of neighbors living side by side in peace. God’s ways, two distinct ways, Two Kingdoms, two specific types of engagement, ONE MISSION… TO ULTIMATELY BLESS THE WORLD NOW AND FOREVER.