Should Christians Work for Caesar?

Christians and politics; what is the Church’s stance here? Like on so many other issues, the Church doesn’t seem to have one. There are more like 10 of them.

We have the Religious Right, led by people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the American Family Association who “successfully”embraced the political process some time ago. In response to the their agenda we’ve seen the emergence of the evangelical left, spearheaded by folks like Barry Lynn’s Americans United and Jim Wallis and his Call for Renewal. As expected, James Dobson (reluctantly) endorses John McCain while Brian McLaren raises a stink by actively supporting Barak Obama. Shane Claiborn has a bestseller called, “Who Would Jesus Vote For” and Roman Catholics are guided by bishops on where to cast their collective votes.

Some church leaders strongly urge Christians to hit the polls while others encourage us to stay home and not participate in such a ‘worldly’ system. We are coached to vote for politicians who wear their faith on their sleeves while others make reasonable arguments for Christians having no place in government at all, especially in the military.

I have recently discovered something called Christian Anarchy, which appears to be an umbrella term for various fairly liberal and unorthodox ideas about church and state. Originally, it seems to have been a response to the growing legalistic authority that church leaders began to wield, particularly once Rome co-opted a large part of the Church. In this regard, Christian Anarchism espouses a direct communication between God and the individual, devoid of the need for clergy, doctrine and dogma. (I’m sure regular visitors will not be surprised that I can see a lot of value to this way of thinking.)

But then there are other Christian anarchists who are primarily pacifists and oppose violence, particularly institutionalized violence. Why a pacifist would gravitate towards anarchism is beyond my immediate understanding (perhaps because when I think of anarchists the first thing that comes to mind are black berets, striped shirts and black bowling balls with lit fuses trailing). Anyway, I tend to think that pacifiism, like anarchy itself, is a great concept with little practical value. C.S. Lewis once suggested that the only societies that will permit pacifists are free societies that will forcibly protect, if necessary, the right of the pacifist to express themselves. I think the same could be said for those societies who tolerate anarchists.

Scriptures are often used to support ideas of when, where and how we should engage government. But, as so often seems to be the case, the situations the scriptural authors are responding to are quite different than today’s. The anarchistic, open commune type of ecclesia that the New Testament describes existed and benefited from the infrastructure produced by Caesar’s Pax Romana (in spite of the fact that Caesar and company were out to get them).

So, can a Christian, in good conscience, be a politician? A civil servant? A soldier? Perhaps more Christians should be politicians, civil servants and soldiers. Is it right for people of faith to see themselves as being in some way elected not to involve themselves in the systems that they benefit from?

What do you think?

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  1. #1 by netprophet on August 18, 2008 - 10:02 pm

    I’m still back on the Question “Should Christians work for Caesar?”

  2. #2 by Christian Beyer on August 19, 2008 - 6:32 am

    sure, but the Illuminati?

  3. #3 by Ambrosia de Milano on August 19, 2008 - 10:01 pm

    The Illuminati? We already work for the Illuminati!

  4. #4 by Christian Beyer on August 20, 2008 - 6:35 am

    Ambrosia! Welcome back. W?here are you hiding Zoolander, Logio, Bruce and your other friends? Have you seen Sybil lately?

  5. #5 by Ambrosia de Milano on August 20, 2008 - 5:10 pm

    Ha-Ha. Why in the YIT does this thing keep switching me from Logiopath to Ambrosia? Who am I, where am I, what am I?

    If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear, why did Jews like Oscar Mayer find their fortune in the pork processing business?

  6. #6 by rogueminister on December 18, 2008 - 12:30 am

    Im revisiting your post here and just wanted to say that I think your characterization of Christian anarchy being liberal and unorthodox arent completely accurate. The early church universally required people to leave government and military posts when they were baptized. I think the early church is a good place to look if we want to find orthodoxy. On other topics they had a variety of ideas, some even heretical, but on these two the verdict seems to be unanimous.

    I know your an avid reader, so I recommend picking up John Howard Yoder’s book, “The Politics of Jesus” and Vernard Eller’s, “Christian Anarchy.” Both of these books give a good scholarly account of Christian Anarchy and pacifism and a great theological and historical background of each.

    Finally, I think pacisfism is extremely valuable as demonstrated in the life of Jesus and countless Christian martyrs. There are two excellent books that show the history of pacifism. They are Mark Kurlansky’s “Nonviolence the History of a Dangerous Idea,” and Robert W. Brimlow’s “What About Hitler?: Wrestling with Jesus’ Call to Nonviolence in an Evil world.”

    Brother, even though it seems we totally disagree on this one, I truly appreciate your willingness to listen as well as share your honest critiques. I always enjoy reading your blog, even though I havent had much time to join in the conversation lately since seminary is taking up all my time.

  7. #7 by Christian Beyer on December 18, 2008 - 10:08 am

    Thanks. You are the second person to recommend Kurlansky’s book so I’ll take that as a sign. 🙂 Brimlow’s book sounds pretty interesting though, I may check that out first.

    It’s a tough situation. I’m reminded of Joker in Full Metal Jacket ,, wearing a peace symbol on his vest and writing “Born to Kill” on his helmet.

    I do think that at times violent response is inevitable, especially when dealing with murderous sociopaths and their minions who wield power. But the shame of it is that too often we ignore those situations but then resort to violence for things such as ‘prosperity’ , ‘American interests’ or ‘spreading’ democracy. We should not consider the teachings of Von Clausewitz on the same par as Christ’s.

    We need more seminary graduates like you.

  8. #8 by rogueminister on December 18, 2008 - 1:26 pm

    Aww Im blushing.

    You are absolutely right that it is a tough situation. That is why I am thankful for healthy dialogues like this because it forces me to think things through.

    I just posted this response on another blog but it seemed to fit perfectly here so here it is….

    To use Bonhoeffer, when he attempted to kill Hitler, he said it wasnt right or justified and asked God’s forgiveness for his lack of creativity. That to say that I do not believe there is ever a point when violence is justified for Christians, but at the same time I understand how people act in desperation sometimes. That doesnt mean their actions are right or justified but I am just saying I can sympathize. So to be very clear I do not believe there is ever a time when violence is justified or acceptable.

    The problem we face is in our understanding of necessary/inevitable. Sometimes people feel like something is necessary when it really is not. I believe violence is wrong and it is my hope and prayer that the Spirit will always open my eyes to the creative non-violent alternatives and the courage to be willing face the consequences of my actions and deal with whatever suffering may come. That is what I strive for even though it seems almost impossible even in my mind, but I trust that this is what Jesus has called us to.

  9. #9 by Christian Beyer on December 18, 2008 - 2:03 pm

    Man, I hate to use extreme hypothetical situations but they do happen.

    What if there is a deranged man demonstrating every intent to use an automatic weapon on a group of innocent people -wives, mothers, husbands, children- and you are the man with the training and the weapon that allows you to take him out?

    If I have any loved ones in that group of hostages I certainly hope you can find it within you to do just that. Even if I don’t know a soul in the group, I hope that would be the case.

    Now neither you nor I have chosen to be a soldier or a policeman. Nor do we have a citizen’s militia such as they have in Switzerland (which I have heard is a viable form of pacifism). But thank God that we do have men and women who will do these things.

    Discipline and loyalty are essential elements in the lives of those who choose such careers. Unfortunately unscrupulous men and women have taken advantage of these qualities in order to wreak havoc throughout the world.

    That, I think, is another good reason to have more and not less authentic Christians in government as well as military and martial service.

  10. #10 by rogueminister on December 19, 2008 - 2:17 pm

    I believe that Christians shouldnt use violence. I cant speak for people who are not followers of Christ.

    Honestly, in a situation like that I dont know what I would do, but I also dont know how fix a crumbling marriage or solve global poverty. That doesnt mean divorce is any less bad, or that I shouldnt seek out some ways to feed the people that I can. In scripture the apostles are told not worrry about what to say when they stand in front of the judges etc. but to trust in the Holy Spirit to speak for them. This may seem like a cop-out, but this is the answer that I have, is that I too trust that God will lead in those difficult situations.

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