Love, Not Sword: On the Distinction Between Church and Government

Just a thought for the Church, for whomever of you wants to listen and engage on this topic:

In recent days I’ve been thinking that we need to remember the distinction between government and church. They are distinct entities with distinct functions and purposes.

When we read Chapter 13 of Romans, we hear Paul say that followers of Christ are to honor the governing authorities:

“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.” Romans 13:7

He says that Government, as a general rule, is a terror to evil, but will reward good conduct. Now, we know that doesn’t always happen, in practice – there are sometimes evil leaders.

In fact, when Paul penned this, Nero was the Caesar – the same one who eventually had Paul beheaded. The same one who demonized Christians in order to save his own life and power, such that severe persecution came upon them. Nero was one of history’s most evil rulers.

Having said that though, the ideal is that government would provide safety for its people, and hold back evil.

That is the job of government. Now to the church.

The church plays a very different role than government. Whereas ruling authorities are a terror to evil, the people of God are to pray for those who curse them.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. -Jesus, in Matthew 5

We are called to be light where there is darkness, to turn the other cheek, to go out among the nations to make disciples. Paul said:

“…All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:18‭-‬20 ESV

We are called Christ’s ambassadors, which means we represent him to the rest of the world. We re-present his life, which is a life laid down, not a sword taken up.

My concern, specifically, in all of the above, is that the American church is becoming more concerned with the sword (whether we take it up ourselves, or whether we demand the government’s use of it) than we are with being Christ’s ambassadors.

I have been guilty of this, too. It’s easy to become fearful in the face of unknowns, and with all the different voices telling us we need to be afraid, specifically of Muslim immigrants and refugees.

I’m just going to say this as plainly as I can:

We need to be careful that the Muslims of today don’t become the Jews, or the Japanese, of the last century.

With all the talk of making registries, and using the Japanese registry during World War II as a precedent (which eventually led to internment camps), we are on shaky ground.

That’s government territory, though. I pray they are wise and just in all their dealings, and will do what’s right before God. I don’t claim to have the mind of God on those things, or to know what He might approve.

My concern is with my purpose in all of this. As a church we need to remember that it’s our job to be light and to be representatives of Christ – not lead or encourage lynch mobs.

I’ve been in many church services where missions were celebrated – they tell stories of what goes on around the world, stories about people in the Middle East encountering Jesus in dreams – amazing stories. We pray for the nations, we pray “on earth, as it is in heaven,” for the Kingdom of God to grow.

We say, “We can’t all go, but we can help send,” and we pass the offering plate.

But – what if God begins to send the mission field to us? What if we don’t have to go very far at all to be among the nations? Are we okay with that? Are we up for the task? Because maybe that’s what’s happening. I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that we can’t allow an entire people group to be demonized such that we no longer see them as individuals, made in the image of God, who God wants to touch. We can’t let fear lead.

Some of us may be called to be among those like Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Who knows? I certainly don’t wish for that, but are we willing?

For now, all I can do is pray and, with God’s help, stay kind and loving, as a follower of Jesus. One of our greatest weapons is love: love for God first, then love for people. All people. All nations. Every tribe, every tongue. All of them.

The short of it is this:

Government is a terror to evil.
The church is supposed to be a light in the midst of it.

May God strengthen us for the task.

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