Government is Not the Church
As I write this post, an endless barrage of articles scroll across my newsfeed combining Christianity and politics. Some claim it is my Christian duty to support conservative politicians, as they are the ones protecting my religious liberty. Others claim I, as a Christian, cannot possibly support conservatives like President Trump because their policies directly contradict the teachings of Scripture. Some claim Democrats are systematically opposed to Christianity. Others claim Republicans conform to Christianity in name only, and only Democrats truly align with Christianity. Both cannot be right, but both make very compelling cases that seem to be deeply rooted in Scripture. “The Bible says murder is wrong, so we must be pro-life.” “The Bible says love your neighbor, so we must reject the deportation of illegal immigrants.” “Jesus did not drug test before He fed the hungry, and He healed whether or not the sick could pay.” Each of these arguments, however, rely on a single assumption: The Bible’s teachings on how governments operate are the same principles that regulate how Christians live and act. If that assumption is true, Christians should view government as an extension of the Church. That view, however, is not entirely consistent with the Word of God.
With governments around the world offering different services to help the impoverished, the unemployed, the orphaned, the widowed, the injured, the helpless, and the needy, it can be difficult to determine where the work of the Church stops, and where the work of the government begins. Further complicating the matter, many of these governments are comprised of elected officials, so voting Christians can have an impact in how these governments are run. It is easy, then, to conclude that it is the job of the Christians within these nations to vote for governments who carry out the work of the Body of Christ, since the government can be viewed as an extension of the voting population. However, this is not true; the government is a completely different entity than the Church, established by God with a different function and purpose.
There are several chapters in Scripture that outline the purpose and responsibility of government. In Psalm 82, God rebukes the rulers of the nations. His primary complaint is their unjust judgments and their partiality towards the wicked (v. 2). The following verses are a command to rulers:
“Vindicate the weak and the fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” (v. 3-4 NASB)
God establishes governments to be His judges on Earth, helping the oppressed and the needy while punishing oppressors. God did not rebuke the rulers for being unforgiving, uninviting, or failing to act like Jesus; His complaint was that they ruled with injustice, refusing to help the oppressed and siding with the oppressors.
Romans 13 elaborates on this idea. Paul, writing while living under a wicked and oppressive government, says all authority comes from God (v. 1). He continues to claim government is “a minister of God to you for good,” but “it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (v. 4). Again we see the purpose of government is to establish justice—to benefit those who do good, and to punish those who do evil.
That is the fundamental, unchanging role of governments around the world, and it is no different for the United States of America. The United States’ Declaration of Independence argues governments exist to protect the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Essentially, the Founding Fathers argued governments exist to protect people from oppression. In what is seen today as a groundbreaking shift in viewing government, those brilliant men articulated the central purpose of governments ordained by God thousands of years ago.
Therefore, as we discuss policies and politics from a Christian perspective, we must understand the fundamental differences between the Church and governments. Governments exist to glorify God in justice while the Church exists to glorify God by bearing witness of His marvelous grace. Governments exist to punish evil while the Church exists to display God’s unending love. Governments exist to protect the fundamental rights of all people while the Church exists to tell of the blood Christ spilled to let us become right with God.
There is room for differing opinions on economic policy, social policy, and foreign policy, enabling Christians to be Republicans, Democrats, or other; however, we must not promote government policies that contradict or deviate too far from government’s role to promote justice. Likewise, we must be careful not to give our responsibilities as the Church to the government, hoping they do a better job. We are to love God with all we are, and to love others as ourselves—demonstrated by meeting their needs. As citizens with the wonderful ability to vote, let us encourage our government to promote justice, while we tell the world of the greatest injustice of all—that the only perfect man to ever live died in our place, so that we might take on His righteousness and have eternal life.