In a presidential election year, it is good for us as Christians to think and rethink our relationship to governmental authority and its temporal role in the plan of God. To this end, I recommend to you Mark Dever’s little book, God and Politics: Jesus’ Vision for Society, State and Government. This 55-page easy read is based upon a sermon and, therefore, reads more like a pastoral letter than a book, which I see as a positive. Since it is published by 10 of Those, which intentionally prints small, inexpensive books that are biblical and accessible, church leaders may easily consider gifting it to their congregations. Let me summarize this little book for you.
A Pagan State is a Legitimate State and Christians Are Good for a Nation
The book is both an exposition of Mark 12:13-17, in which context Jesus makes the statement, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The exposition includes a brief biblical theology of human government and the relationship of God’s people to it. In Jesus’ statement, Dever says, Jesus “establishes a biblical theology of government, and He applies it to the new phase in history of God’s people that He was beginning. While it is going too far to say that Jesus’ statement here established a wall of separation between church and state, or made the state secular; I think Jesus’ affirmation of paying taxes to the Roman government does show that even a pagan state is a legitimate state. That was an amazing thing for Him to say.”
Recognizing that God is sovereign over all human government leads Christians to trust Him enough to “usually obey it. Authority by its very nature reflects God….The purpose of all government should be to bless those within the scope of its authority….It is in our nature as Christians to be good citizens, but no earthly kingdom is to be identified as uniquely God’s people.”
Christians Are International
The emphasis on this truth is the greatest strength of this little book. By reminding us of God’s worldwide vision for redemption, and the temporal usefulness of national governments, Dever repeatedly draws us back to the centrality of the gospel. In our trust in God to deal with human governments that do not reflect His character, “Christians are freed from supporting any one particular nation. We are freed to support whatever government there is for whatever land God has called us to live in….Christians are like cockroaches. We can survive anything by the grace of God. We are not dependent on just governments for the gospel going forward….Now, we are an international people, not fundamentally a people of one ethnic group with promises running in one ethnic line.” It is through the church preaching the gospel to all nations that God will accomplish His international purpose to call a people for Himself out of every nation, tongue, tribe, and people (Read Revelation 4-5).
Earthly Authority and Christian Obedience are Both Limited
The authority of human governments is not absolute; God’s authority is. He alone is sovereign. Therefore, when the commands of human authority conflict with the commands God’s Word has placed upon us as believers, we must obey the higher authority. To make this point, Dever shares a bit of history from his own local church.
“Our congregation in Washington DC was begun in 1878 with 18 articles about what we believe to be true. Article 16 says, this, ‘We believe that Civil Government is of Divine Appointment, for the interests and good order of human society; that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored and obeyed.’ And you think, good, that is a good biblical statement, but that’s not all. There is one last phrase, ‘Except only in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience and the Prince of the kings of the earth.’”
I recommend God and Politics to you because one of the troubling patterns we see every time there is a presidential election is the confidence and hope that Christians put in human government and leaders. Yes, we should pray and vote and proclaim God’s righteousness. But, in the end, let our daily joy not be dependent upon the wins or defeats of our “favorite candidate.” Let us worship and serve God and hope only in Him. There is a day coming—when the Lord Jesus returns—that earthly government will work the way God intended.
Until then, our calling is to live as good citizens, to recognize that our heavenly citizenship is infinitely more important and valuable than that of this earth, and submit every area of our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.