Day after day news comes of crime and injustice taking place around us in America. It isn’t just the media and what’s newsworthy: we really are spiraling downward at an alarming rate. The evil and wickedness of our culture becomes more normal and accepted, and therefore paraded before our eyes (and unashamedly even captured in video form) for the sake of entertainment! How did sin and evil become so exponentially accelerated within our lifetime?
It comes back to the influences in society and our lives. The deterioration of morals in society is now constantly reflected in the leaders of our culture in politics, entertainment, sports, and sadly, even the church. It is now perfectly normal for those that lead us to be accused of gross immorality and shameful behavior and yet continue on to lead others! When did being as bad as the next person begin to be an admirable attribute worthy of our trust and praise? This is not at all the biblical standard given to the church by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1. Paul calls for people who are exemplary in their lives of devotion to be leaders of the rest who may not at all qualify. But we see around us even the religious leaders serving whilst their character and private lives are dysfunctional.
Going one step beyond leadership simply not measuring up to be worthy of imitation is the reality that their influence flows out of their worldview (the lens through which one sees, interprets, and values the events and people of the past and present). It only goes to reason that if a leader sees this world in a secular, humanistic view he will lead public policy and influence culture by his acts and dictates according to that interpretation of life. Day after day in talk shows and newscasts (and even in our secular education system), people of influence greatly impact those whom they lead. Therefore, when government creates legislation and new positions to deal with issues such as global temperature, or specific animal species protection, or embryonic research, or sexual orientation education, we should not be surprised that these issues are — in the mind of those leading — the most alarming ones of our day! Their unregenerate minds have no ability to see these issues from a biblical context or order as God has explained in Scripture. (This is not meant in any way to diminish the responsibility clearly given in Scriptures to be responsible and respectful of all God has created and made us responsible for as administrators of this planet.)
All of this leads to the question entitled above, “How then, does the Christ-centered man live amidst a culture which is pagan in its very orientation and unredeemable beyond a work of God in the hearts and minds of its leadership?” What a great question! How relevant for today! Christians may increasingly cast off all cultural and political leadership as pagan and beyond hope, or they may actively involve themselves in the process and seek to infiltrate and effect change in these spheres. In the meantime, there is a calling to correctly respond to everyday challenges of life (which will grow increasingly difficult within our lifetime) as our leaders create policies aimed at being “tolerant” become exceedingly more intolerant of our Christian worldview and its claim to exclusive truth which is so clear in Scripture. This is the issue to be addressed that touches all of us daily and God’s Word does give us guidance.
The Apostle Paul lived in the first century and although he was a Roman citizen himself, he often encountered hostile leadership to his ministry of reconciling the world to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19). It was God’s work, but the Jewish and Roman leadership found reasons to persecute him and make living and working for God difficult. Paul writes to both the Romans and to young Titus about how we should respond to that same authority which imprisoned, beat, and accused him.
In Romans 13, Paul writes “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” He goes on to say, to rebel against them is to rebel against God, so, pay taxes and do what is right under that authority. This was pagan authority! In Titus chapter 3, Paul instructs us to be peaceable and considerate and to show true humility toward all men. It is easy to find fault and be disrespectful when ungodly and crazy political actions take place, and we do have a moral responsibility to vote and be informed, but we also are to be respectful and considerate to those whom God has placed in authority over us. Remember the examples of Daniel in Babylonian captivity and Jesus before Pilate. The pagan worldview of others is never a reason for Christians to refrain from respect, but it is also not reason enough to compromise our godly convictions and worldview to be subservient to that of the age.
Jesus was confronted by the Jewish leaders and teachers of the law one day in the temple courts as He was teaching. They sought to entrap Him by His own words and sent spies to Him to ask, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:21-22). Now Jesus saw right through their sinister plan, but took the opportunity to teach an important lesson. All the Jewish people gathered hated the ruling Romans and wanted to overthrow those pagans who ruled out of homage to Caesar rather than according to Jewish Law – where Jehovah God was supreme. They sought to have Jesus declare deliverance and freedom to serve God and overthrow that which opposed this – Rome. Jesus’ response cuts straight to the issue.
“Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:23-25).
Jesus shows the issue of allegiance and submission and its limits. By closer examination, we see Jesus deliberately asking for a Roman coin – the only coin that could be used to pay the hated yearly poll tax. On one side was the image of the Emperor Tiberius, around which were written the words, Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus. Therefore as He held it up and probably rubbed His thumb over it, the response was obvious. He could have stopped at “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” but He continued by adding, “and to God what is God’s.” Some have thought this refers to the image – coins in the image of Caesar are for Caesar and man in the image of God are for God. But it is also interesting, as Chuck Colson points out, what was on the opposite side of the coin: it showed Tiberius’ mother represented as the goddess of peach, along with the words, highest priest. Those blasphemous words exceeded the states authority and attempted to call homage and worship for one other than God Almighty. I think it might have been as others have said, that Jesus rolled that coin in His hand and stated, “and to God what is God’s,” clearly showed that there is a limit to human authority that can never be usurped. I find instruction here for our present climate of living in daily worship of God while respecting the ruling authorities who do not have God’s priorities on their agenda.
The dual tension observed here always creates a tension. Our aim should not be to eliminate this tension but live in light of it. It has been said when the church isn’t being persecuted, it is being corrupted. We run the danger of attempting to cruise along under the radar of antagonistic special interest groups, of teaching the next generation that hiding out is the way to practice our Christianity. Another danger is to align the church and our faith with an activist political party and somehow limit the power of the gospel or the church to a special interest group. History shows that many German churches in the 1930’s allied themselves with the new nationalist movement. God help us to never subvert the church – God’s instrument in the world today — to political or social agendas destined to rise and fall with leaders or funding. Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 2 is a great summary of how the believer can live in this age: “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (17). May God give us strength to hold unwavering to the Truth of Scripture in evil times respecting authority, fearing God, loving the family of God, and respecting all!