Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Kingdom of God, Civil Government, and Church Government

My Kingdom Is Not of This World

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' 34 Jesus answered, 'Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?' 35 Pilate answered, 'Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?' 36 Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.' 37 Then Pilate said to him, 'So you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.' 38 Pilate said to him, 'What is truth?'

I have had several discussions lately on the role of the church and state. Some of those discussions have moved from discussing civil government to the discussion of church government. Thinking about his issue, I think a fundamental point which must be the starting point is that the kingdom of God transcends the civil governments of this world. The rule of God so much transcends the rule of the state that a comparisons of the power of the two is meaningless. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. Some how Pilate caught what many in the modern evangelical church have missed. Comparison is meaningless because God allows human government to do their work and is sovereign so that he uses evil (and relatively good) human governments to carry out his work despite when their hearts being hardened and their intentions being evil. He is able to bow the knee of every king, and there is no competition. It is also meaningless because the governments of this world only deal with issues of behavior and can not change the heart. The state may feel a competition with the preachers of faith and God because it sees them as product of mere human power and not really the power of God. In a sense they are re-interpreting the power of God in human terms. The power of God becomes merely the group consensus and the inspiration that comes the human heart.

The Bible does not teaches a separation of church and state but rather a distinction between God's kingdom and human government. I would not equate our church institutions with that of the kingdom of God. If people have a church they must have a form of church government. The institutional side of the church must have some way to organize, even if that organization is free flow. Church government is very necessary but not the kingdom of God in and of itself. So when we see scriptures record Jesus statements about his kingdom is not of this world, we should not say that his kingdom is the (place the name of your denomination here, even if it is a non-denomination) church institutions. These institutions are merely a means of carrying out the main business of the church, preaching the gospel. So church government is good, but is not the kingdom of God.

The church can go down the path of trying to imitate the power of civil authorities or see that type of power as truly the one that matters. However, if we see that Jesus is truly our King we do not expect that human governments will cease during this side of eternity. The civil governments are merely to restrain evil and carry out the plan of God. So do we disregard the civil government or challenge the civil government? No in both cases. Jesus did not challenge the rule of Rome based on the new kingdom. When we spread the kingdom of God, we do not challenge the civil authorities, but rather we see them as men and women in need of the redemption of Christ on the cross. We want to meet their needs, their need of Christ on the cross. The government may be hostile toward the gospel and still an instrument of the providence of God to carry out his plan of redemption. Though evil human government may be the instrument of God, it can not even begin to carry out the true reign of God in many ways. The true reign of God is powerful in that it transforms the heart. The true reign of God is holy. The true reign of God is where the king is ruling in holiness in our lives. As we are filled with Spirit of God, that obedience over flows into all areas of our lives. When we are prepared to participate in government as Christians it is from the sense of being a faithfulness citizen, not gaining power for the kingdom of God. Those who have the vocation in life to be a civil authority, they participate in their office from a sense of a call of duty, not gaining power for the kingdom. A civil authority who is a Christian should see himself or herself as serving their community and thus serving God.

A good Christian is a good citizen of their country, it is their responsibility. If we focus on power we are totally missing the point, if we focus on responsibility can then think and act like Christians.
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