God Blessed America (Psalm 33:12a)
If You Don’t Vote, Don’t Criticize
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 22:21d (Holman) “. . .the things that are Caesar’s,. . .”
Government operates to benefit citizens, and thus should be funded by them. Even bad government is better than anarchy; it stabilizes life, and lets us know what to expect. We enjoy amenities, and lawbreakers are restrained.
Israel hated, yet benefited greatly, from the nation that minted the denarius. Rome erected buildings, made roads, built aqueducts to bring water, plus arrested criminals. Israel enjoyed these and other expensive conveniences. Also, of the few generations that have lived entirely in peace, several existed during the Roman Empire. The Pax Romana preserved peace and protected Israel from invasions by war-like nations that abhorred them.
Despite these benefits, the religious leaders loathed Rome. Their hatred led to their nation’s demise. The Roman wars that destroyed Israel were caused by the leaders’ disregard of what Jesus taught here. Thoreau, in his essay on civil disobedience, said Christ left the religious leaders “no wiser than before as to which was which; for they did not wish to know.”
Let’s not make the same mistake of ignoring Jesus’ words. Be wise. Many who angrily rail against our government, and claim to be better than the powers that be, do not hesitate to enjoy services provided by the government they dislike. For our reaction to match our rhetoric, we would need to turn off the heat, lights, and water, not use sewage, and not drive on highways. We would have to move to an isolated island. I recently heard an irate man say, “I don’t want the government involved in my Medicare.”
We all have a duty to support the nation we live in. This is especially true of Christ-followers. The Bible tells us all government authorities stand in their place due to God’s choice. To resist them is to resist Him. “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
In a time of intense persecution, Tertullian told our adversaries that Caesar was more our ruler than theirs because our God ordained him. This is why believers are required to pray for our civic leaders. We pray not because a particular ruler is good, but because we believe he or she is God’s choice.
God sets up good and bad rulers. Sometimes He chooses them to bless us; at other times to punish us. Rome was not the first government God used to punish Israel. Others included Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece.
We must pray for our leaders to accomplish what God’s will is for them to enact. He may want their choices to be for our benefit, or for our detriment. Either way, to pray for our officials to accomplish anything other than what God intends for them to do is to pray against God’s will. Jeremiah was forbidden to pray for good to come to Israel (JR 7:16; 11:14; 14:11). We make our requests known, but then say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
Our being totally yielded to God’s choices does not absolve Christians of their responsibility to seek to influence government. Sovereignty belongs to God, and duty still rests with His people. The two go hand in hand.
Many believers don’t vote, yet verbally blast government leaders. Nonvoters should not criticize. Christ-followers who do vote, be critical as rarely as possible, and only if you are doing your part to try to help correct a situation. We have weather forecasters aplenty, but need more ark builders.
Hear a Pastor’s counsel. Be wise and restrained. Try not to express an opinion on everything. When we do offer input, always speak kindly.
Good government requires our working to elect God-honoring people. If Christians abdicate this obligation, the unscrupulous take prime positions.
Christians should be the best citizens. Jefferson, though a deist, said, “The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty. Students’ perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands.”
Matt. 22:21e ” . . . and to God . . .”
Giving to Caesar “the things that are Caesar’s” would have offended the Pharisees. They refused to accept the legitimacy of Roman rule. Giving to “God what is God’s” would have offended the Herodians. They were godless, irreligious, and sacrificed sacred scruples to buy political favor.
Jesus, by teaching we believers have a dual citizenship, enraged both Pharisees and Herodians. Many believers also struggle with this concept. Some say government should enforce the Church’s desires; others say churches should have no political involvement. Truth is between these two.
God ordained church and state. Each has legitimate, respective claims on us, distinct from the other realm’s. We believers should give ourselves to seeking a proper relationship between the heavenly and earthly kingdoms.
Without doubt, a line divides the political from the religious. In the USA, no writer has influenced us more on this subject than Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson is rightly admired by USA Americans. Historian David McCullough lists him as one of the five who were essential to our nation’s beginning success. The others were George Washington, Ben Franklin, and John and Abigail Adams.
Jefferson’s debated personal religious beliefs are a topic for another day. This lesson will focus on his contribution to the USA’s religious liberty.
Jefferson attended church regularly, maybe as often as any President ever did. On December 4, 1800, as President-elect, he approved use of the new Capitol building for Sunday morning worship services, which continued until after the Civil War. Jefferson walked to these services every Sunday.
Baptist preacher John Leland preached the first service in the Capitol on January 3, 1802, two days after Jefferson had written his famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. In this letter he made his now well known, and almost always used, metaphor of a “wall of separation between Church and State.” I need to stress his emphasis here was to protect the church from the state. He said the concept was given “in behalf of the rights of conscience.” This is important because the state has the guns.
Jefferson radically supported religious freedom—for this we are grateful—but there was a flaw in his political opinion. He thought and hoped loss of state help would end the church as it was then known, especially the established Anglican Church. He hoped all would eventually be Unitarians.
Jefferson had no clue the Baptists he agreed with on religious liberty, would become, along with Methodists, a mighty force unleashed to make Bible Christianity a force to be reckoned with in the USA. When state support ended, every pastor became an entrepreneur, having to find a way to survive or die. Most of them endured and succeeded. This resulted in fertile soil being created for the explosive growth of Bible Christianity in the USA.
Commitment to religious liberty remains a high priority in the USA. When releasing the State Department’s 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clarified our nation’s understanding of religious freedom. She said it included “the right to raise one’s children in one’s faith, to share one’s faith peacefully with others, to publish religious materials without censorship, to change one’s religion—by choice, not coercion, and to practice no religion at all.”