A Celtic Wanderers View on Church and State

A Celtic Wanderers View on Church and State March 26, 2021

Many weeks ago, I had a person ask me “why has the church gotten so political?” My first response was “what do you mean by political”? What followed was nothing short of a dissertation on how the church really should not come out in support of specific candidates or endorse them from the pulpit. It ended with “We really shouldn’t allow illegals to enter the country and break the law, I mean, God is a God of justice.” There was so much packed into these two statements that I had to tell the person they would need to come over for coffee and perhaps a light snack. It was going to take a while for me to unpack those two things. So I thought I would share my opinion here to my fellow Wanderers and let you sit with this conversation as I have.

Should a Church be political?

The apparent “go to” verse for this question seems to be centered on Jesus’ comments about paying taxes to the Imperial Government of Caesar in Matthew Chapter 12.  Jesus informs the people that they should “give to Caesar what is Caesar and what Is God’s to God.” The problem is we typically do not consider the verse in its context. We have this habit of applying the Bible in singles sentenced, disjointed ways it was never intended to be used. Let us look at the entire encounter:

Mark 12:13-17

Later, they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to catch Jesus in His words.“Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are honest and seek favor from no one. Indeed, You are impartial and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not?”

But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to inspect.” So they brought it, and He asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they answered. Then Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And they marveled at Him.

So how does this answer the question “should the church be political”? We must understand the purpose of the exchange to answer that question. The purpose of the question resides in who was asking the question and why.

A Question with an Agenda

The Pharisees and Herodians were the ones asking. Herodians were supporters of the Roman appointed king of Palestine, Herod. They were allied with the current government of the time. Pharisees were members of a party that believed in resurrection and in following legal traditions that were ascribed not to the scripture but to “the traditions of the fathers.” Like the scribes, they were also well-known legal experts. So asking the questions were those who wanted to have the law observed and those who were supporters of the current regime. It is very likely that these groups had a vested interest in Jesus’ answer.

Since Jesus was a popular figure, could they get an answer that favored them, they would have gained a grass roots following. If he spoke against them, he could be considered a traitor. The group thought they had painted Jesus into a political and theological corner.

First, they patronize him and give Jesus compliments. Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are honest and seek favor from no one. Indeed, You are impartial and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. After they butter Him up so to speak the ask Him a very controversial question; “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not?” But Jesus clearly see through this attempt to corner Him and states “, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they answered. Then Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And they marveled at Him.

A Great Answer, Depending on who you Ask

I think marveled is a great way to say flabbergasted. They were shocked at the answer because it was both theological and political. Jesus basically states that things which belong to the government remain the governments. Those things which belong to God are to belong to God. In my opinion this is the first advocacy for a separation of church and state. Like many instances, Jesus gave the most perfect answer. To biased people, He gave the most enraging answer.

The answer applies to the role of the current church in politics as this: Political stances belong to politics, moral issues belong to the church. What I mean by this is that churches should not claim a political party because Jesus does not belong to politics. However, churches should stand for what is morally right because the welfare of humanity belongs to God. You see, we have muddled the difference between a political issue and a moral one. And we must deal with those, on both sides when they are in power. Those in power will seek the voting bloc of Christianity. The problem is we are beginning to hand to politicians what is Gods and taking what belongs to the politicians.

A Political Church and a Moral Government?

We concern ourselves with baking cakes and not with the homeless. The church has concern for tithing, but no concern for tithers. Instead of helping the broken, we rely on the government to do it. Instead of being the moral compass for politicians, we seek power and thus become yes men and lackeys of whomever is in power. We have combined church with the state.

All that to say should the church be political? No. It is the church must be moral. The church needs to break the hold politics has on faith. The church is not political, but the church must be heavily concerned with how politics affect the marginalized we are called to care for. When a thing is wrong, we must lie down political allegiance and speak up against it, no matter the cost of being out of favor with those in power.

A God of Justice

The immigration issue, which is hitting critical mass at this time, is a perfect example of the mixing of morality and politics. In the one hand the church is called to love the foreigner, on the other there is a legality issue that cannot be denied. So what is the church to do? We must do what Jesus instructed; Render to the government what is the governments, and render to God what is God’s. Crossing the border illegally is illegal and there are consequences.  However, humane treatment is a moral issue the church must address. We are so justice focused we lose sight of the fact that justice exists for the protection of the marginalized. We seek to ensure the governments job is done while failing or ignoring our job in the situation.

So I challenge us to consider rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and rendering to God what is God’s. Morality falls squarely in our court. Our refusal to acknowledge it is a great sin of a generation.

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One response to “A Celtic Wanderers View on Church and State”

  1. “Jesus basically states that things which belong to the government remain the governments.”

    No, no, no. That is not what Jesus stated. Those are your words; your obvious misinterpretation of Jesus’ words in his brilliant response to a question mean to trap him, as the Gospel of Luke, Ch. 20 explains: “They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.” The governor was Pontius Pilate. He was responsible for collecting Rome’s taxes throughout Judea. So, obviously, the trap was designed to get him to condemn Caesar’s tax since endorsing it would be praised, not condemned, by Pilate.

    The correct understanding of Jesus’ words cannot be denied nor disputed. “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” means just that–nothing more nothing less. And the one and only obvious corollary is this: If you have nothing belonging to Caesar in you possession, give him that, to wit, NOTHING. Rather than endorsing the taxes that supported the violent Roman Empire, Jesus condemned them, which is exactly what one would expect from the Prince of Peace.

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