Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not
It is time for the church to recover a robust theology of public engagement
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The Lord Jesus reigns over everything. He is King of kings. His dominion knows no bounds, and his kingdom has no end. This is not a mere religious or confessional statement. It is a description of reality. The risen Christ sits enthroned bodily in heaven as king of the universe. All power and authority, in heaven and on earth, belong to him (Matthew 28). The nations are his (Psalm 22:28).
Early Christians loved to declare, “Jesus is Lord.” This wasn’t intended to imply “Lord only over spiritual things,” as if Jesus’ dominion were limited to a little closet called the heart. They understood Jesus was king of their hearts, but they didn’t believe it was only their hearts. “Jesus is Lord” was also a political statement. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not.
Francis Schaeffer wrote in A Christian Manifesto, “It is not too strong to say that we are at war, and there are no neutral parties in the struggle. One either confesses that God is the final authority, or one confesses that Caesar is Lord.” Those are our choices. We can recognize God as being over the state or we can declare the state to be God. This echoes what G. K. Chesterton wrote in Christendom in Dublin, “Once abolish the God, and the Government becomes the God.”
Christians of all stripes agree the government is not God. But how does God’s authority over the state unfold in public life? That’s where Christians disagree. The last seven years have been marked by massive disruptions in our society. Police shootings revealed vast differences in defining justice. Riots destroyed cities. Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States and ushered in debates about how Christians should exercise their votes. COVID-19 brought a halt to the world for several months, followed by years of fighting over the government’s power and boundaries to force mandates on citizens. The reversal of Roe v. Wade amplified the abortion debate to new heights.
These examples of cultural chaos have left many Christians grasping for help in discerning what to think and how to respond.
Michael Flynn, the former national sSecurity adviser, spoke at an event in Virginia Beach, Va., on July 8 called the ReAwaken America Tour. He told the packed audience that “a pastor or priest, they cannot stand there at the pulpit … and preach the Bible without the United States Constitution. And what they need to be doing is they need to be talking about the Constitution from the pulpit as much as the Bible.” The comment provoked applause and cheers from the crowd.
Now, aside from the statement being wrong and ignorant, the tragedy is the affirming crowd. Their applause implicates the Church. And then Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said God “wrote the Constitution” to a CPAC Texas audience in August. We can’t have a theology of engagement built on errors about Scripture’s sufficiency.
Churches have forgotten their rich tradition of political theology, rooted in Scripture and natural law. This results in Christians lacking the foundation to engage in the public square with any guiding principles. Many resort to pietism, retreating from cultural issues. Others applaud and cheer at the suggestion that churches need to talk about the Constitution from the pulpit as much as the Bible, or make it as inspired as the Bible. One approach consigns God to purely religious matters, while the other consigns Him to a political lens. Neither is the Biblical approach.
Everything in God’s creation is under His rule and care. He has an interest in it all. Christians cannot cede any ground as “secular” or off limits to Him. Everything belongs to God. This is the core reality of Christian belief. Nations should operate under the authority of God. This doesn’t mean they should mandate church attendance, baptism, or conversion. It means that government should institute just laws and policies in accord with God’s law.
There are many discussions that could happen around what this means and how it should look. But Christians must stop saying that what God thinks is irrelevant to our political discourse. The separation of church and state means neither is ruled by the other. It does not mean God and His Word have no bearing on the state.
Abraham Kuyper’s famous line from his “Sphere Sovereignty” speech appropriately frames reality, “There’s not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not exclaim, ‘Mine’!” If “every square inch” in the whole domain of the universe belongs to the sovereign Christ who reigns, let’s start acting like we believe it.
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