Monday, 01 November 2010
I'm conflicted about this. It seems to me that St. Paul of Tarsus makes a distinction between the church and the authorities (government/state) in his epistle to the Romans. In Romans 12 Paul instructs Christians,
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Obviously the Christian's obligation is to love. In Christ we know that Christians are to love, forgive, and do good to all men (wicked or righteous). That's what defines Christians. In Romans 13 Paul instructs the church in Rome,
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. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Here we see the function of the authorities is to punish the wicked and reward the good. Paul is speaking of an authority that persecuted Christians viciously and void of any righteous influence. This government was by no means as "just" as the United States when it comes to religious liberties. At no point does any New Testament author suggest Christians (or Jews) ought to pursue political power. In fact, Jesus was expected to do exactly that as the messiah and did not. Instead he declared that his kingdom was greater than all the earthly kingdoms and told people to seek first his kingdom.
So there is a function for the church (to love, forgive, and do good to others) and a function for the authorities (to punish and reward). Until the conversion of Constantine the mixing of Christians and government was virtually unheard of.*
*In fact, many prominent Christians were against the idea. Tatian said "I do not wish to be a ruler. I do not strive for wealth. I refuse offices connected with military command. I despise death." Tertullian said, "Emperors could only believe in Christ if they were not emperors - as if Christians could ever be emperors." Finally, John Chrysostom once said, "The desire to rule is the mother of heresies." Now, for what it is worth, a big difference between what these men were referring to and what we know as political power differs. They spoke of kings and emperors while we speak of senators and presidents.
So let's get to the questions!
Do the functions of the authorities and the functions of the church conflict? If the authorities of Paul's time were void of Christians and spoken of in such honorable regard then why are Christian's needed in government now? Is it enough for Christians to be the church and serve the world by means of that identity or is it better for them to also be part of the authorities?