I’ve been pilloried by Christians for the last week for opposing the federal seizure of a church in Indianapolis.
Most of the criticism boils down to two scriptural references, which, these folks apparently believe, mean Christians should never resist evil perpetrated by government. The first reference is one found in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke in which Jesus said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”
The second reference cited by readers is Romans 13, in which the Apostle Paul advocates submission to earthly rulers.
A great many Christians — including many pastors — wrote to me explaining that it is the duty of good citizens and churches to “render unto Caesar.”
I hardly know where to begin in addressing such a fundamental issue. But let me start by asking all Americans who subscribe to this principle as an absolute how our founding fathers, many of them devout Christians, justified breaking the bonds with their rulers in Great Britain? Were they not under a scriptural obligation to render unto King George? Have you read the Declaration of Independence?
I strongly suggest that my dear misguided Christian friends spend a little time reading the great debates that precipitated the War for Independence — all of which took place among men far more learned in the Scriptures than the average modern Christian.
It’s important to consider the circumstances and the audience behind Jesus’ instructions to “render unto Caesar.” The Sadducees were attempting to trap Jesus into advocating open contempt for Caesar. He recognized their wicked and hypocritical little game and answered them with a totally truthful response that astonished everyone.
But think about it. There are two components to Jesus’ words. We are to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” but we are also to “render unto God the things that are God’s.” Well, everything ultimately belongs to God. But, most of all, this injunction by Jesus instructs us that government laws cannot trump God’s laws — ever.
If government commands you to do evil, as a Christian you must resist. There is no alternative. Citing the “render unto Caesar” line is an excuse for accountability to God — nothing more, nothing less.
Furthermore, it needs to be pointed out to my critics that in America we don’t have a Caesar. Never have, never will. You see, our system of government is called a free republic and it is based on the concept of constitutional self-government. We have no “rulers” in America — except ourselves and our God. We believe in the rule of law, not the rule of men.
This is an important distinction, not a semantic one.
Nowhere in the Bible does it teach us to obey evil rulers. Nowhere. Quite the contrary. In fact, the Bible has inspired more non-violent civil disobedience movements than any other religious document. The example of Jesus and the apostles was to submit to arrest, submit to being jailed, even submit to execution. But, in no way, can one derive from biblical example that we are to do evil because we are told to do so by government.
I believe it is evil — pure and simple — for the Internal Revenue Service to force a church to serve as its unpaid tax collection agency. That is the issue in Indianapolis. Armed federal agents seized the Indianapolis Baptist Church because it refused to collect withholding taxes from employees.
This is an act of conscience that demands respect — not only for churches but for independent, privately held, tax-paying businesses as well. The IRS cannot at once pretend the income tax is voluntary and at the same time demand that employers collect it from employees before they ever see it.
It is stealing. And stealing is forbidden in the Ten Commandments. Christians are not to countenance stealing, because stealing is evil. Christians are to resist evil — even at a cost of life itself.
I for one am not accountable to any Caesar, thank God. I am accountable to my Creator. My rights and responsibilities as a free man descend not from government, but from God Almighty.
I would love to ask my Christian critics how they feel about those heroes who risked death in Nazi Germany because they refused to render Jews unto Hitler?
The greatest acts of moral courage in the last 2,000 years have been the countless examples of individuals standing up to tyrants against all odds. Sadly, it seems many modern American Christians are content to sit on their duffs and condone evil because of their own scriptural illiteracy and moral blindness.