Given today’s headlines, the question fairly shouts itself into our world: What is the proper relationship between the Christian and the State? Why is this so urgent now, just at this moment? Because the world appears to be spiraling into an old heresy, the heresy of sacralism —of making the state a god. If the state is a god, are Christians directly told to obey the authority of the state?
Over the last few installments of this series, we’ve been looking at one possible way to define the relationship between the Christian and the State —Christians should obey the state unless a specific law contradicts a specific commandment. We’ve discovered this line of thinking really doesn’t hold up when exposed to the light of Scriptures. But with what should we replace it?
Let’s begin with the story of Jesus and the money changers, one instance of which is found in Luke 10:45-46:
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Is Jesus actually rebelling against the government here? Clearly he is, for it isn’t much later that the Sanhedrin and the Priests put him on trial. The leaders of Israel may not have had the power to condemn Jesus to death (whether or not they did was actually an active argument at the time Jesus was crucified), but they still had the power to put Jesus on trial. The Sanhedrin was, in other words, considered the legitimate government of Israel, even if they did answer, ultimately, to Roman authorities.
Isn’t Jesus just acting as God, and therefore his rebellion is justified without any need for and explanation? It’s not quite that simple, actually. Throughout the Gospels, the writers highlight that Jesus obeyed his parents, followed the Mosaic Law, was baptized (even though he had no need), and countered Satan with the Scriptures (rather than authority). In fact, Jesus is presented as a man who is very concerned with following the proper authorities in every respect. How can we square this with the Jesus who cleansed the Temple? There is really only one way: to see the rebellion of Jesus as perfectly justified.
If this is all true, here we have an example of God, himself, rebelling against the human authorities that he himself put in place. Again, if this is true, then we could learn a lot by examining the interaction between Jesus and the Sanhedrin when he cleansed the Temple.
What is the context Jesus rebels in?
It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.
It is in the context of the Scriptures. In fact, if we examine the life of Christ carefully, he does almost nothing without reference to the Scriptures, and what is written there.
This seems to give us the first leg of our understanding of the relationship between the state and the individual believer —the Scriptures are to be our guide to what is right and wrong, and the Scriptures are to be our guide to our actions in the face of tyranny. This might seem to be a trite lesson, but it is an important one to start with.
In the next post, we’ll consider the curious case of Jonathan and the honey, to see what we might be able to draw from the example given there.