“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”Colossians 1:13,14
Two kingdoms ruled over God’s people many times in history. Although they were Jews and subject to the kingdom of Judah, the people were also subjugated by Babylon. Rome ruled during Jesus’ lifetime while Herod remained the Jewish authority. This dual citizenship foreshadows our current condition. For Christians in the United States, there is one physical government, but a second spiritual government rules over us also. There is frequently tension between the earthly and the spiritual, but the Christian knows who he must honor first.
Our Government is not Rome
Before we examine the relationship between modern Christians and the American government, we note that there are major differences between the ancient rulers and today’s leaders.
Citizens of Rome, though very privileged compared to non-citizens, had little impact upon government. There were no campaigns for the vote of the common man. No one ran for emperor. Criticism of the powerful in Rome had dire consequences. There were no newspapers or media outlets to rage against the throne. Few competing voices discussed the policies of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, or any other ruler. Roman senators served because of wealth, power, and influence, not through the popular vote.
Authoritarian rule is present in many nations today. In the United States, a person may practice his faith, speak his mind, and seek redress from the government, all of which are protected by our bedrock, founding documents.
Because we are blessed with the ability to impact our government, we are also laden with new responsibilities. Remember Jesus’ words, which call us to be salt and light in our world (Matthew 5:13-16). Where we can influence for good, we must. The original Christians had no such ability to influence Rome.
Our Government is not God’s
It is anathema to suggest that our government is not God’s. To say that capitalism is not divine is heresy to some. So let me explain.
The need for government is without question. Men have organized themselves into governable bodies almost from the beginning. The Lord acknowledges the need for government by giving government to his people. He also commands that we obey. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1,2). Those words are inspired and strong. We must obey. However, God never defines the form of government to which we must be subject. The closest is probably in the next verse, Romans 13:3: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” Inspiration assumes a government that upholds and encourages “good conduct.”
When a government supports ungodly and evil behaviors, it surely cannot be said to be of God. Still, we are to obey. Bloodthirsty, pagan, Nero begins his reign of terror just about the time Paul wrote the Romans 13 passage. We may conclude that subjection to government may be very uncomfortable. Still, we are commanded to respect our leaders.