Friday, October 2, 2015

Government and Church

Summary: This article is about the concept of government as church. Make no mistake about it. This is not to equate or unify the two as one. They each serve a very different purpose, but the different purposes of the same God who is one. There are seven aspects, roles or functions of government which are examined in this article, which are similar to the body of believers, that is, the church. Clearly, the saints in Christ have a model in the scriptures from which they are able to draw and assess those roles and functions in government. Five of these seven are presented here mostly in light of the New Testament (NT) scriptures with the other two viewed in the light of God’s commandment to the nation of Israel in the Tanakh, the Old Testament (OT) scriptures. Government in America is not unique to America and despite its secular nature, it represents a challenge and opportunity for the saints in Christ to understand how government is an active instrument of God. Government, as an instrument of God is quite capable of making manifest the will, love, compassion and justice of God. Yes, it is capable of making manifest the mercy of God among those who know not the love of God in Jesus as Lord and Savior, also.

government and church
I anticipate the response, perhaps the offense, indignation and charges to the title of this article about state worship or separation of church and state, both of which would be mistaken. This article is to encourage the saints in Christ to look at government as something more than a mere mindless, disembodied entity. Oh yes, and to see it as a minister of God. More specifically, it is a call to examine scripture and to understand how, conceptually the word government is misunderstood about as much as the word church. This is not an attempt to provide an item by item comparison and contrast of similarities and differences between government and church. Yes, there are similarities just as there are differences, but to merely create a list to commit to memory and to parrot that list does not make for an understanding of the realities of government and church. Citations, quotations and biblical references are at a minimum because I trust disciples are familiar with the mention and use of these or I have left it for them to examine those matters more closely if they are so inclined. Plus, I also believe nonbelievers are just as capable and can readily see and understand the message of this article without delving into the scriptures.

the church
First, it seems necessary that I should ever so briefly relate the above seven aspects to the church as all of these are true characteristics of the church. She 1) receives from the saints contributions from a cheerful heart and not by compulsion or tithes. The church 2) gives generously from those collection funds for members and nonmembers alike as they might have a need. The church 3) builds up the faith, knowledge and understanding of the members who make up the body of Christ, that is, the church, through the work of teachers and preachers. The church 4) disciplines, not non-believers or non-members, but our brothers or sisters in the faith when they fall into sin. She is 5) lead by leaders called bishops, shepherds, elders, pastors and overseers. These are the key operative words from these five: receive, give, build, discipline and lead.

Attitudes and views of Christians towards government are often colored by their association and affinity as Republican, Democrat, Independent or Libertarian and not necessarily on the basis of their understanding of the scriptures. This is not a bash against political party affiliation or participation in politics. Politicians and their constituents call for extending the reach of government or to warn against too much government. These calls are hammered out as slogans which in the collective minds of the respective political parties are, either to make government more responsive to the people or to make government less intrusive in people's lives. These slogans are the stuff which supporters parrot and rally others to their cause. The truth is that these slogans are often a very distant cry from both the sacred and the secular influences which have formed and shaped America. This article will view seven areas as these are found in scriptures either with respect to the church or from the overall message of scripture concerning nations with specific lessons taken from Israel and God. These are the seven areas to be examined and which represent the functions of government as church: 1) receiving, 2) giving, 3) building up, 4) discipline of so-called citizens, 5) responsibility towards other nations, 6) poor, orphans, widows and aliens, and 7) leadership. I have combined numbers 2 and 6.

Jesus and his apostle Paul were clear on their message concerning the expectations of the Jews and the disciples of Jesus towards Caesar and the Roman government, respectively. Much to the dismay and chagrin of the Jews Jesus exhorted the Jews to render the taxes due unto Caesar. Similarly, they were to render to God the things that are God’s. The disciples were to submit to the authority of government. Government is a minister of God and which, as Paul stated, has authority. Its authority is given to it by God. It has authority to collect taxes. Unlike the church government does not ask for tax revenues or generous gifts from its citizens; it demands it and takes it. Unlike the church it does not require that citizens give it cheerfully, only that they give up what is due to the government. How much and how often it receives those taxes is for its citizens to tell government through the power of the vote. When Jesus and Paul gave their teaching concerning government and taxes for the disciples they were not oblivious or ignorant of the diverse uses including the immoral indulgences of Caesar. These were made with those tax revenues which the government in Rome received. Their teaching was not for the saints to make the system of government or politicians better. The teaching and call of the disciple of Jesus is to lead the nonbeliever to where they make the determination for not just a better life, but a transformed life as radical as a caterpillar undergoes on its way becoming a butterfly. What the government receives from Christians and non-Christians alike has no bearing either on being true to the scripture or the heritage of America with respect to those who make this land their home.

giving, poor, orphans, widows and aliens
There is a view held by some that God in the Bible states that there will always be poor people. This is true. However, this statement as I have heard in various discussions often reveals a motive, namely, that there is no point in doing anything to alleviate or to eradicate poverty or to help the poor. The motive: to absolve oneself of any obligation towards the poor and the needy. It is a view which teaches that there is no duty or obligation to help the poor. Furthermore, to help the poor and the needy is to encourage slothfulness. It is to encourage personal neglect which leads to ever increasing medical costs which the taxpayer must bear. Yes, it is true that the American taxpayer (Christian and non-Christian alike) bears the burden. This is not unlike the church which bears the cost of providing for the needs of individuals whether in the local congregation or the community.

There is another argument against healthcare as a right. It states that any claim to healthcare as it right, goes the argument, implies slavery. A medical professional, for instance, can be forced to render his or her medical services. If this argument were believable the same could be said and would be said against the right to bear arms. Those who do not have or own a gun, if one were to follow the reasoning behind this argument, could seize and take a gun owners (yes, I can hear the gleeful bravado and the "I-will-blow-away-anyone-who-tries-to-take-my-gun" lust.) gun to protect themselves as the exercise of their right to bear arms, right? Similarly, to advocate for free speech, according to this reasoning, as a right guaranteed by the constitution is to be denied and suppressed because such a right implies that it is alright to shout fire! in a crowded theater.

Some of the same people who freely give to the contribution of their church resist giving both freely or even grudgingly to government which they acknowledge as a minister of God. A Christian is called to give to the church freely. He or she might still give grudgingly, but this would be matter of his or her heart. The same Christian or non-Christian may or may not agree with the taxes which he or pays to the government, but this, too, would be a matter of his or her heart. For the Christian especially, this conflict of the heart (and merely saying there is not a conflict hardly reflects or conveys the teaching and understanding of the scriptures) stems from the inability or unwillingness to accept the teaching of the scriptures concerning government as a minister of God.

However, whether one views these words of scripture on the poor as an indictment on mankind or as an ongoing self-fulfilling prophecy; the question remains: why do we have the poor and what is the duty of government towards the poor? God answered that question concerning the poor for Israel.

7 "If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;
8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
9 "Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you.
10 "You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.
11 "For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore  I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.' (Deuteronomy 15:10, 11)

The apostle Paul was sent out to the ministry of preaching the gospel with the blessing of his fellow apostles in Jerusalem and the saints in Christ with this exhortation:

10 They only asked us to remember the poor -the very thing I also was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10)

which he did:

17 "After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. (Acts 24:17)

What do the passages from Deuteronomy and Galatians reveal about the responsibility of the people of God towards the poor, orphans, widows and aliens in the land? They reveal what God instructed Israel, by way of a reminder, of the fact that the land they would soon receive and live in was given to them by God. Similarly, the land that was to become the United States of America was given to those seeking to live in faith and in worship to God with all freedom. America was born out of the price of the blood from those who fought the War of Independence for her. There was the cost of blood shed for the church, too.

The act of giving to the poor was a way for Israel to be reminded of what they had received freely from God, but also for God to acknowledge their faithfulness towards God through Israel’s benevolent treatment of the poor, orphans, widows and aliens.

God would, in turn, bless them for their generosity towards the poor. Israel was commanded just as much to care for the orphans and widows as for the alien, the foreigner in their midst and to not oppress either one.

The tenets of the Preamble to the Constitution written by our wise Founding Fathers about the pursuit of happiness as being an endowment of God for all men is not limited to Americans. We are reminded of this founding tenet of American democracy in the new republic in The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus etched in the Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

As in the church so too in government there are some who may contribute to the aid of the poor even if voluntarily, but grudgingly or under the compulsion of law. What the church does in her own way to aid the poor is what government does for the poor. These are the guiding tenets for government, if not from scripture, than in the letters of America's Founding Fathers and America's heritage to care for the poor and the alien. Clearly, this is not unique to America as this was recognized by France through her gift of the statue of Liberty to America.

building up
The terminologies of the sacred church and secular government may be different, but the concepts, expectations and practices are similar. The understands the importance of building up the faith and knowledge of her members, that is Christians, the saints in Christ through reading and study of the scriptures. The building up, that is, the edification or education of America’s electorate, if democracy is to flourish, was one of paramount importance as President Jefferson was keen to remind and exhort the young republic of America.

An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens. It should be noted, that when Jefferson speaks of "science," he is often referring to knowledge or learning in general. (President Thomas Jefferson)

One of the ways in which government seeks to maintain an enlightened citizenry is through the disbursement of grant monies for education. The objective is not merely that people might be able to compete in the job marketplace for employment but that they become tax-paying citizens who support the functions of government towards its citizens and others.

discipline of so-called citizens
The saints in Christ may recognize as familiar the above title. I allude to an instance in which the apostle Paul exercised his authority as an apostle. He not only judged the immorality of a Christian whose behavior prompted the apostle to refer to him as, a “so-called brother,” but he urged the church in Corinth where this occurred for them to judge the individual themselves. This was not a license for the church to engage or revel in a carnal spectacle of casting insults, aspersions or bodily assaults on that individual. There is no instruction or example in the teaching of Jesus or his apostles to ever physically enforcement any punishment on a brother or sister in Christ no matter the sin they might have committed. Rather, it was that the judgment of Paul and the church might result in the salvation of the individual. The individual did repent of his sexual immoral behavior with the wife of his father.

Government, at city, state and federal levels and through the proper branches of government, has the authority to arrest, indict and to convict, acquit or sentence to imprisonment or execution those who violate the law. This reality is not necessarily something which produces a warm feeling anymore than when the church disciplines her own. However, it serves to highlight the available choices for those who live in the land, namely, whether to submit willfully and live under the greater law and the love of Jesus, or to have government impose the law of the land with its statutes on the individual. The reason why I refer to those Americans as so-called citizens who find themselves in violation of the law and who are arrested and tried is in the same manner as the apostle Paul referred to a wayward brother in Christ as a so-called brother. In other words, to live in violation of the faith as a Christian or in violation of the law of the land as an American is not being true to either one. Judge for yourself if this does not hold equally true of an American citizen who is not a Christian, but violates the law of the land. Hence, they face the consequences of being disciplined whether by their brothers and sisters in Christ or by their peers in a court of law. One additional note about those who legislate and enforce the law. The priests, princes and elders of Israel were responsible for ensuring the law was upheld. When these three abandon their God-given responsibility that became a great part of the indictment and judgment of God on Israel. The government of America is not exempt. When legislative, judicial and law enforcement minsters (officers) of government become negligent or corrupt because they have come to trust a system which will protect rest assured that the judgment and indictment of God will come upon individuals, government and nation alike.

responsibility towards other nations
There are, to be sure, voices which cry out that America, through the arm of government, has no business in the affairs of other nations. However, nations are an extension of neighbors, neighborhoods, cities, states and nations. This is why the church understands and accepts her call to respond to a human need abroad. This may be, either through the long-term involvement of supporting a mission work or through a response to an emergency human need in the aftermath of a man-made or natural disaster.

Hence, the human empathy and actions by which we engage with our neighbor are no different than those of world governments. This human obligation to respond to the one in need was, curiously or bizarrely enough, uttered by Cain after he had murdered his brother Abel: Am I my brother’s keeper? This was the retort of Cain when God inquired about his brother Abel. The rhetorical response to Cain’s rhetorical question is that, yes, you are your brother’s keeper. The extended obligation to care and love our neighbor is not to be limited nor is it to be denied to our brother because of man-made or natural earthly borders.

This may be a good point to make this note for those who did not know. God was Israel's king until they rejected him and demanded that the prophet Samuel anoint a king for them so that they could be just like the neighboring nations. The leadership of government from the president on down is manifold, but whether or not leaders are elected they are servants. They are to serve the citizens of the nation. When the early Americans fought and died in battle against Great Britain for the creation of the nation of America it was not to create an country without government. They fought and died to establish a government which is of the people, by the people and for the people. Just as the church designates those who are filled with the Spirit for something as menial as serving tables; government is entrusted to those whose primary desire is to uphold the tenets of the Constitution of the United States and to serve the American public. It is a task which requires no less wisdom than Solomon asked of God in order that he might rule Israel in accordance with the will of God.

conclusion: when government goes wrong
The kingdom which God established in Israel went wrong. It divided into a northern kingdom (Israel) and a southern kingdom. (Judah) What is there for the disciples to note and learn? It is that when the men of Judah strapped their swords to go up against their brother Israel it was Shemaiah, the prophet of God who was sent to tell and enlighten Judah as to what God had to say. The word of the Lord through his servant Shemaiah concerning the division of the kingdom even if they didn’t understand or accept it, was that, this thing is from me.

What unfolded between the two kingdoms for many years after that division was a diverse number of kings, some who did according to the will of the Lord, others who not only did they not carry out the will of God, but they encouraged immorality and apostasy from God.

When government goes wrong it is not because of a sole individual Democrat or Republican politician. So, what are the evidences or signs that government has gone wrong? The nation of Israel is a showcase example of a people whom, 1) before they became a nation, 2) when they became a nation, and 3) when that nation turned away from the God who had made them a nation and blessed them. Christians are quick to enlighten the unlearned that the church is not a building. Church is the people. This same understanding is lost concerning government as a minister of God. Government is not a bureaucracy or the buildings which house it. Government is the people. Hence, it becomes far easier to vilify and revel when government, that is, members of government either stumble badly or when we do not agree or like them personally.

What followed when Israel fell away from God was that droughts ravaged the land. The floodgates of heaven were closed, but the floodgates of immorality opened wide. Justice gave way to bribery and righteousness was despised. The poor, orphan, widow and alien, but also the rich; all became keenly aware of what happens when government, even a government as Israel under God, goes wrong.

As an example, there is the reign of King Uzziah in Judah of whom the scripture testifies that, He did right in the sight of the Lord. King Uzziah was an environmentalist: he loved the soil. He also devised, built and amassed weapons of war. What was his undoing? He became proud and took it upon himself to defy what God had ordained. Uzziah entered the temple with incense. This was something which only the priests were to do. Uzziah was immediately struck with leprosy and remained a leper until his death in isolation. (II Chronicles 26)

These things, such as droughts, the naturalist would say, happen as a due course of nature. However, what happened to Israel and its leaders when the nation was ravished by droughts and attacks by foreign nations was precisely as Israel had been forewarned centuries before by God as to what would come upon them on the day they turned away from God. What happens and is happening in America is not solely because of the individual Democrat, Republic and Libertarian in public office. It is just as much because of the general populace who see, think, assess and respond to these things of nature and human behavior in such a manner as to be no different than when Israel who knew God and then turned away from God. Hence, there is no glory or honor for God who calls the saints in Christ to honor and glorify him by those who profess to know him and serve him when government goes wrong. When government goes it is because those who serve in government as well as those who elect them to that office have forgotten that government is the demonstrable act of the love and faithfulness of God to provide even for those who may not know him just like the alien in the midst of Israel, the children of God.

peace to all.

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