Render unto Caesar, and Render unto God

With the world becoming more inundated with crime and gross injustice, it isn’t surprising that political issues dominate world headlines. The recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida has shown us that there is no security anywhere and that life can be taken at any moment. As we head deeper into the election year we are faced with more political decisions that will affect our temporal disposition.

There is, among God’s professed people, a lingering desire to be political movers and tie themselves down to political parties. It isn’t a new phenomenon. To counter it in her day Ellen White wrote, “Those who teach the Bible in our churches and our schools are not at liberty to unite in making apparent their prejudices for or against political men or measures, because by so doing they stir up the minds of others, leading each to advocate his favorite theory. There are among those professing to believe present truth, some who will thus be stirred up to express their sentiments and political preferences, so that division will be brought into the church” (Counsels for the Church, page 316).

There is a growing temptation, especially in light of the growing wickedness in the world to be more politically active to try and curb the rise of such evils. But we need to be careful on how we handle such measures for we are warned, “Temptation is coming in the form of a union of church and state…” (Manuscript Releases, Vol. 20, page 28). It can be easy to support the agitation of professed Christian churches to influence the State to favor their religion, especially as we perceive that there is a growing rise of secularism.

If we are wanting support a truly Protestant America, we would be resisting efforts to enjoin the Church and the State. Rome’s continual mark is its claim to hold authority over spiritual and temporal matters. This is not true Christianity. Christ was clear in His response to Prefect Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36, KJV). Jesus enjoined His disciples to be more concerned about the Kingdom to come than the kingdoms of the world.

The history of Early Apostolic Christianity gives no example of church meddling in state affairs. You don’t see Peter, John or Paul petitioning secular leaders to change laws in favor of Christians, nor did the Early Church endorse and support a political party or group. The early Christians were happy to only share the Gospel whether there was resistance from worldly leaders or not. How far have we strayed from primitive godliness!

The main reason the early Christians weren’t more politically involved was their understanding that the realms of Caesar and God were in different spheres. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's” (Luke 20:25, KJV). The early Church grew without the aid of civil power until the 4th century AD, which, of course we recognize as the age of Constantine the Great and the dawn of political Christianity. It wasn’t a pure Christianity that proliferated through the Constantinian Empire, but an apostate one, aided by civil edicts and the force of law.

Of course, many laws introduced by Constantine and his successors Christians can agree with on principle; the outlawing of same-sex marriage is one law introduced by Constantine’s Son, Constantinus II. But while we would agree with the underlying principle of such laws, we cannot agree to the method of its passing; as that of a State law, civilly enforced. We can expect good laws to pass, but also bad ones. The result of such Church and State unity was the first Sunday Law, and it logically follows it will cause the final Sunday Law and it won’t be Caesar’s fault, but the (apostate) Church’s.

Ellen White wrote, “The ‘image to the beast’ represents that form of apostate Protestantism which will be developed when the Protestant churches shall seek the aid of the civil power for the enforcement of their dogmas.” – Great Controversy, page 445. The true spirit of Protestantism is free conscience, separating Church and State. When Sister White writes, “…our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and Republican government…” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, page 451). There are those who are tempted to interpret such words in the context of today’s political climate. “Protestant” meant protesting the Church and State unity sought for by Rome, and “Republican” did not mean the political party. Even if it did, the Republican party in the days of Ellen White and today are entirely different in ideology.

Hence, it is a good idea to dispense of party loyalties and to focus on what our Church was called to do, prepare a people for translation. Focus your energies on evangelism and sharing the Good News of the Kingdom not of this world. Is it wrong to aspire to be involved in legislating laws for the nation? Inspiration tells us:

Dear youth, what is the aim and purpose of your life? Are you ambitious for education that you may have a name and position in the world? Have you thoughts that you dare not express, that you may one day stand upon the summit of intellectual greatness; that you may sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations. You may every one of you make your mark. You should be content with no mean attainments. Aim high, and spare no pains to reach the standard (Messages to Young People, page 36).

There should be nothing to block the young people from these ambitions. But they must be tempered and educated with the right principles, lest they fall into the temptation that is conflating the Kingdom of God and the temporal kingdom of man. Daniel, a man of godly stature held a prominent government position in the Babylonian Empire. His resoluteness and faithfulness was noticed by the King Darius after the transition into the Medo-Persian Empire. Daniel remained a trusted civil official and a man of God even through many trials.

We need more public servants like a Daniel who will be resolutely principled in their service, and showing that an example of a godly life is more effective than civil laws in changing hearts and minds. Too many conflate the realms of Caesar and God, and, while having righteous intentions unfortunately do not study inspiration or history very much. There is a growing movement seeking to enjoin Church and State, and we must be resisting such a union, even if the union seems like a long shot because of the perceived growing secular agenda.

History teaches us every single time a religious group is able to wield the power of the state, persecution always follows. This is not to say unmitigated secularism is unproblematic, because often times it can also threaten religious liberties, but inspiration teaches us end time persecution will be led by an apostate Church, not a secular/atheist state. Our prophetic understanding is almost unique among Christians; only a few ascribe to it outside our denomination.

Eschatological Historicism is the understanding that the Book of Revelation contains prophecy relating to the history of the Churh beginning with the Apostolic Church to the end time Church, which we regard as two main segments, the Pure Woman and her offspring, also known as the Remnant, and the Harlot Woman and her daughters known as Babylon. Embraced by the early Reformers, Historicism enjoyed prominence in the Protestant world until John Nelson Darby’s (1800-1882) introduction of “dispensationalism” in the 1830’s and as a result there was a wider acceptance of the “Futuristic” view of eschatology in Protestantism.

Futurism is the idea that while the first portions of Revelation do indeed refer to the Church in its early stages, the portions referring to the Antichrist power were far out in the future and involve an Antichrist that will outlaw the Christian religion. Jesuit theologian Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) proposed the Futuristic theory of eschatology as a counter to the common Protestant notion of the day that the Antichrist was the Papacy. His work, In Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli, & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentarij was a lengthy commentary on the Book of Revelation, and suggested that the antichrist would in fact, try to lead Catholics away from allegiance to the Papacy, and that it would be a single individual that would abolish the Christian religion and persecute the saints.

Within Catholicism itself, Ribera’s ideas competed with that of fellow Jesuit Luis de Alcasar (1554-1613) who introduced Preterism, the view that all or most of the prophecies in Revelation were fulfilled by 70 AD. But in the Protestant world, thanks to the wide proliferation of Darby’s ideas through the Scofield Bible in the 19th century, a large number of American Evangelicals adhered to Futurism. Much of the American Evangelical views on American politics today are largely informed by this prophetic interpretation. Suspicion towards the secular government is a noticeable attribute of this movement, as is a friendlier attitude towards Rome.

Strangely enough, many Adventists today, while giving lip-service to a belief in Classical Adventist and Protestant Historicism hold political viewpoints consistent with Eschatological Futurism. For them the movement to abolish public prayers in public schools among other political Christian concerns is the start of the abolishing of the Christian religion. What they don’t realize is that their eschatological views align more with Francisco Ribera than with Ellen White’s. We need to realize that importing mainstream Evangelical views is diluting the Adventist message. Our unique voices must be heard.

How must we then approach the growing sinfulness in our land? Aim for an internal change, not an external one. Civil laws are external measures. Sharing the Gospel aims straight for the heart. We should call sin by its right name, and yet avoid the temptation of turning to the State to enforce our views. Civil government should, and must regulate areas of social and civil order, of which alcoholism is certainly an issue with, and our Pioneers including Ellen White were most active in voting for Prohibition. But in matters of religion, “To protect liberty of conscience is the duty of the State, and this is the limit of its authority in matters of religion” (Great Controversy, page 201).

As religion becomes more and more prominent in politics and world news today, let us show the world our unique message lost in erroneous theological and political sentiments, the Three Angels’ Messages warning of a union of Church and State. Satan knows his time is short, and he will use a mixture of truth and error to lead many astray. We already have many, many warnings not to mix religion with civil government. Let us make sure we spiritually arm ourselves properly. It may seem like a good idea to support the enshrinement of God in Caesar’s palace, but this will make it more likely that Caesar will falsely use “God” to forward his own agenda.

“Earnest movements have been made here in the Parliaments to have God acknowledged in the government of this nation. Earnest efforts have been made to prevent this, knowing that it meant nothing less than religious bigotry and oppression. When religion is mixed with civil government, it means much to Seventh-day Adventists. A union of church and state means a recognition of a spurious sabbath, and a failure to respect the conscientious observance of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment” (Manuscript Releases Vol. 12, page 218).

Let Caesar reign in his palace, and let God reign in our hearts.