Christians and Government
Government exists to order society and to ensure the obedience of its citizens (Augustine 157). It orders goods given by God “suitable for this life” in the present age (155) such as food, clothing, and just laws (Calvin 847). Christians live under the government as it rules over matters of this mortal life and it aids them in living this present life by providing for their physical needs and their physical safety (Calvin 1487-1488, 1496). But the peace and justice of the government come through dominion rather than the peace of the Kingdom established in the quality of all persons under God (Augustine 152, 162). Earthly peace points Christians to hope for greater peace in the Kingdom of God in the age to come (Augustine 158; Calvin 847).
While under the lordship of Christ, Christians living in this age are still called to submit to government (Calvin 847). Because the authority of government comes from God, Christians are called to submit to all rulers, even those who are themselves wicked because their authority still stems from God (1511-1517). Yet if the government actively works and legislates contrary to God’s Law, Christians are called to obey God rather than the government (1520-1521). Christians citizens are also called to act when a government engages in unjust oppression of a particular people group (King 1). The Christian tradition affirms that “an unjust law is no law at all” (3). While Christians are not to violently rebel against such laws, they are not to obey them (3).
Even so, the Church as the Body of Christ cannot take over the task of making policy and ordering the present world from the government (Ramsey 149). While the Church cannot dictate how governments ought to decide on key matters, the Church serves as a voice of morality to government, saying “what may be done” (152). This involves pointing to the will of God expressed in Scripture and in creation (NAE 3).
For American Christians, the duty to love their neighbors requires them to use their privileges as citizens to advocate for justice on behalf of all persons in American society through voting and holding office (NAE 3). Because God has established the authority of government, all in public office have their authority from Him and, thus, Christians may serve in public office (Calvin 1490).
Augustine, Political Writings. Translated by Michael W. Tkacz and Douglas Kries. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994.
Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559.
King, Jr. Martin Luther. Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). "For the Health of the Nations".
Ramsey, Paul. Who Speaks for the Church? A Critique of the 1966 Geneva Conference on Church and Society. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967.