I can do everything through him who gives me strength. - Philippians 4:13

The Christian and Government Series: Part 4 - Resolving Conflicts Between the Two

The Christian & Government: Resolving Conflicts Between the Two

(Originally published in the July/Aug 2000 issue of Beginnings [now Clearly Caring] magazine)

Editor’s Note: This series is the 4th of 6 articles entitled, "The Christian and Government." If you have not read the previous articles, we invite you to view the previous three in order to get a more meaningful understanding and better background about the issue.

The Christian & Government: Understanding the Christian - Part 1

The Christian & Government: Understanding the Government - Part 2

The Christian & Government: The Relationship Between the Two - Part 3

Additional Series Articles:

The Christian & Government: Involvement in Government is Consistent with Faith - Part 5

The Christian & Government: The Christian as a Public Servant - Part 6

I’ve come to realize that all relationships have good times and bad. There are relationships that are wonderful and which you will remember with a smile for the rest of your life. These might have been with a friend, coworker or mentor. Then again, there are relationships that caused nothing but pain and filled you with frustration. Those are the kind you can’t wait to get out of. Regardless of the association, you soon realize that tension and conflict are a part of all relationships and need to be dealt with appropriately. How to deal with those conflicts is the purpose of this article.

Involvement in Government

As illustrated in our previous article, we know that Christians have the right, and sometimes the responsibility, to be involved in government activities. Do you have the gifts of leadership, administration, or service that would fit with a role in government? Evaluate the gifts you have been given and determine whether you can serve the government with those talents.

To some degree, all of us have a responsibility to be involved in our government. Citizens of a country need to show allegiance and respect to the country in which they live. If laws command you to serve, then it is your God-ordained responsibility to do just that (Romans 13:2). For that reason, you must obey the laws that control education, driving, taxation and other behaviors. There are also certain freedoms or privileges that you should exercise as a citizen. These include the right to vote, communication with legislators, and participation in other government activities as they arise. When you as a Christian have the ability to let your light shine, it is beneficial that you take advantage of that opportunity and use it to God’s glory. Involvement in government is a privilege and opportunity that should not be ignored. In addition, if changes in the government are to be made, you need to be involved. You cannot make changes by sitting on the outside.

Distinction of Responsibilities

In your relationship with government, understand that both the church and the state have responsibilities. The state is responsible for maintaining peace and protecting its citizens. The church has the responsibility to proclaim the truth of God’s Word, evangelize the lost and nurture God’s people with the Word. These responsibilities are very distinct, but they also touch each other in your daily living. That means Christians need to live by the rules and principles of both entities. Much of the time there is enough distinction between the respective responsibilities that there is a relative harmony. There are times, however, when the two begin to overlap or interfere with each other’s realm of authority. This causes many Christians a great deal of frustration.

Coping with this conflict begins with recognizing that the government makes laws based on simple moral precepts and experiences in order to meet its responsibilities. For example, after a number of deaths occur on a certain dangerous road, the government steps in to set a lower speed limit. When the number of bank robberies increase, the government determines that longer prison sentences are needed. Those are the areas of responsibility for a government. Although these laws are meant to reflect common sense, they are still imperfect because they are developed by imperfect people. This inevitably leads to conflict, if not tension, with those following the perfect precepts of God. Things really heat up when the state, in carrying out its responsibilities, enacts imperfect laws that directly interfere with the church working to accomplish its responsibilities.

Two Kinds of Conflict

So, we have two areas of potential conflict: (1) when the state clouds the truth by passing imperfect laws, and (2) when the state interferes with the responsibility of the church with their imperfect laws. Each type of violation demands a different response from the church.

Christ talked about Christians being a light to the world and the need to enlighten the dark world with the Gospel. When the state clouds our world, the church needs to shine even brighter with the truth. As an instance, if the state promotes alternative marital lifestyles as legally acceptable, its citizens could be misled into thinking it is appropriate. The church needs to clarify the issue in light of God’s Word. By speaking honestly about proper marital relationships, the church provides the clarity of God’s will and shines like a beacon of truth for all to see and hear.

One of the best examples from Scripture is the life of Daniel. As an adviser in a heathen government, he likely needed to give clear direction and advice to other government officials. Daniel’s lifestyle, wise counsel and obedience to the king, allowed him to give a strong witness of his faith. He did not disobey any of the king’s laws because they were not direct violations of God’s laws. Yet, when the king’s decree did interfere with God’s will, Daniel acted decisively.

This leads to the second type of conflict. When the government interferes with the role of the church, a Christian needs to respond in a more direct manner. Daniel was told to worship the king’s idol. This clearly conflicted with God’s command and interfered with God’s people doing their work. Daniel’s decision to continue offering daily prayers to God instead of bowing to the idol was clear. His actions served two purposes: He showed total obedience to God and gave a clear witness that the state law was wrong.

We can also look at Acts 3-5 and the story of Peter, John and the Sanhedrin. Peter and John were preaching the Gospel and through their efforts, they were evangelizing the unbelievers. Once the Sanhedrin commanded them to stop, the rulers caused a serious conflict by stepping into the realm of the church. The attempt was to act in the capacity of maintaining peace; the reality is that they intruded on the church’s work of preaching God’s Word. This conflict caused Peter to boldly state, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29).

These examples can help guide both the state and the church in the implementation of their respective responsibilities. The likelihood, however, is that continued conflicts will arise and Christians will need to deal with those conflicts on a regular basis.

How Do I Respond?

When you understand the responsibilities of both church and state you will more easily determine when either of them has overstepped their boundaries. When the state clouds the truth, the church needs to speak loudly and clearly so people can see through the confusion. At the same time, the church needs to stay focused. It is not within the church’s realm to use the government as a tool to convert the collective morality of society. Such rationalization would permit illegal activity in the name of the overall good of humanity. Throughout any conflict, remember the role of the church is to win souls for Christ, and that is done solely with the Gospel.

When the state interferes with the work of the church, it is necessary that Christians show obedience to God over men. It is important that as we seek to correct the state for its error we do not compound a sin with a sin. Illegal activities, to bring about corrections when legal options exist, are not acceptable practices for Christians. If, however, no choices are left and the believer must either sin against God when obeying the state or illegally act in rejection of the state in order not to sin against God, the Christian will always make obedience to God the prime concern. For that reason we must carefully judge when our obedience to God is being threatened without legal recourse. Illegal activity just for the sake of expedience is not acceptable. All other options must be gone.

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