Is it "un-Christian" to serve as a public official? I've always had a strong desire to inject my Christian beliefs and values into the culture by playing an active role in public life. But a Christian friend of mine thinks this is wrong. He says I shouldn't assume that the United States is a "Christian Nation." He also asserts that a disciple has to make up his mind to serve one master – God or country – and that it's impossible to live by the Sermon on the Mount while also serving as an elected official or an officer of the law. The last time we talked about this, he said, "Judges, police officers, and soldiers live lives that are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. They judge, persecute, oppress, kill, tempt, and imprison." Do you think he's right?
Unfortunately, we think your friend has oversimplified a very complicated issue. Here at Focus on the Family we don't believe that the United States is a "Christian nation." Biblically speaking, there is not and cannot be any such thing as a "Christian nation"-as Jesus put it, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
This is not to say, of course, that nations – even very imperfect nations – can't incorporate biblical principles and significant elements of the Christian worldview into their foundational documents, their governmental policies, and their cultural values. This, we would suggest, is exactly what our Founding Fathers were trying to do when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and framed the Constitution of the United States. We feel that this was an honorable and legitimate endeavor.
Apparently your friend subscribes to what might be termed an "anarchical" view of the Christian's relationship with the state. We'll acknowledge that his opinion is not without good precedent: most of the so-called "radical reformers" of the sixteenth century – the founders of such groups as the Mennonites, the Hutterites, and the Amish – also believed that true disciples of Jesus cannot participate in war or serve as officers of the law or have anything to do with the activities of human governments.
We respect that viewpoint here at Focus. At the same time, we can't help feeling that it fails to do justice to the full counsel of Scripture. We think Martin Luther was on firmer ground when he said, "Temporal government is preserved not only by laws and rights, but by divine authority," and "The magistracy (i.e., civil officialdom) is a necessary state of the world and to be held in honor; therefore we ought to pray for magistrates" (from Luther's Table Talk). Luther believed and taught that Christians can in good conscience serve the state as soldiers, judges, policemen, and other elected officials. As I'm sure you are aware, there is plenty of biblical support for his assertions (see Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1, 2; Titus 3:1, 2; and 1 Peter 2:13-17)
Bottom line: Christians as Christians are not authorized in most cases to use force or exercise worldly authority in the battle against sin and evil. But the state is, and to the extent that they can do so without denying Christ or compromising their faith, Christians are responsible to cooperate with the state to the very best of their ability. In light of this, we'd suggest that you're right on track in your desire to serve the Lord by serving your country and your local community.
If you'd like to discuss this subject at greater length with a member of our team, call our staff of pastoral counselors.
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Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
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