Conflicting Ideas between Church and Government

This year has introduced a lot of challenges and changes in government due to the current pandemic. It is also an election year, and people are focusing their attention on registering to vote and ensuring they get to the polls. The summer edition of Lutheran Life is all about balancing your faith with politics, understanding that you are a citizen of two kingdoms. Read an excerpt from the new edition below.

 Remind them [Christians] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1-2)

Whew! I had to double check that these verses were written in AD 68 and not AD 2020. Boy, do I need this reminder, and I bet you could use it too. As we consider our current political landscape, it’s sometimes hard to submit to our rulers, avoid speaking evil, avoid quarreling (regardless of who starts it), and practice gentleness. Instead, this passage exhorts us to be ready to do every good work and show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Respecting Our Leaders

Scripture certainly challenges us to better respect our rulers and recognize the order God has established in the left-hand kingdom through the role of government. But there is a limit. We also know the political corruption and oppression that run rampant throughout our fallen world. What happens when those in authority are not ruling in a way that upholds peace and the safety of the people?

The disciples were arrested multiple times for preaching in the name of Jesus. When the high priest strictly charged Peter and the disciples to stop, the disciples stood boldly in their conviction, declaring “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). That’s the same conviction we stand by today, for the call to submit to the governing authorities does not keep us from speaking out against corrupt government. Authors [Gene] Veith and [A. Trevor] Sutton explain Luther’s example of both respecting authority and questioning its actions during the Reformation:

Far from being a period of political quietism and passive acceptance of authority, the Reformation provoked political upheaval, rebellion, and a thorough-going questioning of authority. Luther defied both the pope and emperor. Peasants revolted. Local princes, convinced of the truth of Lutheranism, rebelled against their feudal overlords and, specifically, the emperor. This escalated into armed conflict between the Lutheran princes and the Holy Roman Empire, first with the Smacald War and, later, the Thirty Years’ War. Yes, Luther piously counseled submission, to the point of recommending that the princes turn him over to the emperor to be killed. Yes, Luther urged the princes to quell the peasant rebellion, which had degenerated into bloody anarchy. But Luther never held back from criticizing earthly authorities, from King Henry VIII to some of his own allies among the German princes. (Authentic Christianity, p. 179)

Living under the Two Kingdoms

Understanding the two kingdoms provides a framework for relating to both church and state, recognizing God is King over both—and when the two conflict, we submit to the almighty King Jesus. As we do, we continue to uphold our vocations as citizens by respecting the leaders in office and keeping them ever in our prayers.

As Paul writes: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Timothy 2:1–4).

Prayer for Government

Lord God, as I pray for all who are in authority, I thank You especially for the form of government given us in our beloved country. Give me the grace with my fellow citizens to value the officers and magistrates of our government as those sent by You. Instill in me that respect and honor that is due them. Lord, endow them with wisdom for their several duties, with a spirit of sacrifice for the common welfare, with mercy and justice, with uprightness and kindliness. Correct the evils of selfishness, greed, a vain desire for honor, or abuse of power among us as well as in the other governments of the world. Grant that the true purposes of government may prevail, safeguarding peace and prosperity, so that we may live soberly and uprightly in Your sight and have the opportunity to tell of You and Your kingdom. These petitions I direct to You because in Jesus I know You as my Father and Lord. Amen.

Post adapted from Lutheran Life copyright © 2020 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.  

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Written by

Amy Bird

Amy Bird is a child of God and wife of Aaron. She holds an MA in systematic theology from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis and is continually amazed at how precisely God's Word speaks into life today.

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