Should Christians pay tax? Short answer: Yes, even though it isn’t God’s ideal for us.
When Jesus said, Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21), he was not promoting two kingdoms. Jesus did not believe the physical world should be run by humans, with the spiritual world run by God. God’s Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18).
So, if we’re giving him our allegiance, should we be paying tribute to other rulers also?
No, Jesus wasn’t promoting two kingdoms with divided loyalties.
Matthew already told us this was a trap. Pharisees and Herodians buttered Jesus up to ask this:
Matthew 22:17-22 (my translation, compare NIV) 17 “So, tell us what you think: should we pay tribute to Caesar or not?” 18 Aware of their evil intent, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you play actors? 19 Show me the tribute coin.” They offered him a denarius. 20 He says to them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s” they replied. Then he said to them, “Return Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” 22 His response astounded them. They took their leave and departed.
If you don’t understand what this question meant in his culture, you might misunderstand Jesus’ answer. We often separate life into two domains: the physical world includes the country where you pay taxes to your rulers, and the spiritual world includes the church where you pay tithes to God. This separation of the physical and spiritual worlds (church and state) has been so common in recent centuries that it has a name: the “two kingdoms” view.
That’s not the Bible’s framework. Earth is not divided into two domains, with God ruling part of life and humans ruling the other. God is sovereign over everything, and the problem with the world is humans resisting his commands, controlling each other through violence, taking power into our own hands (Genesis 1 – 11). God did not tell the Hebrews, “You’re to live in two kingdoms, serving Pharaoh and me.” He told Pharaoh, “Release my people so they may serve me.”
What’s the same and what’s different between King Jesus and the rulers of this world?
To declare Jesus as “the Christ” is to declare he is God’s anointed ruler for all the peoples of the earth. His kingship restores earth to heaven’s governance. That’s the whole point of the kingdom of God.
So, how does Jesus’ kingship compare to other rulers, like the president of the United States or the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China? What’s the same, and what’s different?
It could have been today’s news: Daniel describes superpowers mistreating people of Jewish ethnicity. But he saw a higher power running the world.
What is the message of the Book of Daniel? It’s not disconnected stories of lion’s dens and fiery furnaces. It’s not a mysterious code for dating the end of the world.
Daniel wrestles with, “Who runs the world?” This was no theoretical question, given that Babylon had taken over Jerusalem. Could the kingdoms of this world implement God’s rule? Or would the restoration of God’s reign require divine intervention? And how do God’s people cope in dark times?
This podcast (32 minutes) surveys the message of Daniel — the restoration of God’s kingship in a world gone wrong.
How does seeking God’s kingdom affect the way we relate to existing rulers?
Some of my conservative friends worry about me. They fear that seeking the kingdom will make me a “leftie,” advocating for social change. They remind me Australia is a great place to live, with a Christian prime minister, who’s doing a good job with the Covid-19 lockdown. Surely, we all need to pray for him and support him as God’s man?
I’ve disappointed my radical friends too. I’m seeking the kingdom, but they don’t see me pushing for social change. They fear if we don’t call out the systemic injustice, nothing will change. They remind me how inhumanely Scott Morrison treated people seeking asylum when he was immigration minister. Surely, we must disrupt the way things are if we are to have a better society, a kingdom of God? Continue reading “Christ and the rulers of this world”
Some of my friends struggle with “Submit to each other” (Ephesians 5:21). So many people have been subjected to abuse, humiliation, and injustice that subjecting them to anything further feels like more grief.
Other friends find submission natural. God is the authority, with all authorities under him, so of course Christians must be submissive.
They didn’t want to lose on investments (franking credits, negative gearing).
They didn’t want the environment prioritized over jobs (Adani).
The biggest loser was Tony Abbott, and Christians must consider why. Four years ago, he was Prime Minister. Now he’s knocked out, with a massive 19% swing — greater than in any other seat, and when the national swing was towards his party. Why? Continue reading “What kind of society do Aussies want?”
Aussies have a rebellious streak. We couldn’t list the names of our Prime Ministers, but we remember Ned Kelly. We love Waltzing Matilda, the ballad of a sheep rustler who drowns rather than surrender to the authorities.
So, do we have a bad attitude to government? Are we meant to respect our government, treating it as God’s servant to maintain order in our society? Or are we right to be suspicious?
What kind of activism are we called to? Confronting the powers of evil, or being the community of a different king?
Christian activists have usually raised a voice for peaceful protest. Fifty years after Martin Luther King called for nonviolent resistance against systemic injustice, we still hear his voice.
Walter Wink called Christians to expose the evil that is endemic in the power systems of this world. He called us to name evil for what it is, to unmask its insidious nature, to engage it through non-violent confrontation. Even in the titles of his books, you can hear him calling the church to stand against corruption: Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), Engaging the Powers (1992), When the Powers Fall (1998), The Powers that Be (1999). A choir of other of voices also call us to non-violent resistance: John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Shane Claiborne, Jarrod McKenna, and so on.
Are they right? Is power the problem we must address? Is that our task, to stand against the injustice that’s systemic in the way the world is run? To those questions, I want to answer Yes and No. Their diagnosis of the problem is spot on, but their response doesn’t resolve the problem.
Does Romans 13 decree the divine right of kings? It has been used that way for centuries. Even today, the royal coat of arms of the UK rests on such a claim: Dieu et mon droit, literally God and my right!
Does Romans 13 authorize war? Many interpreters have claimed that it does, so we’ll address this question in our next post.
Good exegesis starts with Paul’s context, not ours. The power claims in Romans 13 do not originate with Paul. He knew that Roman emperors laid claim to divine right to rule. This tradition dates way back to previous pagan empires, and is found all over the world.
But Paul was a Jew, writing from a Hebrew worldview. In that framework, Paul’s words in Romans 13 are not strange at all. In Romans 9:17, he quotes the Hebrew claim that God raised up even the Pharaoh of the exodus for his purposes.
Dial 000, we teach our kids. There’s always someone there. If the threat is physical violence, the police will save us. If the threat is fire, the fire brigade will save us. If the threat is medical, the ambulance will save us.
Government provides these services, including 000. So thank God for governments. They are his servants, authorized by God to save us from a whole range of violent threats.
We rarely think about that when we talk about salvation at church. There we use the word saved to mean being saved from personal guilt or from condemnation in the afterlife. We use the same word to mean two completely different things, without stopping to think why. We can do that because we segregate the secular and religious dimensions of life into isolated compartments.
What’s the relationship between the kingdom of God and the power of the state?
Mixing religion and politics could start an argument, but we can’t avoid the gnarly question.
How should Christians interact with the power of the country we live in? Should we be politicians, law makers, advisors, ambassadors, judges? Should we lobby politicians over issues like same-sex marriage? Should we oppose institutional injustice like incarcerating people on Manus Island?
Should churches promote and fund activist agendas to challenge government policy? Or should we do those things only as individual citizens? Or is this whole thing diverting us from our calling? Continue reading “God’s kingdom and politics”
Who do you trust to sort out all that’s wrong with the world? It matters where you place your faith.
To say Jesus is Lord is to say that he is the rightful ruler of all. Every power, every authority, every government answers to him and is under his direction. Jesus is not saving souls to take them out of this world to a disembodied existence in the sky. He doesn’t plan to leave this world to the devil. Continue reading “Who is the saviour of the world?”
What kind of ruler could bring an end to war and injustice? He’d need to be a very different kind of ruler, and all humanity would need to submit to him.
As you read the Christmas story, do you see how rulers today still rely on evil and death as Herod the Great did? The spirit behind Herod reigned in the rulers who came before him: Antiochus Epiphanes IV, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh Neco, Sennacherib, …
Were the prophets who predicted Trump’s victory right?
Now that the American presidential election is over, I’m writing to beg my friends not to confuse your allegiance to Jesus with your allegiance to a political party or to your nation. I’m an Aussie. I’m neither pro-Trump nor pro-Clinton. I am pro-Jesus. I’m writing this because 4 out of 5 white Evangelicals voted for Trump, and some (not all) of you confused support for Trump and support for Jesus. I beg you to listen, because that’s really dangerous to your faith. Continue reading “Trump and the kingdom of God”