The Christian and Government

I would like to look at what the word of God teaches about the Christian’s role in human government. This is probably not considered a controversial subject as most evangelical Christians believe that it is their moral responsibility to vote, and that the governments of nations can be useful in advancing the cause of Christ. Where it can get controversial however, is when an individual believes that Christians are not called upon to vote for human leaders, and that we are not called on to advance God’s kingdom through “carnal” means, such as human government. It is important to look at the Bible to gain a proper understanding of what God desires for us a followers of Christ, and not at what someone else teaches or believes.

To begin, we should look at Israel in the Old Testament. What was their government like? We find Israel, God’s chosen people, in bondage to the Egyptians, when their cry reached God’s ear (Exodus 3:7). At this point, God raised up Moses, to go before Pharaoh, and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and into the land God promised them. Israel was considered a “theocracy” where God was their ruler. It was God’s law they were to follow, and it was God alone they were to worship and serve. God spoke to Moses, who led the nation.

Moses was succeeded by Joshua (Deut 31:7-8). It was Joshua who led the nation over the Jordan river, and into the land of Canaan. Following the death of Joshua, the nation spiraled into sin, and as a consequence, they came under attack from the surrounding nations. Once again, as they cried unto the Lord, He heard them, and raised up judges to deliver them from their enemies, and to lead them (Judges 2:12-16).

We next read of the prophet Samuel, who judged Israel all the days of his life (1 Sam 7:15-17). When he grew old, he appointed his sons as judges. However, they were dishonest, and the elders of the people approached Samuel, and asked for a king to rule over them. This was the day that Moses foresaw,

When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me…(Deut 17:14 KJV)

Moses warns them to be sure to set the king over them that God would chose, not a stranger, but of their own brethren. This was not God’s will for His people, but a concession similar to that of divorce. Jesus stated that a provision for divorce was contained in the law because of the hardness of your hearts (Matt 19:8). 

This was God’s response to the request of the people to have a king,

And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1 Samuel 8:7 KJV)

God viewed this as a rejection of Him, of His leadership over His own people. Nevertheless, He allowed Israel to set a king over themselves. It is kind of like when you say no to someone, but at their stubborn persistence, you let them have their own way, even though they will have hard consequences to face because of the choice they have made.

From that time on Israel was governed by kings. There were godly kings who led the nation wisely, desiring for the nation to worship and serve God, and there were evil kings who turned the people away from God, and instead embraced idolatry. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided with ten tribes in one kingdom, and the other two in another kingdom. Look at what happens when men try to do things their way.

We do not see examples in the Old Testament of men getting involved in the affairs and governments of the surrounding nations except for a few instances which we will now look at.

In Genesis 19:1, we read that Lot sat in the gate at Sodom. While this does not present concrete evidence that Lot was involved in the governing affairs of Sodom, it yet leaves the possibility open. The city gate was a place where judgments were given, agreements made (Ruth 4:1-9). Obviously, his presence in the gate of Sodom had little effect on the evil in that place. In fact, the wicked men of that city turned on him when he defended his visitors from their advances (Gen 19:9). This is what the Bible tells us of Lot,

And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds. (1 Peter 2:7-8 KJV)

It is one thing for a Godly man to stand up and publicly rebuke the sins of the nation, and quite another to align himself with a governing body just as wicked as the nation it serves, and try to legislate morality through them.

Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. His brothers grew jealous of him, and sold him into slavery. God prospered him in all of his adversity, and he eventually found himself elevated to rule over Egypt with only Pharaoh over him (Gen 37, 39-47).

In a similar fashion, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were also favored by God. Having been taken away by the Babylonians, they also found themselves in places of leadership during the Babylonian exile (Daniel 1-3),

We also read the story of Esther, how she became queen of Persia, and was able to save her people from annihilation at the hand of Haman (Esther 1-9).

We must keep in mind however that these individuals did not seek these positions of leadership. They were all captives in foreign lands, not there by any choice of their own. Through miraculous events, they found themselves in authority, where they were all used by God to preserve His chosen people, the nation of Israel, thus ensuring the promise of redemption through Jesus Christ.

We find the New Testament lacking any concrete evidence of, or encouragement for, involvement of Christians in the governmental affairs of their respective nations. You just do not see passages of scripture laying down principles for godly leadership within civil government. We read of qualifications for elders and deacons within the Church, but that is the Church, not the state. 

There are plenty of examples of government in the New Testament, but we see no mention of Christians taking an active role in it. Many people may say that they were not allowed to participate, which may very well be true. I believe there is more to it than that however.

It goes back to the principle of two kingdoms.  The early Christians recognized that they belonged to another kingdom, the heavenly kingdom. although they lived in this world, they were not of it (John 17:16). Jesus calls us to seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33). Paul exhorts us to set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life, shall appear….(Col 3:2-4 KJV) Did you catch that? Christ is to be our life! It is really all about Him, not in some figurative sense, but in reality. Paul is not being poetic here. What he is trying to impress upon our minds and hearts is that we are not living in this world to please ourselves, or to advance our own purposes, or to do things in our own way (even things we attempt for God), no, we are to be absolutely about His business, making His will, His kingdom, our utmost priority!

No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. (2 Tim 2:4 KJV)

As Christians, we have been born again into the kingdom of God. We are indeed soldiers in the army of Christ. We are at war, a spiritual war, against the powers of darkness, with the souls of men at stake. How can we think that we have the time and privilege to get ourselves embroiled in the temporal affairs of this world, while eternity stares us in the face? We are here to please Christ, and Him alone. 

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? (2 Cor 6:14-16 KJV)

How can we expect to advance godly principles through ungodly means? The governments of this world are filled with ungodly individuals. How can we expect them to champion the cause of Christ for us? A Christian who enters politics, enters into a life of compromise, and divided allegiance.

The governments of this world are ordained by God to take care of the things of this world. Their purpose is to promote restraint, and execute justice in a sinful world (Rom 13:1-4). To execute wrath, involves the punishment of those who do evil. This is the role of human government as ordained by God. Jesus however tells His followers to resist not evil (Matt 5:39). In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek. If we are wronged we are not to retaliate, in fact we are to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who despitefully use us (Matt 5:38-45). 

Paul writes,

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans 12:19 KJV)

As Christians we are not called to avenge ourselves. We are called to forgive. It is the job of human government to execute justice. Once again, we are not of this world even though we live in it. We belong to the kingdom of heaven, and our job is to abide by the teachings of Christ, and expend ourselves in the promotion of His kingdom, not the kingdom of this world.

This does not mean that we live without government however. This same passage of scripture exhorts Christ’s followers to submit themselves to the government because it is ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7). We as Christians are not above law. We are called to submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the King, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:13-15 KJV).

As Christians we are to be respectful of those in authority. We are to pay our tributes and taxes (Romans 13:6-7), rendering unto Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s (Matt 22:21). Finally, we are to pray for those in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life (1 Tim 2:1-2). think how much could be accomplished for good if men would only seek God in prayer.

As citizens of another kingdom, we are to be living as foreigners in this world (Heb 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1). It is not for us to fix this world’s problems. We are not called to run it through government. Our task is to perpetuate God’s kingdom through the great commission, the making of disciples (Matt 28:19-20). Let us leave the world and its problems to the world, and instead, be concerned with the mandate of our Lord.

Two Kingdoms

There are two kingdoms; the kingdom of this world, and the kingdom of God. A proper understanding of this concept is vital to our Christian walk, as it effects how we live and act in every area of our lives.

First, there is the world. This is where mankind lives. From the beginning of creation, man has inhabited the globe. It is divided into continents and nations, kingdoms and dominions, where men of every tribe and tongue dwell. We all spend our lives in this world, from the day we are born, until the day we die.

This is the world that God created (Gen 1:1). We read that God has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation (Acts 17:26 KJV).

However, sin has marred this world. We see corruption and evil everywhere. What God created as good (Gen 1:31), was corrupted by the fall, and given over to the dominion of the devil.

And the devil, taking him up into a high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power I will give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. And if thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. Luke 4:5-7 KJV

The bible declares that this world is under the dominion of Satan, the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). In John 12:31, he is called the prince of this world. (see also John 14:30, 16:11). 

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. Eph 2:2 KJV.

This world is evil (Gal 1:4). Under the rule of Satan, the whole world lieth in wickedness (1 John 5:19). All of the wickedness that prevails in the world today, can be traced to the activity of Satan in this world, as he entices men to yield to his control.

Then we have the kingdom of heaven, also referred to as the kingdom of God. This kingdom is under the rule of Jesus Christ, and is filled with those who have committed their lives to follow Him. Unlike the kingdom of this world, where men are born physically into it, the kingdom of heaven can only be entered by the new birth (John 3:3,5). It is a spiritual kingdom that exists within this physical world we live in, yet separate from it. Those who have entered this kingdom as disciples of Jesus, live by the law of love. They love God with all of their heart, soul, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves ( Matt 22:37-40). They treat others in the same way that they would be treated (Matt 7:12).

The kingdom of heaven is made up of individuals who have renounced all for Christ (Luke 14:33). As Lord and King, Jesus is to be obeyed. Those who love Him, will keep His commandments (John 14:21). This kingdom is the opposite of the world. The world’s system is that of selfishness, while Christ’s kingdom is based upon sacrificial love,

 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13 KJV.

Those who have entered the kingdom of God still live in this physical world, they are inhabitants of cities and countries, but their allegiance is now to Christ. They live as strangers and aliens (Heb 11:13). Jesus teaches us that as Christians, we are in, but not of, the world (John 17:9-16). This has great ramifications for us; it affects every area of our lives.

It is like an individual going to another country on business. He is in this country for an extended period of time. He is living in a foreign country, but not as a citizen. He does not participate in its politics, or get entangled in its affairs, because he is only there on business, and cannot let anything get in the way of that business. In the same way, the citizens of God’s kingdom are here in this world as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20). They do not get entangled in  the affairs of this world (2 Tim 2:4), because they are called upon to make the business of the heavenly kingdom their priority (Matt 6:33). 






The Age of Accountability

Many in the Church believe in what is commonly referred to as the age of accountability. They hold that an infant is not capable of willful sin until they reach an age where their wills become developed, and they gain an understanding of right and wrong. At this point they are now morally accountable to God for their actions. I agree with this position, and would like to explore a few passages of scripture which I believe teaches this concept.

Before we begin however, stop and consider; have you ever known an infant to steal, tell a lie, murder somebody, worship an idol, blaspheme, commit adultery, etc? Common sense tells us that an infant is incapable of these things. How can an infant, who has no understanding, who is moved by instinct when hungry, tired, or uncomfortable, intend in his or her heart to commit one of these sins, thus incurring guilt? As this child grows older, we begin to see tantrums, disobedience to simple parental commands, and so forth. At some point, this child will reach a point of moral accountability before God. At what age they reach this point we have no way of knowing, but before this moment comes, they are under the grace of God

We can gain some insight from the words of Jesus in Mark 1:14,

But when Jesus saw it, He was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (KJV)

Little children have an innocence about them. As I stated above, an infant, even a small child, has not yet transgressed. That is not to say there is no sin nature, for the Bible teaches us that through the disobedience of Adam, sin entered the world, and has affected all men (Romans 5:12, 19). However, this does not mean that we are guilty of Adams sin, nor does it mean an infant who dies will go to hell for Adam’s sin. This passage of scripture teaches us that sin entered the world, and death through sin, because all have sinned. In other words, we have all given in and transgressed for ourselves. We are guilty for our own sin. Adam started it, sin entered the world, and we all fall into it. Here we see Jesus blessing these little ones, and teaching us that to such belongs the kingdom of God. He sees no taint of sin yet in these little ones.

Under the old covenant sacrificial system, we see provision being made for the unintentional sins of an individual, or the nation. A sin might be committed in ignorance (without knowledge). It was only when that sin became known, that the person was required to make the proper sacrifice, as an atonement for his sin (Lev 4:2,12-14, 22-26). While the sin was unknown, there was grace; it was when the individual became aware of the sin, that it had to be dealt with. This shows us that God deals gently, and is full of mercy, to those who sin without knowledge. He makes a distinction between unintentional sin, and sin that is willful. Now if an individual was made aware of a sin committed in ignorance, and chose to ignore it, or to persist in it, that person would retain his guilt. He would find no forgiveness in this case.

We also see a glimpse of God’s mercy in the book of Jonah. God asks the Prophet, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:11 NASB) What is implied here is that there were 120,000 individuals in this city who had no real knowledge of sin. They were not morally accountable yet, and for this reason, God sought to spare this city, even though it was a very wicked city. Once again, we see God showing mercy to those who were not yet accountable for their actions.

We discover a principle of mercy in the book of Romans. Paul, in teaching the righteousness of faith, states that the law brings wrath, but where there is no law, there is no transgression (Romans 4:15). In the next chapter, in explaining how sin entered the world through Adam, he states that until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law (Romans 5:13).

When our first parents sinned, there eyes were opened (Gen 3:7). The Lord God Said, 

Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil. (Gen 3:22a KJV).

Though we have no written law from this point until the time the law was given to Israel, man was accountable to God for violating the light that he had been given. This is why Abel was accountable for the murder of Cain (Gen 4:1-17), and why the world was accountable to God in the days of Noah (Gen 6:5-7). This is why Sodom and Gomorrah were judged by God and destroyed. They were accountable to God for violating the revelation of God that they had received through creation (Rom 1:18-32), and through their own conscience (Romans 2:14-16). However, an infant who has not yet experienced an awakened conscience, is not morally accountable to God. They have no light to sin against. In this sense, there is no law, and consequently, no transgression.

Paul applies this principle to himself when he states that apart from the law he was once alive, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and he died (Romans 7:9). There was a point in the Apostle’s life when he had no discernment of right and wrong; his conscience had not yet been enlightened. However, when that time came, the law worked all manner of coveting in him. Without the law, sin is dead, but with a knowledge of right and wrong (the law), it now brings death (Romans 7:8-9). The individual has now become morally accountable, as he or she now has an understanding of right and wrong, and is now in need of the Savior, to cleanse the soul of its guilt before God, and to set the prisoner free from the power of sin that has taken hold of his or her life. Prior to this point, there is no need to baptize this infant for the sake of its salvation. The mere act of infant baptism does not save, and cannot regenerate. God, who is righteous and just, in His mercy, does not hold such a one accountable for something it is incapable of doing.

Objections to Infant Baptism

There are those who hold to the necessity of infant baptism. They use several scriptures to support their position. I would like to take a look at these passages of scripture however, and see what the Bible really teaches us on this subject.

To begin, I would like to point out that the New Testament pattern for baptism involved repentance and faith. It was a conversion experience whereby an individual turned from sin to Christ, being baptized into Christ, identifying with His death, burial, and resurrection. Therefore, one is led to see that only those who have repented of their sin, and placed their trust in Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls, are fit candidates for baptism.

There are numerous scriptures that link repentance and faith with salvation, and baptism as well. Jesus began His public ministry preaching repentance (Matt 4:17). He declares that unless one is born again, of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5). He issues the great commission, commanding us to teach all nations (translated in the NASB as make disciples), baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Mark’s gospel Jesus states that the one who believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). Belief in Christ was the baptismal requirement for the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:36-37), and Peter required his listeners to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). Once again, is there any solid scriptural evidence that would lead us to believe that God requires repentance and faith from an infant? Is this something that an infant is capable of? Can an infant understand sin, repentance, and surrender to Christ? These are honest questions that we must ask ourselves as we contemplate this issue.

Those who hold to infant baptism look at the “household” baptisms found in the book of Acts, as proof that the Apostles baptized infants. There are those who teach that only “first generation” converts need to be baptized, their children are then baptized as infants. But is this scriptural?  Let’s take a look at these instances as recorded in Acts. 

Acts Chapters 10 and 11 record the conversion of Cornelius and those assembled in his home. We read in Acts 10:2, that Cornelius was a devout man, and one that feared God with all of his house. Nowhere in this verse do we see mention of who made up his household, or what there ages were. What we do know is that he was a God fearing man, along with his household. Even if there were children, even infants in his house, as well as the other households we will look at, we would still understand that it was a God fearing household, or a believing household, in spite of the fact that there were those within it who did not have the capacity to fear God, or believe in Christ. When we look at a godly family and say, “That is a Christian home,” we should understand that we mean those who are capable of repentance, faith, and obedience to Christ, even though infants may be present in that home.

The Bible records that Peter preached the word to those assembled in the home of Cornelius. As he preached, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word (Acts 10:44). At this, they baptized them in the name of the Lord. The proof: they had evidenced the reception of the Holy Spirit. When we read this passage, we do not have to make a great leap to understand that those who heard the word, responded to it, thus receiving the Holy Spirit. The conclusion of the early Church was that ” God has granted the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18).

Next is the household of Lydia, a woman who worshiped God (Acts 16:14-15). When she heard Paul’s preaching, the Lord opened her heart, to attend to the things spoken. The Bible records that she and her household were baptized. It makes no mention however of who made up her household, or their ages. It is mere presumption to assume that there must have been some infants baptized along with Lydia. How can we be certain that she was the only one who believed? Again, the scriptures are silent in this case, however, there is ample proof found throughout the New Testament, that belief is necessary for baptism.

Paul also baptized the Jailer at Philippi, along with his household (Acts 16:29-34). When he asked “What must I do to be saved?” Paul replied that he must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he would be saved, he and his house. I would hope that we understand this to mean that if he believed, he would be saved, and if others in his household believed, they would be saved as well. I find no evidence in scripture to support that if one believes in Christ, his entire house is saved as well. He is baptized along with his entire household. Again, no mention of who makes up this household; no mention of infants or children. We can only guess at their ages, as the Bible is once again silent. This passage closes by telling us that this man rejoiced, believing in God with all of his house. I take this to mean that everyone in his household believed, thus they were baptized.

Paul also baptized the household of Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16). Once again, we have no record of who made up this household. We do discover however, that they were the first fruits in Achaia, that is Paul’s first converts there. We also see that they were addicted to the ministry of the saints (1 Cor 16:15). In other words, they were active in Christian service. If we try to make this passage “prove the presence of baptized infants within this home, we must also be consistent, and say that these infants were addicted to the ministry of the saints as well. 

We have the example of the household of Crispus, a believing household (Acts 18:8), who were baptized (1 Cor 1:14), as well as many other believing Corinthians. This passage shows us that it was the practice of Paul to baptize those who believed. Nothing at all is mentioned, in this passage, as well as in the other “household” passages that we have looked at, concerning the practice of infant baptism. There is absolutely no plain scripture dealing with the idea of baptizing first generation believers along with their children. Sadly, we seem to be baptizing those who we have never been commanded to baptize, and we are not baptizing those whom Christ has told us to baptize. 

Those who practice infant baptism like to point to circumcision and God’s covenant with Abraham, to show that we must baptize babies. (Gen 17:9-27). The idea is that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant, but it is performed in the same way, on infants. Circumcision was the sign God gave to faithful Abraham. It was to be carried out on all males born into the nation of Israel, when they were 8 days old. These infants did not need to repent or believe to receive circumcision, it was theirs by virtue of the fact they were born into the nation of Israel. As a sign, it pointed to the circumcision of the heart, the removal of the sinful nature. It also served to separate the nation from the other nations around them, and to identify them as God’s chosen people. However, we must remember that the act of circumcision was performed on the male child at his birth into the physical kingdom of Israel. Baptism under the New Covenant represents the new birth, the entrance in to the spiritual kingdom of heaven. It is not performed at natural birth, but at the new birth. You must be birthed from above into the kingdom of God to receive baptism. Nicodemus struggled with the concept of the new birth, and in much the same way, people today struggle with this idea of the necessity of infant baptism as well (John 3:3-12).

In conclusion, the bible clearly teaches that one who is to be baptized must be repentant, must profess faith in Christ, and must be born again. There is no plain teaching or example found in scripture backing the practice of infant baptism. We dare not elevate the precepts of men above the sound teaching of Jesus Christ, or that of the Apostles found within the pages of the inspired word of God.