Christianity, Christ and Caesar

To whom will we give our supreme allegiance and loyalty?

It should be obvious where the loyalty of the Christian lies. We should be devoted to Christ and Christ alone. Sure, we live in the world and have relations with it, and we live under the jurisdiction of the state, and have some obligations to it. But Christ alone is king – or should be.

Sadly however too many believers have divided loyalties at best, or undue allegiances to the world and the state at worst. Instead of giving Christ the supreme honour and devotion he deserves, they will split the bill – giving the world, the state, and other things equal footing and dedication.

Plenty of ordinary believers do this regularly, as do many religious leaders. And this is nothing new. As I just read again today in my daily reading of Scripture, in the time of Jesus the same problem existed. Many religious leaders rejected Jesus while preferring to give their loyalty to Caesar.

Consider what we find in John 19:15: “They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’.” Wow. Here the religious elites are siding with a pagan ruler against God’s messiah.

We find similar sentiments in Luke 19:11-27 where Jesus gives a parable about the ten talents. Verses 12-14 read as follows: “A prince went to a distant country to be appointed king and then to return. He called ten of his servants and gave them ten coins. He said to them, ‘Invest this money until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation to follow him and to announce, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us!’”

Christ is again rejected. People prefer anyone and anything to Christ. That non-Christians would do this is to be expected, but when Christians act the same way, it is monstrous. And the examples of believers – and religious leaders – siding with the world and the world system over against Christ are easily found.

Consider just four recent cases of Western religious leaders and churches effectively turning their back on Christ and the Bible as they cosy up to the world and its evil agendas. Let me offer the headline and opening paragraphs of each of these four:

Case One:

‘German bishops want to modernize the church. Are they getting too far ahead of Pope Francis?’

Among those who believe the Catholic Church must liberalize to save itself from perpetual decline, some of the staunchest advocates are church leaders here in Germany. Some German bishops have spoken in favor of abandoning the celibacy requirement for priests and vaulting women into leadership roles that are now off-limits.

Some have urged updating the Vatican’s stern stance on sexual morality, saying the church can’t afford to be out of touch or alienating. Earlier this year, one bishop spoke so understandingly of homosexuality that a 53-year-old priest in a nearby town came out as gay and thanked the bishop for opening the door. “The old times are over,” that bishop, Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, had written to the members of his diocese, saying that his own views were evolving amid the church’s “dramatic loss of credibility and trust.”

Case Two:

‘Drag Queen Story Hour Invades The Church’

Drag Queen Story Hour is a phenomenon that has been making libraries a cultural battle ground as it spreads across the nation but the progressive left has found new allies for promoting such events – the church. The Park Church, a Lutheran ministry in Greenpoint, Brooklyn held its first Drag Queen Story hour this week with Drag Queen “The Rev. Yolanda” who is known for her “Church With A 2 Drink Minimum” slogan at various spiritual events.

Perhaps Park Church felt inspired by Cincinnati’s Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church which recently greeted its visitors on Sunday with Drag Queen “Sparke Leigh”, complete in purple dress, makeup, high heels and a glitter beard. Following the song “God Welcomes All” by the church choir, Sparke Leigh walked up on stage and called the children up to sit at his feet.  Rather than reading from the Bible, he read the book Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag.

Case Three:

‘Lesbian Episcopal Priest Named President of National Abortion Federation: “Abortion Providers Are Modern-Day Saints”’

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) has announced that its board has appointed Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, a lesbian Episcopal priest, to serve as its president and CEO. “Abortion providers are some of my personal heroes and modern-day saints,” she said in a statement. “It is an honor to be able to serve and support NAF members as they provide compassionate health care amid increasing attacks and challenges.”

Case Four:

‘Koran read at Westminster Abbey as Royal Cathedral bows to Islam’

Britain’s royal cathedral—the nation’s coronation church since 1066—and the final resting place of 17 monarchs approved a Koranic reading from its lectern at a memorial service last Tuesday. Husein Kavazovic, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, read from Koran 16: 90-97 at a Service.

Image of Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies
Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies by McKnight, Scot (Editor), Modica, Joseph B. (Editor), Crouch, Andy (Foreword) Amazon logo

These four examples – and there are many more like them – are crystal clear examples of “We don’t want this man to rule over us!” They are yet more cases of “We have no king but Caesar”. They demonstrate that numerous churches and Christian leaders have said no to Christ while embracing the world system and the values of the spirit of the age.

When Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago he was a real threat to many: to the religious leaders, to the state, and to the various false gods. The Roman empire back then liked to allow everyone to worship their own gods and pursue their own religions, as long as none claimed superiority and exclusivity.

Jesus came along and challenged all that, proclaiming himself as the sole Lord. Modern biblical scholarship has been interested of late in looking at how the theme of resistance to empire is found in the New Testament. One recent and balanced volume on this is edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica: Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not (IVP, 2013).

One of the articles in it by David Nystrom discusses the threat Christ – and later, Christianity – posed to the empire. He says this:

Paganism can be described as a collection of cult acts. There was no creed. Sacrifice of animals, grains, or the pouring of libations was common. Theatrical performances and processions accompanied festivals honoring the gods. There was no conversion in paganism. More room could always be made on the shelf for another god. There was no sense of sin in paganism. Difficulty or misfortune was the result of an offense against a god or a group of gods. The trick was to discern which ones and then seek to placate them.  For this reason the Romans prized the pax deorum, the peace with or of the gods….

In Roman paganism the chief magistrates also functioned as the chief figures in religion. The Christian notion of faith was largely alien to paganism. Within the compass of antiquity faith was considered among the lower orders of mental activity. Excessive faith, superstitio, was to be avoided as a type of unhealthy credulity.

Everything about Christ and this new faith was a threat to the system. Thus even the Jewish religious leaders of the day preferred to stand with Caesar and the system instead of committing to the long-awaited messiah. Things are little different today.

Far too many believers prefer to be friends with the world and the powers that be instead of giving sole allegiance to Christ as Lord. Thus the madness illustrated in my four examples above. The question each believer needs to ask is this: ‘Just who is Lord in my life?’

Will we have this man to rule over us, or will we not?

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8 Replies to “Christianity, Christ and Caesar”

  1. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s”.

    This one quote is so often abused to claim that Christ Himself taught us to separate our lives into spheres; those of the world and those of God.

    However, this quote does no such thing. Indeed, it only takes a moment to realise that it lays the heaviest duty of all on Caesar. After all, he is left with the obligation of rendering all to God. He is given much so that he can do much for the work of God.

    At the end of the day, all comes from God and all is duty-bound to return to Him.

  2. How ironic that Christianity started out as illegal. while here in America it started out as the predominant religion upon which the nation and its government were founded. But with time naive Christian leaders handed the reins of cultural leadership to the pagans by adopting a false Gnostic pietism described by Francis Schaeffer. Now we will be fighting for our lives as the pagans have turned much of the state against Christianity. We need a new generation of Christian leaders that will return us back to the biblical truth of the total sovereignty of God in all areas of life – including the government. Currently too many celebrity pastors, like John MacArthur and Andy Stanley, have reinforced the idea that the state is secular and God’s law has no business in our churches or culture. Lawlessness starts with our own church leaders and impacts the surrounding culture. As the churches go – so goes the culture!

  3. Hector, where do people like McArthur set out the view of government you state there? I am quite intrigued…

  4. Could it be that the important question is not, “Can Government save us?” but “Can Christianity save government?”. Matters related to these questions are, I believe, part of the scope of the discussion in Thomas Hobbes’ 17th-Century works Leviathan and Behemoth.

  5. My personal reading yesterday was in 1 Corinthians 12, which included this nugget: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in [by] the Holy Spirit.”

  6. Thanks, Bill, I had a quick skim of that review. It seems that he was also saying in that false dichotomy that God’s Word doesn’t speak into the political sphere, which is a big no-no to Calvinists who focus on God’s sovereignty over ALL of life, as you pointed out.

    Hopefully, we can look at other writings of McArthur to get a better picture of his stance vis-a-vis government.

  7. The only thing I like in case #1 is getting rid of the celibacy requirement for priests. Too many heterosexual men didn’t want to be celibate so they had to open the priesthood to homosexuals who turned their appetites on boys.

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