Christ and Politics
April 12th, 1965 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST AND POLITICS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-12-65 12:00 p.m.
And again, hello and welcome to the forty-sixth annual pre-Easter noonday services conducted by our dear and precious church. Remember, you can leave anytime, any moment, and you will not disturb me at all. If you can stay five minutes, stay a moment, stay until the last sentence and have to leave before the benediction, it is all right. Everybody understands this service is held during a busy lunch hour. Sometimes people bring their lunches. Wonderful, come, sit down. Just remember it is a Christian service and a fellowship and comradeship, and if your neighbor looks at you hungrily as you eat, share with him the pastrami, or the dill pickles, or the onions, just pass them down the line; but come, and welcome.
Ted, come here. Come here. I do not have a sweeter or a more precious friend in this world than the manager of this Palace Theater. Nobody has ever been better to anybody than he has to me. And when I come, I am always greeted with the most delightful gift that I personally could ever enjoy: a great, big, luscious bag of popcorn. I do not mean a little bag, I mean a big one. And Ted, we could not thank you for the years and the years, ever since there has been a Palace Theater, for the years and the years that we have come down here and shared this pre-Easter week together. God bless you, fellow, and be good to you. And we love to come, Ted.
The services this year are built around an altogether different theme from any that I have ever tried to discuss heretofore. This is the twenty-first year that I have conducted these services. My illustrious predecessor, the far-famed pastor, Dr. George W. Truett, conducted them for twenty-five years. And in the twenty-one years that I have led them, I have sought to set the message always back in the days of the Bible. But this year, the theme concerns our contemporary Lord: “Christ Today.” Does God speak to us now? Is there a message from heaven to our hearts this hour?
So tomorrow I am speaking on Christ and War; and the next day, Wednesday, Christ and Modern Science; the next day, Thursday, Christ and Communism; and the last day, Friday, Christ and Death. And today, the beginning day, the subject is Christ and Politics, Christ and governmental law and authority. Reading from the Gospel of Matthew:
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle Him in His talk.
And they sent out unto Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know Thou . . . teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest Thou for any man: for Thou regardest not the person of a man.
Tell us therefore, What thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
Then, Jesus, perceiving their wickedness, said, Why tempt Me, ye hypocrites?
Show Me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him a denarius.
And He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto Him, Caesar’s. Then saith He unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things which are God’s.
When they heard these words, they marveled, and left Him, and went their way.
The question of course was an obvious trap: is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar? If He said, “Yes,” He would infuriate the Jewish nation. If He said, “No,” He would invite the wrath of the Roman government. The Lord’s reply was that we are citizens of two worlds; this world—and under the government in which we now live—and we are also citizens of another world that is yet to come. Rendering to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, rendering to government and to law the things that belong to government and law; and to God the allegiance and the reverence that belong to God—that teaching is uniform throughout all the New Testament. I haven’t time to read the first seven verses of the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans that closes:
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom is due; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
The first verse of the third chapter of Titus says, “Titus, remember to put the people to be mindful and subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates” [Titus 3:1]. And from 1 Peter, “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” [1 Peter 2:17]. And those words were written when Nero was the emperor of the Roman Empire; cruel, and merciless, and tyrannical. Under Nero, the apostle Paul was martyred. And as he lay in the Mamertine dungeon, awaiting his final trial and martyrdom, did he rail against the tyrant Nero? Not at all! As a Christian, he respected the office of the emperor, and he closed his last letter to his son, Timothy, in the ministry with these words:
At my first defense no man stood by me, but all men forsook me: I pray that it may not be laid to their charge.
Nevertheless the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me … And the Lord will deliver me from all evil work, and preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
[2 Timothy 4:16-18]
No word against Nero, no word against the tyrant, no word against an oppressive government.
It was thus with our Master before Pontius Pilate. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of John, our Lord, before that Roman procurator, honored the office of the governor. He only pointed out to Pilate that he exercised the prerogatives of his office by the permissive will of God [John 19:11].
There is a duty and an honor that we owe to the law, to government, and there is a duty and an honor and a reverence that we owe to God. First, I discuss our obligation and our duty to the law and to government. All government, law and order, is ordained of God [Romans 13:1]. That is the word of the New Testament itself. The Lord God who created this universe created it in law and in order: the spheres in their orbits, the laws of gravitation, of the speed of light and sound, of weight and displacement, the laws of physics and chemistry—He is that kind of a God.
And the same Lord God that established law and order in the material universe above and around us is also the same Creator that established law and order in the civil life and the civil government of humanity. It is inherent. The discipline of civil society is one of the most conspicuous and cheapest ways and instruments by which God carries through His moral government. According to the Word of the Lord, anarchy is defiance against God Himself. And lawlessness and crime bears with it inherently the visitation of the judgment of Almighty God. And that is why, and that is why any kind of civil disobedience, any kind of willful violation, undermines the very foundation of human law and human government [Romans 13:2].
A few days ago, one of the illustrious jurists of our city, Judge Claude Williams, who is an honored deacon of our beloved church, delivered an address before the North Texas Bar Association. And in that address, this loved, and capable, and honored judge, quoting Lincoln’s impassioned words, said:
Let every American, every lover of liberty, swear by the blood of the revolution never to violate the laws of the country. Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the law be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe in her lap.
Let it be taught in schools, seminaries, and colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. Let it become the political religion of the nation. And let the old and young, rich and poor of all sexes, tongues, colors, and conditions sacrifice unceasingly upon its altar.
And ending this quotation from Abraham Lincoln, Judge Williams added:
A law society can never give its citizens the right—quote—“the right to break the law.” There can be no law to which obedience is optional. What has happened to us? Why is it necessary at this moment to repeat what should be axiomatic and accepted? The concept of civil disobedience is incompatible with the concept of the American legal system. This is particularly true where the society provides more than any other orderly change. Once we accept such a doctrine of willful and volitional disobedience, we legitimize it for other causes which we reject.
What he’s saying there is this, that when we launch a program of willful violation of the law and willful disobedience, we open the door for a thousand other inroads on the part of elements and people to which we could never subscribe or give our allegiance! For example, they learned that lesson well. The president of the United States says, “We shall make Washington, DC the model city.” I quote from the statistics of the year ending the thirtieth day of March, just a few days ago. In one year, in one year—and they’ve learned it well—civil disobedience and violation of the law—in one year, serious crime has gone up in our nation’s capital 36.2%. Robbery has gone up in one year 67.9%. Rape has gone up 30.8%. House-breaking has gone up 51.7%. And auto theft has gone up an astonishing total of 108.2%. They have learned that lesson well.
When I turn to the gambling syndicates, at a recent hearing before the Senate committee it was disclosed that there are more than fifty-billion dollars a year spent by the American public on gambling. And the profit of that totals the astronomical sum of more than ten billion, which is a greater sum than the profit of the one hundred largest corporations of America combined. And that illegal gambling is controlled by the crime syndicates of this nation. They have learned the lesson well.
Nor have I time to speak of the teenagers who riot on our university campuses, and who make the subway system of New York City a death trap, and who spend time in orgies on the beaches of Florida and of California. They have learned the lesson well.
I have just said, according to the Word of God, there is no such thing as a violation of law and order without a visitation from the Almighty [Romans 13:2]. It is not without reason that the apocalyptic discourse of our blessed Savior ends like this: “For wherever the carcass is, there will the vultures be gathered together” [Matthew 24:28].
What did He mean by that? A very simple thing: the great Lord God that reigns over this earth is not the Lord God in the days of Isaiah alone, or in the days of Paul alone, or in the days of the medieval ages alone, but the same Lord God that ruled and reigned in that age is the same Lord God that presides over humanity today. And wherever there is national decay, and moral decay, and willful disobedience, there where the carcass rots do the vultures of judgment gather together [Matthew 24:28].
Law and order, government, is ordained of God [Romans 13:1]. And Scriptures say He is the Minister of judgment from God to us. “Render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar” [Matthew 22:21]. To be an obedient citizen and to decry and to flee from all civil disobedience, is a part of the foundational work of society itself and of our lives as a fellow Christian people [Romans 12:18]. And rendering to God the things that are God’s [Matthew 22:21]; the basis of all true government and of all true liberty lies in the reality and the person and the character of Almighty God. In any society that is free there must be an overwhelmingly important and increasingly enlarging place for the Deity who reigns over this whole earth.
I could not help but laugh at something that I heard about a Sunday school teacher out there in one of our West Dallas missions. We have seven missions in our church, and several of them are located over there in West Dallas. So the Sunday school teacher, they told me, was impressing upon her class of little boys the omnipotence of God. So in her lesson, she turned to little Johnny and said, “Johnny, now you tell me, who gave you your shoes, and your pants, and your shirt, and the cap you wore to Sunday school today? Who gave them to you?”
Little Johnny stood up and said, “Please, ma’am. Please, ma’am, President Lyndon B. Johnson.”
Well, she was nonplused, so she tried again, and she turned to little Bobby, and said, “Bobby, who gave you the milk you drank, and the bread you eat, and the food?”
And little Bobby stood up and said, “Please ma’am. Senator Ralph Yarborough.”
Well, not knowing where to turn, she tried once again and said to little Tommy, “Tommy, you tell me. Who made the sun, the moon, and the stars?”
And little Tommy stood up and said, “Please ma’am, God!” And when he said that, his little friend grabbed him by the seat of the pants to pull him down, and said, “Sit down, you dirty Republican.”
I have been told that when the “Great Society” reaches its peak, heaven is going to be an anticlimax. There is something about human nature that is universally true through all the ages, and true of all nations, including our own in America. And it is this: that when a people and when a nation turns aside from dependence upon God, they immediately and inevitably turn to the next greatest power that they know for security and for hope, they turn to the powers of the state.
And that tragic reaction on the part of all humankind is written in blood and in tears in the story of fascism, and of Nazism, and of communism, and of economic political totalitarianism. When people turn from God, and when they renounce the faith that anchors us to heaven, immediately they turn increasingly to the establishment of an all-powerful welfare state.
Now the tears and the story of tyranny, and of oppression, and of slavery of the nations and populations of the world together under those tyrannical governments is beyond our minds to enter into, or our lips to describe. Ah! Ah! Is there no limit to the power of government? Is there no limit to the power of the state? Is there no redress for the grievances of the people? Is there no refuge from an authoritarian, paternalistic government? There is. There is, and it is found in the character, and in the reality, and in the presence, and in the revelation, and in the government of Almighty God.
In this passage that I haven’t taken time to read, in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, four times Paul uses there, “God,” in that short passage—four times [Romans 13:1, 2, 4, 6]. If we could construe the argument geometrically, we would say that he places God at every point. Any nation that lives in freedom, any nation that escapes slavery and oppressive government must find its heart and its soul in the character and the reality and the worship of God. And any government that oppresses must assume to itself the prerogatives that belong to the Almighty above.
That was true in the days of the story of the three Hebrew children, when Nebuchadnezzar, the king, made a golden image [Daniel 3:1] and said, “All who do not bow down and worship before it shall be cast into the fiery furnace” [Daniel 3:6]. That was true in the days of the apostolic church, when Ignatius, the pastor at Antioch, and when Polycarp, the pastor at Smyrna, were fed to the lions. It was true in the days of William Tell, when Gessler, who represented the king of Austria, put his hat on a pole and made every Swiss bow down before it. And it’s true today in the tyranny and the slavery of the subject peoples under totalitarian governments.
When I was in Hong Kong, I listened with tears and heartache to the story of one of our Baptist pastors. The communists hounded, and arrested him, and beat him, and crippled him until he died. And seeing the sorrow of the afflictions upon her husband and upon the congregation, his wife lost her mind. Is there no limit to slavery and the tyranny and the authority of government? Is there no refuge and no redress? There is, and it lies in God!
When our founding fathers sought to write a Constitution for these colonies on the shores of the new continent, they turned for an example to Spain. And seeking a safeguard for the rights of humanity, and seeking a bulwark against tyranny and oppression, and seeking a guarantee for the freedoms of mankind, they found that in Spain the rights of the people were founded in a monarchy. “But,” said our founding fathers, “if a monarchy can grant rights, that same monarchy can also take them away!”
They turned unto England and found that the liberties and the rights of mankind were founded in a parliament. “But,” said our forefathers, “if a parliament can grant rights and liberties, that same parliament can also take them away!”
They then turned to France and found there that the rights and liberties of mankind were grounded in a majority. “But,” said our forefathers, “if a majority can grant rights and liberties, that same majority can oppress a minority!”
It was then that our founding fathers wrote in their Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution of the United States that the rights and the liberties of mankind were grounded in the character of Almighty God. And they said, “Our inalienable rights are endowed, are given to us, by our Creator.” And wherever there is reverence for God, there is true liberty in a true government, a free church in a free state, governing free peoples. And as long as there is that reverence for God and dependence upon God, there always attends those rights and liberties that are inalienably endowed from heaven above. As the psalmist said, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” [Psalm 33:12].
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law
Judge of the nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!
[“God of Our Fathers,” Rudyard Kipling]
Rendering unto Caesar, unto law and government, the things that belong to Caesar, to law and to the government, but reserving for our souls, and for our conscience, and for our lives, reserving unto God the things that belong to God [Matthew 22:21].
And our Lord, as in days past, Thou hast so abundantly and marvelously blessed our America, may God continue to remember us for good. Ah! Master in heaven, that our people might look to Thee for every final and ultimate decision; what would God have us do? What pleases the Almighty? And in reverence for law and government, and in worshipful reverence before Thee, may we prove good citizens, loving people, honoring Thee, loving the brotherhood, honoring the brotherhood, loving God, honoring our Lord [1 Peter 2:17]—to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things of soul and conscience that belong to God [Matthew 22:21], in His keeping name, amen.
I. Question to Jesus was a trap by the
A. “Yes” would infuriate
B. “No” invites the
wrath of the Roman government
C. His answer – a duty
to both(Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:17)
Testament makes distinction between the man and the office(2 Timothy 4:16-18, John 19:11)
II. Our duty to government
A. The state possess a
1. There is law
in God’s material universe
2. There is law
in God’s human society
disobedience, volitional violation undermines the foundations of government
Inevitable judgment upon national decay(Matthew
III. Our duty to God
basis of all moral life, character, true government is the Person, power and
reality of God
men turn from belief in God, they turn for security, hope to the next most
powerful thing they know: the state
there a limit to authority of the state? redress for the people? refuge from
oppression of government?
There is a limit and boundary set by God(Romans
C. Oppressive state
always assumes prerogatives of God(Daniel 3:6)