Christ and Politics
March 27th, 1972 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST AND POLITICS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-27-72 12:00 p.m.
Thank you, Joel Mathis, and welcome to the fifty-third year that our First Baptist Church has conducted these pre-Easter services in a downtown theater. Many years ago, in the Jefferson Theater, way downtown at Akard and Main, the services were begun; and then when the Palace Theater was built they were moved to that theater; and for the life of the Palace all of the services have been held there. Then when the Palace Theater was torn down, the Interstate system were thus gracious in offering us this beautiful Majestic Theater; and this is the second year that our services have been conducted here. This is the twenty-eighth year that I have led them, and do pray that God will make this series the most wonderfully profitable of all the twenty-eight.
The theme for this year is “Christ and Contemporary Crises”; Christ in us, for us, our wisdom and strength as we live in this present day, in our time, and in our generation. Tomorrow the subject will be Christ and War. On Wednesday it will be Christ and Modern Science. On Thursday it will be Christ and Communism. And on Friday, the day He was crucified, it will be Christ and Death. Today the subject is Christ and the State; Christ and Politics. This is an election year. And in the headlines of our papers, we see so many introductions to the life and the platforms of the candidates who are running for office, both in state and in nation. And it brings to us, of course, the relationship between the disciples of our Lord, the Christian, and the duty of government and politics.
In the twenty-second chapter of the First Gospel, there is one of the most unusual incidents ever described in the life of our Lord. There were those who hated Him; took counsel how they might entangle Him in His talk and with the Herodians and the Pharisees and the others who had rejected Him, they came to Him and asked a question which plainly was a trap. They said:
What thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? And Jesus, perceiving their wickedness said, Why tempt Me, ye hypocrites?
Show Me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him a denarius.
And He said unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
And they say unto Him, Caesar’s. Then saith He unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
When they heard these words, they marveled, and left Him, and went their way.
Whichever way the Lord was supposed to have answered that question, it was plainly a trap. If He said, “Yes, give tribute and taxes to Caesar,” it would have infuriated the enslaved and conquered nation. But if He had said, “No, it is not right to give tribute to Caesar,” the Roman government would therein have found cause for arrest and prosecution. But the Lord answered in a way that in truth and in wisdom reminds us of our duty to both: rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, to government the things that belong to government, and to God the things that belong to God. We are citizens of not one world, but of two. We are citizens in the nation here below; and we are citizens in the heavenly kingdom above [Philippians 3:20].
And that disposition on the part of God to lay upon us that double responsibility is seen throughout the New Testament. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans [Romans 13:8-10], in the third chapter of the Book of Titus [Titus 3:1-8], and in the second chapter of the Book of 1 Peter [1 Peter 2:17], there we are told that we must love the brotherhood. We must reverence God, and we must honor the king [Matthew 22:21], even though that emperor is Nero; for the New Testament makes a distinction, a differentiation between the man and the office [Matthew 22:21].
In 2 Timothy Paul describes his trial before Nero, but in no place and in no syllable does he rail against that fantastically wicked king [2 Timothy 4:16-17]. In the story of the passion of our Lord, He stood before Pontius Pilate; but the Lord acknowledged the office of the Roman procurator, just reminding him that he exercised his power by the permission of Almighty God [John 19:10-11]. We have a duty to the government, and we have a duty unto God [Matthew 22:21].
I speak first of our duty to the state [1 Peter 2:17]. The power of the state is ordained of God [Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14]. There is law and government in God’s material universe. The orbits of the planets are meticulously guided by the controlling power and discipline of heaven. All that we see in life in the material universe expresses itself in law and in government. The speed of light and sound, gravitation, the laws of displacement, and a thousand other physical manifestations; no less so is the law of God seen in human society. It is inherent. The disciplines of a social order and of a civil society are the very basis of its existence and its continuance. And any violation of that discipline breeds anarchy on the part of the people and of the nation.
Some time ago, Judge Claude Williams, who is one of our deacons and the illustrious judge of the court of Civil Appeals, in an address before the Texas Bar Association, quoted Lincoln’s impassioned words. They are these:
Let every American, every lover of liberty…swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular 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 laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe . . . on her lap. Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in 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 altars.
[“The Perpetuations of Our Political Institutions”;
Lincoln address, Springfield, IL, 1838]
And when there is a disposition on the part of the people to violate the inherent power of government, they lay the seeds of their own ultimate and final destruction.
We have duty under God to the state. We also are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and we have a responsibility unto God [Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:7]. Our blessings, our security, ultimately come from His gracious hands.
Did you hear this story? From West Dallas, there is a story of a Sunday school teacher who was seeking to impress upon her pupils the omnipotence of God. So she turned to one of the little boys and said, “Johnny, who gave you the shoes you wear and the clothes you wear and the cap you wore to Sunday school? Where did it all come from?” And Johnny replied, “From President Richard Nixon.” The teacher was nonplused, so she tried again. “Bobby,” she said, “where did you get the food you eat, the milk you drank?” And Bobby replied, “From Senator John Tower.” The teacher was so frustrated she thought she would try just once again. So she turned to Tommy and said, “Tommy,” even though fearing the reply, “Tommy, who made the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the rain to fall and the beautiful flowers?” And Tommy replied, “God.” The teacher was so relieved until she heard the little boy sitting next to Tommy pull at him, and in an intensified whisper say, “You dirty little democrat.”
At the cornerstone of the security, and hope, and freedom of any people is their belief in Almighty God [Psalm 33:12]. And if ever they turn aside from that hope and security in Jehovah Almighty, they inevitably and inexorably turn to the next greatest power they know, which is the state. And wherever a people turn from God to the power, the security, the hope symbolized by the state, they immediately fall into the slavery and tyranny of a totalitarian government. That is true, whether it be in the story of the rise of the Fascist party in Italy, or the Nazi party in Germany, or the Communist party in Russia and in China. And wherever people find in the state the all inclusive power of God, they also find the state using the prerogatives of God Himself. That has been true through all of the centuries of the story of human government. It is oppressive, and it is tyrannical, and it enslaves!
It was true in the story of Nebuchadnezzar, when he threw the three Hebrew children into the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:20-23]. It was true of the Roman government when they fed Ignatius, the pastor of the church at Antioch, to the lions in the Coliseum. It was true of the Roman government when they burned Polycarp, the pastor at Smyrna, at the stake. It was true in 1307, when Gessler, the representative of the Austrian government, put his hat on a pole and demanded that the people of the little village of Altdorf bow down before it. And then followed the heroic story of William Tell who refused to bow, and this is the sad story that we read and see in the tragedy of the slavery of the people today in the totalitarian communist nations.
I was in Hong Kong at the time that the Red Chinese were taking over the mainland. And I talked to the refugees who were pouring out of that unhappy land. One of the missionaries who had just returned described to me the pastor of one of our Baptist churches, who was beat, and crippled, and thrown out for dead in a ditch. His faithful wife ministered to him, found the spark of life in him, nursed him for a few days, and saw him die in her arms. And the missionary said to me, “So grievous was those awesome days, that the wife lost her mind and is now insane.” This is the tyranny of a government that assumes unto itself the prerogatives of Almighty God! Is there no redress for the people? Is there no refuge from the tyranny of government? Is there no limit to the power of the state? It can be found only in our belief and in our persuasion of the prerogatives and the power of Almighty God! There is no other redress. There is no other hope except in our belief in Him! [Psalm 25:3, 20-21].
In the days of the beginning of the American Republic, our fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and who penned the Constitution, sought for some basis for the rights and liberties of her citizens. They sought a bulwark against the tyranny of government. They sought some guarantee for the liberty and freedom of the people. They turned first to Spain and found in Spain that the rights and liberties of the people were guaranteed by the monarchy. “But,” said our founding fathers, “if a monarchy can grant rights and liberties, that same monarchy can take them away.” They turned next to England, and they found there the rights and liberties of the citizens grounded in a parliament. “But,” said our fathers, “if a parliament can grant rights and liberties, that same parliament can take them away.”
They turned next to France and found there that the rights and liberties of the people were guaranteed by the will of a majority. “But,” said our fathers, “if a majority can grant rights and liberties, that same majority can take them away and oppress a minority.” It was then that our founding fathers looked upward and turned to Almighty God, and found in the character and being of Almighty God the ground and the guarantee inherent in Him of the rights and liberties of the people. They said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all of us are endowed by the Creator with these inalienable rights and liberties, that cannot be taken away by the state.” And as long as a people believe in God they shall have freedom and liberty. But when a people turn away from God they face nothing but tyranny and slavery.
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 power, we loose
Wild tongues that hold not Thee in awe—
Such boastings did the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the law—
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
[“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling, 1897]]
As it was in the days of the prophets, so is it true in the day and in the nation in which we live. Blessed are those people and “blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord.” [Psalm 33:12]
And our Father in heaven, may there be that disposition on the part of our people, from the president, to the Supreme Court, to the Congress, to the state legislators, to the county and city governments, to the schools, and down to every citizen, that disposition to look upward in faith, in hope to Almighty God [Matthew 12:21]. And may in Christ, God keep our nation godly and Christian, now, tomorrow, and to the end of the age, in the Spirit of Jesus, and in His dear name, amen [Psalm 33:12; Matthew 22:21].
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, 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
III. Our duty to God
A. Source of all
blessings and security come from His hands
men turn from belief in God, they turn for security, hope to the next most
powerful thing they know: the state
C. Oppressive state
always assumes prerogatives of God Himself
D. Is there redress for
the people, refuge for the oppressed?