Among the most famous sayings in the Bible about political matters is that in Matthew 22:21, in which Jesus Christ says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Of course, there is not a clear demarcation between which realm is which neither here nor elsewhere. In another place, Jesus Christ affirmed being a king, but said that His kingdom was not of this world, or else His servants would fight (John 18:36). Likewise, Christian doctrine has looked at secular authority as serving as the servants of God with the responsibility to punish evildoers (Romans 13:4). That said, despite the disinterest of genuine believers in seeking to establish God’s kingdom through control of the political realm, and the general command given to Christians to pray for rulers and seek God’s help for them (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:17), the relationship between believers and political authorities has never been entirely smooth, because Christians serve God, and at times the demands of obedience to God outweigh the obedience to human authority (Acts 5:29), which puts Christians in the difficult position of being conscientious objectors to the wicked ways of this world, and subject to the wrath of those leaders who dislike being considered ungodly because their will contradicts the plainly expressed will of God in His scriptures.
If this is true for believers in general, it is certainly true of the ministry within God’s Church. After all, it is the ministry who often serves as the most visible ambassadors of the faith once delivered to the outside world. It is ministers whose messasges are heard by audiences in person, or which are saved online in audio and/or visual form, so that others may look at them at a later time to determine what a given organization or congregation believes about a certain topic. It is largely ministers who write the articles, and certainly the booklets, and that appear on radio and television as those who seek to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the outside world in such media as are available. At times, the doctrines of God touch on very serious political issues. What the Bible says about the dignity of mankind as being made in the image of God, whether rich or poor, male or female, unborn or old and suffering from terminal illness, of every ethnicity and tribe that exist on this earth has serious political implications. So does the question of how mankind is to be treated, and how we are to act with regards to personal and social morality. To be sure, these are not partisan implications, as no party of fallible men or women has ever stood in perfect alignment with the commandments of God, much less His expressed or implied will. Yet they are political matters nonetheless. At times, in order to preach the truths of scripture, it has been necessary to disobey the laws of man and the dictates of authority, and to suffer as gladly and as resolutely as possible in the knowledge that at all times believers have chosen to obey God rather than follow the unrighteous commandments of men. We must be careful to note, though, that the laws of man are binding wherever they do not contradict the commandments of God, even if such laws are at times inconvenient to our own pleasure or wishes or interests.
How does the minister serve as a political figure? This is done in several ways, of a similar way to the general political role of all believers, but in a more conspicuously public way. For one, a minister serves as an ambassador of the Kingdom of God here in the realms of men, subject to God’s law, a model of righteous if not perfect behavior as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. Like every other realm, God’s Kingdom has its laws, has its rights and privileges, and has its system of authority. While it would seem that our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven would be unobjectionable it frequently is considered problematic because of the way that the kingdoms of mankind are at least occasionally seriously wary of the dual loyalties of those who are genuine believers. After all, states and realms do not like potentially disloyal subjects, and one cannot faithfully serve two masters. Those whose ultimate loyalty is to God will not serve the fallible kingdoms of mankind with the same zeal and fervor as rulers are accustomed to receiving, and will at times be critical of the flaws and failings of those realms, which can be a hazardous place to be even for someone who does not have ambitions for earthly offices. It should be noted that the human authorities who are less than thrilled at the dissent of others is not limited to those who have secular authority, but also those who serve in religious offices but who inevitably reflect the flaws and failings that are universal to mankind, would-be critics and reformers as well. The fact that a believer ultimately has in mind an alternative model of a perfect society than any human society possesses is also a matter of difficulty, as those who have alternative worldviews and foundational beliefs will always be in a state of ultimate disagreement, and only temporary and convenient alliance for shared purposes and goals. No lasting and deep peace is possible between corrupt and rebellious humanity seeking to rule itself and those who, however imperfectly, strive to obey the will of God, for they serve two different masters.
Indeed, a minister must serve as a political figure in order to serve God with a loyal and courageous heart. Those in offices of religious authority, who have been ordained by God to serve the body of brethren as a whole, have a responsibility to set the tone for how believers are to live as pilgrims and sojourners. Part of that responsibility is the responsibility to present and model the whole will of God across all subjects in its timeless and eternal way, yet always relevant to present conditions and contemporary culture. In doing so, at times a minister will have to speak of areas of controversy, yet are to do so from a perspective of what the whole of God’s word says about a given subject, rather than what is said by those political leaders who a minister may find more amenable to their own views. Ministers, indeed all believers, are to remember that we do not speak at present from the point of view of judges of the realms of this world, but as fellow human beings subject to the authority and judgment of God over the whole earth and the inhabitants therein. Like the disobedient prophet (in 1 Kings 13) who was killed for listening to the voice of man rather than God’s command not to eat anything in the land of Israel, we too may suffer judgment if we heed the voice of man more than the command of God. Sometimes it is lonely and unpopular to be righteous in an unrighteous world, for though we may not be hostile to anyone or desire any suffering for anyone, at times our principles will create difficulties in a flawed world where people do not wish to be reminded of their failings. If we wish to be a genuine servant of God like the prophets of old, we cannot expect the comfortable sinecure possessed by the corrupt court prophets whom the Bible holds in consistent scorn and contempt for their compromising cowardice.
The question, therefore, is not whether or not ministers are to be political figures, but what kind of political behavior they are to exhibit. Ministers are not to be ambitious for political office, but neither are they to shy away from the obligations of serving other people that result from their talents and abilities and the recognition of those talents and abilities of others. Ministers are not to shy away from biblical critique of corrupt political leadership, but are to do so not with a spirit of carping and hostility, or from a holier-than-thou position, but rather from a desire that ordinary citizens not suffer from the wickedness of leaders, which can cause a great deal of suffering to their societies and institutions. A minister is to be an encouragement to all, and a model of general obedience to law, as well as occasional and principled dissent and objection to wicked laws. Even should a minister run afoul of wicked authorities, they are to pray for the well-being of rulers, like Daniel did even in the lion’s den after being placed there through the corrupt machinations of rival leaders in the Persian Empire. This is not easy, and it certainly requires the assistance of God, as it goes against our own carnal and human tendencies to disagree without rancor or bitterness, or to critique from a standpoint of genuine love and concern, or to pray for those who persecute us. No one ever said the calling of a Christian, much less that of a minister, was an easy one though, and in the political realm, as in so many other places, we are called to tasks we cannot accomplish without the help of God. Do we have the humility to ask for that assistance, and the faith and confidence that our requests will be granted and that we may have the strength to endure that which we cannot escape?