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We believe that the church is God's "holy
to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to all nations
about God's saving love.
The church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its
allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God's kingdom,2
we trust in the power of God's love for our defense. The church knows
no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection. The
only Christian nation is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people
from every tribe and nation,3
called to witness to God's glory.
In contrast to the church, governing authorities of the world have been
instituted by God for maintaining order in societies. Such governments
and other human institutions as servants of God are called to act justly
and provide order.4
But like all such institutions, nations tend to demand total allegiance.
They then become idolatrous and rebellious against the will of God.5
Even at its best, a government cannot act completely according to the
justice of God because no nation, except the church, confesses Christ's
rule as its foundation.
As Christians we are to respect those in authority and to pray for all
people, including those in government, that they also may be saved and
come to the knowledge of the truth.6
We may participate in government or other institutions of society only
in ways that do not violate the love and holiness taught by Christ and
do not compromise our loyalty to Christ. We witness to the nations by
being that "city on a hill" which demonstrates the way of Christ.7
We also witness by being ambassadors for Christ,8
calling the nations (and all persons and institutions) to move toward
justice, peace, and compassion for all people. In so doing, we seek the
welfare of the city to which God has sent us.9
We understand that Christ, by his death and resurrection, has won victory
over the powers, including all governments.10
Because we confess that Jesus Christ has been exalted as Lord of lords,
we recognize no other authority's claims as ultimate.
The language of the church as "holy nation" may be unfamiliar. Often,
we have spiritualized the political language of the New Testament,
forgetting that kingdom, Lord, and even the Greek word for church
(literally, "assembly" or "town meeting") are political words. Political
here refers to any structuring of group relationships. Understanding
the church as nation can make clearer its relationship to the nations
of the world.
Before the fourth century, about the time of the Roman emperor Constantine,
most Christians thought of themselves as God's nation, made up of
both Jewish and Gentile believers, living among the nations, yet strangers
among them (1 Peter 2:11-17; Hebrews 11:13-16). When Christianity
became the state religion, the emperor came to be seen as the protector
of the faith (even by violence). Church membership was no longer voluntary.
Mission efforts were primarily directed toward people outside the
empire. Even now, in places where Christianity is no longer the state
religion, the government is often seen as the defender of religion,
and the church is expected to support government policies.
We believe that Christ is Lord over all of life. Church and state
are separate and often competing structures vying for our loyalty.
We understand that governments can preserve order and that we owe
honor to people in government. But our "fear" belongs to God alone
(1 Peter 2:17). When the demands of the government conflict with the
demands of Christ, Christians are to "obey God rather than any human
authority" (Acts 5:29).
God has one will for all people: salvation and incorporation into
the people of God. Territorial nations and their governments are limited
in their ability to fulfill the will of God because of their reliance
on violence, at least as a last resort, and because of their tendency
to try to set themselves up in the place of God. However, a government
that acts with relative justice and provides order is better than
anarchy or an unjust, oppressive government. Christians may often
witness to the state, asking it to act according to higher values
or to standards which, while less than what God expects of the church,
may bring the state closer to doing the will of God. Christians are
responsible to witness to governments not only because of their citizenship
in a particular country, but also in order to reflect Christ's compassion
for all people and to proclaim Christ's lordship over all human institutions.
On a variety of political and social issues, individual Christians
need the church to help them discern how to be in the world without
belonging to the world (John 17:14-19). The church asks questions
such as these: Will this participation in the government or in other
institutions of society enable us to be ambassadors of Christ's reconciliation?
Or will such participation violate our commitment to the way of Christ
and compromise our loyalty to Christ? We ask these questions when
we confront issues of military service, office holding, government
employment, voting, taxes, participating in the economic system, using
the secular courts, pledging allegiance, using flags, public and private
schooling, and seeking to influence legislation. For related discussion,
see "Discipleship and the Christian Life" (Article
17), "Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance"
(Article 22), and "Truth and the Avoidance
of Oaths" (Article 20).
Previous article: 22. Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance
| Final article: 24. The Reign of God
- 1 Peter 2:9.
- Phillipians 3:20; Ephesians 2:19.
- Revelation 7:9.
- Romans 13:1-7.
- Ezekiel 28; Daniel 78; Revelation 13.
- 1 Timothy 2:1-4.
- Matthew 5:13-16; Isaiah 49:6.
- 2 Corinthians 5:20.
- Jeremiah 29:7.
- Colossians 2:15.