Uneasy Neighbors – Church and State
Discussions of what the bible says about Christianity and government often come up, and one book I oft refer to is Pilgrim’s Uneasy Neighbors: Church and State in the New Testament. Pilgrim writes that there are actually at least three distinct New Testament doctrines governing the Christian approach to government, not just one simplistic “all or nothing” approach (i.e. theocracy or secularism); submissive confidence, deep resistance, and critical distancing.
In addition to these views, he also outlines the biblical responsibilities of civil government.
Here’s an excerpt:
The New Testament in general does not view the government as an autonomous human structure, but rather as an earthly institution ordered by God to enhance the welfare of the human community.
The divine intention for the state is to preserve the civil good. On the positive side, it does so when it promotes peace and justice and equality and freedom and community for its own people and among the nations of the world. On the negative side, it does so by preserving law and order, by deterring the aggression of the powerful, and by punishing the offenders of the public good (the power of the sword, Romans 13:3-4)….
A Paradigm for Church’s Attitude Towards the State:
- A critical-constructive stance is appropriate when the powers that be are attempting to achieve justice
- A critical-transformative stance when authority errs, but can be realistically moved to salutory change
- A critically resistive stance when the powers are responsible for demonic injustice or idolatry and refuse to be responsible to change
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