When we examine our options for engaging our government, we have arbitrarily defined them as submission, salvation, secession and sedition. These remedies appear to be graduated ones wherein one follows the other if the previous efforts were unsuccessful. Today we’ll focus on submission as a citizen’s response to governmental action. Historically, submission has been the most common reaction to governmental edicts and power. Throughout recorded human history, governments have primarily been patriarchal, tyrannical or imperial. Citizens have been little more than chattel or property of the ruling monarch. It was the Judeo-Christian tradition that recognized individuals as stand-alone entities capable of reasoning and executing sound decisions. The awareness of self probably occurred before Abram (Abraham), but our first consistent and recorded chronicle of individuality is found in the Old Testament.
Despite the clear biblical acknowledgement of an individual’s relationship with God, many Christians who belong to mainline denominations have succumbed to a passive stance of submission when confronted with an over-reaching government. Their justification for such a position is rooted in Matthew 22:21b: Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” The inference that is drawn by submissive Christians is that one must submit to the state in worldly matters and practice obedience to God in the spiritual realm. They fail to detect the difference between Roman governance and our constitutional republic as designed for our United States. There are three critical words that provide a stark line of demarcation between the system of Rome and our method of governance. They are “We the people”….the opening words of our foundational document. I haven’t authored a systematic theology, but it seems clear to me that Christ’s teaching was that the individual must conform to the practices of the system in which she/he found themselves while continuing to be a positive reflection for God. There are theological justifications for resisting an unjust government, but they aren’t necessary to further this discussion. “We the people” can stand alone as a reason for individuals, Christian and non-Christian, to become actively involved in determining the role of government in their lives. To passively submit to a government that habitually violates its own rules becomes a ringing failure to follow the biblical admonition to engage with Caesar. One who allows government to run roughshod over individual rights while claiming the mantle of Christ is failing others and the Lord.
Certainly, submission as an approach to government should not be universally rejected. That would be anarchy. There are instances, legal and spiritual, where submission is vital for the survival of the state and the protection of the citizens. The occasions are rare and should be judiciously undertaken. Theologically speaking in the context of a constitutional republic, the citizen should always trust the Lord completely while skeptically working within government to “secure the blessings of liberty.” The secular aspect of a citizen’s submissive role is much more clearly defined. While the Christian recognizes the supremacy of God, the secular citizen must first define the primary focus of his allegiance. “We the people,” it seems, directs the citizen’s fealty to liberty. Because the state is creation of the people, and the nation is a product of the states, the citizen must honor the individual. Individuality cannot flourish without liberty. Therefore, it follows that submission is a secondary element of citizenship. The preservation of liberty for every citizen must be the overriding impetus for involvement with the state. Any activity that arbitrarily undermines freedom for the citizens is contrary to good stewardship. Anytime a citizen voluntarily submits to an unconstitutional or unjust action by government, then that citizen is derelict.
Active, consistent and unyielding efforts for liberty are the defining elements of a good citizen. Unthinking submission to government’s abuses of its mandate is the equivalent of treasonous activity. When the citizen passively submits to an unruly government, he tacitly encourages tyranny. He or she violates the obligation to protect and defend liberty from the grasp of illicit government action.
Discipleship and citizenship are active endeavors and should be the norm for spiritual and governmental involvement. Submission should be a conscious reasoned activity and not the default mode. God wants pro-active disciples, and the state requires our action to hold it accountable. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the salvation aspect of good citizenship.
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