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COMMENT: Relating to the state

May 2016

Unusually, our comment column this month takes the form of a book review, submitted to Evangelical Times in the normal course of its book-reviewing service for readers.

The book it focuses on — God and politics — is a brief but excellent and accessible treatment of a vital issue; and one that draws ever closer, it seems, to evangelical churches.

The question pressing upon us is, ‘Will we or will we not agree to do what the state demands, whatever it does demand?’

While God and politics does not go into the specific matter of teaching the Word of God to children and youth in churches and Sunday schools, it does present simply but faithfully those biblical principles that relate to healthy relationships between churches and the state.

The main themes covered are made clear in this excellent review. ‘Give to God what is God’s’ is surely the need of the hour for our witness as believers in the UK today.

God and politics — Jesus’ vision for state, society, and government

Mark Dever

10publishing

64 pages, £2.99

ISBN: 978-1-91058-744-7

BUY

This 55 page booklet is an excellent exposition of Mark 12:13-17. The Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus the entrapping question, ‘Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?’

Mark Dever affirms that Jesus’ reply, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s’, was not just a clever side-step to avoid a trap, but a revolutionary mandate for the Christian community, then and now, in a hostile world.

We can be constantly bemoaning our government’s anti-Christian legislation, but Jesus’ words, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’, while holding in his hand the Roman denarius, show that we should, as Peter exhorts, ‘submit to every authority instituted among men’ (1 Peter 2:13), even if it comes from a hostile Roman government.

God is sovereign over all and the state is his servant, providing a framework for order and peace in society, so we must ‘pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’ (Jeremiah 29:7).

Mark Dever affirms that those working in government reflect God’s own authority as they work for justice in society. No wonder the MP David Burrowes is enthusiastic in his praise of the book, saying the author ‘has become every politician’s favourite by daring to thank us for “doing God’s work”’.

But the most searching section of the book concerns the second part of Jesus’ reply: ‘[Give] to God what is God’s’. We obey the state, but do not worship it. So our duty to earthly authority is limited, and civil disobedience may be right when an authority commands something which is contrary to God’s law.

All governments fall short of God’s standard and our primary loyalty is to God. The denarius bore Caesar’s image, so we give the coin back to Caesar. But we bear God’s image, so we give ourselves to God.

We all owe God everything we have, and are bound to give all our energy to him, as we seek to obey him moment by moment in every area of life, as employee, spouse, friend, etc. This is a small booklet with a big message. Read it at least twice!

 Richard Atherton

Whitby

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