Is Christ or Caesar Our Example?
Jesus Christ came into the world to bring to men the true knowledge of God; for “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” He came to reveal to men the kingdom of God,—to enunciate its principles, to manifest its spirit, to reveal its character of it. Of it He said: ”My is kingdom is not of this world.” “Except a man be born again he can not see the kingdom of God.” And His apostles declared: “The kingdom of God is righteousness and praise and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
“My kingdom is not of this world.” Every kingdom, every State, every government of men, is altogether of this world and of this world alone. How then can anybody be of any earthly kingdom or State and of the kingdom of God at the same time?—Those who are of the church are of the kingdom of God, because the church is the church of God, and not of this world,—it is composed of those who are chosen out of the world. Those who are of the State are of this world, because the State is altogether and only of this world. Thus in the Word of Christ, in the very principles of the cause of Christ, there is taught the separation of Church and State as complete and as wide as is the separation between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, and that is as complete and as wide as is the separation between God and this world.
Accordingly, Christ says in another place, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” In that time the head of the Roman Empire, the personification of the world’s power, was Cæsar. And in that Roman world system whatsoever was Caesar’s was Gods; because to all the people of that world system Cæsar was God; he was set before the people as God; the people were required to worship him as God; incense was offered to his image as to God. In that system the State was divine, and Cæsar was the State. Therefore that system was essentially a union of religion and the State.
In view of this, when Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” He denied to Cæsar, and so to the State every attribute, or even claim of divinity. He showed that another than Caesar is God. Thus He entirely separated Cæsar and God. He entirely separated between the things which are due to Caesar and those which are due to God. The things that are due to Caesar are not to be rendered to God. The things due to God are not to be rendered to Cæsar. These are two distinct realms, two distinct personages, and two distinct fields of duty. Therefore, in these words Jesus taught as plainly as it is possible to do, the complete separation of religion and the State, that no State can ever rightly require anything that is due to God; and that when it is required by the State, it is not to be rendered.
Christ our Example.
Again: Jesus is the Example whom God has set to be the Guide to every person in this world in every step that can be taken in the right way. Any step taken by anybody in a way in which the Lord Jesus did not go is taken in the wrong way. He hath left us “an example, that ye should follow His steps.” Whosoever saith that he “abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.” And Jesus never, in any manner nor to any degree, took any part in political matters nor in any affairs of the State. Jesus was then, and is forever, the embodiment of true religion. Therefore, in His whole life’s conduct of absolute separation from everything political, from all affairs of the State, there is taught to all the world, and especially to all believers in Him, the complete separation of the religion of Christ, and of all who hold it, from everything political and from all affairs of the State.
So faithfully did He hold to that principle that when a man asked Him only, “Speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” He refused, with the words, “Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you?” and then said to them all, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness; for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” O, if only all who have professed to be His followers had held aloof from all affairs of politics and the State, how vastly different would have been the history of the Christian era! What a blessing it would have been to the world! What floods of misery and wo mankind would have been spared!
And why was it that Jesus thus persistently kept aloof from all affairs of politics and the State? Was it because all things political, judicial, and governmental, were conducted with such perfect propriety, and with such evident justice, that there was no place for anything better, no room for improvement such as even He might suggest?—Not by any means. Never was there more political corruption—greater perversion of justice—and essential all-pervasive evil of administration, than at that time. Why, then, did not Jesus call for “municipal reform”? Why did He not organize a “Law and order League”? Why did he not disguise Himself and make tours of the dives and the gambling-dens, and entrap victims into violation of the law, and employ other spies to do the same, in order to get against the representatives of the law evidence of maladministration by which to arraign them and to compel them to enforce the law, and thus reform the city, regenerate society, and save the State, and so establish the kingdom of God? Why? The people were ready to do anything of that kind that might be suggested. They were ready to co-operate with Him in any such work of reform. Indeed, the people were so forward and so earnest in the matter that they would have actually taken him by force and made Him King had He not withdrawn Himself from them. Why then did He refuse?
The answer to all this is, Because He was Christ, the saviour of the world, and had come to help men, not to oppress them, had come to save men, not to destroy them. The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reform. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our Example kept aloof from earthly governments—not because He was indifferent to the wos of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually and must regenerate the heart.
“Not by the decisions of court, or councils, or legislative assemblies, not by the patronage of worldly great men, is the kingdom of Christ established, but by the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit. ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man; but of God.’ Here is the only power that can work the uplifting of mankind. And the human agency for the accomplishment of this work is the teaching and practicing of the Word of God.”1
Now Christ is the true Example set by God for every soul in this world to follow. The conduct of Christ is Christianity. Conformity to that example in the conduct of the individual believer—this and this alone is Christianity in the world. The conduct of Christ, the Example, was totally separate in all things from politics and the affairs of the State. Christianity, therefore, is the total separation of the believer in Christ from politics and all the affairs of the State, the total separation of religion and the State in the individual believer.
Accordingly, Jesus said to His disciples forever, “Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” And to His Father. He said of His disciples forever, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Every Christian in this world, then, must be in the world as Christ was in the world. “As He is so are we in this world.” “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master.” The Master was always, and in all things, and by fixed design, completely separated from all affairs of politics and the State. And it is forever enough “that the disciple be as his Master.”
This is the Christianity of Jesus Christ, as respects the great question of religion and the State. And, as in all the instruction from God from the beginning of creation down, it calls always for the complete separation of religion and the State in all things and in all people.
Alonzo T. Jones
1 Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 510, 1926