Matthew 22:17-22 (ESV) “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled, and they left him and went away.”
Differentiating between the spiritual and the secular can be a challenge, but it is a skill we must develop, especially for the times we live in.
Dr. Wayne Grudem references Jesus’ words concerning what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God in his book Politics According to the Bible. Grudem points out that what Jesus says, “is a remarkable statement because he shows that there are to be two different spheres of influence, one for the government and one for the people of God.”
Within the sphere of the government, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proved that leveraging the church’s influence can be very effective. It was Dr. King who said, “the church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.” And then he gave this warning, “If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
Today, the zeal Dr. King called for is leveraged more towards economic issues (like taxes) and less towards the moral issues. Economics is what occupies much of the activity at our Rhode Island State House. A piece of Green Legislation that would mandate Rhode Island achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 easily passed through the General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor McKee. At the same time 5 Pro-Life bills, “Save Girls’ Sports,” and Comprehensive Sex Ed legislation were tabled for further study.
Can the Church in Rhode Island recapture its prophetic zeal? I believe it can and may be on the verge of doing so. In August of 2013, same-sex marriage was legally recognized in Rhode Island despite a valiant effort by many churches in our state to prevent it. This discouraged many pastors who began to feel that trying to influence legislators was fruitless and a waste of time. But that is changing! Legislation promoting immorality, especially in our public schools, is awakening the concern of parents and legislators alike. According to Senator Jessica de la Cruz, the voice of legislators in our state who are concerned about faith and family is getting louder.
I think she’s right. Here are just a few reasons why:
- The move to label churches as “non-essential” met with pushback both in Rhode Island and in nearby Massachusetts. Churches are becoming pro-active in defense of religious freedom.
- This Fall, I will be teaching a course for Northpoint Bible College that will teach young ministerial students how to engage with these hot topics in a winsome, Christ-like way.
- Also, this Fall, the Ministry Training Network of RI, a ministry made up of evangelical churches will sponsor a conference on “Biblical Sexuality.” Their goal is to awaken Rhode Island churches and help them understand and address the difficult issues of sexuality that are affecting our congregations and to do it in a Christ-like manner.
So, let’s not be weary in well-doing and take the advice of Jesus to ”Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
President – Board of Directors, Rhode Island