We believe that the church is God’s “holy nation,”1 called to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to all nations about God’s saving love.
The church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God’s kingdom,2 we trust in the power of God’s love for our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection. The only Christian nation is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people from every tribe and nation,3 called to witness to God’s glory.
In contrast to the church, governing authorities of the world have been instituted by God for maintaining order in societies. Such governments and other human institutions as servants of God are called to act justly and provide order.4 But like all such institutions, nations tend to demand total allegiance. They then become idolatrous and rebellious against the will of God.5 Even at its best, a government cannot act completely according to the justice of God because no nation, except the church, confesses Christ’s rule as its foundation.
As Christians we are to respect those in authority and to pray for all people, including those in government, that they also may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.6 We may participate in government or other institutions of society only in ways that do not violate the love and holiness taught by Christ and do not compromise our loyalty to Christ. We witness to the nations by being that “city on a hill” which demonstrates the way of Christ.7 We also witness by being ambassadors for Christ,8 calling the nations (and all persons and institutions) to move toward justice, peace, and compassion for all people. In so doing, we seek the welfare of the city to which God has sent us.9
We understand that Christ, by his death and resurrection, has won victory over the powers, including all governments.10 Because we confess that Jesus Christ has been exalted as Lord of lords, we recognize no other authority’s claims as ultimate.
1 Pet. 2:9.
Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:19.
Ezek. 28; Daniel 78; Rev. 13.
1 Tim. 2:1-4.
Matt. 5:13-16; Isa. 49:6.
2 Cor. 5:20.
- The language of the church as “holy nation” may be unfamiliar. Often, we have spiritualized the political language of the New Testament, forgetting that kingdom, Lord, and even the Greek word for church (literally, “assembly” or “town meeting”) are political words. Political here refers to any structuring of group relationships. Understanding the church as nation can make clearer its relationship to the nations of the world.Before the fourth century, about the time of the Roman emperor Constantine, most Christians thought of themselves as God’s nation, made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers, living among the nations, yet strangers among them (1 Pet. 2:11-17; Heb. 11:13-16). When Christianity became the state religion, the emperor came to be seen as the protector of the faith (even by violence). Church membership was no longer voluntary. Mission efforts were primarily directed toward people outside the empire. Even now, in places where Christianity is no longer the state religion, the government is often seen as the defender of religion, and the church is expected to support government policies.We believe that Christ is Lord over all of life. Church and state are separate and often competing structures vying for our loyalty. We understand that governments can preserve order and that we owe honor to people in government. But our “fear” belongs to God alone (1 Pet. 2:17). When the demands of the government conflict with the demands of Christ, Christians are to “obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).
- God has one will for all people: salvation and incorporation into the people of God. Territorial nations and their governments are limited in their ability to fulfill the will of God because of their reliance on violence, at least as a last resort, and because of their tendency to try to set themselves up in the place of God. However, a government that acts with relative justice and provides order is better than anarchy or an unjust, oppressive government. Christians may often witness to the state, asking it to act according to higher values or to standards which, while less than what God expects of the church, may bring the state closer to doing the will of God. Christians are responsible to witness to governments not only because of their citizenship in a particular country, but also in order to reflect Christ’s compassion for all people and to proclaim Christ’s lordship over all human institutions.
- On a variety of political and social issues, individual Christians need the church to help them discern how to be in the world without belonging to the world (John 17:14-19). The church asks questions such as these: Will this participation in the government or in other institutions of society enable us to be ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation? Or will such participation violate our commitment to the way of Christ and compromise our loyalty to Christ? We ask these questions when we confront issues of military service, office holding, government employment, voting, taxes, participating in the economic system, using the secular courts, pledging allegiance, using flags, public and private schooling, and seeking to influence legislation. For related discussion, see “Discipleship and the Christian Life” (Article 17), “Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance” (Article 22), and “Truth and the Avoidance of Oaths” (Article 20).