Today, our gospel message comes to us from Matthew 22:15-22, “Paying Taxes to Caesar.”
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 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.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away (ESV).
Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to reveal your will for our lives and redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire us with confidence that you are with us in the midst of the storms of life, bring peace to our troubled souls, and lead your church throughout the ages. Enable us to live as your redeemed saints, that our lives may witness to our faith. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
“Rightly Dividing Church and State”
By David Anderson
There are those things that are more or less political and those that are eternal. Our Lord says it like this within Matthew’s gospel: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
They came to Jesus, the Pharisees, to get Him in trouble. Should they pay taxes to an emperor who had conquered and taken over God’s people?
If our Lord said a simple “no,” He would have been labeled an insurrectionist and would be in trouble with Roman authorities. If Jesus had said, “yes,” he would have alienated many Jewish Zealots who despised Roman occupation.
Today, asserting that the Christian influence should be allowed into the public square, particularly the public classroom, gets one into the same kind of dilemma that our Lord faced.
Suppose Mary says that Christian ideas should have the same access to the public schoolroom as do secular ideas. In that case, she is accused of going against the Supreme Court and Thomas Jefferson’s often quoted “wall of separation.” If Tom says that Christianity has no place in a public classroom, he is in favor of the moral corruption of our youth.
Now our Lord’s answer was clearly intended to avoid the trap. He never answered the question put to Him by those who had laid the trap. He, in effect, forces them to decide for themselves.
Still, Jesus does imply, without any hedge, that there are things that belong to God, and things that belong to the political order.
What kinds of things might belong to the political order? In the United States, we could list a number of things:
- What kind of tax form should be used to report one’s earnings would belong to Caesar.
- Where the state capitol should be located is also a political thing, not important to ultimate concerns.
- How to divide voting districts is Caesar’s decision.
- What roads in the state will be graveled, and what roads will be blacktopped might be important to some of us, but I don’t think it is a big item on God’s list.
I could go on and on with things that really are more or less secular in nature, and God gladly gives over to Caesar and his politicians’ administration.
Today I want to look at a deeper issue. In fact, I want to look at the foundation issue. Did our Founding Fathers, who gave us the foundation, consider religion to be distinct from the American government and public learning? To say it another way, did the Founding Fathers consider public matters to be a purely secular thing, building a great wall to keep Christianity out of government and the public school?
Does it matter to God how these questions are answered? Would God prefer to keep the Bible out of the public square and classroom? Are there consequences to a right or wrong answer to these questions?
…His country was in disorder. It struggled to find a beginning, a foundation for public life, after its hard-fought war for independence. James Madison, along with Thomas Jefferson and others, began to form documents that would lead to a constitution for this new nation.
James Madison was one of the Founding Fathers for the United States of America and its fourth president. He has been referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” He wrote 29 of the 85 numbers to “The Federalist Papers” and was the architect who fashioned the Executive Branch within our constitution.
James Madison, Father of the Constitution and intimate friend of Thomas Jefferson, wrote in his famous article, Memorial and Remonstration: “Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe…”
Now, this is a big statement by a founder of our nation and the “father” of its constitution. He is saying, in effect, that for America, the civil arena—the public square—is not for people who subject themselves first to “Caesar,” but to citizens who subject themselves to God. James Madison would disagree with the Supreme Court today—a court that wants to say that the public square and the public classroom are secular places where God’s will and meaning should have no say at all.
Does it matter what Madison thinks? Some years back, a book was written that looked statistically at what was happening to our children since the Supreme Court ruled against prayer in the classroom—a ruling in 1963. Now, I know that there are dangers that concern us about the theology of those leading the prayers, etc. in a public setting, but that being noted, this book demonstrates a clear downward slide for America’s health and well-being’s youth since 1963.
I don’t think that we can say that it was just this Supreme Court’s decision on prayer that caused damage to our youth. All kinds of things have been going on since the sixties that are bad for youth. But at the very least, this decision against prayer marks (directly or indirectly) a changing pattern within our society—a change from honoring God in the public arena to wanting to get God out of the public arena.
This new attitude that rejects God within public life was the subject of a speech given once by Rep. William Dannemeyer of California. Let me quote an extended statement that he made during that speech:
“The Judeo-Christian ethic begins with God, the Creator of man and the world, who gave us moral absolutes and fixed standards. Moral Relativism denies the existence of God and rejects the application of moral standards to the problems which arise in everyday life. Under Moral Relativism, man is the final arbiter of what rules will apply in any situation. Some people may ask, how did it come to be that a nation which began its existence based on the Judeo-Christian ethic is now involved in an intensifying cultural war where the current crop of the prophet of Baal, advocates Moral Relativism, are seriously contending that this philosophy should now dominate American culture?” [End of Quote.]Dannemeyer believes that our nation began with public standards of right and wrong fixed within the Judeo-Christian world view. In other words, the Bible—Old Testament and New—was a public book intended for public consumption.
In effect, Dannemeyer states that we began in the clear waters of Biblical truth, running through the public square and bringing life to America’s citizens. Still, today we slosh around in a cesspool where “each man does what is right in his own eyes.”
How did America drift from a high standard of morality rooted in God’s truth to the moral relativism that predominates our culture today? Dannemeyer believes that it dates back to the Scope Trials and also to John Dewey, the atheist. The latter is the primary architect of public education as we have it in America today.
For over a half-century, a strong movement has been afoot within the high walls of education to get God out of the classroom. James Madison believed that if we make students subject to God first, then they will be good citizens. Today it is often said that we must get “God” out of children, then they’ll be good citizens.
In fact, some would make it illegal for parents to “inflict” their religion onto their own children! If they win, you will not be allowed to bring your children to church or Sunday school or ask them to pray with you at home. Can you imagine that?
Herbert Schlossberg, in his book, Idols for Destruction, Christian Faith and its Confrontation with American Society, argues that God reveals Himself as the Lord of all history. The significant history that takes place, the moral decisions that happen moment by moment in the public square, are all matters that concern Him.
Schlossberg goes a step further then Dannemeyer as he places Jesus Christ at the center of the whole planet’s public square. He writes: “The Church’s paramount message about history, of course, is that the dividing between B.C. and A.D. is not just a convention and that the coming of Jesus Christ into history is the manifestation of eternity into time.”
The coming of Christ gave us the yardstick for measuring history as it had been, and history as it would be. God worked within the secular Romans, including Pontius Pilate, He worked within the corrupt politics of the Jewish antagonists, He worked in the teaching and healing ministry of Christ (which almost always took place in public settings), to bring Jesus to the Cross where, after His resurrection, history now only had meaning in Christ.
It is because of Jesus, and His teachings, that I can tell you that when Caesar says make County Road 14 a blacktop and not a gravel road, God sits and watches. But when Caesar says its all right to abort children in the womb or practice infanticide, God says such decisions do not belong to Caesar or his politicians, but to God. And God says No! And our youth need to know that God says No!
Morality, which should be learned in the public classroom, is not up to debate or a vote, not according to God’s playbook; the matter is settled. No debate. Wrong is wrong! And if we do not teach right and wrong within the public square and the public classroom, do not be surprised when kids bring guns and kill each other with them.
It’s not the guns that are doing the killing, it’s kids who have lost all proportion for right and wrong that are killing their peers, their parents, and even strangers.
But wait a minute, pastor, our Founding Father’s placed a wall between church and state. That’s just the way it is!
Let’s go back and look at the one who used this phrase “separation of church and state,” not (by the way) within the United States constitution, but within a letter that he wrote. What was the issue at stake? Virginians were being forced to tithe to the Anglican denomination. As governor of Virginia, he pushed through legislation to stop this practice because HE DID NOT WANT A STATE ESTABLISHED RELIGION!
This is a big point! Please understand that Jefferson was trying to prevent a single denomination and its theology from being dictated to Virginia’s citizens. He was absolutely not against Christianity influencing government. He was against the government influencing Christianity. Unlike what we are told today, Jefferson strongly believed that Christian understanding must have freely expressed itself within the public square.
If Jefferson were to come back from the dead and see what we have done to force God and His influence out of public life, he would have conniptions!
Just look! At the same time, Jefferson was moving the legislation just mentioned. He wrote Bill #84, which said, and I quote: “If any person on Sunday shall himself be found laboring at his own or any other trade…he shall forfeit the sum of ten shillings for every such offense.”
Now, this seems extreme to us, but it clearly shows that Jefferson wanted God’s command to honor the Sabbath day mandated, not just for Christians, but within the public square generally.
Jefferson passed all kinds of such legislation! For example, he passed legislation the excluded, in the public arena of life, any form of marriage that went against that which is described as proper in the Book of Leviticus—the Bible!
When elected president of the United States, Jefferson wrote, “…the Christian religion is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expression of the human mind.” Today we are told that Christianity is oppressive; that it censors the pursuit of academics.
Now I know there is a lot of propaganda out there about Jefferson being a deist. And it’s just that, propaganda that works because people don’t study primary sources within history. Dumbed down Americans believe those who alter history and serve it up second hand. If any of you would like to visit with me about Jefferson’s religious views, catch me later. I contend that he was not a deist. Influenced by this strong movement of the time—yes, but not a deist.
So what is the Lord saying to you from Matthew’s text, as you sit in the pew, but shortly will leave for the mission fields?
First and foremost, He reminds us that He is God, and He has a kingdom. It is a Kingdom of Grace. It will stand as governments have fallen, as governments continue to fall, as governments will topple in the future.
It stands for us—imperfect, sinful citizens of God’s Kingdom of Grace. It stands when we make good and bad decisions about giving to God what is God’s. It stands when our sin is as scarlet, to make us white as snow.
The words of Christ today also call us into mission. We are to go out into the public square and witness God’s truth—the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ—the truth concerning God’s moral will, which is that standard for all human life, not just Christians.
Rightly dividing church and state does not mean separating God from the public. In fact, the complete opposite is true. Jefferson erected the wall to prevent the government from telling us that we cannot freely exercise our faith in the public square and the public classroom.
Our government has become confused about that issue today, but may the Holy Spirit clear our minds so that we will dare to be bold—so that we give unto God what is God’s! God sends us out into his world—the planetary public square—to proclaim His truth. The truth of salvation! The truth concerning His moral standard!
God wills salvation for all people. If the government locks the Christian messages about sin and Savior into church buildings, there will be no way for the lost to go, but to destruction. May we care so greatly for those whom Jesus died for, that we become informed, find our voice, and then vote our conscience. Amen.
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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Sermon contributed by David Anderson.
America was founded upon the Christian understanding of life.