Just this afternoon I read a chapter on submission from Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline. Foster, properly, uses Christ's submission to God the Father on the cross as the central example. Foster goes on to discuss seven ways we can submit as an external spiritual discipline, I would like to focus on one in particular. Submission to human institutional authorities...the government.
Jesus gives us some fairly unambiguous instruction on this in Matthew 22:21 "...therefore, render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." As every evangelical knows this was in response to those wily pharisees trying to trip up Jesus. The, "therefore", is referring to Caesar's image on the coin, indicating to whom it belonged. Just as a Christian is marked with the Holy Spirit showing they are Christ's possession. There are further implications with this directive though. What is being said about ownership? We know from Ecclesiastes the vulnerability of earthly possessions (Ecc 5:10). Caesar in effect is being given up to his own desires, his pursuit of power and wealth is vanity. Christ is saying render to him what is his. On the other hand Jesus is acknowledging Caesar's authority, no matter how wicked of a ruler he is. The coin is a part of Caesar's dominion, and he requests part of it back in the form of taxes, to withhold would be theft.
As with so many doctrines there is of course an appearance of paradox, such as in Acts 4:19-20 when Peter and John do not yield to the magistrates when they are told to not preach. This contrasts with 1 Peter 2:13-17 which tells us to be subject to every human institution and closes with "Honor the emperor." We all know the Sunday School answer to this tension, obey your government unless they tell you to disobey the Word of God. This is the guiding principle, but we seem to equate being superficial law abiding citizens with honoring the emperor.
What is the difference you may ask? Let's take a non-controversial example, President Trump. What does it look like to honor our current emper...president? Not committing felonies is a start, but what does our tongue confess at work? What is our discourse among friends? Do we insult and curse his name? Are we given to laughing at his expense when someone makes a joke about his intelligence, or physical features? It is one thing to be critical of his policies, and his behavior towards women. It is quite another to disparage him.
That being said, I want to make sure I am not conflating submission with endorsement. I did not vote for either major party candidate in this election because I would posit that my vote is an act of speech and therefore an endorsement. We had two candidates that were overtly inept at making ethical value judgments. Neither could find the truth unless paid to read it from a teleprompter. How can they be expected to make sound decisions as leaders if they are unrepentant in adultry, deceit, and extortion? One believes killing the unborn is a morally fine choice, and the other treats women as property and commodities. If their ethics on basic human value are this diseased why would we endorse either as a civic leader? They can't even fain civic virtue. But now that God has appointed Trump (which may very well be an act of judgment on our political system) I have to honor him, which is the most difficult act of submission required of me.
We are under the authority of a man who may claim our faith but shows no spiritual fruit, and quite possibly lied about his conversion to win a voting segment that is largely evangelical in title only. We ought not be slanderous of this man, but pray for him with sympathy. He has not the slightest inclination of what spiritual submission is. He is not joyfully submitting to the Creator. His ability to lead and make ethical decisions is impaired by his unregenerate heart. If he is to have any chance to be an effective leader he needs the prayers of Christians. This is a man, just like the rest of us, that needs humility. How will he learn that if we are not humble as Christ commanded. Trump has been placed above us by our sovereign Lord, you can debate all day what could have been, but what you have is what you have.
I would caution young Christians to be wary of the want to revolt. I will grant you our President has not exhibited high moral standards; the way he speaks about women, the way he has handled his businesses, and his habitual lies are all cause for concern and exhortation. Yes, he has chosen to sin in the most public squares, and even boast in his evils. But can we honestly say he is worse than Nero, or the other emperors in the New Testament? And yet they submitted, and exhorted the church to honor the emperor.
The gospel is radical, but it is also gradual. Christ has waited 2,000 years and has still not returned. Let us bear in mind,"...with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). Submit to the Lord as you submit to your government, do not despise the gift of free speech we are not promised its endurance. Preach the gospel with love and justice. Speak of evil when need be, submit to authority in everything else and humbly proclaim the cross in it.