“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” First Amendment
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Thomas Jefferson
“The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.” Jerry Falwell
“Nothing could be more dangerous to the existence of this Republic than to introduce religion into politics” Robert Green Ingersoll (American statesman, famed atheist)
“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” Mark Twain
Ever since Jesus walked among us in flesh and bones, people have been responding to the Kingdom of God that He ushered in. This always happens in the midst of a culture and some type of government. In Jesus’ day there were three main Jewish groups with three distinct ways to live out the Kingdom of God. Jesus disagreed with all three. While the names are different for us today, we often fall into one of these same three categories—especially during election season. The question of how to live out our faith in context of politics is something that few Christians can agree on. Below are three ways that the Jewish people responded to government in Jesus day and they offer us a chance for reflection today.
Revolution – the Zealots
Take down Rome and all our problems will be solved. While we don’t often use the word “zealot” today, it represented all of the fanatics. For these people, the Kingdom of God could not coexist with the culture and the government around them. It was an all or nothing ordeal. Terrorism and violence could be a necessary means to an end. Rome destroyed the Jewish temple as a result of the threats of the zealots. One of Jesus’ disciples, Simon the Zealot, would have had this line of thinking.
Isolation – the Essenes
These guys pulled away from society completely and decided to do their own thing. They are not specifically mentioned in Scripture but this is the group that is attributed with the Dead Sea Scrolls. These were the hermits who lived in caves and lived off the land. Their goal was purity through withdrawal. It was even said that they wouldn’t relieve themselves on the Sabbath. They must have had to plan their meals around this as you wouldn’t want to have spicy food on that day. John the Baptist had some similarities to this.
Assimilation – the Sadducees
If you can’t beat them, join them. They focused too much on the government and their part in it. They were incredibly practical about what would benefit them right now. After the temple was torn down around AD 70 it is thought that they dissolved as a group. One of Jesus’ disciples, Matthew (tax collector for Rome), would have had this line of thinking.
Even though the three people I named above may not have officially been in each of these categories, it is easy to see how Jesus surrounded Himself with people who had varying opinions on how to bring about the Kingdom. Most healthy churches today would have the same.
If you are a Christian, stop and consider whether you tend to revolt, isolate, or assimilate to the culture around you when you try and live out your faith. None of the three of these stances captures how Christ has called us to live out our faith. Rather, it must be decided through daily dependence on God’s Spirit, His Word, and His Church community around us. It will not fit nicely into our categories or boxes.
Question: which one of the three do you naturally lean most toward? Like I talked about in my post about political agnosticism, I definitely lean toward isolation in this area.