1. The United States is not a theocracy and not the Kingdom.
Although Rome had been a republic governed by a senate for many years, by the time of Jesus and his apostles, Rome was an empire ruled by an emperor. The senate’s power was severely curtailed by the time of Julius Caesar. Nonetheless, citizens did have some influence over government — varying greatly by location and time and limited to those with Roman citizenship — only a minority of those living in the Empire.
In Judea, the Romans gave limited autonomy to the Jews, who were ruled by a combination of the Sanhedrin (the Council of Seventy chaired by the high priest), Herod (or one of his sons) appointed “king of the Jews” by Caesar, and the Roman governor, such as Pilate. We don’t know how the Sanhedrin was appointed, but it evidently was a council of respected rabbis and other Jewish religious authority figures. After all, to the Jews, there was no distinction between religion and government.
In short, the Jewish common man had little influence over the government, but they were not entirely without recourse. They could have lobbied for particular laws or for or against a particular ruler, and in fact sometimes the Jewish people did influence Roman law making and leader appointments.
Nonetheless, we see absolutely no effort by the early church to lobby for changes in Roman or local laws or for the appointment of rulers who might be inclined to favor their positions.
Jesus was tempted by Satan to fall down and worship Satan in exchange for authority over every kingdom in the world, and Jesus declined the offer.
Jesus’ exchange with Pilate is instructive —
(Joh 18:35-37 ESV) 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world– to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
“My kingdom is not of this world” seems to plainly renounce any desire for a theocracy. The United States is simply not the kingdom, and the next president will not be our Savior or bring about the Second Coming. We really are bad to misplace our hope from Jesus to the federal government of the United States, and they are clearly not remotely the same thing.
2. The morality that pleases God is obedience by believers motivated by love for God.
We cannot please God by using the power of the government to force obedience by unwilling people.
3. The government has a God-given role to reward good behavior and punish wicked behavior.
Paul and Peter are both clear on this point. However,
4. Wicked behavior is not the same thing as sinful behavior. Some sinful behavior is not prudently or wisely regulated by the government.
For example, there was little controversy when the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of birth control — even though the state’s law agreed with Catholic teaching with over 1,000 years of history.
My experience is that non-Catholics believe it would be a misuse of government for the Catholics to lobby the legislature to criminalize birth control — not just because most Protestants disagree but because it’s not the proper role of government.
Just so, we don’t care to the have the government criminalize sex between consenting adults, even if unmarried. Nor do we care to have the government tell us what to eat, what car to buy, whom to marry, how many children to have, how regularly to attend church, whether or how much to tithe to our church, or countless other questions — even though the scriptures speak to some of these subjects.
Then again, we generally would favor a law outlawing polygamy, the Mormons notwithstanding. Drawing the line is difficult.
The factors that weigh on where the line is are not generally agreed, even among political scientists. They include —
* Does the activity harm others, especially others who are easily taken unfair advantage of?
* Would society, as a whole, support the law or would the police and prosecutors refuse to enforce the law even if enacted?
* Is the government equipped to administer the law wisely? For example, if we want the government to regulate sexual practices by the unmarried, can we trust government officials not to abuse the law?
Obviously, among Christians, and among Americans more generally, we have widely differing views of the government. Some conservatives would argue that the government that governs least governs best (except when it comes to their pet issues). Some liberals would argue that the government should be involved in our eating habits but not our sex lives. Both sides push for laws that the other side sees as over-reaching. Please forgive the cliche, but it sometimes depends on whose ox is getting gored.