Christians are unique among all the citizens of the world. Regardless of the country we live in, all Christians have dual citizenship. We are both citizens of the nation in which we live and we are citizens of the kingdom of Heaven (Phil 3:20). In Matthew 22:21, Jesus commanded: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
With our dual citizenship we have responsibilities and obligations to both realms.
COVID-19 has brought the tension between our dual citizenship to the forefront. As citizens of the United States, we are commanded in the Bible to submit to the civil government. This is found in both 1 Peter 2:15-17 and in Romans 13:1-7. We are to obey the laws of the land as a positive witness for Jesus Christ. Most Christians stayed home and most churches voluntarily closed their doors for the greater good of protecting the health of our neighbors. We complied to be a positive witness for Jesus in the community.
Now, six weeks later, many governmental leaders are forcing churches to remain closed, while other businesses are allowed to be open. Churches are to remain closed until such time as the government leaders deem it safe to reconvene. Therein lies the problem for many Christians.
We have a deep desire to be law abiding citizens and to obey those in authority over us. At the same time, as citizens of the kingdom of Heaven, we want to follow the mandates of God to worship Him freely. As loyalty between the two citizenships clash, we are faced with making difficult decisions.
In 1384, John Wycliffe wrote in the prologue to his translation of the Bible, “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.” Four-hundred seventy-nine years later, in November of 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln wrote in his address, “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Those immortal words, while extremely beautiful, do actually mean something. In our Constitutional Republic, “we the people” are the governing authority in our nation. We elect people to represent our interests locally and at the state and national levels. Our Constitution limits the powers that our elected officials can exercise over those of us who elected them. In our form of government, “we the people” have the final say, not those elected to represent us. “We the people” are the real government of our nation. So when we hear that “the government” will not allow churches to open, remember, we closed voluntarily to honor what the Bible teaches. Now, many government leaders are mandating that churches remain closed until further notice. Is that ok with you?
As citizens of the kingdom of God, how are we to respond to those we elect who arbitrarily and capriciously restrict our religious freedom? How are we to behave when the laws imposed by our elected leaders come into direct conflict with the laws of God? Do we turn the other cheek as commanded in Matthew 5:39 or is this a case where we follow the example of the disciples in Acts 5:29?
I do not presume to tell you what to do in situations like these. Because the Spirit of God lives in followers of Jesus, we can trust God to guide us. Here are two things I am doing:
1. James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” The Bible teaches us to pray for wisdom when our dual citizenships clash. I am praying for wisdom to make good choices.
2. As Christian citizens living in our nation, we have a responsibility to participate in our form of government. I am contacting elected leaders to respectfully share my concerns and to offer solutions.
Until God sets up His Kingdom on earth we will face times where the uniqueness of our dual citizenship will challenge how we practice our theology.
4Tucson offers several fellowships and opportunities to meet with other followers of Jesus to talk about some of the challenges of dual citizenship. I hope you will take advantage of all that 4Tucson offers.
Mark Harris is the Founder and CEO of 4Tucson, a catalyst to mobilize Christians in Tucson to help solve the city’s toughest problems. Previously he spent ten years as a financial consultant with Merrill Lynch in Houston, Texas. While living in Houston, he earned his Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.