THE CHRISTIAN CITIZEN


Singapore just celebrated her 35th National Day. Many of us would have heard the rousing speech by our Prime Minister or watched the splendid parade and display. We thank God that we have an efficient and honest government. And we do humbly acknowledge, with gratitude, God’s blessings upon this nation in the last 35 years—despite our provoking Him to wrath in so many ways.

As we enter into the nation’s 36th year of nation-building, it is appropriate for us as Christians to pause to consider what is the relationship between the church and the state, and to consider the duty that the Christian has towards the state, individually and corporately. We must remember that we are not only members of the church, but also members of our nation. Though our permanent citizenship is in heaven with Christ as our King, we must not forget that, by the providence of God, we are also citizens of Singapore. What should we do about our double citizenship and, as it appears, a double allegiance?

In this article, we shall attempt to answer some of these questions briefly by, first, looking at the biblical teaching concerning the relationship between the Church and the State, and then highlighting some of the duties which Christians have towards the State.


The Relationship Between Church and State

The Word of God is very clear that Christ is the supreme Lord and King over all the world. In the book of Revelation, the angel, who spoke to the Apostle John, makes it very clear that Christ is the “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Rev 17:14). The kingship and lordship of Christ may not be evident today as the civil authorities of the world are almost unanimously opposed to His Kingship. But the authority of Christ is in no way diminished. Christ is on the throne of David. God has highly exalted Him and given Him a Name that is above every name: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10–11). The inspired language of the Apostle Paul allows for no exception. All will one day acknowledge Him as King of kings and Lord of Lord—some with joy, and some with fear and dread.

Does this mean that the kingship of Christ is only to be in the future? No, Shimei’s hatred and opposition of David (2 Sam 16:5ff) did not make him any less a subject of David. The ignorance of the Athenians (Acts 17:22) did not make them any less the creatures and subjects of God, the Creator of all things and the “Lord of heaven and earth.” In fact, the Word of God tells us in no uncertain terms that all civil governments in the world are established by divine ordination to be under Him, over the people, and therefore derive their authority from God. The Apostle Paul says: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Rom 13:1–2). Paul goes on to explain that the civil government’s authority to inflict temporal punishment upon evil-doers and to reward well-doers is given by God. In fact the civil magistrate is called the “minister of God… for good” (Rom 13:4). This is regardless of whether the manner of government is democratic, socialistic or monarchic.

But the Church is also an establishment of God. And authority is also vested on the leaders in the church (however despised it is today). What is the relationship between the church and the state, or between the ecclesiastical authorities of the church and civil authorities?

Although, many of us are probably unconcerned about the answer to this question, it is a question that was dealt with at great length during the times of the Reformation and of the Westminster Assembly. I believe it is helpful for us to be at least acquainted with it, not only that we may better understand the portions of our Confession that deal with it, but also that we may have a Christian worldview with regards to politics, and a biblical ideal to pray for.

Traditionally, there are four main principles which are held with regards to the relation between Church and State.

The first is known as the Papal Principle: This principle teaches that the church is superior in point of jurisdiction over church and state, and that ecclesiastical rulers have the right to exercise authoritative control in civil matters. In other words, the church has the right to control the state. This was and is the position held by the Roman Catholic church which teaches that the pope is the vicar of Christ and therefore has the right to claim allegiance of all civil governments. Apart from the fact that there are no scriptural grounds for the pope to claim the vicarage of Christ (the Vicar of Christ is the Holy Spirit), there is also no scriptural basis for saying that the state authorities must submit to the church authorities.

The second position is known as the Erastian Principle. This advocates state control over the church. This was the view promoted by Thomas Erastus (1524–83), who was a student of Zwingli. Erastus taught that the state has the power to intervene in ecclesiastical matters. In fact, according to him, the church has no power to excommunicate any of her members or to withhold the sacrament from anyone because all punitive powers belong to the state. This is the position of the Church of England, whereby the King or Queen, through parliament, appoints the Bishops. Erastianism was defended by some parliamentary representatives at the Westminster Assembly, but was defeated, particularly by the contributions of George Gillespie.

The third principle is the Voluntary Principle. This advocates total separation of church and state. The state is required only to guard, maintain and promote justice, order and peace. It is not under any obligation to Christ and His Church. It was held by the Anabaptists and by most modern evangelicals. In reality, if held as dogma, this principle is a denial of the headship of Christ over the state.

The fourth principle, known as the Establishment Principle, is what was finally adopted as the biblical norm by the Westminster Assembly (see WCF chapters 23 and 31). This principle essentially teaches that, since both the church and the state are divinely ordained authorities, for God’s own glory, they ought to support each other,—according to their respective spheres without interfering with each other’s responsibilities,—in the promotion of Christ as Lord and King of all the world. This principle is sometimes known as the Theory of Co-ordinating Authorities.

The difference between the Establishment Principle and the Voluntary Principle is that, in the latter, the civil magistrate does not have any obligation to promote or support true religion, whereas in the former, a failure to do so is rebellion against God, regardless of whether it is acknowledged to be so. However, it must be acknowledged that because of the secularisation of the state in most countries, in particular in Singapore,—which exists as a multi-religious society,—a form of the Voluntary Principle may be the best purposeful compromise in practice, seeing that the ideal cannot be implemented in the present circumstances. This is why in our Confession, we have included as footnotes, the revision of the First General Assembly of the American Presbyterian Church in 1789 (see our Confession and Commentary).

With this theoretical background, let us look at some of the duties that believers have towards the state. I believe, in our discussion, it shall become quite clear that the principle of Church-State relationship which we hold to, have important implications.

Honour

The first, and perhaps most foundational, duty towards our civil government is to render due honour in our thoughts and speech. The Apostle Peter teaches us that we are to “honour the king” (1 Pet 2:17). This does not mean that we should flatter any in authority such as might tend to curry favour. It does mean, however, that we must hold them in high esteem, and speak respectfully concerning our government. We must not speak disparagingly about the government even if we may disagree with their policies. Bear in mind that the government is ordained of God. This of course does not mean that if the government sins against God in specific areas, that the church must still remain silent. But it does mean that any protest should be through proper means as becoming of saints, and not through murmuring and rumour-mongering, as frequently done.

This, of course, does not mean that Christians may not vote for opposition parties during elections. But if any party has a stance of deliberate attempt to undermine the honour of the government by slanderous means, then Christians must disassociate themselves from it.

Obey

Honour naturally leads to obedience. We are, therefore, to obey our civil government. We are to do so by obeying the laws of the land and any commands of the magistrate that are within the sphere of the civil authorities and that do not contradict the revealed will of God. This is what the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 13. And he instructs Titus that he should teach his congregation the same: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work” (Tit 3:1). The Apostle Peter, probably writing under the shadow of Nerodian persecution, urges: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Pet 2:13–14).

Again, we are to do so whether we may deem the government to be reasonable or unreasonable (cf. 1 Pet 2:18–20). The only time we should disobey is when the civil magistrate either requires us to compromise our faith or when it crosses its boundary of authority. This qualification is clearly enunciated by the Apostles when they said: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Thus, for example, if the government should dictate that all our sermons be screened before delivery and that we must never preach that salvation may only be found in Christ, then it becomes our duty to disobey. In this regard, the underground churches in China are doing what is right, whereas the official, government-controlled four-self church has apostatised. In the same way, if the government should declare, for some reason, that the church does not have the power to excommunicate any member, then the church must not only protest but regard the legislature as null and void. On the other hand, if the government makes laws within its sphere, say criminal laws, and health and safety laws, then the Christians must obey even if it means inconvenience for us.

Render Unto Caesar

Closely related to the first two duties, of honour and obedience, is this principle taught by our Lord: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21). It was expanded by the Apostle Paul: “For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Rom 13:6–7).

What does this mean? It means that we are to pay all our taxes willingly. It means also that we are to serve our national service stint faithfully as our contribution to the defence of this nation. This means also that if war breaks out, and the Government requires us not only to go to the defence line, but to contribute of our substance, our cars, and houses, etc., we should willingly do so.

William Cunningham puts this principle well:

Caesar’s things are the persons and the property of man, and God’s things are the conscience of men and the church of God. The civil magistrate has rightful jurisdiction over the persons and the property of men, because the word of God sanctions his right to the use of the sword, and because jurisdiction in these matters is evidently indispensable to the execution of the functions of his office, the attainment of the great end of civil government, namely the promotion of the good order and prosperity of the community (Discussion on Church Principles: Popish, Erastian, and Presbyterian [SWRB, reprinted 1991], 208).

Pray

A final duty towards our government that is often neglected by Christians is that we must pray for her. This is the inspired instruction of the Apostle Paul:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:1–4).

We are, in other words, to pray for our government, that Christians may continue to live in the land in quietness and peace without having to compromise any biblical principle etched in our conscience. More specifically, we are to pray that laws and policies that are enacted in the nation may not force the church to disobey. We must not take it for granted, for example, that parents will always be allowed to discipline our children. The governments in the West are being pressured by a generation of humanists, influenced by the infamous Dr. Spock and others, to legislate against the use of corporal punishment for our children. Will Singapore head the same way?

And let us remember also to pray for the salvation of all who are in authority, for God “will have all [classes of] men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Conclusion

As Christian citizens, we must be the best and most loyal of citizens because of our subjection to God and His Word. We must honour and obey our magistrates in Christ. Let none of us indulge in the self-seeking attitude of the world when it comes to our relationship with the state and with the government. But let us also be mindful of our King of kings and of our eternal citizenship, and so pray and work that more in this our beloved nation may acquire that valuable citizenship that does not require them to renounce their loyalty to Singapore.       

JJ Lim