The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
LSB Proper  A, 16 October 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
The American saying is: “In polite company one shouldn’t discuss politics or religion.” Why? Discussion of either topic will likely lead to disagreement. Americans don’t like conflict. Today’s sermon title is “God and Caesar.” This morning we will discuss both politics and religion on the basis of a question asked of our Lord Jesus: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
The Pharisees were out to trap Jesus in his words. If His answer came down on God’s side, they would turn him over to the government. If Jesus’ answer would have only affirmed the Roman government, the people would have turned on Him to the delight of the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t give either of the anticipated answers, A or B. Jesus gave answer C, something unexpected. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
At Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, as well as Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne, theological studies are divided into four departments. Exegetical theology deals with learning how to read the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. Systematic theology deals with the Bible topic by topic. Historical theology shows how the church preserved the Biblical text and true Biblical theology throughout history. It also showed how heresy misused, misinterpreted, and twisted the Word of God and how the Church responded. Practical theology teaches a seminarian how to apply the other three areas in preaching, teaching, leading worship, and pastoral care.
This morning’s sermon is both a topical sermon on God and Caesar, as well as an exercise in historical theology. How have Jesus’ words from our Gospel reading influenced Western Civilization?
Dr. Alvin Schmidt, in his book The Great Divide, shows the influence of our Gospel text from the time of the Roman Caesars to the American Founding Fathers:
Does the concept of separation of church and state reflect a Christian influence? When one listens to the secular media today, especially in the United States, the impression is given that the separation of church and state is a phenomenon totally divorced from any Christian influence. This does not reflect the facts of history. Here the words of Bernard Lewis, an expert in Islamic studies, are instructive. In speaking about the separation of church and state vis-à-vis Islam’s concept of the state and religion, he said: “The notion of the church and state as distinct institutions, each with its laws, hierarchy, and jurisdiction, is characteristically Christian with its origins in Christian scripture and history. It is alien to Islam.”
Contrary to the current faulty perception, there is considerable evidence that the separation of church and state has substantial Christian roots harking back to the response Jesus gave to the Pharisees. They tried to entrap him by asking whether it was lawful to give tax money to the Roman Caesar, whom they despised. Jesus asked them to show a Roman coin. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” he asked. “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus responded: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are to Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”.
Three hundred years after Jesus made this statement, Hosius, bishop of Cordoba, Spain, from 353-356, reprimanded [the Roman emperor] (Emperor Constantius II for meddling in ecclesiastical [church] matters by trying to condemn Athanasius for opposing (the Arian) heresy. So Hosius said: “Intrude not yourself into ecclesiastical affairs … God has put into your hands the [secular] kingdom; to us [bishops] He has entrusted the affairs of His Church.” In support of his reprimand, he cited the example set by Jesus that was discussed above.
During their first 300 years of bloody persecutions, the early Christians neither sought nor expected the government to support them in their religious activities. Their religious activities where divorced from any ties to the government of Rome. They differed remarkably from the pagan Romans for whom religious activities were linked to a particular city or the state. The Latin word religare (from which we get the word religion) meant that there was a bond between the Roman people and the state. The Christian idea of “an association of people bound together by a religious allegiance with its own traditions and beliefs, its own history, and its own way for life independent on a particular city or nation was foreign to the ancients.”
The fact that Christian religious practices were not linked to a city or state was one of the things that irritated Celsus, a second-century pagan critic of Christianity. He saw Christians as separatists or sectarians. But after Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313 and soon involved himself in many of the church’s affairs, the separation of church and state among Christians slowly began to blur, and for more than a thousand years after Constantine the church and state were often intertwined.
When Bishop Hosius chided the emperor, it was the government that was attempting to make ecclesiastical decisions. But by the early Middle Ages the situation had reversed itself. Now the church increasingly intruded in the affairs of secular government. This fusion of church and state, for example, was one of the things that angered Martin Luther in the 16th century. He especially criticized the pope for involving himself in secular government, which he saw as a violation of what he called the concept of two kingdoms (realms). It was the church’s task solely to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This he called the spiritual kingdom or realm. The government’s task was to keep peace and order in society by restraining and punishing the unlawful. This he called the worldly kingdom or realm. The secular government could only compel people to behave outwardly; it could never make a person’s heart spiritually righteous. Only the preaching of the Christian gospel (an activity of the spiritual realm) could do that. In the spiritual realm the Christian operates as a disciple of Christ; in the secular realm he functions as a citizen of his country. Although the two realms are separate, the Christian as an individual is active in both because God is active in both. In the spiritual realm he is active in proclaiming the gospel, whereas in the secular kingdom he supports government’s use of the law and sword without injecting elements of the gospel. In order to buttress his concept of the two realms (kingdoms), Luther cites Jesus’ statement about giving to Caesar what is his and to God what belongs to him. Briefly put, the two realms (church and state) have separate functions and are not to be merged or commingled.
When America’s Founding Fathers in 1791 wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—they not only intended to provide freedom of religion for the individual, but in effect also said the two realms or kingdoms, to use Luther’s terminology, were to be kept separate even though the words “separation of church and state” are not in the First Amendment.
The words “separation of church and state” (which in many years have become a national preoccupation with many secular Americans) are the result of an inference made from a letter Thomas Jefferson sent to the Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association on January 1, 1802. In that letter he used the phrase “building a wall of separation between church and state.” When he used these words, he had no intention of curtailing religious practices. Neither he nor the drafters of the First Amendment had even the remotest thought of outlawing governmental support for religion. He, like Luther, merely wanted to keep the government from making religious decisions or the church from making governmental decisions. This is evident from some of the acts he performed when he was president of the United States. For instance, he used federal money to build churches and establish missions for the purpose of bringing the gospel to American Indians. In short, “What the federal government was prohibited from doing, in Jefferson’s view, was prescribing a particular set of religious rites or promoting a particular sect [denomination] at the expense of the others.” Jefferson also sent a treaty to the Congress that provided a “Catholic church building” for the Kaskaskia Indians in 1803. Not that this was after his “wall of separation” letter in Connecticut.
America’s Founding Fathers, including Jefferson, wanted the nation to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The latter is currently being promoted by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and its anti-Christian allies. In order to achieve freedom from religion, secularists have been using the state, with the help of the United States Supreme Court, to “free” the people from religion. Outlawing (Christmas crèches) [nativity scenes], banning prayers in public schools, and removing the Ten Commandments from tax-supported buildings are three present-day American examples. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees he only indicated that the two realms were separate, not that Caesar (the government) and religion were in conflict or that religion or God had to be jettisoned from public life.
So, returning to the question asked earlier, does the doctrine of separation of church and state reflect the influence of Christianity? The answer is a definite yes, especially in light of the American experience. The American Founding Fathers—all well-read individuals—were familiar with the teachings of Jesus Christ. They knew about Jesus’ statement about Caesar and God, about the church-state conflicts in history, and about the monopoly state churches had in Europe. Moreover, as is well known, they were also conversant with John Locke’s writings, which reflected much Christian thinking. In light of Locke’s scholarly bent, it is quite likely that he also was familiar with Luther’s doctrine of the two realms [kingdoms]. This latter point is not mere speculation, for in A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke wrote: “All power of civil government relates only to men’s civil interests, is confined to the care of things of this world, and hath nothing to do with the world to come.” These words sound remarkably similar to Luther’s two-realms doctrine. So it is quite plausible that the Founding Fathers, via this Luther-like statement by Locke, together with Christ’s Caesar-and-God teaching, imported this Christian understanding of the separation of church and state as they hammered out the First Amendment’s freedom-of-religion clause. (202-207)
“…Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Most of us would rather not. J Still, we comply, both because of Jesus’ teaching and the threat of punishment. No one wants to be audited by the IRS or hauled away by the FBI. J
It is said that it is impolite to speak about politics or religion. That is tragic. If by politics you mean looking out for the common good and caring for your fellow man here in time, why wouldn’t we want to discuss that? And if we feel pressured to keep silent about the most important message in all of eternity—the good news of the complete forgiveness of sins in Jesus alone—then that is even more heartbreaking. Are we really that afraid? Is it rude to speak about politics when abuse and poverty and human suffering are then allowed to go on? Would we rather be polite and not speak about Jesus’ forgiveness, while so many are going straight to hell?
We should not miss the point of Jesus’ words. The question was asked of Him in order to silence Him one way or another. Christians around the world face a similar threat. The voice of the Church and of individual Christians deserves to be heard in the public square, as Christians serve as public officials, and as Christians live God’s Word at the ballot box.
At the same time, we cannot forget to give to God what belongs to Him. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We should call upon Him in any trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. We should hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. We should honor our parents and other authorities, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. We should help and support our neighbor in every physical need. We should lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife should love and honor each other. We should help our neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income. We should defend our neighbor, speak well of him and explain everything in the kindest way. We should help and be of service to our neighbor in keeping his inheritance and house and urge our neighbor’s spouse, workers, and animals to stay and do their duty.
Most importantly we are to believe in the One God has sent, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sits at the right hand of God and will come on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. We are given to render unto Caesar as Jesus said in our text and as St. Paul affirms in Romans 13, yet we are to obey God rather than men when the two come in conflict, as Acts 5 teaches.
Christians live under God as He rules both kingdoms, secular government and the Church. Government gives us security from external threats and also roads, mail, and other infrastructure so that we as Christians can live peaceable lives where we can be gathered by the Lord to receive His gifts and tell others the Good News about Jesus without interference. Your loving Lord cares for you as a dear father when the civil government properly serves in an extension of the fourth commandment’s work of father and mother. And, the same Lord makes you citizens of heaven by Baptism, forgiveness, and Holy Communion, the meal that is a foretaste of the feast to come in the kingdom of Christ which has no end. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.