Jesus Did Not Teach Separation of Faith and Politics

When it comes to discussions about faith and politics, perhaps the most commonly quoted verse is Matthew 22:21: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The point seems clear: The government and church are distinct domains with their own spheres of authority. Since we are citizens of an earthly state, we ought to pay taxes to the government. Our duties as citizens of Heaven lie elsewhere, right? Shouldn’t faith and politics be kept separate?

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The Political Teachings of Jesus

Such a conclusion misses the subtle political implications of what Jesus says.

In his excellent book Politics for Christians, Frank Beckwith explains:

He [Jesus] first asks whose image is on the coin. The answer, of course, is Caesar’s. But an unsaid question begs an answer: What (or who) has the image of God on it? That is, if the coin represents the authority of Caesar because it has his image on it, then we, human beings, are under the authority of God because we have his image on us (p. 64).

Jesus is brilliant. Coins bear the image of Caesar, and thus are under Caesar’s jurisdiction. But since human beings bear the image of God, they are under God’s jurisdiction. Caesar may have jurisdiction over governing, but since governments are comprised of people, God has jurisdiction over everything. Even Caesar himself bears the imago dei, and is therefore under God’s greater jurisdiction.

Citizens of Earth and Heaven

As citizens of both Earth and Heaven, Christians have obligations to the government and to God. Jesus is not teaching that we ought to live with divided loyalties to the government and church, but rather, that we have obligations to both.

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