I just completed last week a series of posts explaining what I believe to be a biblical doctrine of the differing responsibilities individual Christians and corporate churches have toward culture, and the distinct role government authority has in ruling civil matters. Contrary to many within evangelicalism today, it is very important to recognize these differences; when we blur them, we run into trouble.
Case in point: It is no secret that there is a significant debate going on right now in the US over immigration policy. A sovereign nation’s protection of her borders and decisions regarding who she allows into the country (or not) falls squarely in the realm of governmental authority. God has specifically delegated such authority to government, and as such, governments are ministers of his, overseeing order in the common kingdom (Rom 13:1-7).
Does this mean Christians can have no opinion on the matter? Sure they can, especially Christians who are part of governing authorities. Does this mean Scripture has nothing to offer the debate? Sure it does. Scripture speaks to every issue, at least in terms of biblical principles.
However, Scripture does not make pronouncements concerning governing policy on something like borders and immigration; it does not speak specifically to political public policy. This is a debatable issue that is quite complex. Good Christians who carefully consider biblical principles and who carefully think through the ramifications of public policy differ on this.
In other words, immigration policy is a matter of liberty of conscience. While Christians can certainly express opinions and seek to give reasoned arguments for why one policy or another is best, Christians must not give the impression that there is only one, biblically correct view of immigration policy.
What is even worse is when Christian leaders make public pronouncements to the effect that a particular immigration policy is obviously the only one Christians should hold. They often quote Scripture (usually out of context), and demean other Christians who hold opposing views as if they are somehow less Christian.
Some Christians quote parts of Israel’s Law (such as Leviticus 19:34) and insist that such policies must also apply to today’s sovereign nations (ironically, these are usually the same people who vehemently deny that America is a Christian nation). Yet this is a failure to recognize that while Israel was a unique union between the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom, this union does not currently exist and will not again until Jesus comes.
Others quote New Testament passages about the church’s mandate for hospitality (such as Hebrews 13:2 or 1 Peter 4:9) and apply them to national immigration policy. But once again, this blurs important biblical distinctions between the common kingdom, which includes sovereign nations ruled by civil governments, and the redemptive kingdom, which includes Christians gathered together in local churches. These commands were given to churches, not governments.
The responsibility churches have toward others is different from the responsibilities governments have toward citizens and non-citizens. To blur these distinctions usually means ignoring other clear biblical principles. For example, those who attempt to apply church mandates for hospitality to the national government tend to ignore the clear biblical mandates for governments to punish wrongdoing and protect its citizens.
The bottom line is that Scripture gives specific responsibilities to churches and specific responsibilities to civic governments. We must be careful not to blur the two. And when it comes to debates about what policies are best for our government, we need to acknowledge that these are matters of conscience and not as biblically simple as some insist.