Justin Hiebert

Catalyzing Change

Jesus, ethics, and government

Posted on 05 May 2014 in Anabaptism, Christianity | 1 comment

While in seminary, I had someone introduce me to a pastor that “I just had to listen to.” I downloaded a few of his podcasts and began to listen. While I had heard of this guy, and his theology, I tried to be open (I really did).

After a few podcasts, there were some differences and things I disagreed with, but with one podcast churned my stomach. I sat listening, and the pastor began by reading these words from the Gospel Book of Romans (chapter 13):

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

What troubled me was his next sentence. After a brief pause, he passionately exulted these words: “This is the single greatest commandment written in Scripture on how a Christian should relate to their government.”

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I immediately turned his podcast off, deleted all of them from my iPod and lost a great deal of respect for this man.

Why?

Because he elevated the words of Paul to a higher status than the words of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12, important enough it’s also found in Matthew 22 and Luke 20). I said emphatically, “That is the single greatest commandment on how a Christian should relate to their government.

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Why does this matter? Because as an Anabaptist, I take seriously the words of Jesus.

But don’t we all?

Well, yes and no.

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We all love Jesus, or at least we all say that we love Jesus. I’ve never met a Christian that didn’t love Christ because it is, after all, sort of a requirement for even being a Christian.

But I also notice that when we are quick to find answers on how to live, relate to society, evangelize, or answer questions, we quickly turn to Paul, much like this pastor.

For him, and for many firmly planted in the evangelical Christian culture, Jesus saves but Paul unites.

But Anabaptists take seriously the words of Jesus for all matters of faith, life, and practice. We look to unite in the way that Jesus lived, and have our lives shaped by his ethic, both personally and communally.

Again, people may object here and say that they do as well. But think about the way we evangelize for a second. There are many groups out there that try to save those that they see as lost. Two quick, and closely related examples:

  1. A group of people have been trained to knock on the door of a random stranger and say: “If you were to die tonight, would you go to hell?” This is not a Jesus-centered method of evangelism. I find no Gospel record of Jesus treating people this way. This focuses on elimination of the bad (you don’t want to go to hell, do you?) instead of movement towards the positive (Imagine what life with God would be like. Something that started here and now and never ended). One of these was modeled by Jesus and he firmly believed that the Good News that he was proclaiming could do more than just limit the bad, it could actually promote and advance good.
     
  2. I’ve been in many situations where people have been troubled that I spoke so much on the goodness of God. One person even said, “That’s all well and good, but what you really need to do is talk about the four spiritual laws more.” I was encouraged to talk less about the joy of a relationship with God, and more about how terrible people are. If only I’d give the “Good News from Romans” more, my preaching would be more successful. But I have yet to find any instance where Jesus quoted Paul. The great failure of Western Christianity is that we have often treated it this way. We’ve used the letters of Paul to interpret what Jesus wanted for us.

What we must do as Christians is commit to refocus our lives around Jesus, his ethic, and his desire for a living and transformed community that is active in the world. We cannot continue to live where Jesus is not the absolute center of faith, but as a confessing community of believers and disciples, turn to answers in the Gospels first, and commit to reading Paul in light of Jesus not the other way around.

Evangelistic methods in our churches must repent from the ‘turn or burn’ cries that were the backbone of evangelism in prior decades and instead root itself in an incarnational lifestyle that we see modeled in the life of Jesus: life with people, a herald of truth, sacrificial love, and holistic discipleship.

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“As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism.”

For the list of Anabaptist distinctives, go here. For all posts in the series, head here.

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Justin Hiebert

Leadership Catalyst - Entrepreneur - Coach at JSHiebert Leadership Coaching
I am a Business and Life Coach in both non-profit and for profit settings. I coach leaders, executives, and pastors in areas of vision, clarity, and values. In relationship coaching I focus on healthy and sustainable relationships, and in leadership development roles I catalyze change for individuals and groups to thrive. I also consult churches and organizations on how to train new leaders and create a healthy culture. In addition to that, I am an Anabaptist pastor in the Denver metro area. I specialize on topics that include: missional theology, discipleship, culture and the church in today’s society. I am married to my wonderful wife Elise and we have three kids. I grew up and now work in the United States Mennonite Brethren Church (USMB) and love the people and history of the Mennonite Brethren faith. I am a graduate of Tabor College with a dual degree in Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership, a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary with a Masters of Divinity, and a Doctoral Student and Bethel Seminary. I also teach college classes in areas of Bible, Communication, and Business.

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