▪ Before his ascension to heaven, Jesus gave his disciples clear instructions on how to carry out their ministry, but he did not include any political advice. (Matthew 28:18-20) Hence, his disciples continued to live by the formula that Jesus had provided earlier: “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.”—Mark 12:17.
How did that formula help Jesus’ followers to live in the world but be no part of it? Where did they draw the line as to what things belong to the State, or Caesar, and what things to God?
The apostle Paul viewed participating in politics as stepping across the line. “Paul was willing to use his Roman citizenship to demand the protections of the judicial process due him, but he engaged in no lobbying on the public policy issues of the day,” states the book Beyond Good Intentions—A Biblical View of Politics.
What guidelines did Paul give to fellow Christians? The same book adds: “His letters to believers in such important cities as Corinth, Ephesus, and even Rome betrayed no interest in secular political squabbles.” The book also notes that Paul “commanded submission to government, but in none of his many letters did he ever detail even one policy for the local church to urge on public institutions.”—Romans 12:18; 13:1, 5-7.
Christians living decades after the death of Paul kept firmly in place the same division between their obligations to God and to the State. They remained respectful toward political powers but refrained from political activities. Beyond Good Intentions states about those believers: “Though they believed they were obligated to honor the governing authorities, the early Christians did not believe in participating in political affairs.”
Some 300 years after the death of Christ, however, things changed. Theologian Charles Villa-Vicencio says: “When the political structures were changed under Constantine, Christians apparently flocked to participate in the civil service and the army and to accept political office.” (Between Christ and Caesar) What was the result? At the end of the fourth century C.E., that blend of religion and politics had become the State religion of the Roman Empire.
Today, many religions that claim to follow Christ continue to encourage their members to participate in politics. Those religions, however, are not imitating Christ, nor are they following the example of the first-century Christians.