What is the Christian view and how should we talk about it?
The Christian view was expressed by Jesus when he was asked about paying taxes. Jesus said to them, ‘Show me a coin used for paying the tax.’ Then Jesus asked, ‘Whose image and name are on the coin?’ They answered, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.’
Jesus’ answer tells us there are two rulers in this world. There is ‘Caesar’: the government, which may or may not be religious, or even good. (In Jesus’ time, the Emperor Tiberius, the successor to Augustus, was ‘worthy but dull’. He may remind us of some politicians today.) Following Jesus’ teaching, the Church took the view that the governing authorities must be obeyed (Romans 13:1-7), and the Emperor must be honoured (1 Peter 2:13-17).
But the other ‘ruler’ of the world is, of course, God. And whilst Caesar’s image might be on the coin, we are made in God’s image. So whilst we must obey the law and the government, we are finally subject to God’s authority, not the law’s.
The result is that there will always be room for tension between the Christian community and a ‘secular’ society — between God and Caesar. After all, Jesus was crucified by the command of the Roman governor at the instigation of the Jewish authorities.
Jesus was a great lawbreaker when it came to the equivalent of ‘Sharia’ in his own day. But at the same time, he commanded us to pay taxes to Caesar. That is why there can be no simple answer to the question of how we should live with the law today.
It would have been good if Rowan Williams had talked about these things — but then maybe there wouldn’t have been so much public interest. Read more