How do Christians relate to the government? We submit, right? We pray for those who are in authority and we pay our taxes. Romans 13 comes to mind. Submit to those in authority. In a better time in Rome, Paul told the Christians that God established the idea of government and good government gives freedom to worship God and to share the faith with others. This makes sense in the United States where we have a long and good history of freedom of religion.
How do Christians relate to bad governments? What if we lived in a country that did not allow us freedom of religion and required us to worship the ruler instead of Christ? We submit, right? Wait, would we really worship an earthly leader? Not exactly. The early Christians said, “Not ever.” Now Revelation 13 comes to mind. Remember John writes to Christians in Imperial Rome. Different emperors enforced emperor worship in different ways. Some were more lenient with outlier religions like Christianity. Revelation seems to speak to a different situation.
The early readers likely had a beast in mind when they read what John wrote, just like we see symbols like donkeys and elephants and know what they signify in political cartoons. John’s presence in exile on the Isle of Patmos confirms that the Roman government had turned against the Christians. John envisions a ruler who forces Christians to worship him just as Nebuchadnezzar tried to force the Hebrew children to worship him.
I pray that we never face this situation in our country. But if we did, what would we do? Would we submit to a government which required idolatry and denied freedom to worship Christ? We would not. This would likely result in suffering as it did for our fellow Christians in the first century. This would require of Christians patient endurance and faithfulness. So many Christians through the ages and even to this moment pay a high price for calling Jesus their Lord. In the places where Christians face persecution, Christianity does not die out, but grows more vibrant.
Today we celebrate and seek to protect our freedom. But Christianity is not dependent on or indebted to any government. Faith grows in the most unlikely places, it seems. Some of the greatest Christians in recent centuries did not have recognizable names like Billy Graham or John Stott or Lottie Moon. No. In painful places, anonymous followers of Jesus kept the faith in the worst of times. Who knows their names? God does. And that is enough.