White: Relating to Authority

Recently I have written two posts about disobeying the government when a higher law is called for–Dutch-Paris and the US Fugitive Slave Act. Ellen White addresses this same general theme but from a different direction in Chapter 66, “Controversy” in The Desire of Ages.

Religious inquisitors: Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar?

Jesus: Whose name and image is on your coin? So give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.

Ellen White comments:

Christ’s reply was no evasion, but a candid answer to the question. Holding in His hand the Roman coin, upon which were stamped the name and image of Caesar, He declared that since they were living under the protection of the Roman power, they should render to that power the support it claimed, so long as this did not conflict with a higher duty. But while peaceably subject to the laws of the land, they should at all times give their first allegiance to God. (p. 602)

She continues:

When the Pharisees heard Christ’s answer, “they marveled, and left Him, and went their way.” He had rebuked their hypocrisy and presumption, and in doing this He had stated a great principle, a principle that clearly defines the limits of man’s duty to the civil government and his duty to God. In many minds a vexed question had been settled. Ever after they held to the right principle. And although many went away dissatisfied, they saw that the principle underlying the question had been clearly set forth, and they marveled at Christ’s far-seeing discernment. (pp. 602-603)

Some things are due the state, some things are only due to God. Moving beyond taxation, this can be a difficult question. Well, even taxation itself is a loaded question. In a recent edition of the Iconocast (#45), two Mennonites describe how they live in community so they are able to live on a low income and thus not pay significant taxes to support aspects of government that they disagree with (e.g., military).

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you give God that you do not give your government or country?
  2. How would you summarize the principle Jesus lays out? What categories might Jesus have had in mind?
  3. How does the principle described above relate to the earlier blog posts about the Dutch-Paris or the Fugitive Slave Act and conscientious objection?
  4. How does it relate to guidance White gave on political advocacy and the temperance movement?
  5. How do you think Christians should respond to government expenditures (use of taxes) that they view as immoral?
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