The Christian Response To A Pagan Neighbor & Government

Text: 1 Peter 2:11-20

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

How do we – the church – deal with pagans - unbelievers?  

Well, it depends on whether the church has the upper hand or not. For example, historically, when the church was in a position of power, it used force to put pagans into their spots. And if needed, the church burned the books of pagans and even burned people at the stake.  

However, what if the church is in a position of weakness? Well, historically, the church went the way of fleeing to a monastery – the church removed itself from pagans, isolating itself in a distant place.

And so, as you can see, the church has been bouncing back and forth between these two options for quite some time.  

In the last several years, though, we have seen both tactics at work. On the one hand, the church has flexed its muscles, acting like it has the upper hand in society. It does this by working really really hard to pass certain legislation to fight back against pagans and set them in their spot. Currently, you see this in every state, from laws against abortion to laws against drag queen shows. However, keep in mind that, at the very same time, some Christians are not convinced that this will work. And so, some Christians have begun setting up monasteries. I am not talking about monasteries in the desert or monasteries located in the hills with a barbed-wire fence. Instead, some Christians have isolated themselves in churches. Simply look at any city in America, and you will find Christians who attend a Christian church; do business only with Christian parishioners while having coffee with only Christian friends, and have their children attend Christian schools. They have cut themselves off from pagans entirely through their monastic lifestyle. 

Perhaps there is another dimension to all of this as well. Instead of trying to strong-arm pagans or run from pagans, many Christians in America have taken up the attitude of, 

“If you can’t beat them, join them!”

This has resulted in many churches synthesizing their churches to mimic the culture. Tragically many Christians would rather have the comfortable approval of pagans than the feeling of being ostracized or, worse yet, being perceived as being one of those religious whackos. And so, to befriend pagans, these Churches will remove Christian art and crosses. Biblical words like sin and hell are replaced with friendly words.  You get the picture.  

Perhaps things become a bit more interesting when we Christians have to interact with a pagan government. Now, a lot could be said about the historical nature of America, whether America was founded as a Christian Nation or just a Deistic Nation; nonetheless, I think we can all agree that today’s American Government is a bit more hostile to Christians than it was in the past. And so, all things considered, how are we to interact with a pagan government that we can’t strong-arm? During Covid-19, we learned a lot about Christians and the government. For example, I think it is fair to say that the church fell into two categories: those that did what the government said and those that wanted to do the exact opposite of the government. That is to say, if the government said “Jump!” many Christians, without any critical thinking, responded to the government by saying, “How high?”  However, when told the same thing, other Christians aggressively reacted by saying, “Nope. We are going to sit down.”

So what’s the point to all of this? The point is that in all of these good and bad examples, Christians are being reactionary to pagans. In all of these examples, the church is playing defense, while the pagans run the show.

Dear friends, please consider our reading from the Epistle of 1 Peter. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter tells you and me that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. Yes, hear that again! You are the ones chosen by God, chosen to be a holy people and instruments to do his work. And so, if this is true about you, then this world is not your home. And if this world is not your home, don’t make yourselves cozy in it, and don’t get triggered to everything the world says and does. You are citizens of the Kingdom of God, which means that you live in this world as a sojourner. Quit acting and thinking as if this world is all that there is. Remember that you belong to an everlasting kingdom, and this world is fleeting.  

Baptized Saints, because this world is not your home and because your citizenship is in the kingdom of God, everything is changed. And so, you live your life among pagans with all nobility, integrity, and honor so that your lives will refute the prejudices of pagans. Because you belong to Christ, you can make your master proud by being a good citizen, respecting all governing authorities, whatever their level is, while also being steadfast and faithful unto God.  

But does this mean that we are not to oppose pagans and governing authorities at all?  Dear friends, let’s make this very practical. 

As you may or may not know, the Minot City Council voted to reestablish a Human Relations Committee at the most recent city council meeting. The intent of the Human Relations Committee is for the committee to take “a look at what we need to do as a community . . . to [make Minot] an affirming and welcoming city.”[1]  Now, very quickly, the description of the Human Relations Committee is rather vague. In other words, is the intent of this committee to make Minot safe for all people or just some people? Furthermore, if the goal is to make Minot more affirming, the next question should be: affirming of whom and affirming of what? While the City Council did not directly state it, it seems self-evident that the intent of this committee is to advocate for the LGBTQ movement. And so, mark this, as this committee develops, watch and see how the Christian community will respond. Some will affirm the Human Relations Committee in the name of love. Others will storm a City Council meeting with pitchforks and oppose everything, and others will look to the hills and find ways to remove themselves from godlessness. In the end, all of these responses are reactionary. They fail to remember that we Christians are citizens of the kingdom of God.  

You see, we must keep in mind that when Peter wrote his Epistle, the culture and the government was very pagan. And so, Peter did not indicate that Christians were to run to the hills but conduct themselves with honor as they lived among the pagans. Furthermore, Peter told Christians to respect the emperor and the Roman government. Peter could say this because Christians are a royal priesthood – citizens of the Kingdom of God. Keep in mind, though, that Peter did not always obey the governing authorities. Remember in the book of Acts when Peter disobeyed governing authorities and said, “We must obey God rather than men”? Remember when Peter warned against pagan ideology in 2 Peter, telling Christians to beware of the slanderous irrational animals among them? To the point, because you belong to the kingdom of God - because of Christ’s death and resurrection - your identity is in Christ and the Lord’s will. You need not be reactionary to the pagan world or governing authorities. You are not in the passenger seat to paganism. You are not playing second fiddle to worldly ideologies. You are not a citizen of darkness. You do not worship Caesar or bow to paganism.  

Instead, as a Christian, you can say, 

“We want safety for all people. We don’t want people unjustly bloodied up in the streets. We don’t want anarchy. Minot City Council, we support you in making Minot safer for law-abiding citizens.”  

And at the same exact time, we can say, 

“We affirm what God’s Word affirms; we cannot welcome what God does not welcome, for we are not pagans. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Here we stand; we can do no other.”     

Baptized Saints, think of it this way, if the government says, “Jump,” you and I will certainly jump if we morally can. In fact, we will try to jump higher than everyone else. However, if the government tells you and me to jump in a way that violates God’s will, well… we are not going to run away and hide, and we are not going to sit down, for both of these would be reactionary. Instead, we just won’t jump. We won’t even apologize for not jumping, and we won’t even try to justify our actions; we just won’t jump.   We will simply say, 

“We must obey God, not man.”  

And that is what Peter is teaching you – you are not slaves to the government or to the pagan world. You are citizens of the Kingdom of God. And being a royal priesthood of God means that you are a loving servant to the government and your pagan neighbor. But in serving them, you will not violate your conscience, for you do not worship them. You only worship the One who bled and died for you – Christ Jesus, your Master, and Redeemer – the One who made you a royal priesthood and a member of His holy nation. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

[1] Council Member Evans.  

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