One of the lessons that we need to learn as we rebuild Western Civilization is the difference between teaching authority and civil authority. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go make disciples of all the nations…” (Mt. 28:18-19). Here, Jesus plainly says that all authority answers to Him – parental authority, civil authority, ecclesial authority – but He then commissions the apostles with the particular task of the Church: making disciples, which is to be done by baptizing and teaching to the end of the world.
The authority that Jesus delegates to the Church is the authority of the Word and the Sacraments. The Church is to teach the nations to believe in Christ and obey Him in everything. Like Martin Luther’s famous analogy of the drunk man falling off his horse on one side only to fall off the other way to try to keep things even, human societies tend to veer into different ditches, just like that drunk man. We do this in many ways and there are many layers, but just for today, consider the task of the Church with regard to politics.
We have heard for decades now that the Church must not become political. And because there is some truth to the plea, it has become a useful bludgeon by friends and foes alike who want the Church to consist of nice of boys and girls who tuck their shirts in and comb their hair. But Elijah wasn’t like that. John the Baptist wasn’t like that. Most of the prophets weren’t like that. And many of the civil leaders the prophets addressed didn’t like it when they showed up to court. The prophets of God hardly ever had nice things to say. As Roger Kimball once put it, “they rarely return from the mountain reporting that the management has concluded that everything down below is just fine.” But Jesus sent the Church to disciple the nations, to teach all of the nations to obey Him.
It is true that the Church must not become political, in the sense that it must not take up the calling of the State. This is why biblical Christians can and should be robust supporters of the First Amendment. But Statists worship only one kind of power, the power of the State which is ultimately coercive and violent, so that when we speak of the true authority of the Church or the fact that we want Biblical standards informing every aspect of society, their only category for implementation of those standards is violent. So they try to cancel us, silence us, and censor us.
But we teach that the Church must stay in its lane and fulfill its commission, and that commission really is a Great Commission, it is the authority and command to teach the nations. It is true that at various points, sometimes the church proper or ministers of the church have blurred or confused this distinction by taking up arms, by commanding armies to go into battle, by carrying out executions, by collecting taxes, by conducting political business as a routine, and so on, and the church ought not be routinely involved in those things. Although, I hasten to add that there will no doubt always be exceptional anomalies – like that time Pastor Leo of Rome contracted a peace treaty with Attila the Hun.
Jesus has given the power of the sword to the civil magistrate, and He has given the power of the pulpit to the ecclesial magistrates. Is the Church political? If you mean does she take up swords and guns and jostle about in foreign affairs and economics like it were just another nation on earth? No, absolutely not. But does she have a duty to politics? Does she have a mission to the nations of the world that fundamentally transforms how they think of power and justice and goodness and truth? Absolutely. When the Church proclaims that Jesus is Lord, we proclaim that He is Lord over the nations of the earth. They all must answer to Him for their foreign policies and immigration policies and economic policies.
And what does the Bible have to say about all of those things? The Church has been commanded by Jesus to teach them. But put the microphone in the mouth far too many of our ministers and all you will get is a regurgitated version of what they heard on Fox News or CNN or else all they have are empty platitudes and stammering. Our weapons are most certainly not carnal, but this teaching authority is mighty for pulling down strongholds and taking every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:4-5). But that authority comes from teaching all of Scripture, the Old and New Testament, as it was actually written and applying to all of life, not turning the text into sentimental confetti based on the preferences of the teacher or felt needs of the audience.
This true authority is a sword — it is actually sharper than any two-edged blade, but it is an entirely different kind of sword than the one wielded by the nations of men. It is the sword that goes out of the mouth of Christ (Rev. 19:18), the sword of the Spirit, and there is no armor in the universe that can withstand it. It divides between soul and spirit, between bone and marrow, and it cannot be canceled or censored. They tried that 2000 years ago, but He’s alive and we’re still here going strong, until the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.