The first Christians were charged with blasphemy because they refused to confess “Caesar is Lord.” For this crime against the state, they were crucified, lit on fire, and served as human torches to light the evening parties in Caesar’s gardens.
Jesus was the first to teach the separation of church and state. His followers were instructed to “Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar’s, and to God, that which is God’s.” This was a direct challenge to the unified powers of Caesar as both priest and king. It was required of Roman citizens to proclaim “Caesar is Lord.” But for Christians, only Jesus is Lord. For this reason, a person could not be both a Christian and a good citizen of Rome.
Plato addressed this theological-political problem in his Laws and it is elucidated in the nexus of the good man, the good citizen and the immoral law. In ancient Greece, each city-state had its own gods that demanded worship--and thereby laws to be obeyed, in order to be a good citizen in good standing. Plato raised the question, if a good citizen is one who obeys the laws of his own city, then what happens when he travels to another city? Is he no longer a good citizen in the foreign city? Can there be such a thing as a good man who is a good citizen in every city? If gods make the laws, and some laws are wrong, then are some gods wrong? That is, can there be a universal law that is higher than each particular, local law? Is there an Almighty God who is always right and the Author of the true moral law who rules over lesser local deities who are often wrong? If so, then can there be such a thing as an immoral law? Is there a universal morality that trumps the merely legal?
Our founders would refer to this highest moral law as “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” or, more simply, as Natural Law.
For Christians, the lessons are clear.
When there is a conflict between the moral and the legal, the moral must trump. For the legal is the attempt to codify the moral. When there is a conflict between the church and the state, the church must trump (when the state attempts to prevent the church from being the church). For Christians, ultimate allegiance must be reserved for Jesus and His Word. Anything short of this is compromise and idolatry.
On the question of “Who is Lord?” The Christian can only respond, “Jesus is Lord.”
In light of this, some thoughts regarding the candidacy of Mitt Romney and my good friend, nationally-syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt, author of A Mormon in the White House?