In America today, the professing church has sought to change society
through government in many ways. Evangelicals have sought to impact
America through anti-abortion legislation, traditional marriage
legislation, as well as other laws that would reflect conservative
values. On the other end of the political spectrum, many liberal
churches have sought to promote legislation that protects America’s
poor. Many on both sides are well-meaning. Yet what did Jesus have to
say about politics while he walked the earth as a man? And how
important was the arm of the state to the church when it began?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ longest sermon recorded in the
Scriptures, Jesus spoke freely of the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom
did not have earthly borders, and did not have an earthly king. The
Sermon on the Mount lists the laws of this kingdom, which are
different and loftier than those of the Old Testament Israelites,
dealing with issues such as riches, divorce and remarriage, judging,
swearing of oaths, and other things. In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus commands
His followers to love and pray for their enemies and not to resist
evil, but rather turn the other cheek. Jesus’ life was a beautiful
example of these commandments.
Conservative Anabaptists throughout the last 500 years have believed
that Jesus’ commandments are to be taken literally and radically.
Because of this, they do not participate in the affairs of government,
including war, running for office, and even voting. Because after all,
government is powerless without the use of force (or the threat of
Instead, Anabaptists believe that God calls the church to be soldiers
in His heavenly army, which does not fight with earthly weapons. “For
the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for
pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing
that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every
thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”. (2 Corinthians
In the book of Acts, the church did not seek after political power.
Instead, the church considered themselves strangers and pilgrims in
the earthly kingdom that they happened to reside in, and sought to
shine the light of Christ while living in an evil society. They fed
the poor. They lived pure and holy lives. They loved and cared for
each other. They called sinners to repentance. They raised godly
families and considered marriage a lifelong covenant. They loved their
enemies, and though they at times were severely persecuted, they did
not fight back.
Also, it’s important to understand that though they considered
themselves citizens of another kingdom, they recognized that God
instituted earthly authority (Romans 13:1-7) were subject to the
earthly authorities that ruled over them. The apostle Peter commanded
the church to obey every law imposed on them by earthly governments (I
Peter 2:13-17). The only exception to this is when obeying earthly
laws makes it impossible to obey the laws of their King, Jesus
Jesus’ life on earth was a glorious example of this doctrine.
Instead of fighting back, Jesus loved and prayed for the very men that
ended his life (Luke 23:34). He rebuked Peter for attacking those who
would capture Him, stating that “all they that take the sword shall
perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52). He refused to be made an
earthly king (John 6:15).
For the first three centuries, history indicates that the Christian
church stayed out of politics and did not allow its members to
participate in war. Both church history and secular history, also
indicates that the testimony of the church was impressive during this
time. While they were persecuted ruthlessly by the Roman Empire, they
grew in number, yet still held to Jesus’ commandments to love their
enemies and not to resist evil. However, when the church joined forces
with the Roman Empire in the fourth century, it took up the sword and,
over the next several centuries, committed many vicious and shameful
crimes which are an embarrassment to Christianity even to this day.