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of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 1995
Article 23. The Church's Relation
to Government and Society
We believe that the
church is God's "holy nation,"  called
to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to all
nations about God's saving love.
The church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its
allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God's kingdom,  we trust in the power of God's love for
our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no
violence for its protection. The only Christian nation is the church of
Jesus Christ, made up of people from every tribe and nation,  called to witness to God's glory.
In contrast to the
church, governing authorities of the world have been instituted by God
for maintaining order in societies. Such governments and other human
institutions as servants of God are called to act justly and provide
order.  But like all such institutions,
nations tend to demand total allegiance. They then become idolatrous
and rebellious against the will of God.  Even
at its best, a government cannot act completely according to the
justice of God because no nation, except the church, confesses Christ's
rule as its foundation.
As Christians we are to
respect those in authority and to pray for all people, including those
in government, that they also may be saved and come to the knowledge of
the truth.  We may participate in
government or other institutions of society only in ways that do not
violate the love and holiness taught by Christ and do not compromise
our loyalty to Christ. We witness to the nations by being that "city on
a hill" which demonstrates the way of Christ. 
We also witness by being ambassadors for Christ,  calling the nations (and all persons and
institutions) to move toward justice, peace, and compassion for all
people. In so doing, we seek the welfare of the city to which God has
sent us. 
We understand that
Christ, by his death and resurrection, has won victory over the powers,
including all governments.  Because
we confess that Jesus Christ has been exalted as Lord of lords, we
recognize no other authority's claims as ultimate.
(1) 1 Pet. 2:9.
(2) Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:19.
(3) Rev. 7:9.
(4) Rom. 13:1-7.
(5) Ezek. 28; Daniel 78; Rev. 13.
(6) 1 Tim. 2:1-4.
(7) Matt. 5:13-16; Isa. 49:6.
(8) 2 Cor. 5:20.
(9) Jer. 29:7.
(10) Col. 2:15.
1. The language of the church as "holy nation" may be unfamiliar.
Often, we have spiritualized the political language of the New
Testament, forgetting that kingdom, Lord, and even the Greek word for
church (literally, "assembly" or "town meeting") are political words.
Political here refers to any structuring of group relationships.
Understanding the church as nation can make clearer its relationship to
the nations of the world.
Before the fourth
century, about the time of the Roman emperor Constantine, most
Christians thought of themselves as God's nation, made up of both
Jewish and Gentile believers, living among the nations, yet strangers
among them (1 Pet. 2:11-17; Heb. 11:13-16). When Christianity became
the state religion, the emperor came to be seen as the protector of the
faith (even by violence). Church membership was no longer voluntary.
Mission efforts were primarily directed toward people outside the
empire. Even now, in places where Christianity is no longer the state
religion, the government is often seen as the defender of religion, and
the church is expected to support government policies.
We believe that Christ is
Lord over all of life. Church and state are separate and often
competing structures vying for our loyalty. We understand that
governments can preserve order and that we owe honor to people in
government. But our "fear" belongs to God alone (1 Pet. 2:17). When the
demands of the government conflict with the demands of Christ,
Christians are to "obey God rather than any human authority" (Acts
2. God has one will for
all people: salvation and incorporation into the people of God.
Territorial nations and their governments are limited in their ability
to fulfill the will of God because of their reliance on violence, at
least as a last resort, and because of their tendency to try to set
themselves up in the place of God. However, a government that acts with
relative justice and provides order is better than anarchy or an
unjust, oppressive government. Christians may often witness to the
state, asking it to act according to higher values or to standards
which, while less than what God expects of the church, may bring the
state closer to doing the will of God. Christians are responsible to
witness to governments not only because of their citizenship in a
particular country, but also in order to reflect Christ's compassion
for all people and to proclaim Christ's lordship over all human
3. On a variety of
political and social issues, individual Christians need the church to
help them discern how to be in the world without belonging to the world
(John 17:14-19). The church asks questions such as these: Will this
participation in the government or in other institutions of society
enable us to be ambassadors of Christ's reconciliation? Or will such
participation violate our commitment to the way of Christ and
compromise our loyalty to Christ? We ask these questions when we
confront issues of military service, office holding, government
employment, voting, taxes, participating in the economic system, using
the secular courts, pledging allegiance, using flags, public and
private schooling, and seeking to influence legislation. For related
discussion, see "Discipleship and the Christian Life" (Article 17),
"Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance" (Article 22), and "Truth and the
Avoidance of Oaths" (Article 20).
the delegates of Mennonite Church General Assembly, and of the General
Conference Mennonite Church Tricentennial Session, July 28, 1995,
Wichita, Kansas. Copyright © 1995 by Herald Press Scottdale PA
15683. Used by permission. Order print copies of Confession of
Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, and Summary Statement,
Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, From Herald Press, Scottdale,
Pa. Worship resources
based on this confession, and translations
are also available.
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