As with Romans chapter 13, Jesus' instructions recorded in Matthew 22:21, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's," are likewise much misinterpreted. The same people who love to quote Romans 13 to justify their cowardice in the face of oppressive government also use Jesus' words in Matthew 22 to do the same thing.
Jesus' instruction in Matthew 22 puts two misconceptions to rest: 1) the fallacious philosophy that a man can be a law unto himself and is, therefore, not subject to any civil government or authority, and, 2) the draconian doctrine that government (Caesar) is, itself, above the law and can force God's people to submit to anything it so desires. In one brilliant statement, the Lord Jesus forever expunges both errors.
Obviously, if men were perfectly sinless, there would be no need for human government; but, since every man has tasted of Adam's fallen nature, God instituted human government for the overall peace and safety of civil people. No man is a law unto himself–including people in government! This is especially true in the United States, because America has no Caesar! America's founders clearly understood this principle. Thomas Jefferson reflected this understanding when he said, "In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
In other words, when men are elected to public office, they do not lose their sin nature! The propensity of men to be selfish, power-hungry, and oppressive is ubiquitous. Plus, this propensity is energized when men are put in positions of power. Therefore, it is incumbent upon free people to recognize, not only their duties and responsibilities to government, but also to recognize the duties and responsibilities of government to the people.
If free men and women must cede certain limited rights and freedoms to society in general (i.e., government; "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's;"), it is also necessary that they put a watch and check upon government so as to not allow it to usurp those liberties and rights that have not be ceded. For the people of the United States, that watch and check is the principles and doctrines contained in the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
It amazes me how Christian statists quote Jesus' words in Matthew 22 with such flippancy. In the first place, as noted above, America has no Caesar! This is not a monarchy. Therefore, in order for Christians to understand Jesus' words, it is necessary that we understand our own form of government. Unless we understand the governing system of this country, it is not possible that we can properly submit to Jesus' instructions.
As previously noted, America does not have a monarchial form of government. Neither is the United States a democracy–the ignorant rhetoric of politicians and newscasters notwithstanding. America is a constitutional republic. Or, one could also say, America is a confederated republic. This means, the government in Washington, D.C., is NOT a NATIONAL government; it is a FEDERAL government.
The doctrine of federalism means there are separate and competing jurisdictions in the United States: the jurisdiction of the federal government, with prescribed and limited duties and responsibilities (i.e., the US Constitution); and the jurisdiction of State government, with undefined and (nearly) limitless duties and responsibilities. And as the founders repeatedly expressed, the states were presumed to have the much greater authority and jurisdiction.
To show you how far down the road of misunderstanding we have gone, when the founders created the US Constitution, it was the states that defined and dictated the authority and boundaries of the federal government; today, it is the federal government that defines and dictates the authority and boundaries of State government. Over the last century or so, we have allowed the federal government to completely invert and distort the very meaning of federalism and freedom in this country.
Therefore, if Christians truly want to follow Jesus' instructions in Matthew 22, they will be willing to give proper rendering to the lawful prescriptions (and proscriptions) of constitutional government. In other words, for Christians to allow our civil magistrates at the federal level to supplant and encroach upon the authority of the states is to deny the teachings of Jesus Christ, and to, in effect, become heretical in their faith and practice. Remember, the second half of Jesus' instructions is to render unto God "the things that are God's." By allowing an oppressive federal government to trample and usurp God-ordained State authority and autonomy, Christians have sinfully rendered unto Caesar the things that are God's. How dare them?
Under our form of government, the individual states are "free and independent." (Declaration of Independence) That means, America is NOT ONE NATION, BUT A CONFEDERATION OF 50 NATION-STATES!
When the socialist Francis Bellamy (who was also an ordained Baptist minister) penned the Pledge of Allegiance following the War Between the States, he did so to advance the socialistic vision of America (shared by Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson) as ONE NATION, meaning to have ONE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT. It was Bellamy's way of repudiating the Jeffersonian philosophy of America's founders that our country was a confederated republic. And, sadly, Bellamy's scheme worked.
Accordingly, if patriotic Americans want to recite a more accurate Pledge of Allegiance, they would quote the one authored by my constitutional attorney son, Timothy Baldwin: "I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America and to the Republics, which it protects, one federation, under God, composed of States, with Liberty and Justice for all." Now that is a pledge that truly conforms to America's legitimate, foundational principles! (Why not try that pledge at your next Boy Scout or civic meeting!) Plus, this pledge is also consistent with the oaths taken by members of the US military, local and State police agencies, judges, attorneys, and, yes, even the President and members of Congress.
So, the next time some Christian statist throws Matthew 22:21 in your face to try and get you to submit to some oppressive, unlawful government dictation, why don't you give him or her a little lesson in constitutional history and Christian ethics?
P.S. My four-part message series on "The True Meaning Of Romans 13" is now available on one very affordable DVD. Many people have ordered multiple copies to give to their friends, relatives, pastors, and fellow church members. To order this DVD, go to here.