To End All Wars…a quick thought about Church and State

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 7, 2007

My recent posts about “church and state” have been pretty heady. I realize that many of my readers have sort of opted-out of the discussion because of such headiness. But I believe our theological understanding of the Church and how it relates to State and Society are incredibly important for discerning how we engage in ministry in the long haul. I’ll be continuing down this heady path for a little while longer, so bear with me. I’ll try to post other stuff of a more “practical” nature as well.

For those of you who haven’t had the time or desire to wade through my theological treatment of Romans 13, I wanted to make my main point in a different, perhaps more accessible way:

My point is well made by the movie To End All Wars. In the movie, allied soldiers are held in a Japanese prison camp. Some of the prisoners, fueled by their Christian convictions, refuse to rebel against their enemy captors. Instead, they turn the other cheek, and show forgiveness and love to their captors. This is essentially how we, as Christians, ought to respond to every government.

Yes, I know…there is a big difference between submitting to one’s own government and submitting to an “enemy government.” However, as Christians, we don’t offer allegiance to one nation or another. Our allegiance is to Christ and our relationship to the State (whether it is America or Japan or Iraq) is one of patient love for our enemy. This is, I believe, the point made in Romans 13. Any thoughts or questions?

Later this week, I’m going to take a quick look at Rev. 13 and then I’ll offer several posts on practical implications.

for further reading . . .

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6 Responses to “To End All Wars…a quick thought about Church and State”

  1. rachel on February 7th, 2007 1:45 pm

    As someone who really enjoys your blog, but sometimes gets lost and feels really dumb because she doesn’t understand the heady lingo - I’m really glad for the more accessible conversation.

  2. markvans on February 7th, 2007 3:17 pm


    Thanks for the comment. It is hard for me to find a good balance. I struggle to write in an accessible way and “do” theology at the same time.

    I live between two worlds (the world of the “practitioner” and the world of the “academic”). The gap is wide and it is difficult to speak to both church folks and academics at the same time. My motivation (and the reason I decided not to pursue an academic career) is to bring some deep theological thinking to life within the practices of the church. Often, theologians just write back and forth to one another with their secret language and hope that folks will pick up their ideas when they are at seminary…thus causing the theological equivalent to Reagan’s “trickle-down.” But that doesn’t really work. Instead, we need to make theology an in-house enterprise.

  3. dlw on February 7th, 2007 5:37 pm

    Submission to whatever gov’t we are under does not preclude our participation in the ways we are able to participate.

    The issue is not whether we are to show love and forgiveness to those who abuse the power of state, but rather whether it is consistent with the mandate of the church to help administrate its regulative powers to establish an order closer to the ideal briefly sketched in Romans 13.

    Thanks for the comment. I replied, but I think more important than your response would be for me to hold you to your promise.

    I also think it would be authentically Christian to press for a system where third parties are allowed footholds as a complement to the house church model. The idea would not be to try and end the dominance of our political system by the main two parties, but to make them somewhat more dynamic and to allow third parties who have strong grass-roots support and are able to appeal to the center to affect policy better. This is authentically Christian because the focus is on effective political change the permits more people more voice in decision-making, rather than getting our people into power.

    As you undoubtably would also know, such a system would also help prevent us from going to war and constrain the influence of the military-industrial complexes and other interests on our gov’t.

    ps, Letters from Iwo Jima is well worth watching someday. I think it shows the rudiments of the victory of the Christian story over the story implicit in the Japanese belief system during WWII.


  4. markvans on February 7th, 2007 6:43 pm


    I feel like we’ll keep butting heads on this stuff forever. We have different starting points and I’m not sure we can see eye to eye on this stuff. You think my position is extreme and unhelpful, but it is my position nonetheless. I’m not following it naively or out of frustration with the system. It is based upon my theological convictions.

    To which promise are you referring in your third paragraph? About encouraging my politically minded friends to consider your proposal?

  5. dlw on February 7th, 2007 7:50 pm

    Yes, that was the promise.

    I don’t think we need to butt heads endlessly on the matter.

    The question is what wd it take to get you to change your mind on something theologically? I replied at length over at the Anti-Manichaeist and in the end proffered a minimalistic approach that you and Missio Dei could undertake and see whether it benefitted your ministry or not.

    Its a little bit pushy, but its not personal. I probably need to be pushed the opposite direction to doing more community stuff. Right now, it’s hard to do that while living with my grandmother in Coon Rapids and going with my folks to church in Ham Lake. I hope to be in a different situation next year, after I finish seminary, but God knows what situation that will be…


  6. dlw on February 8th, 2007 9:13 am

    One last response.


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