John Piper on Theocracy, Igniting Revolutions, and Patriotism in the Church

On Church, State, and Politics

Christ entered into this world as a figurative sword to divide. “He comes into the world as the supreme beauty and supreme joy and supreme value of the universe (Matt. 10:34–39). And he comes with absolute supreme authority. Therefore, he claims in every family, and in every business, and in every school, and in every church, and in every political party, and in every nation a superior allegiance, a superior love. And so, with the sword of his supremacy, he cuts every affection and every allegiance to family or business or school or church or political party or nation which would compete with him for supreme place in our hearts.”1

Decisions of eternal consequence play out every moment. Pastor John witnessed the weight of this truth early in life. “My father’s prayers when I was a little boy were laden with the glory of God.” Bill Piper’s life and ministry witnessed to “the fallen creation of God in desperate need of rescue by the gospel. In other words, I grew up in a home with big things going on. The home was not about the latest TV show. It wasn’t about the latest political shenanigans. It was about the latest rescue from hell for heaven for a glorious God who made the universe, who exists for his own glory.”2

Ask Pastor John

Tony Reinke

Distilled from the popular podcast Ask Pastor John, this comprehensive book compiles pastor-theologian and bestselling author John Piper’s answers to life’s perplexing questions about situational ethics, spiritual disciplines, theology, and more.

On Theocracy

No single nation carries out God’s work on earth. “God no longer works through a people who are a political state or an ethnic entity to perform his kingdom-spreading, saving work.” More particularly, he no longer deals with Israel “as the embodiment—ethnically and politically—of his kingdom on the earth (Matt. 21:43). He is giving the kingdom to a people who produce its fruits—namely, the church of Jesus Christ. And since God works through his Spirit by his word in a people called the church, they have no status as a political state, and they have no singular ethnic identity.” In Christ, “God no longer works as a king exerting immediate authority over a people gathered as a political state or as a single ethnic identity.”3

So the church marks “a dramatic change from the old theocratic, ethnic orientation on one people group—namely, Israel—to a new kind of people who are not a political entity,” and “not an ethnic entity ruled by a political or governmental leader.” Instead, “they are a people scattered like exiles away from heaven, their homeland, on the earth, mingling among all the ethnic groups of the world with a King in heaven and not on earth.” The church doesn’t function “like Israel did, as a national or political governmental agency,” and therefore it doesn’t “coerce its beliefs with the sword.”4

This change affects the civic role of the Mosaic law—“the laws which dealt with Israel as a state are no longer applied that way, since the people of God are no longer a political entity.” God now works in the world through his church. For example, the excommunication protocols of the New Testament church replace the execution protocols of Old Testament Israel. And Jesus declares all food clean, “meaning those laws which once defined Israel as a people of ethnic, religious, and political distinction from the world don’t function that way anymore” (Mark 7:19).5

Should Christians Ignite Revolutions or Live Quietly?

Christ came to bring a sword of division into the world (Matt. 10:34). But Paul commands us to live quiet lives (1 Thess. 4:11). So do Christians trigger revolutions or work in silence?

This isn’t simply a Jesus-versus-Paul tension. Jesus drove out money-changers (Matt. 21:12). And Jesus told us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). These two texts leave us with a puzzle. Paul called the church “to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (1 Thess. 4:11). This same church struggled with lazy people meddling in others’ affairs (2 Thess. 3:10–12). “Some in the church seem to be idlers, lazy, not working for a living, mooching off of others, and bringing the church and the name of Jesus into disrepute among outsiders. And the quietness that Paul has in mind seems to be the opposite of bothersome talk—when you hang around others who are trying to do their work and you aren’t doing any work. All you are is talk.” Instead, says Paul, get to work, support yourself, and “stop making Christianity look like the birthplace of laziness.” Perhaps these meddling Christians had quit working, assuming that Christ’s return was soon. In any case, the quietness Paul envisions “is the opposite of—or it flows from—focused, diligent, gainful employment. If you are laying bricks all day or digging a ditch or winnowing grain, then you are not a nuisance, gadding about and gossiping about other people while they are trying to work.”

So did Paul contradict his quiet-life principle by preaching Christ and inciting a riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:21–41)? No. Paul’s main concern in Thessalonica “was that the saints walk in love and that they truly exalt Christ in the community, so the outsiders see what he is really like.” That’s ministry. And if ministry causes a riot, so be it. Let’s be sure any “public uproar” is ignited by our love to people and exultation of Christ.6

On patriotism in the sanctuary and pastors in politics

The Sunday church gathering “should be wonderfully and gloriously vertical in its focus.” We gather to focus on God. But those gatherings can get horizontally hijacked by other good things: community life, art, drama, children, evangelism, concerts, or political activism. If the Godward focus gets lost, Sunday becomes “man-centered” and “the vertical focus is blunted.” We need political activism, but not on Sunday morning.7 The Pledge of Allegiance, even American flags, “do not belong in a worship service that is called to highlight the absolute allegiance that we have to Jesus.”8

We need political activism, but not on Sunday morning.

Pastors who lead overly patriotic churches can reframe the focus over the years and decades. (1) Preach the lordship of Christ. “Patiently, week in and week out, preach Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting, man-humbling sermons that by implication so elevate the lordship of Christ over every detail of life with such majesty that, little by little, the church begins to absorb the mindset that our highest affections and our only absolute allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ—willingly, eagerly, joyfully, no regrets, no restraint.” (2) Be open about your discomfort with fellow leaders, because “until you get some of them on board with you, any change is probably going to be futile and may be destructive.” (3) Communicate gratitude to military veterans in the church. Let them know that you love them and appreciate their sacrifices. See if a few of them will affirm your vision and help redirect the church’s Sunday focus. (4) In light of militaristic valor, celebrate the missional courage of those who lived and died, “not to advance the American way, but to advance an even greater good.” (5) Remove flags from the sanctuary. Put flags in common areas, the places where people transition from the world into worship, and then transition from worship back into the world.9

Such buffers don’t excuse pastors from cultural awareness. Pastors must address at least “the few” issues from the news that seem particularly “urgent and major.” Use these few issues to disciple your people in how to think of social issues. Address the issues, not as a politician but as a pastor, “aiming to show how to think and pray and act from the roots of things”—the root of human nature and the root of biblical revelation. Pastor, “go deep with your Bible and with human nature,” because those two topics are your “bread and butter” and “expertise” and what people most need from you.10

The government exists to punish evil and praise good. And when a nation’s leaders get these duties backward, praising evil and punishing good, the church speaks up. “Yes, the disposition of a Christian should be to support and be submissive to governments—local governments and national governments. This is part of God’s will. On the other hand, we should—in writing, in speaking, and in conversation (I would include preaching in all of this)—publicly confront governors and presidents who do not punish evil and do not praise good, especially when we reverse the pattern and notice that they start participating in the very evil they are supposed to punish.”11 For example, this conviction was on display four years earlier. “It galls me that, in front of his daughters, he [President Barack Obama] would say that equal rights for women means that they must have access to abortion, which really means equal rights to have sex outside of marriage without any more consequences than the man has. That is what he means, which is horrific to say.” And worthy of public rebuke.12

But in a world driven by political correctness at every level—from gender studies,13 public school instruction, media reporting,14 and even Bible translations15—don’t be surprised if our public rebuke of sin gets interpreted as a political move. Particularly when it comes to celebrating the biblical truth on sexuality and gender, the world will charge us with partisan motives. “There will always be people who twist what you say to have connotations and implications that you don’t want them to have and you didn’t intend. That’s exactly the way people treated the preaching of Jesus.” And it got him killed. “The day is long gone in America where it is possible to be publicly faithful as a Christian to the truth of God and not be excoriated.”16

Here’s the key difference. “Our political voice should be so permeated by the announcement of the horrors of divine wrath over the human race and the glories of the gospel of divine rescue and the unsearchable riches of Christ, the ruler of the nations, and the demand for repentance and faith from every citizen and every politician—so permeated with all that—that it is evident to all that political concerns for the true Christian fade into mists compared to these vastly greater realities.”17

In general, the pastor can celebrate the work of Christians in politics, and can extract himself from ongoing political discussions online. So “I am one hundred times more passionate about creating Christians and churches that will be faithful, biblical, countercultural, and spiritually minded in a socialist America, in a Muslim America, in a communist America, than I am in preventing a Muslim America or a communist America. That puts me in a very different ballpark than many public voices. My main calling is not to help America be anything, but to help the church be the church. I want to help the church be the radical outpost of the kingdom of Christ, no matter what kind of America it happens to be in or any other people group or country in the world.”18


  1. Ask Pastor John 1447: “Jesus Came to Bring Violence—but What Does That Mean for Us?” (March 16, 2020).
  2. APJ 192: “How Did Your Vision for Missions Develop?” (October 11, 2013).
  3. APJ 468: “Did God Commission Terrorism in the Bible?” (November 7, 2014).
  4. APJ 795: “Doesn’t the Bible Tell Christians to Put Homosexuals to Death?” (February 16, 2016).
  5. APJ 632: “Why Are Old Testament Commands No Longer Binding?” (July 3, 2015).
  6. APJ 695: “Should Christians Start Revolutions or Just Live Quietly?” (September 29, 2015).
  7. APJ 106: “How Evangelistic Should Sundays Be?” (June 6, 2013).
  8. APJ 1060: “Should Patriotism Have a Place in Church?” (June 28, 2017).
  9. APJ 1061: “How Would You Lead an Overly Patriotic Church?” (June 30, 2017).
  10. APJ 662: “How Culturally Up-to-Date Must My Pastor Be?” (August 14, 2015).
  11. APJ 1127: “When Do Christians Resist a Government That Kills Its Citizens?” (December 1, 2017).
  12. APJ 31: “How Do Rape, Incest, and Threat to the Mother’s Life Affect Your Pro-Life Stance?” (February 20, 2013).
  13. APJ 989: “Are Men Superior to Women?” (January 13, 2017).
  14. APJ 1739: “Embracing Unpopular Truth in an Age of Political Correctness” (February 2, 2022).
  15. APJ 259: “What Translation for Bible Memory?” (January 20, 2014).
  16. APJ 1125: “Did Public Controversy over the Nashville Statement Hurt the Cause?” (November 27, 2017).
  17. APJ 1419: “How Do We Respond to Claims That Christianity Is Dangerous?” (January 10, 2020).
  18. APJ 1263: “Why Does Piper Avoid Politics and What’s Trending?” (October 15, 2018).

This article is adapted from Ask Pastor John: 750 Bible Answers to Life's Most Important Questions by Tony Reinke.

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