Questions From Readers
● A man I know is progressing toward Christian baptism, but his visa to be in this country has expired. What should I advise him?
You certainly should commend him for desiring to know and follow God’s counsel. The Scriptures urge Christians to be law-abiding, to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s. (Matt. 22:21) Hence, it would be good for you to urge this man to do what he can to rectify his status, which may at present be considered that of an illegal alien.
Evidently he is not stealing, lying, living in immorality or otherwise violating God’s moral laws plainly stated in the Bible. We mention this because a person who is breaking God’s laws must repent and turn around before he will qualify for Christian baptism. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Acts 26:20; 2:38) But, this man wants to know, What about complying with the laws of the land, such as in his case?
The Bible advises Christians to obey the laws of the land in all matters where there is no conflict with God’s law. (Rom. 13:1; Acts 5:29) The apostle explained that by doing this we will not need to fear punishment from the authorities who punish lawbreakers. Also, we can thus have a clear conscience.—Rom. 13:3-5.
Still, God’s Word does not charge the Christian congregation, through its overseers, with the obligation to become acquainted with all the details of civil and criminal law so as to enforce these. We can see this in how Paul handled the case of Onesimus.
Onesimus was a slave of a Colossian Christian named Philemon. For some selfish reason Onesimus fled to Rome so he could lose himself in the masses of people there; he may even have robbed his master before fleeing. In Rome as a runaway slave (Latin, fugitivus) Onesimus came in contact with Paul, became a Christian and ministered to Paul. In time the apostle urged Onesimus to return to his legal master, Paul even encouraging Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother and to treat him kindly.—Philem. 8-22.
Take note that while Onesimus was in Rome the apostle Paul did not hand him over to the Roman authorities for punishment as a fugitive slave and possibly a thief. We know from his writings that Paul believed that a Christian should obey the law of the land, but plainly he did not consider it the congregation’s duty to serve as an arm of the government in policing individuals’ lives. Also, we can observe that Onesimus’ situation was not treated as a barrier to his getting baptized. Eventually Onesimus, likely motivated by counsel such as had been written earlier in Romans 13:1-5 and by Paul’s personal urgings, chose to return to his legal master.
The Christian congregation today follows a course harmonious with this Biblical pattern. It does not, before allowing a person to get baptized or continue in the congregation, check to see if someone’s home meets every detail of the building code, whether he has satisfied every detail as to his legal status in the country, and so forth.
This by no means suggests that God’s people care little about Caesar’s laws. On the contrary, we are well known as a people who strive to be law-abiding; many governmental officials have praised Jehovah’s Witnesses for this. It is even as Paul wrote about obeying the government, “Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it.”—Rom. 13:3.
In particular should men who take the lead in the congregation be exemplary in this respect. The Bible says about elders and ministerial servants that they should be “irreprehensible,” ‘having a fine testimony from people on the outside’ and being “free from accusation.” (1 Tim. 3:2, 7, 10) Thus a Christian who chooses to ignore well-known legal requirements of “Caesar” would hardly be in position to be recommended for such offices in the congregation. Men recommended for such privileges should be ones “holding firmly to the faithful word,” not only in what they say, but also in how they choose to live, including their applying the counsel to pay “Caesar’s things to Caesar.”—Titus 1:7-9.
True, each individual, Christian or not, is personally responsible as to whether he complies with civil laws. Yet, it will be kind on your part to share with your acquaintance these Scriptural thoughts. Indeed, the Bible’s counsel to be obedient to governmental laws is wise and for our good. By applying it Christians can avoid troublesome problems and enjoy a clear conscience in serving God.