Sunday, August 24, 2008

Church and State

The Christian view sees government as an establishment by God to govern this temporal world. The government is by design both limited in its ability to govern certain areas of society while also being granted absolute authority as God’s representative in others. This very definition requires that the government and the church can not be the same institution and must remain separate.

The government of a society can not become a religious state. This is a uniquely Christian view. No other religion can make this separation. In the ancient world governments where intertwined with their religion. The Sumerians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, etc. were all governments dictated by a religion. Even the Jewish nation was a religious state. Today, Islam wants to exist as a religious state. It was Christianity that saw the higher eternal kingdom and could make the separation.

Jesus himself identified the separation when he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” In Jesus’ case Caesar got the taxes, but God received obedience. When this is applied we can see that the church has no authority in certain areas that the government has authority in. Likewise, the government can not mandate certain areas that deal with private life that are meant to be governed by religious convictions.

This view recognizes that as a believer in Jesus, the king of the eternal kingdom of God (“the government shall be upon his shoulders”), we are waiting for the government that will combine both religion and state. But, in the absence of Jesus in this age government must be limited to deal with temporal things while individual religion deals with personal values, beliefs and morals. Thus, it is just as wrong for the state to force a religious standard on its people as it is for the church to force their eternal expectations on the government.

This very principle, and it is a Christian principle, was what our nation was founded upon. The United States of America was founded upon Christian principles and one of those principles was that our democracy would not be a religious state.

Now, what is our problem today? Why are Christians clamoring for government power and why are the Pagan’s fearful of the Religious Right? The church has failed to recognize their blessed position in our democracy and have failed to minister the truth to our people. Since the church is failing the position God assigned, the church now must try to accomplish its purpose through government, or legislation, or legalism.

Christians need to see themselves as members of two kingdoms: their temporal nation and the kingdom of God. As members of a temporal nation we need to recognize the limited ability a government has and allow religious freedom. As members of the Eternal Kingdom we must proclaim the eternal truth and live our lives as ambassadors of that truth.

Although it seems easier to seize the temporal power and force obedience to our truth through government, it has never worked. A church controlled government is the same form of tyranny as a government that forbids Christianity. There is no difference. They both oppress human will. They are the same evil.

To recognize this truth is to understand the Christian message and to see how it is different from every other religion including Judaism and Islam. A Christian nation must recognize both the responsibilities and the limits of government. A Christian nation must allow room for the truth to grow or truth to be rejected. Then, in this climate the church of Jesus Christ must be busy, no, they must be obsessed, with teaching and with living the truth among its citizens.

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