Some thoughts on church and state

(CCU Faculty) State and Church is the question of the hour in this season of life. It is wrong to believe that the concept of the state is pagan in origin and hence alien to the New Testament. Government is a New Testament idea that does not imply any particular form of state or society. Government is ordained by God.

However, I would reject those bases for government which project the state arising out of the character of man : i.e., Aristotle, medieval Catholicism, Hegelianism; as well as those theories based in man’s sin and need of government for restraint in a chaotic world: i.e., the Reformation tradition.

My view is one that I would maintain is more not less biblical, affirming that government is “from above” rather than organized “from below.” I would also affirm Christ as the basis for all government because He is the mediator of creation, the goal of government, its Lord, and its source of authority and power.

Government has a divine character in its being. Think of those that sought freedom in the establishment of America’s government. The very nature of government, its task reflects its divine character in its mission whereby it serves Christ by the sword for punishment and justice and along with education (well-being) for goodness. A further divine implication is the claim of government on conscience, or obedience “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Pet. 2:13). The believer is bound to obedience until the government exceeds its commission, whereupon one must obey God rather than man—and this is happening again today.

This disobedience in a single area must not be generalized to all areas of government. Only an apocalyptic social/political series of events in which all obedience to government involved denial of Christ (see Rev. 13:7) would require total disobedience. But there have been governments in the past that have required the church to be totally disobedient. By some indications, we are moving rapidly to that point in America now.

Government has a relation to the other mandates. It serves to protect and sanction these areas, but in itself government is not creative. Marriage and the church stand independently of government, but always in the presence of government to show the holiness of God. The sanctity of life is also a mandate, both for the unborn and for those that are in need of voice—the aged, sick, those with disabilities. We the church stand with and for them.

Government has a claim on the church in obedience. Obedience to government is obedience to Christ – again IF it isn’t involved in the denial of Christ and obedience to Him. Likewise, the church lays a claim on government. She reminds government of their common Master. She calls all governments to fulfill its “worldly calling,” its special task, and at the same time claims protection from the government. The government also has a claim on the church. Government must maintain neutrality with reference to exalting one faith (Christian or non-Christian) over another. It cannot originate new religions either! Similarly, the church has a political responsibility also, the church must warn of sin and call for righteousness which exalts a nation.

We find ourselves serving/living/operating in a constitutional republic form of Government. We are blessed because of how we were founded. But God does not opt for any particular form of government. This means that government must recognize its being from above. It means also that the government’s power will rest on its ability in fulfilling its role as the implementation of justice for all, defense against those that seek to destroy our union, on the rights of the family and of its people to live life and enjoy liberty, and on the ability to freely give the proclamation of the gospel.

If any government seeks to redefine that role (which it has been seeking to do in this country for over 80 years more often than not) and thus to usurp the role of the Church was Jesus’ body, then obedience to that government ends and the Church is required to respond openly in contradiction of the rebellion of the state against God. Today we see the effects of Obama liberation theology which believes Christianity gets in the way of his building his dominion brand of neo-socialism. At present the state is moving quickly to silence and take the role of the church.

“There is not a place to which the Christian can withdraw from the world, whether it be outwardly or in the sphere of the inner life,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Ethics. “Any attempt to escape from the world must sooner or later be paid for with a sinful surrender to the world.” We as the Church need to take responsible action. Responsible action is a highly risky venture, however. It makes no claims to objectivity or certainty. It is a free venture that cannot be justified in advance except to ask and receive wisdom and discernment.

Civil courage grows out of the free responsibility of free people. Only now, thankfully in fact, I am beginning to hear many Christians and others who were “busy”, seem to be beginning to discover the meaning of free responsibility. That free responsibility depends on a God who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith and who promises forgiveness and solace to a people who becomes a sinner in that venture. But, nevertheless, it is how we participate in the reality of Christ, i.e., it is how we act in harmony with the will of God. The demand for responsible action in history is a demand no Christian can ignore.

We are, accordingly, faced with the following dilemma: when assaulted by evil, we must oppose it directly. We have no other option. The failure to act is simply to condone evil. There isn’t such a world of utopian possibilities; it always leads to dystopian evil which has been the way through time and we are no different. The balance between the two is what is the best we can do as humans together who aren’t all redeemed in Jesus till we who live in God’s reality arrive in heaven.

We have to be Kingdom people and be that salt and light in a darkness that is present and strong. “Greater is He that is in you than he (darkness) that is in the world!” While I have a desire for everyone to know Jesus in faith, I am a realist to see it is a choice for all to make…it is a move of our free will—not destiny – nor determinism.

My hope is that we will through voting remove the rebellion, and that the courts will do their constitutional duty. Final thought: You cannot expect people of faith to leave faith at their door (home or church) otherwise it wouldn’t be faith (life).

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