Many fine Christian books pertain to what the Bible says about the believer and his or her marriage, his or her family, church, and employment, but very little conservative theology has been published regarding the believer’s relationship to the state.1 What does the Bible say about this? Furthermore, if Scripture gives guidelines for the proper functioning of the institutions of marriage, family, Church and commerce, it stands to reason that it speaks to the proper functioning of the State, and it does! Since you are responsible for that, it makes sense for you to know about it. Let us examine what the Good Book has to say! What follows is the first of five aberrant answers of how the Church should relate to the State.
Does the Bible teach that government should compel its citizenry to follow a particular religion? A bit of Church history is in order here in answering that. Since the Reformation was primarily about a revolution in soteriology,2 i.e. what the Bible taught about how one is saved, there was room for discussion of little else during that time of intense debate. This meant that a theological debate about the separation of the institution of the Church from the institution of the State would have to wait for another time (with the exception of the Anabaptist movement).3 Accordingly, the Church and State remained institutionally undifferentiated in many a Reformation country: Even to this date in countries such as Germany and England.4 Post Reformation, it is not until the American experiment in government that an institutional differentiation did occur.5 And this came about in pragmatic reaction to theocratic England,6 more so than exegetical discovery. Theocratic nations, be they reformed, unreformed, Islamic, Hindu, or otherwise believe that government should compel religion. With the profligacy of theocratical constructs, the question remains: is such supported by Scripture?
The crux passage of Scripture that prescribes present-day differentiation between Church and State is Luke 20:25:
And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Contextually this passage appears in the midst of Jesus avoiding the trickery of His persecutors. For Him to have answered in the affirmative their question, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Luke 20:22) would suggest support for the hated Roman occupiers of Palestine. To say “no” would render Him a political revolutionary worthy of death. In answering, Jesus henceforth separates the Church Age from the theocratic Israel of the Old Covenant. Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 are classic NT passages that further elaborate the distinct differentiation and separate purposes of the State and the Church. Accordingly, properly understood today, there is an institutional — but not influential — separation of Church and State. In addition and to this point, in the OT, all members of theocratic Israel were called “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6-7), a designation reserved for members of the Church only in 1 Peter 2:9. Summarily, when Jesus said “render unto Caesar” He was “signal[ing] the endorsement of a different system…”7 The “things that are Caesar’s” are not to be under the control of the Church—nor are the things that are the responsibility of the Church to be under the control of the State. Make no mistake: America has this right! And, counter to intuition, the Church flourishes when it is separate — institutionally speaking — from the State. This fact is historically illustrated by America.
Jefferson was biblically correct on this point:
“Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”8
In other countries, wherein government leaders read these Bible studies, take note: Separating your government from “the things that are God’s” is biblically proper! Such will help your country prosper! Government should not compel religion. Whenever the Church is tied to the State, history shows that it loses its doctrine, purpose, mission, and impact.
Jesus is not coercive. Coerce: “To make somebody do something against his or her will by using force or threats.” To this day, if you personally are not a follower of Christ, don’t expect Him to force you to submit to Himself. Unlike the Quran and the Islamic religion where the sword is advocated to compel submission to Allah in their quest for world conquest, biblical Christianity knows nothing of this sort.
WHEREAS 9-11 WAS IN OBEDIENCE TO THE QURAN, THE CRUSADES WERE IN DEFIANCE OF THE BIBLE
Notice the coercive strategy of Jesus’ disciples in Luke 9:52-54 and what resulted:
And He sent messengers on ahead of Him. And they went, and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
James and John thought they had come up with a brilliant formula to assure that Jesus would gain an immediate, broad following. But He turned and rebuked them states 9:55. Not a good idea! Jesus coerces not. Nor should any believer coerce another to follow Christ.
Many NT passages further illustrate the individual, voluntary nature tantamount to true saving faith. Several of many passages follow (Acts 28:23-24; Revelations 22:17 resp.)
When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God, and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
If you are not a believer, remember this: Genuine belief need be voluntary. It follows then that a government cannot force its citizenry to believe either! This is a major problem in theocratic nations wherein infants are compelled to be baptized in order to become a part of the State — years before they can reason, repent and receive Jesus by an act of their independent will. Institutional collusion leads to individual confusion.
John 18:36 states the following:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting, that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm.”
Until Jesus returns and sets up the earthly form of His kingdom (at the conclusion of the Church Age and the seven-year Great Tribulation period) wherein He will physically rule over this world (cf. Revelations 20:4-7), His present kingdom is definitively spiritual in nature. That is to say this regarding the subject at hand:
HIS KINGDOM IS PRONOUNCEDLY NOT TO BE CONNECTED TO ANY POLITICAL ENTITIES
This isn’t to say that His kingdom should not influence and transform the present physical world. It most certainly should (cf. Matthew 5:13- 16)! John 18 is not a prescription for spiritual isolationism, monasticism, or asceticism. Rather, it says this: His kingdom is to be manifest in heart change versus physical might wherein people are compelled to believe by and through various uses of force. Since His “kingdom is not of this world” it follows that Jesus does not sanction present-day theocracy.
As a political leader the application of this biblical precept means that lawmakers should work to uphold the First Amendment, the constitutional tenant of freedom of religion based on Scripture itself! All believers holding office should know the exegetical argument for religious freedom within society as presented herein. Further, to be able to enunciate this study will go a long way in assuaging the fears of groups like The Center for American Progress and the Freedom from Religion Foundation who fear that believers holding office are espousing a return to theocracy. (If only these groups would read this study and quit beating up both you and me from their ignorance!) Office holders should not only herald and pledge allegiance to the First Amendment, (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) but argue biblically for the genius and correctness of its existence!
Additional implications of the State not compelling religion pertain to governmental subsidies of religion:
The genius construct of them9 is meant to be the other way around: Individuals are encouraged by the government to support the not-for-profit organizations’ respective purposes via income tax-deduction incentives. This is governmental incentive (versus institutional non-separation) which is both biblically and constitutionally permissible. Such is non-discriminatory, which is the spirit of the First Amendment. In this way no denomination or religion receives preferential treatment by the state and government is not compelling religion. And in this way government is incentivizing its citizens to compel religion—which is sheer genius because America’s form of government is only tenable based on a religious people!
John Adams the signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and our second President said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”10
These clarifications are in keeping with the perspicuity of the aforementioned exegesis and the proviso of the First Amendment. Plus, such clarity of policy positions do not muddy the waters, or needlessly fuel contempt from secularists.
Political leaders who espouse a “compel religion” view of Church and State are either biblically naïve or diabolically opposed to the Gospel’s extension. Let me explain.
For these two reasons, when a nation becomes a theocracy, the genuine work of God is stifled to some degree as a result. Theocracies don’t propagate; rather they hinder the work of God to a large extent.
Next week we will examine the wrong view of: