For the month of January I've led our congregation in a study of “God and Government” from both a historical and scriptural perspective. There were four main questions we sought to answer during our time together, but one question seems to be more prevalent than any other in regards to our Christian behavior. That one question is simply this, “What is the truth concerning the Separation of Church and State, and what level of involvement should Christians have in politics if any?”
Before we can answer this pertinent question we should ask another question first, “Is there really such a thing as the separation of Church and State from a biblical perspective?” The answer is, yes and no.
First, there is an implied separation of Church and State based upon the teachings of Christ. We find this in a very familiar passage to many Christians in which the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were trying to entrap Him. The scribes and Pharisees were hoping to bring charges against Christ that might land him in trouble with either the Jewish people or the Roman government. Note the passage found in Matthew 22:17 – 21.
17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Their idea was if Christ Jesus sided with Rome against Israel then He would be considered a traitor to His own people. Then again, if He sided with Israel over Rome He could be accused of being an insurgent, and opposing governmental authorities which would not only discredit His ministry, but could also be grounds for the death penalty. Either way the scribes and Pharisees believed they had Him over the proverbial barrel. Yet from this Christ provides us with a principal that is still important today. He recognized, and so should we, that God and government are two separate entities, and to each something is owed. So yes in one respect there is a separation between God and government from a biblical perspective with each holding a place of importance, authority, and honor.
Secondly, the Scripture also implies that one is subservient to the other which would indicate a lack of separation. In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul reveals to us that human government has not only been designed by God but also instituted by Him. Read his words here in Romans 13:3 – 4.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
Clearly Paul views human government as well as governmental leaders as the servants and tools of God which are to operate according to His will. No government would exist, nor would any governmental leader possess authority without God. Therefore, every government and her leaders will ultimately answer to God for their stewardship in governing thereby revealing a lack of separation between Church and State. God instituted human government for the protection and well-being of mankind, with the expectation that it promote righteousness, justice, and peace.
Our first president, George Washington, fully understood the importance and significance of faith and religion in the governing of any nation. Note this portion of his farewell address from September 17, 1796.
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest prop of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. … And let us with caution indulge in the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. … Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it?”
The movement in our society towards greater secularization has led many of our most cherished institutions to sadistically twist the First Amendment of our Constitution concerning the religious establishment clause. If we are to believe the mainstream media and many of our public educators concerning the First Amendment, then it should read, “… a freedom from religion, and not a freedom of religion.”
In regards to religion our founding fathers intended the First Amendment to accomplish three things; 1) It was to prevent the establishment of a national church or religion, or providing a preferred status regarding any denomination, 2) It was to protect the freedom of conscience concerning religious beliefs against the attacks of government, and 3) It was constructed in such a way that would allow States to be unhindered in their dealings with religious organizations, and to aid them as they saw fit.
Our Founding Fathers included the religious clause in the First Amendment not to be a hindrance to the Church, but that a free Church would be a benefit to the State. They had every expectation our country would be wholly Christian, and that our government would reflect such a fact.
Many of our younger citizens today actually believe the phrase, “Separation of Church and State” exist within the Constitution, and it does not. This phrase was used by Thomas Jefferson on January 1, 1802 in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut. Note this portion of his letter to these concerned citizens, and how he uses the phrase, “Separation of Church and State.”
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
Jefferson’s words are often taken out of context and abused by secularist in our country, and the wall he speaks of is to be a one-way wall. Let’s remember the context of the times in which these people were living, and their concerns about religious liberties. They vividly remembered the reason for leaving Europe in order to seek relief from the religious persecution enacted by the State. The State isn’t to influence the Church, but the Church is to have influence within and upon the State.
The First Congress working within the guidelines of the new Constitution never sought to separate this nation from God, but to unify it under Him when they requested President Washington declare a “Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer.” He issued the declaration apparently without any reservation in regards to Church and State. Clearly our Founding Fathers believed our country was to be based on and operate under Christian principles. Even later presidents functioned under similar guidelines. It was President Lincoln who in 1863 also called for a “National Day of Fasting” upon which he made this statement, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven … But we have forgotten God.”
So with this said again we ask, “As Christians what should our involvement in government be?” We have no choice but to be involved. Our Christian beliefs do not separate us from our citizenship as Americans. We are to be involved as God’s representatives promoting righteousness, justice, and peace. The Church in America has been silent for far too long because of the bullying of those outside the Church, and who often hold God and His Church in contempt.
Rise up Church and be bold in your witness for you have every right under God, and the Constitution of the United States to be heard in the public square.
May God's peace be upon you,
The video below is approximately 8 minutes long and provides great information from David Barton, a Christian and American historian.