The Church is Not the State, and the State is Not God

It is both interesting and saddening to watch the way in which the Christian Church deals with the area of politics in our time. The 2012 election is not just causing polarization and conflict within the country as a whole, but it is doing the same in the City of God. Many Churches, instead of speaking directly and definitively, are giving their congregants some soft forms of nothing.[1] In my estimation, the biggest area of confusion when talking to Christians about politics is in the area of Church and state. The Bible teaches that the Church and the state are separate institutions, and that they are given separate functions in society.[2]

Before discussing the Biblical relationship of the Church and the State, however, it must be established that the State is not to be separated from God. In 1 Samuel 8, Israel demands that they be given a king over them like all the other nations. This text is important, so I’m going to put it here in full:

1 Samuel 8:4-22 (KJV)
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them. And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.  And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

I believe this text is crucial for the American Church to understand right now: when God is rejected as Lord over the civil magistrate, tyranny is the only remaining option. Either government will be righteous, or tyrannical. There are no alternatives. Israel rejected God as their King, and they were once again sent into bondage, for God is the only redeemer of nations.[3]

But you yell, “This isn’t the separation of Church and state!” Well, sure it is. Later on, I might remind you, that God removed the kingdom from Saul specifically because he crossed the boundary between Church and state (1 Sam. 13:8-14). Saul acted the part of Prophet, and the kingdom was taken from him for that very act. He disobeyed God by fulfilling a role that was not his to fulfill. The magistrates are given the role of punishing evil and upholding righteousness, but not defining righteousness and evil (cf. Belgic Confession Article 36; Rom. 13). When our government makes moral pronouncements (and every law is moral) with no regard for God’s Law they are acting as God.[4] The Church holds the oracles of God; the Church is the ground and pillar of the Truth (cf. Rom. 3:2; 1 Tim 3:15). The government must not be the Prophet, but must submit to God’s Law from the Prophet.[5]

Christians must begin to discuss the differences between Church and state, and their God given functions and roles. While this discussion commences, however, we can’t be sitting in our ivory towers while the world burns. Our government has rejected God and his Word. They have rejected the truth that all authority and power on heaven and earth belongs to Christ (Mat. 28:17). They have instead rallied under the banner that all authority on heaven and earth belongs to the State (or even “We the People”). We can’t settle for this as some sundry problem of little consequence. This is the sort of thing the early Church was persecuted for (cf. Acts. 17:7). Authority is Christ’s, not Caesar’s. Voting for the “lesser of two evils” is still voting for an evil; our society, our economy, and our country will not be rebuilt through evil, but through righteousness. We must call our nation to repent and obey.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Like Oak Hills Church in Texas, where the Pastor passionately calls on his congregants to “cast a vote for Jesus.” With no direction specifically given to what that means practically, he really isn’t saying anything at all. Read the article here.
  2. Separation in this sense, however, does not mean the separation of the State and God. This means that there is only one Lord over Washington, and there only can be one Lord. His name is Jesus.
  3. I am not arguing against civil government, not at all. Civil magistrates are “ministers of God” (Rom. 13:1-4). Furthermore, I affirm the Belgic Confession, Article 36. I would suggest a careful consideration of this Reformed, and Biblical, perspective on government.
  4. Because of the sinfulness of mankind, autonomous lawmaking apart from the grace and Law of God will lead to men calling good evil and evil good (cf. Isa. 5:20; Rom. 1:32). This is not a partisan problem, this is a sin problem.
  5. These are institutional differences. The Church does not bear the sword against evil doers, but the government does. The Church defends orthodoxy, the government punishes blasphemy.
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