Church and state

There was a pretty interesting discussion on our college forum for this topic. I’ll post the question and my answer. I found it good to interact with, and it’s a front-of-mind topic for today’s society.

Post your views on the following and engage in discussion with your classmates. 

a. Does the New Testament envisage a partnership of Church and State?

b. Should Christians stand for political office?

c. Should Christians form Christian political parties?

d. Do Christians have the right to try to influence laws in a Christian direction?

e. Are Christians ever justified in trying to overthrow an anti-Christian government?

My response is as follows:

a. Does the New Testament envisage a partnership of Church and State?

I personally don’t think so. I believe the NT shows submission to the state, but not partnership. (Mark 12:13-17, Rom 13:1-7).

We also need to remember something here. The ‘church’ is the body of Christ, with Christ as the head. First and foremost our loyalty and ‘partnership’, to keep in line with the question, is to Jesus. He is the ruler of our lives and if anything overtakes Him as the head, then we are breaking the first commandment and the greatest commandment.

The institution of the church, which was set up to keep ourselves ‘organised’, is superfluous goods, as far as I’m concerned, to the overall point of being a Christian. However, the institution, as far as it is an organised group of us coming together to for the purposes of ordering, regulating and supporting ourselves, shouldn’t, by my reading of the bible, necessarily have a ‘partnership’ with the state.

My reasons for this is because the ‘state’ is simply a part of ‘this’ world. We, however, are in fact citizens of the Kingdom of God, which is not of this world (John 18:36). Consequently, if the state wishes to work with us, then as good Christian citizens, I think this is fine – we should work with them towards the goal of spreading the gospel and building a society that is ‘the salt of the earth’ (Matt 5:13). But this needs to be something enacted by the state, not petitioned by us.

b. Should Christians stand for political office?

There’s nothing, at least nothing I can find, against being a politician. But I would consider that the act of becoming a politician is something that needs to have a big question, underlined and bolded, answered before you fulfil the office:

How is being in office going to benefit the gospel and the work God has put on your heart?

In my mind, people become politicans to ‘enforce’ rules or ethics they derive from the bible. This isn’t inherently bad; if all the citizens of the society were Christians (Unlikely) of the same mind with the same theological persuasion (At this point, I think unlikely becomes impossible).

How, and why, would we enforce Christian ethics onto a Gentile? In fact, we’re called to treat Gentiles differently. We’re called to spread the gospel to them. So how can we ask a Gentile to live according to a set of rules that is based on a belief system they themselves don’t hold?! Christian politicians need to realise that not all the public are Christians.

William Wilberforce, an amazing Christian politican, was part of a political system which was predominatly Christian (Britain in 1700’s). In the system, he sought justice for the racially oppressed. He did this with a firm foundation set in the gospel, and his example has been a beacon of light to non-believers and believers alike since.

But, and this is to pick, if we take Fred Nile as an example of Christianity in politics today, all we see is ‘rule-mongering’. Basically, conservative, nationalistic and family ethics coming through. Now, Fred is entitled to stand for office and fight for the change he wants in society. This is fine. But to do so on the platform of Christianity is a dangerous thing, in my mind, as it presents a false impression to Gentiles of who Christians are. I certainly don’t agree with all of Fred’s policies, yet I am now asked by non-Christians why I believe what Fred believes. Quite simply, it is a tough discussion!

For mind, Ron Paul seems to get things right in balance. He is a Christian, and has based all his policies on his Christian faith, but does not bludgeon people with ‘this is what the bible says’. He lives his faith and it comes out in his ‘work’, which is being in political office.

Consequently, I think it is a case of ‘stay away’ unless you can get such a balance correct. If the general public does not believe as you believe, and requires you to ‘rule’ in a way that compromises your belief, instead of changing the general public  through enforced decisions, the politician should resign.

c. Should Christians form Christian political parties?

Same as above, really. How is it going to benefit the gospel?

There’s nothing against it in the bible, I don’t think. But the reality is does politics help win people to Christ?

d. Do Christians have the right to try to influence laws in a Christian direction?

Scripture always says it best.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer 9:23-24)

If God delights in justice and rightesouness, then we should work for it. We won’t necessarily ‘win’ each time, but it is what we should work for. Advocacy is something Christ does for us (1 John 2:1), so we should do it for others. We should “do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless and the widow” (Jer 22:3). We should “not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the alien or the poor” (Zec 7:8-10). We should not “…pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19:15).

God wants us to love the unlovely. This is what will help make us the salt of the earth.

e. Are Christians ever justified in trying to overthrow an anti-Christian government?

No.

in Chapter 13, verses 1 – 7, Paul writes a very interesting passage to the Romans in his letter. He essentially states that we should be subject to the governing authorities, not to resist their rule and to pay to them what is owed. This seems pretty clear that we are to respect the authorities in place.

In my mind, we should work to transform the government, not overthrow it. By being the salt of the earth, people will see our faith. When they see our faith, and we are living according to the Spirit, then God will work accordingly.

An example is when Martin Luther King Jnr worked for racial equality in the 1960’s. He did this by peaceful methods, calling those around him to be more Christian rather than less. He asked people to read the scriptures and find in their heart what it said to them rather than what they thought it said.

Governments overseas that are anti-Christian need to be treated the same as governments that are Christian-friendly. It is not our place to judge governments, rather it is God’s. We simply need to live according to the gospel, and where we are persecuted for that, then we need to rejoice in the words of Jesus:

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)

We should be more interested in the second coming than in overthrowing governments.

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About Drew

Trying to walk in line with the truth of the Gospel
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