Photo from iStockPhotoBy Steve Allred –

I have some friends who tell me that I don't make sense when it comes to my position on separation of church and state. You see, some would call me a "fundamentalist" Christian. For example, I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and try to live my life by its teachings. I believe that God created the world in seven, literal, twenty-four hour days and rested on the seventh day. I believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and that He is the divine Son of God. I also believe that marriage between a man and a woman is the biblical ideal and that any extra-martial sexual relationship is called sin in the Bible. Ultimately, I believe that the lifestyle that God describes in the Bible is the best and happiest way for me to live.

But here's the rub: I also believe in keeping church and state separate. Some of my friends can't understand why. To them, it's a contradiction of my other beliefs. "If you believe that the Bible teaches that extra-marital sex is wrong, why don't you believe that it should be outlawed in America?" they ask.

Because not every teaching of the Bible should necessarily be the law of the land. And because even though I may believe that living by God's principles is the best way to live I shouldn't want to force that lifestyle on others around me.

True, there was a time when laws of the Bible were the law of the land. In the Old Testament, the laws of God were enforced on the nation of Israel. But that was in a time when God ruled directly through kings and prophets in what we call a theocracy. By the time Jesus arrived, however, He made it clear that the theocracy was over: "My kingdom is not of this world.", He said, "if it were, my servants would fightÖ but now my kingdom is not from here." (John 18:36).

How much clearer could He be? He did make it even clearer, however, when He told us that Caesar's (the secular government) realm and God's (the church) realm on earth were explicitly separate: "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." (Matthew 22:21-22). In other words, God doesn't need Caesar's help to do His work.

And so, while I'm a fundamentalist, I'm also a separatist. I believe that church and state ought to be separate, because Jesus told us so, in so many words.

But why?

Way back in the Garden of Eden God gave us a clue. In a perfect world, where God ruled and where there was no sin, God gave us a choice – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Why the tree? Because God is love; love cannot exist without freedom to not love, therefore God must allow choice.

But just because God doesn't want His religion forced on society doesn't mean that there is no place for promoting morality and faith in the public marketplace. Far from it. In fact, the whole purpose of the church's existence is to be the light of the world, the body of Christ, the salt of the earth. (Which is one reason I wholeheartedly support freedom of speech right along with separation of church and state. Yay for the First Amendment!). We are to be the voice calling out to individuals to experience a new way of life by accepting the principles of the kingdom of God. The church is the voice in the world upholding the Ten Commandments in our teachings and living them out in our own lives. We are the voice in society that teaches the truth boldly and unapologetically. And when the church fails in its job to promote obedience to God's law in society, society begins to fall apart and the inevitable result is the reign of secularism and immorality (see, for example, The Great Controversy, p. 585-586). What should the church do then? We should repent for failing to do our divinely ordained job and pray for a revival within our midst so that we can be the light of the world once again.

Sadly, our response throughout history has been just the opposite. Instead of repenting and seeking God when society is experiencing moral decay, the church has turned to the secular government to enforce its dogmas and to "revive" society. But can laws legislating morality and religion really bring about revival? No. History tells us that laws never have brought about revival, and they never will. Only the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the church can truly bring revival. And one thing is clear: the Spirit doesn't need the government's help to make the church the light of the world! (In fact, it seems that in places where the government is persecuting God's church the church shines brighter than ever).

Unfortunately, even though some Christians understand the church's role, they still think that it is the government's job to also be the moral conscience of society. Or they believe that the government should be just another "arm" of the church. But they've got it wrong. It's the church's job – and the church's alone – to be Christ's body on this earth. And the church should do its job without whining that it needs the government's help or that it needs to use the government to do its job. In fact, the less help the government gives the church, the more glory is given to God when society is actually changed one person at a time. Because ultimately spiritual and moral change come from within – not from outward conformity to certain laws. Only God – not legislation – can transform the heart.

As I talk with my friends, I realize that my explanations still leave some unanswered questions: what kind of relationship should the church have with the government – any at all? When should the government step in and enforce "morals" on society – should it ever? The answers to these and other related questions are complex and anything but "hard and fast" and are for another discussion. Ultimately, though, we as Christians can thank God that He has made one thing exceedingly clear: our commission is to "preach the gospel to every creature." One other thing He made clear is that the gospel of the kingdom is not to be preached by His servants fighting with the sword (earthly government) but rather, as the old Hymn "Lead on, O King Eternal" says, it is "with deeds of love and mercy" that the heavenly kingdom comes.

——————–

Steve Allred is an associate pastor at the Sacramento Central Seventh-day Adventist Church and law student at University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.  This article originally appeared at Pastor Allred's blog and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

 
 

12 Comments

  1. Patgmaxwell says:

    Thank you for a very well-written statement. Right on!

  2. Robert James Burkholder says:

    I ¬†agree the article is well written-and the author entitled to his opinion. I am not convinced ¬†he has either considered the ¬†thing fully–nor that he has presented a convincing argument as to why any should agree with him. So I merely agree ¬†he has decided he will not listen to any argument contrary to his decision on the subject. And I respect that.Jesus –to my understanding Never ¬†compromised on what is right. Nowhere do I find Jesus ¬†defending fornication. Nowhere does He define "marriage' as other than a man and a woman ,and the two become one.He defended the Law ¬†-as it is written. When the ¬†civil government legislates immorality — I cannot then abandon my faith–nor compromise with evil and call evil good. I am commanded to proclaim the good news. so I will NEVER say ¬†same sex marriage is ¬†good -nor that it is Gods' will. I can say no more than this some laws are law because we have not chosen for our leaders just men who will rule in fear of God. ¬†And I will NEVER follow a Pastor who has compromised ¬†the faith -who calls evil good– and good evil.The shedding of innocent blood defiles the land –and only the shedding of blood (the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ can cleanse it.
    Only a church free to proclaim Christ -only the overcomer.shall be rewarded.

  3. Rich DuBose says:

    Excellent article Steve. I'm with you!

  4. I like this image very much. Really this is too good.¬†Today I have got a new site. I am really happy to be here. I am stay tuned here for your next blog…What a wonderful article? You have described very well. How you got this idea? Great work.

  5. Mark says:

    In the last paragraph Steve denies what he tried to explain in
    the body of the article.  What I get,
    from what he writes, is that he supports the concept of separation of Church
    and State. He believes in Public Morals, which he thinks is part of Religious
    Liberty, but he doesn't think laws should be made by the State to enforce
    morals.  He believes the Gospel should be
    preached so that people will follow good morals out of their heart rather than
    by force.

    After he gets through writing the body of his article, he
    realizes there is something wrong, so he tries to cover his illogic by saying,
    "I realize my explanations still leave some unanswered questions".  In truth he has not given a good explanation of
    the relationship that should exist between Separation of Church and State,
    Public Morals and Evangelism. He needs to study the history of Separation of
    Church and State carefully.  He should
    also reflect on what Paul writes about government in Romans 13.

    He needs to realize Public Morals is not part of Religious
    Liberty, that is, separation of Church and State.  Religious Liberty concerns the relationship
    between a person and his God. Examples in the Bible would be Daniel praying to
    his God or the three Hebrew boys refusing to bow down to the Idol.

    Public Morals concerns the relationship between two or more
    people. One of the functions of government is to regulate morals; to promote
    peace and security.  Without the use of
    force there is no way to prevent the increase in crime due to immoral
    behavior.  For example; should there be a
    law against polygamy. If the answer is yes, what should be done to the person
    who practices polygamy? If the person is not punished the law is
    worthless.  If the answer is no, polygamy
    will increase to the detriment of society.

    The Gospel should be preached so that people follow good
    morals from the heart rather than from force. 
    The Gospel, however, does not eliminate the Law.

     

  6. Anthony says:

    I'm hard pressed to believe that a land with laws supporting the laws of God would be condemned by God; quite the contrary, it would be blessed. Indeed, the Bible says God puts governments in charge to hold people accountable for their evil. And who decides what is evil? Do men? No. God says what is evil, and it is by that standard that man must fashion their laws if their lands are to dwell in peace. So I suspect that the distance between God and government isn't so far as Steve here alludes … because we see that governments have decided what is evil and what is not by their own desires and have, as a result, made laws that spite the will of God.

    On the other hand, for a Christian-centered nation to survive, especially a democratic republic, it must rely on a moral people to put moral leaders in office, moral men and women who will not abuse their power.  But because the people are immoral, even those in the church, they elect immoral leaders who are always seeking to free themselves from the "archaic" laws of God. And from that is how we get to today's bastardization of "separation of church and state," how we have abused a rather innocuous but righteous comment in a letter that actually defends the force of religion in a government. What Jefferson meant by separation by no means reflects what Steve discusses in this post or how society has come to accept it.

    All that being said, however, I totally agree with Mr. Allred that the only light left in this world is the church and that we can no longer count on our government to be a bastion of moral laws. But I would add that because we know that someday governments will adopt religion to control the masses, it does not mean by nature that the idea of a religiously moral government is de facto outside the will of God.

    While my heart is desperate for a land governed by the laws of God, so that the land may experience the blessings of God, the Bible's words about the future makes me wary about advocating a strong religious current in our government.

  7. Dawn says:

    I enjoyed Mr. Allred's article very much.

    I completely agree that the gospel is our best hope for a stable, healthy society and that it is the Holy Spirit who transforms hearts from the outside in.  I agree that it's wrong for any government to establish a "religion" or prevent members of that society from practicing their religion.   I also agree that moral coercion does nothing to promote spiritual revival and that the government should never be an extension of the church.  
    Nevertheless, I see a huge problem when "separation of church and state" is interpreted to mean that the government can not make laws which dictate morals, and no government institution can allow any activity which might be considered religious.   Few would actually articulate it this way, but this underlying, unspoken interpretation is clearly seen in the context of political and social debate. Related, I've observed how politically active Christians can be vilified by those concerned about religious freedom as if every Christian is a follower of  Rousas Rushdoony.  Really?  Are only non-Christians allowed to be involved in politics?  The irony of this discussion lies in the fact that all laws are moral in nature.  So the government does indeed function as a type of "moral conscience of society."  Murder, molestation, child pornography and insider trading are all moral judgments which our country has decided not to permit.Thus, to say that "religion" can ever be completely separate from government is a myth because religion, faith, and personal beliefs impact every decision every human makes in government and personal life.  Even people who say they believe in no god are confessing their faith in a religious system which excludes deity.  Despite the atheist or humanist's  insistence that they are not religious, they will cry just as loudly when their car is stolen and will not hesitate to pursue the criminal or decry the act as "unjust."  Morality/beliefs are built into each one of us (I believe, by our Creator.)   As a Christian, the Bible also constructs my beliefs.  The trouble comes when moral beliefs collide in making laws. It's easier for the atheist to play the "separation of church and state" card against the Christian than it is for the Christian to play the same card against the atheist or secular humanist religion.   That seems unfair to me.   Lastly, although I desperately want the government to protect my freedom to worship as I choose, I cannot elevate religious liberty to the degree that it eclipses my responsibility to weigh in on other critical moral issues in personal and political life.   For me, I'd rather gamble with my personal comfort and religious freedom than to vote for someone who is certain to harm the financial stability of families or supports freedoms which I find morally objectionable.  

  8. Johnvstevenssr says:

     Simple. Christ is the originator of chuch state separation. His follwers will believe and practice what Jesus believeed and practced.The Pharisees: Is It Lawful to Pay Taxes to Caesar? Matthew 22:15-22:
    15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. 16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ďTeacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?Ē
    18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, ďWhy do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.Ē
    So they brought Him a denarius.
    20 And He said to them, ďWhose image and inscription is this?Ē
    21 They said to Him, ďCaesarís.Ē
    And He said to them, ďRender therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesarís, and to God the things that are Godís.Ē 22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. John V Stevens, Sr.

  9. geciktirici says:

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  10. Gary Kimes says:

    the real question here is this:

    When does freedom a conscience then become the freedom not to even know what a conscience is?

    Freedom is like salvation: it is not a right- it is a result.

    Otherwise it is free dumb.

 
 
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