church-vs-state-logo-in-teal-edited2We hear a lot about the Separation of Church and State. As you probably know, the phrase “separation of church and state” is not actually in the Constitution. Nope. It’s not there. The phrase “separation of church and state” is derived from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper soon thereafter. The first Amendment to our U.S. Constitution does state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This was more to protect the church FROM the state, and to prevent the government becoming “Protestant” and persecuting Catholics, or vice versa etc etc.

For modern day evangelical Christians, we face a crisis of moral decision making. When a choice comes down to our 5000+ year faith, based in Someone much higher than us, versus our less than 250 year old country’s current ethical consensus- we are to always choose our faith. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my country- I stay informed, I vote and I speak up politically. I am so grateful for the freedoms we have as Americans. But when I vote as a Christian American, the “Christian” part comes first. And Scripture, as best as I can understand it, is my basis of how I choose to vote.

But that leads us to a dilemma. Some Christians use Scripture to advocate for the death penalty (mostly from the Old Testament). And some Christians use Jesus’ teaching to promote government social programs. Scripture is used to tell Christians to vote for and against every issue under the sun. I saw a post a few days ago on social media saying that no person could call themselves a Christian unless they voted for this certain social program, because Jesus taught us to feed the poor. So does how you vote decide if you are a Christian or not? Why is the Old Testament so “Law and Order” and the New Testament so “Grace and Mercy”? Here are a few things Christian voters NEED to understand:

THE BIBLE ACTUALLY DOES HAVE A SEPARATION OF INSTRUCTIONS FOR CHURCH AND STATE.

Now before you gather stones to throw, hear me out. There is NOT a disconnect between the Old and New Testaments. Much of the Old Testament is written as the LAW- for the STATE, the government (a theocracy) to operate by. The death penalty, laws of public safety, laws of public holidays- these were all written for the Jewish state of Israel. And Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. And God’s heart is apparent here- He forbids stealing, adultery, lying, murder…and gives the state the power to enforce the law by issuing penalties. Individuals are to be good citizens, obey the Law etc. The Apostle Paul talks about this in his letters:

Every person must be subject to the governing authorities, for no authority exists except by God’s permission. The existing authorities have been established by God. Romans 13:1

Daniel 2:21
“It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.

Daniel 4:17
The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes.

John 19:11
Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me unless it were given to you from above.”

Romans 13:2
Consequently, the one who resists authority is opposing what God has set in place, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

So the purpose of the State is to enforce laws, ensuring law and order. And God does have a hand in our human history; He works His purposes through “good” leaders and through horrible leaders.

Which commands in Scripture then are for us as individuals? Well, much of what Jesus said, as well as Paul and the other apostles (the New Testament) was written to….

INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS and HIS CHURCH.

That is correct. The words of Jesus were not commands to Rome, or instructions for the government of China. His commands were for us, for individual Christians. And here are just a few things that Jesus told us to do:

  1. Feed the poor
  2. Care for widows and orphans
  3. Love one another-even sacrificially
  4. Endure hardship and persecution
  5. Give God what is His and the state what is the state’s (taxes)
  6. Take care of your father and mother
  7. Honor marriage
  8. Obey God in everything at all times- This is the one that we Americans do not appreciate. But what about those times that our State, or our culture ask us to do things that God says are wrong? Scripture is clear that we are to choose our faith over the wishes of the state- …                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Acts 5:28“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…” 29But Peter and the other apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 
    Exodus 1:17
    But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.

    Daniel 6:13
    Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day.”

    Acts 4:19
    But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.”

    Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego Daniel 3: “Let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

There is so much more of the words/teaching of Jesus and the apostles to explore and study, but it is SO important to understand WHO these commands are for. Our problem comes in when we get the church and state confused in their roles. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Expecting the state to feed the poor, take care of widows and orphans. This is nice for American Christians, because then we can feel better that we “did our duty” without any personal sacrifice. We can keep our stuff, our wealth. We also then ignore the command to “GO into all the world and preach the Good News.” It is much easier to just expect the government to take care of all of that. But those commands were for US. Taking care of the poor, widows, orphans, refugees…this used to be a vital, uncompromising part of being a Christian. Many massive ministries grew out of the church reaching out to help- Sunday Schools, the ministry of Mother Teresa, the original deacons of the church…These days, by relegating “serving others” to the state, we are missing a HUGE opportunity to reach others for Christ.
  2. Families expect the state to care for father and mother in their old age.
  3. Christians may look to the State to define/legitimize marriage. Marriage was instituted by God Himself and is supposed to be about the Christian life- not dictated by the state.

Now I disagree with those who say that Christians should never be political. Jesus did clearly say, “My kingdom is not of this world, if it were then my followers would fight for my release.” He preached, and died for, a Kingdom that has begun- but its not of this world. It’s final culmination will be at His return. However, I do believe that we as Christians should be a “light” in our world any way we can, without abdicating our responsibilities to the state. My ancestors were devout Quakers who at first, did not believe in getting involved politically. But they also were staunchly against slavery. They preached against slavery, bought slaves to set them free and helped slaves escape. But they realized that wasn’t enough. If they really wanted to see slavery end, these Quakers knew they would have to get involved in politics and fight slavery in state law- which they did. So I am grateful for our Christian senators, representatives etc who daily fight against abortion, or for religious rights, or to protect citizens- at the level of the law.

But that does NOT exempt each one of us as Christians to obey the commands in Scripture that are for each of us. Now, more than ever, the Church needs to step up and do what Jesus told US to do, instead of demanding that the State do our job. And we need to be Christians first in all things-even when we vote.

So what about you? Do you know of any examples of people taking Scripture out of context politically? Do you believe a Christian should vote? Do you believe a Christian can be a politician?

No matter how you believe politically- I hope we are family in Christ. Love and blessings- Trisha