Separation of Church and State

american-flag-front-church-12712818We believe in the separation of church and state, “My kingdom is not of this world”. We do not endorse nor oppose any political causes. The universal is always bigger than the movement it inspires. We are not to judge each other by how we vote, who we endorse politically or who we support ideologically.  

 The very nature of the Gospel implies the separation of church and state. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Governments, cultures and social systems present in today’s world do not represent the kingdom of God. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be “born again” (John 3:3), in order to enter the kingdom of God. He also stated that, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation” (Luke 17:20). The kingdom of God is separate from the kingdom of the world according to the Scriptures. The kingdom of God can still influence the kingdom of the world. When Christ comes into a believer’s life, the kingdom of God is within. We must distinguish between individual salvation and the historical reality of various church institutions that have been established throughout history. When the Roman Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the state religion, did it mean that everyone in the empire was now saved and a part of the kingdom of God? Did it mean that the Roman Empire was now a part of the kingdom of God and anyone born into it was saved? We have to distinguish between the effect of Christianity as a social force and the effect of Christianity as the kingdom of God within an individual. We do not inherit Christ through culture. To be a part of the kingdom of God we must be born again. It does not matter what culture, society or country we were born into.   

 When the German philosopher Georg Hegel wrote about everyman reflecting the collective, there is some truth to it. Conscious and unconscious forces of the present and past influence the individual to create culture. The most basic example is language. Values also are transmitted through culture. Values can reflect the deep past of the collective unconscious in a culture, society or nation. Athenian and Greek culture affected the Roman Empire. Judaism and Christianity have mixed with other cultures, laws and customs. Most are still represented in the modern world today. Culture is a “great stew” and Hegel saw this when he related it to epistemology, ontology and social psychology. He said that a person should do his best in the social system. This is the authentication of his individuality. The point we are making is that Christianity has influenced each and every culture it abides in.

Judeo-Christian ethics have power and influence. Christianity is first and foremost an individual acceptance of Jesus Christ. The whole of Christianity influences cultures, nations and social systems. Some of these cultures have more workings of Judeo-Christian ethics in their sociology and thus are rather free politically. Many historians, philosophers and sociologists have called these societies “Christian” because they have Christian roots that reflect a Judeo-Christian ethic or perspective. Some try to trace the deepest origins of democracy to Christianity. Even the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche clumped socialism, communism and Marxism as the will to power from Christianity to Platonism. The point is that he saw the impact of Judeo-Christian ethics on culture, as did Hegel. There is a difference between cultures that adapt and incorporate Judeo-Christian ethics. Even the founder of communism Karl Marx said, “Socialism could pass through Judaism and Christianity because they were open systems, but they could not pass through Islam.” Judeo-Christian ethics emphasize equality, a fair wage and stewardship of the land. They can inspire movements of justice, equality and environmentalism. It can influence many other well-intended programs that help culture and society to become better. Christianity from a sociological viewpoint has had impact on art as well. Look at the famous painting, the Last Supper, by Leonardo Da Vinci or the sculptures of Michelangelo for example. Christianity has entered deeply into the world’s culture. This is a fact. Is this what Christ intended? Is there a difference within Christianity between a social reality and a religious reality? Is one a Christian simply because one is born into a Christian nation, society or culture? Can one be deeply influenced by a Christian culture and yet not be a Christian? The truth is there is a large difference between the sociology of Christianity and the culture of a nation being influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics. The real Gospel is aimed towards the individual. That is where salvation takes place and the kingdom of God lives.

The virtue of Christ in our lives expresses itself outwardly. The Scriptures encourage us to do good works. The love of God that is within is reflected in these works. We are to give of our lives, time and money so we can help others. Some try to help by making the political systems they live in better, thus lifting many people’s lives. Problems can arise when we as Christian leaders endorse one system over another. This starts to equate the Gospel with certain secular movements of history that represent the universal, but in truth are particulars. The church should encourage participation in many causes without endorsing or opposing the particulars of each cause. That decision should be left up to each believer’s own conscience.

Justice is always bigger than the movement it inspires. Justice can be expressed through many different forms. People can belong to various political parties or social organizations. Many participate in charitable causes or volunteer groups. Is one person’s choice of doing good works better than another? Are we not to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling? Are we not all individuals? Is it right to try and create a union of politics and church? When we try to direct people in the name of Christ down a certain path that says it is better than others, does this not create a new kind of legalism? No movement or cause contains all the justice there is. Universal justice is found in Christ. People have to work out their own salvation and do not need a special leader telling them how to do it. As a church we can always back the universal. We can never back the particular, thus condemning other ways of working out justice.                          

A vibrant church should have members who vote and belong to different political parties. The church should not endorse one particular political party over others. This has the potential of creating subtle divisions within the congregation. Believers should join movements or causes they consider right for themselves. This allows pluralism without creating strife and sectarianism. We are to be humble in our salvation. We should not be judgmental or strife-orientated. Christ died for all of mankind. The church should not be syncretic by equating ideologies, theologies, political movements or secular perspectives with the Gospel. It should allow its members to work out their own ideas of social responsibility freely. We must avoid the temptation of steering believers into the particulars of movements, while emphasizing the universal. Telling people which movements they can belong to is wrong. The church leaders are not to be lords over God’s heritage. To neither oppose nor endorse means we can have a congregation of free-willed people that put the kingdom first. We do not judge one another by how we work out social justice.

The Gospel does not create the correct anthropological, political or social system in the world. God’s kingdom is not of this world. This perspective gives us ideals to strive for while allowing political systems to improve. We should not be pretentious by thinking we can create the kingdom with our own hands. We can live in democracies that embrace more of the Judeo-Christian ethics than some totalitarian regime and still know that it is not the kingdom of God. We do not make nationalism or a particular ideology an idol. There is a temptation to mix the Gospel with secular humanism. The Apostle Paul told us, “Though an angel of light preach any other Gospel let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). He warned us that, “Satan appears like an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He was speaking to the church about the Jews trying to impose the law upon the Gentiles. This created a legalistic system that made some of the teachers of the law elitists, with people following their deep teachings. He warned against Gnostics who seemingly have special knowledge. He knew that the Gospel stands on its own and can never be equated with movements of justice, politics or sects. It does not equate with ideologies of great swelling words in the name of theology or sociology. By not opposing what an individual supports in space and time in regards to a particular movement, we allow Christians to have a say in the world. By not endorsing, we do not choose for them. They can work out their own salvation before God. We do not create strife or a judgmental atmosphere because the church is pluralistic. We can have Republicans, Democrats and individuals who choose not to vote as members of the same congregation, worshiping God and loving one another. We can preach against racism, greed and covetousness. We can tell the congregation to have love and compassion for the poor. Jesus said, “The least they do to one of these they do unto me” (Matthew 25:40). We can tell them to show love and compassion towards the oppressed and downtrodden. We can neither oppose nor endorse secular movements that are not the universal itself, for that is in Jesus Christ. This allows the culture to be rich and pluralistic in a congregation, rather than oppressed, narrow or sectarian. It allows us to preach Jesus Christ as the God of love and truth, while still dealing with our present culture and social systems. It allows the congregation to be relevant in the world at hand, without losing transcendental faith and compromising its values. It allows the church to be in the world, but not of it at the same time.

The Gospel message works in all systems and nations. Christianity can work with systems and improve them without taking them over because “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). When the church aligns itself with political parties and ideologies, it becomes worldly. When the church neither endorses nor opposes, it is in the world as a benefit to social structures. It can still be transcendent and effective in doing good works that benefits the whole of society. The interior of Christianity can never be observed by enlightenment. The age of reason paradigms of knowledge or scrutiny will not expose it. Modern sociology can speak of the Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant, Evangelical or confessing church. They can quote statistics, writers, theologians and historical documents. They can never observe the reality of the Christian faith and experience. When Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be “born again,” (John 3:3) he was talking to a religious Jew who was a member of the Sanhedrin. He let him know that a religious and cultural background was not enough for salvation. Though the born again term has been misused and stereotyped it is still very relevant today. Many people that have been born into a Christian background do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior. They have become agnostic, atheist or deistic in their beliefs. To be born into a Christian family, church or culture does not replace the born again individual experience. To be called out is a subjective experience that exists between God and the individual alone. The interior of Christianity is for the believer. It embodies a personal relationship where the nature of God is revealed to our hearts and minds.

The exterior of Christianity, entering space, time, culture and history, is the sociology that many refer to. This does not compare with the reality of the Christian experience, where Christ’s kingdom dwells within. Principle One and Principle Two emphasize and demonstrate how the Scriptures were written in the realm of revelation while holding a distinct place in history. When Peter said to Jesus,” Thou art the Christ,” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus told him, ” Flesh and blood has not revealed it on to thee” (Matthew 16:17). The world cannot see revelation in the Scripture. It can see reason. Thomas Jefferson took the miracles out of the New Testament and it became known as the Jefferson Bible. The world can see Jesus Christ as a philosopher, a religious teacher or a controversial historical figure. They cannot see him as “God with us,” (Matthew 1:23) bringing an everlasting kingdom into our hearts, souls and total being. This is the real emphasis of the Pauline doctrine of Christianity. The church is to be built on individuals who have experienced Christ in their hearts through a born again experience. It does not come from culture, empirical knowledge, inculcation, hypnosis or a collective hysteria. Every individual that is a real Christian is called by God himself and answers as an individual.

There is no group salvation. There is no conversion by person to person, only by God to the individual through the sacrifice of Calvary and the cross. Jesus died for our sins, resurrected, ascended into heaven and is the Lord of Glory. He comes into our hearts and lives. Christ brings us into his kingdom. We have eternal life through his power, not out of our own. The individual that God calls can only experience this. It comes through revelation and it is outside of the observable realm. This experience of the kingdom in our hearts allows us to be in the world, but not of it. This present world system is not our home. We are not called to make it the kingdom of God. We are called to be a “Nation of kings and priests,” (Revelation 5:10) and are to be used by God in the spreading of the Gospel. We are sojourners, pilgrims and foreigners in this world. We are on our way to the fulfillment of the great promises of God with eternal life as our reward.  

The world has evil in it. It has the devil and one third of the angels that fell with him. We cannot afford to think that our strivings to make this world a better place can be an end in itself. We can easily see the things we worked for toward justice being reversed and gone. The evil in this world is real and is not a part of God’s kingdom. We must put our sight in this world under the kingdom of Christ and not become disillusioned. When Christ came they wanted him to overthrow Caesar and the Roman Empire. Many today still have this outlook. When we do not surrender our politics and desire for social justice to God, we end up with political goals over spiritual reality. It is easy to use the vernacular and rhetoric of the Bible for political goals that promote worldly change. It is easy to have civil religion. It is easy to take Judeo-Christian ethics out of context and strive for them in a political manner that endorses movements or causes, while opposing others. It is hard to remain pluralistic and fair-minded in the modern church atmosphere.

The church will not endorse nor oppose social or political movements. We must preach Jesus Christ and his word, while emphasizing prayer and love without factions and strife. We must keep the sheep in green pastures with plenty of water and sunshine. We are to keep the wolf out and allow God’s people to be fed with his great love and abundance. Thus we neither oppose nor endorse any political or social justice systems in our temporary journey on earth as a church. We encourage the individual to work out his own salvation before God.

Table of the Lord teaches that everyone must work out his or her own salvation with fear and trembling. No ministry has the right to steer people who to vote for. We can point out universals but voting is an individual right. It is not the ministry’s place to tell you how to accomplish social justice or good works. Jesus Christ in you will help you to use your gifts and callings. Our work is built on the call of God to the individual heart and conscience.

 

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