A Biblical Understanding of Church/State Relations

There are three possible approaches to this subject from an understanding of the nature of the church, from an understanding of the nature of the kingdom of God, and from an understanding of the nature of the Gospel. There are numerous perspectives concerning the nature of the church and the nature of the kingdom of God; however, I think most reasonably minded individuals can come to a consensus on the nature of the Gospel. Because of this, I will approach the subject from an understanding of the nature of the Gospel. Ultimately, all theology comes down to one thing, the Gospel. Central to ones understanding of the church is the Gospel. Central to ones understanding of the kingdom is the Gospel. The Gospel is the wellspring of all Truth and so it is fitting that we both begin and remain there.

First, the very nature of the Gospel is that it makes society pluralistic; this is what it means for the gospel to be exclusive (Matthew 10:34-37). Wherever the Gospel goes pluralism, if not already present, is introduced. The Gospel is an exclusive message; this means that there are those who are included and those who are excluded. This is also the nature of the church and the nature of the kingdom of God, there are those who are included, and those excluded. This means there will always be at least two groups and that is plural. If society was monocultural, then we would all be damned. Pluralism is part of the good news of the Gospel; that God has chosen and redeemed individuals within a unanimously rebellious world; thereby making the world pluralistic. This relates to politics because Evangelical political activism seeks to singularize society (an Evangelical monoculture) while the Gospel makes society pluralistic.

Second, the very nature of the Gospel is missiological. What do I mean by that? At the heart of missions, or being missional, is contextualization, of both the message and the messenger (I Corinthians 9:22-23). If you disagree with that last statement, go look at your Bible. If your Bible is in a language other than Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic then you are a product of contextualization. Men and women have died, been burned at the stake, drowned, disemboweled, and undergone the most unimaginable torture so that the Gospel can be contextualized. This relates to politics because Evangelical political activism seeks to conform the culture to the Gospel, while missional contextualization seeks to contextualize the Gospel within a pagan culture. The two stand in direct opposition.

Third, the very nature of the Gospel is inferiority, namely that the Gospel is a foolish message proclaimed to foolish people (Matthew 9:11-13, I Corinthians 1:18). Contrary to what many self-righteous “Christians” believe the Gospel is stupid, it is idiotic, the Greek word for “foolishness” in I Corinthians 1:18 is the word from which we get moron, it is that dumb. Furthermore, in verses 26, and following, Paul reminds Christians that they are morons too! The simple fact is that you cannot embrace the Gospel if you feel morally or intellectually superior to the surrounding world; you can only embrace the Gospel if you are morally inferior. This relates to politics because Evangelical political activism seeks to create a morally superior culture while Gospel seeks out those who are morally inferior.

Fourth, the very nature of the Gospel is liberalism (Galatians 5:13). God liberally lavishes His grace upon us. God call us to proclaim the Gospel liberally. This may seem like a stretch but liberalism is the exact opposite of legalism, and God opposes legalism. Was it not the legalism of the Pharisees that kept them from loving liberally? Was it not the legalism of the Pharisees that kept them from proclaiming Truth liberally? Was it not the legalism of the Pharisees that kept them from living liberally? Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 9:22-23 is a declaration that Paul was culturally liberal. This relates to politics because Evangelical political activism seeks to enforce state-sanctioned legalism while the Gospel compels us to live liberally.

Fifth, the very nature of the Gospel is voluntarism, as opposed to coercion (Luke 10:16). The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed which subsequently means that it can be accepted or rejected. The Gospel is not a message to be enforced. In fact, the Gospel cannot be enforced and when ignorant individuals seek to have it enforced, it is no longer the Gospel.

This is where the apparent contradiction comes in. Because while the nature of the Gospel demands the strictest of separations between it and the state Scripture, however, is replete with commands ordering followers of Christ to submit themselves to the governing authorities (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-11; Titus 3:1). Paul even appeals to his Roman citizenship when arrested (Acts 22:25) and even to Caesar (Acts 25:11). Most profound of all is that Paul wrote his exhortation to the church in Rome around A.D. 56 two years into the persecution by Nero (A.D. 54-68). A persecution in which “Some Christians were arrested, confessed their faith, and were ‘convicted not so much,’ says Tacitus, ‘of the crime of incendiarism as of hating the human race (Does that sound familiar?) [1].’” Schaff continues, “A ‘vast multitude’ of Christians was put to death in the most shocking manner. Some were crucified, probably in mockery of the punishment of Christ, some sewed up in the skins of wild beasts and exposed to the voracity of mad dogs in the arena. The satanic tragedy reached its climax at night in the imperial . . . . Christian men and women, covered with pitch or oil or resin, and nailed to posts of pine, were lighted and burned as torches for the amusement of the mob [2].” It is clear that followers of Christ must submit themselves to the governing authorities, even if that means dying in the arena!

Before concluding it is important that we take note of the uniqueness of the American situation. The American situation is unique not only in our current global context but also in the context of history. America is unique in the freedoms and rights that it has bestowed upon its citizens and it is unique in its Democraticness, not that there are not other democratic nations but American Democracy is unique.

All of this has led me to several conclusions. First, the nature of the Gospel is unequivocally clear that it cannot be promoted by political means nor can it be enforced by a political power; furthermore, “Christian moral norms,” if there is such a thing, cannot be forced upon a culture nor can they be enforced within a culture where they are already present. Second, the “right to vote” is not a right; it is a unique privilege that has been granted to Americans. Since it is not a right it can, and I would argue will, be taken away.

Ultimately, our problem is this: we are more concerned with being American than we are with being followers of Christ. That is why the mission field is largely vacant; because as Americans we feel this is our home, when as followers of Christ we are sojourners and foreigners in every land. By mission field I am not speaking of foreign missions but all missionary activity; no concept of “home missions” can exist within a worldview where you are always a foreigner. Even here in comfortable America, the mission field is largely vacant of individuals who cease to be antagonistic towards American culture and contextualize the Gospel into it. There are plenty of people conforming the Gospel to American culture, thus loosing the Gospel. There are also plenty of people seeking to conform American culture to the Gospel, thus loosing the Gospel in legalism. There are also those who are honestly trying to share the Gospel and yet there efforts are largely misunderstood because they do so in ignorance of the culture. What we need are followers of Christ who will plant indigenous church planting churches by contextualizing the Gospel into the cultures, which they desire to reach.

I hope that all of you will respond in charity, as I am sure most will disagree and honestly, if I had read this a year ago I would have disagreed as well. If you disagree with my post and would like me to reply to your comment please state your argument or question concisely and I will reply in a like fashion.

[1] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 1
[2] Ibid.

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