by Andy Sochor
There is an ongoing debate in our society about the “separation of church and state.” Though the phrase is not used in any of this country’s founding documents, many understand it to be a fundamental principle upon which this nation was built. However, the debate springs from the differences people have in interpreting this phrase. As Christians, our concern should not be which position is the “conservative” or “liberal” position. Our concern should be what the Scriptures teach. So in this article, we will examine what the word of God says on this topic.
The Church and the State Must Be Separate
The church and the state are two distinct entities. The church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). As Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he prophesied that the kingdom of God – the church (cf. Matthew 16:18-19) – would “crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44). When Jesus established His church, He never intended for it to be allied with or attached to any human government.
The State Is to Be God’s Minister
Though the Lord’s church is to be separate from the state, the Scriptures are clear that civil government is to be “a minister of God” (Romans 13:4). God has ordained a role for government – to punish evildoers and praise those who do right (Romans 13:3-4) and to provide and maintain an environment in which its citizens are free to live “tranquil and quiet [lives] in all godliness and dignity” (I Timothy 2:2). Many governments ignore or reject their divinely-given role, or they attempt to usurp the authority that belongs to God alone. But the fact that they have been given work to do as God’s minister is plainly taught in His word.
Christians Must Be Godly in All Things
Some who say they are advocating the separation of church and state are actually arguing for the separation of morality from public life. The church has been given work to do by God – evangelism and edification (I Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 4:16). However, in their individual lives, Christians must “let [their] light shine before men in such a way that they may see [their] good works” (Matthew 5:16). This means that God’s people will pray, discuss the Scriptures, promote and practice morality, condemn and avoid immorality, share the gospel, and stand for their faith in all that they do. A Christian does not automatically stop doing these things and letting his light shine when he enters a school, government building, place of business, or any other place where unbelievers may be present.
Righteousness Exalts a Nation
The wise man said, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). The righteousness that exalts a nation is not legislated by the government and imposed upon an unwilling populace. Rather, the righteousness that exalts a nation is the result of individuals in that society choosing to practice the righteousness of God. Churches, in sounding forth the word (I Thessalonians 1:8), will be promoting this righteousness since the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). In doing this, the church will proclaim righteousness, even on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. This does not mean that the church is getting involved in politics (after all, these are moral issues). The problem is that politicians have involved the state in issues of morality. Murder is wrong (I Timothy 1:9; Revelation 21:8); therefore, abortion is wrong no matter what the state says about it. Homosexuality is wrong (Romans 1:26-27; I Timothy 1:10); therefore, same-sex “marriage” is illegitimate no matter what the state says about it. The list could go on. But we must remember this point – righteousness exalts a nation, not godless governments attempting to legislate matters that have already been settled by God.
The Lord’s church – the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:31-32) – must be kept pure (Ephesians 5:27) from the corruption that is inherent in human government. However, as Christians, we are the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Therefore, we must influence the world around us toward greater morality, righteousness, and godliness. This will always be good, right, and necessary, regardless of the protests from the liberals, secularists, and haters of God that abound in this society.