Considering Church And State Again
Posted by Job on November 4, 2008
To be fair, the notion of division between church and state is a relatively recent one, basically coming out of the Enlightenment. Prior to that, it was inevitable that the two be joined and the magistrates serve as officers and enforcers of a particular official religion. However, we should realize that the reason for this was generally not religious doctrine per se, but rather that government was an extremely primitive entity until very recently in human history. So, perhaps the main reason that there was no separation between church and state is because without the church there would have been no state. The desire to worship a common religion was very likely the first impetus for advanced human organization, and the desire to worship the same religion of whoever a community desired to exalt as a king, a chief, a wise man or seer etc. even more so. So perhaps Biblical and historical events could be interpreted in that light.
Since political and military power (or aspirations to them) might have been seen as inherently coupled with religious power, then it was likely inevitable that the Sadducees, Sanhedrin regarded this great miracle working prophet who would not restrain HIs followers from referring to Him as King, Messiah and Son of God as one having designs on their positions. And Jesus Christ denounced the Jewish and Roman leaders as corrupt and illegitimate. In the eyes of the Jewish leaders, Jesus Christ’s followers would have first exterminated THEM and then would have organized a futile insurrection against Rome that would have resulted in the whole nation being destroyed.
Keep in mind: Jesus Christ was innocent, blameless of the charges of wanting to overthrow either the Jewish religious (and secular) leaders or Roman rule. He repeatedly, specifically denied that it was His desire to do such and rebuffed offers to become a civil ruler or even a religious ruler, even to be make King by force. That is right, Jesus Christ rejected being a religious ruler. (Evidence of this: where religious bodies are always obsessed with increasing their numbers even to the point where initiates are brought in by infant baptism or conquest by the sword, Jesus Christ actually drove off false followers!) Which is appropriate, because, as I stated, being a religious ruler would have also meant being a state ruler or having significant state influence at the time. And had Jesus Christ accepted being the sort of Messiah that many Jews were expecting, He would have exerted considerable authority (or possibly entirely controlled) religious life as well as political life. So consider: religions and religious institutions are things of this world.
If you deny this, look at so many of the religious bodies today of the various different faiths, especially state religions. Or look at the words of Jesus Christ towards the religious leaders of His day. Or the words of His brother James on the difference between true religion and worldly false religion. True Christianity is about a relationship with a Person, and it is spiritual. So Jesus Christ not only rejected both civil leadership, but leadership an official worldly religious capacity that would have basically made Him a regulator of men’s behavior rather than a ruler of men’s hearts. Jesus Christ came to set up a spiritual kingdom. So why was He delivered up by the Jews to the Romans and executed? Because they did not believe Him.
Despite His telling the Jews time and time again that He had no designs on political or religious office, that indeed doing so would run contrary to His mission from God (and please keep in mind that Satan tempted Him to take precisely such worldly authority in the desert!) they did not believe Him, either through ignorance or hard heartedness. Even His own apostles and closest disciples did not believe or understand Him AFTER He resurrected! Right at His ascending to heaven in the early verses of Acts 1, we see the disciples demanding that Jesus Christ become their earthly king – priest, and when those ideas (dreams) were finally shattered with His returning to heaven, they had no idea what was in store.
It was only after the Holy Spirit came that they understood Jesus Christ’s many statements that He was a spiritual ruler, not a political ruler or even the holder of an earthly religious office. He was not seeking to be Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, Caesar or even David because He was already greater than they, and indeed they were all His servants performing His purposes … even the wicked Caiaphas and Herod and the spineless Pilate fulfilled prophecies that helped build the case for Jesus Christ being Messiah and the Son of God for His followers.
So why would Jesus Christ want to come down and try to seek equality with men that were LESSER than Him by taking one of their LESSER offices? Even better, why would Jesus Christ have defiled His HOLY spiritual office with a common, vulgar earthly one? That would have violated the very typology of “pure/impure holy/unholy” sacrificial system that God gave the Jews to point to and reveal the purpose and nature of Jesus Christ to begin with. Now it must be recognized: the church is the Body of Christ. So if Jesus Christ, being the head, did not aspire to any civil rule or power, then how can the church? Should not the Body follow the Head to which it is joined? Is not the Head the master of the Body?
Now it appears that the early church, the apostolic church, recognized this. Interpretations of the Bible throughout the ages from conservative, liberal, evangelical, fundamentalist, Marxist, feminist, liberation, etc. theologians have claimed otherwise, but in truth the New Testament according to its original context, the intended meaning of its original writers to the original hearers, had the purpose of governing, instructing and edifying the church (plus enlarging the church by winning new converts). It had no purposes for civil or even earthly religious guidance or instruction. (When I say earthly religious, I mean more or less for institutions beyond and apart from the local church and itinerant evangelist/missionaries.)
What of the Old Testament, which did give governing instructions to political, social, cultural, institutional religious, economic etc. Sinai Israel? Please recall that not only the Old Testament pointed to and was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but Sinai Israel pointed to and was fulfilled in the mystery that is the church. In both instances, you had an earthly temporary reality that pointed to and was fulfilled in a spiritual eternal reality. So rather than try to use the Old Testament to govern a sinful world and unregenerate men, it should be viewed by the church, interpreted through the filter of the New Testament, to see what it means for us. (I realize that modern evangelical scholarship, as a result of their many interactions with Roman Catholics, non – Messianic Jews, and theological liberals, reject this view, and are as quick to denounce “reading New Testament doctrines into Old Testament texts” as are atheists and non – Messianic Jews, if not quicker. Small wonder, then that Messianic Jews, whose entire orthodoxy and orthopraxy are based on doing precisely that and are loathed by liberals and non – Messianic Jews, are held at arms length by “respectable” evangelical scholars.)
I should point out that from following the Old Testament, the great apostasy, scattering, AND PERIOD OF SEVERE PERSECUTION that Old Testament and intertestamental Israel went through would definitely seem to be a picture of the church’s future. It is rather amazing how one can compare the warnings of Revelation 2 and 3 to conditions and events in Israel during the time of the prophets. But sadly, after apostolic times, like so many other things, Christians quickly forgot that Jesus Christ rejected earthly leadership of religious bureaucracies and states in favor of a spiritual kingdom. They first began to work to make Christianity respectable to the very world that rejected and crucified Jesus Christ using apologetics and theological speculation. It began innocently enough, rebutting such lies that the Lord’s Supper consisted of human sacrifices followed by orgies (lies that existed, incidentally, only because of the absurd practice of not allowing curious onlookers – including potential converts – to view the Lord’s Supper observances, a prohibition that cannot be supported scripturally) but quickly it reached such nonsense as trying to convince the polytheists that Christianity was just as cultured and intellectual as their vile pagan abominations.
Even today, apologetics is wielded by many not so much for evangelistic and edifying purposes as it is for defending the continued existence and legitimacy of “a Christian worldview” or “a Christian culture” as a viable, respectable alternative to secularism. In other words, claiming that for sinners and their sinful societies Christian worldliness is superior to or at least as tolerable as worldliness without allegedly Christian pretensions. Which, of course, is a clear rejection of what Jesus Christ and the rest of biblical revelation clearly states as its divine spiritual purpose, which was to wholly extricate sinners from their sinful cultures. Just as the Levites were the firstborn of Israel and were given no inheritance, meaning that they had no stake in this world but were set aside by God, Christians are to be the same.
So the merging of Christianity and the prevailing worldly attitudes that regarded church and state (or to be more accurate RELIGION and state) to be one and the same and rejecting the spirituality of Christianity in favor of myths, fables, supersitions, and strange practices continued largely unabated until when Constantine declared Christianity the state religion with himself as the pontifix maximus, most Christians saw absolutely no conflict. Quite the contrary, the decided minority who did the same as their true Master Jesus Christ and refused to mix spirit with state and religion soon found themselves branded as heretics. Just as Israel wanted to follow the practices of the heathen nations surrounding them by demanding civil leadership from a king, Christians wanted to follow the worldly practice of replacing a spiritual relationship with a person to the very same mixture of state and religious bureaucracies and rituals that practically every other idolatrous pagan abomination before it.
Rather than being called out, separate, distinct, and holy with no stake in this world, these Christians claimed that not only being like all the other religions in the world but being bigger, badder, better, richer, more learned, more cultured, and more powerful than everyone else and thus able to impose their will on everyone else with commerce and sword proved that it was God’s Will. Reading this back into the Old Testament, Israel never had to run the Baal, Molech, and Ashtoreth worshipers out of Canaan. Instead, all Israel had to do was become BETTER at worshiping Baal, Molech, and Ashtoreth than the Canaanites were, and in this way prove that Yahweh was more powerful than Baal, Molech, and Ashtoreth.
And incidentally, Israel did just this. Please recall the last of the kings of Israel and Judah … their wickedness was so great that it exceeded even the wickedness of the Canaanites that God told Israel to wipe and drive out. As Israel did before them, the Christians who insisted that Constantinism was God’s Will did also. It would be great to claim that the Protestant Reformation undid this. However, it is not so. The first generation of what is officially called the Reformation continued to hold onto what Jesus Christ rejected by erecting bureaucratic church bodies and either ruling or attempting to influence the state through them. It was only later waves that rejected the imperial religious model and state control.
Yet many of them remained convinced that it was a major job of the church to improve sinful society rather than to redeem men from it, what is often called by fundamentalists “polishing doorknobs and swabbing the decks on a sinking ship” when the effort should be to use the gospel as life rafts to save who they can (or from a double predestination perspective whom God will) before the ship and the hard hearted on it perish. So what of the poor souls on the sinking ship and the ship itself? The Bible makes it clear: God provides for the ship and the people who will never get off it (as even free will Christians must acknowledge that many have died and will die without ever even hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ) through common grace.
And yes, Christians can, should, and do participate in common grace. But the ship and the people on it are this world and of it and will be destroyed. The church is on the ship, but not of it. Its job is not to seek to be the ship’s master, to claim the ship or even some of it for the church, or to claim some of the church or the church itself for the ship, but rather to prepare itself to be taken off the ship while seeking others that will be rescued with us. That is completely at odds with the notion of state church Christianity or cultural Christianity, because either (or both) will be primarily preoccupied with trying to steer, beautify, and even SAVE the sinking ship because it is invested in it.
A state church is at least partially invested in the culture. A cultural church is at least partially invested in the culture. And churches that are merely religious reflections of the prevailing politics and culture (and we can tell that so many are simply based on how so many governed … you have your church monarchies, church democracies, church republics with democratically elected representatives, and even communist, socialist, or anarchist churches) are literally run by the ship (being plugged into the worldly governance structures as they are and hence having the same captain) and are careening towards its fate.
Keep in mind: Jesus Christ told the faithless Jews of His time (and the Christians of all time, especially the tribulation church) that He was rejected because He came in the Name of God. Now as God is a spirit, Jesus Christ, coming in the Name of God, had to renounce the civil kingdom and religious rule that the people were demanding in favor of a spiritual kingdom. Jesus Christ stated that someone who comes in his own name, someone who would fulfill their expectations of being a civil and religious ruler, that is who they would accept. In that time, the Jews followed Simon bar Kochba and other false messiahs to claimed to be civil and religious rulers to disastrous results: the temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was totally laid waste, and the Jews were scattered and barred from entering.
But to the church, the warning was more dire. The man who comes in his own name that the church will accept in the place of Jesus Christ’s spiritual kingdom because they want a worldly civil, political, religous, economic etc. kingdom will most definitely be the man of sin, the anti – Christ. He will represent civil power, the false prophet will represent religious power, and they will demand and receive the allegiance of all Christians that have no use for spiritual things, people that possess a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. Whether the anti – Christ is revealed at around 11:45 PM tonight when the TV networks declare the winner of the presidential election or is revealed 300 years from now is to you of little consequence, because the truth is that if you are denying the true spiritual reign of Jesus Christ in favor of a political, cultural, or religious alternative, you are worshiping the spirit of anti – Christ already.