Government and Church
There are some in America who operate under the presumption that churches, the Government (Federal, State, and Local) and society in general do not have to and should not be required to conform to the Word, Will, and Ways of God, our Creator. Governments and society are made of people. Clearly, all people should voluntarily conform to the Word, Will, and Ways of God.
This is especially important for leaders to do (Proverbs 29:2).
This view is found in and regarding all three of the branches of government established by the US Constitution: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Whether or not the original framers of the US Constitution intended this to be is not addressed here. Here, I only deal with the present day operation of presumption. Some decisions and practices by these branches of government attest to the increasing presence of this presumption such that this presumption was less evident in earlier times, except perhaps only in the case of America’s slavery.
The presence of this presumption should not be a surprise as it was prophesized through the Spirit of God as recorded in I Timothy 4:1-2 which says:
1Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
And 2 Timothy 3:13 says:
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
Now this is not to say that Presidents as head of the Executive branch do not look to their personal religious views in considering a matter. The same goes for the members of the legislative and judicial branches.
This is to say that our nation is increasingly swayed more by personal views and human relationships rather than by the Living Word of God. This is the tendency not only of the government but of the citizens at large either through silence or voice.
It shall always be true that at some point silence becomes betrayal, betrayal of one’s faith, betrayal of one’s family, betrayal of one’s community, betrayal of one’s nation; more importantly, betrayal of one’s God. When the voice of evil is louder than the voice of good, then good is betrayed by those who profess their allegiance to good, their allegiance to God.
In considering the relationship between governments and the Church, it is useful to first consider the relationship between the authority of God, the authority of the Church, and the authority of human governments. In doing so, one must distinguish between what God requires, what church officials require, and what human governments require. Each of these has the right and authority to establish requirements within the following framework:
God establishes the principle of and the authority of church officials. Similarly, God establishes the principle of and the authority of human governments (Romans 13:1-8). Romans 13:1 refers to higher powers. This reference to higher powers includes, but not limited to, civil governments especially since verse 6 uses the word tribute in the sense of a tax and the Greek word used for ministers is that of a public servant in contrast to a general minister. Now then both church officials and human governments have a responsibility to exercise their role, authority, and responsibility righteously according to God’s will.
God’s requirements have precedence over both church officials and human government. God’s requirements may be less or more restrictive than church and human government requirements. Consequently, God’s requirements supersede and have precedence over all human church and government requirements as all human requirements are spiritually and morally valid only when they are consistent with God’s requirements.
Church officials often establish requirements they deem necessary for good order and discipline within their particular church or community of faith. These requirements are sometimes less or sometimes more restrictive than God’s requirements and human government requirements. These requirements often form traditions which may or may not be consistent with God’s requirements. Some of these traditions are based on turning the doctrines and preferences of men into the doctrines and commandments of God. Jesus warns against this in Matthew 15:1-9. Yet, righteous traditions are useful to communicate principles, procedures, and a body of knowledge and practices developed and proven advantageous over time. Even the scriptures speak of following righteous traditions and avoiding or eliminating bad tradition: In II Thessalonians 2:15 Paul speaks of the value of following delivered traditions; yet this same Paul in Galatians 1:13-16 speaks of the principle that traditions should always be reevaluated for their continued application and value to the body of Christ. Although traditions are considered useful, violations of traditions not established in scripture are not considered sinful less humans begin to define that which is sinful.
Human governments often establish requirements it deems necessary for good order and discipline within a particular nation or locality, or sphere of influence. International treaties and agreements also establish such requirements internationally. The Geneva Convention regarding the handling of prisoners of war (POWs) provide one example of this. Human government requirements are sometimes less or sometimes more restrictive than God’s requirements and church requirements.
Individual and group freedom under grace allows each individual and group of individuals to determine which requirements to submit to and which to stand against. In doing so, he or she or they ought to remember that the same scripture that declares grace also declares that “10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive [be recompensed/rewarded for] the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). In so doing, a person should base his or her decisions on the realization there are spiritual and/or legal obligations and consequences to submission and non-submission. Sometimes immediate pleasure may be a consequence; sometimes immediate suffering may be a consequence. Sometimes eternal pleasure may be a possible consequence; sometimes eternal suffering may perhaps be a possible consequence. Sometimes a combination of these may come to exist.
Although Romans 13:1 speaks of us being subject to the higher powers, God does not expect men and women to be obedient to unrighteous laws, statues, policies, regulations, or other requests or directives made by government or church officials. Even the US Constitution makes no such expectation; this is the reason Amendment 1 to the US Constitution explicitly allows the people to assemble and/or petition the government for redress of grievances against the government rather than simply accepting what the government presents. The civil rights leaders of America clearly understood that. Indeed, the scriptures say we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:27-29). Indeed, no official (government, church, or otherwise) has the right or authority to turn the preferences, doctrines, or traditions of men into the doctrines or commandments of God.
Church officials and human governments as servants of God are accountable to God first and foremost. Secondarily, as servants of the people they are also accountable to the people. Paul in Acts 22:24-29 demonstrates the right of the individual to question and hold government representatives to accountability. Here Paul asks those who had him bound if they were sure they were following the law. Based on the information Paul provided they determined that they were out of order.
Thus, Paul preserved his legal rights and prevented those rights from being further violated. Modern day legal appeal processes recognize the fallibility of humans. If we can and should ask human government if it is sure it is following human law, how much more should we as Christians ask human government if it is sure it is following God’s law?
We should always remember that sometimes Christians necessarily suffer for Christ. Thus, the presence of suffering does not necessarily indicate the presence of wrong. One should always remember the teaching of Jesus when he says in Matthew 10:16-18 “16Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
17But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.”
Clearly, preaching the gospel of salvation based on Jesus being the Messiah is worthy of all dangers even death. But there are matters of human preference and personal preference which may not be worthy of such dangers or death. Exercising ones faith must be guided and tempered by wisdom. As Ecclesiastes teaches us there is a time, place, and way for everything but not every time, place, and way is that time, place, and way. Also, one should remember the words of Ezekiel 2:1-10 where God tells Ezekiel that he is to preach truth to a rebellious people whether they hear or forbear; but, he himself is not to be rebellious like them.
The US Constitution was ratified on September 17, 1787. This constitution contained the no religious test clause in Article VI. On September 25, 1789 the Bill of Rights was added. The Bill of Rights is the first 10 Amendments to the US Constitution.
Amendment 1 addresses religious liberty. See the article on Religious Liberty for a deeper discussion of the Constitution and Religion.
The Federal Constitution has precedence over State Constitution. Federal Laws have precedence over State Laws.
This is true even if the State fails to timely change its Constitution, Statutes, and Laws once the Supreme Court and/or Congress makes a ruling and/or law.
Some have asked whether America was founded as, has been, is, or should be a Christian Nation. I will not address whether America was founded as, has been, or is a Christian Nation. However, I will say that America should be a Christian Nation.
If every person in America was a Christian then Amendment 1 regarding religion and Article VI regarding the no religious test would not be an issue. So then although the Federal Constitution is a secular document, a nation of Christians would interpret and apply that secular document using Christian principles.
Jesus says in Matthew 28, that we Christians are to make disciples of every nation/people; this involves teaching them to observe his Word, Will, and Way (Matthew 28:18-20). Being a disciple means following Jesus Christ everywhere we are. So then one cannot rightly expect a Christian to pull off his discipleship robe at the government office door and hang it on a clothes rack and put it back on when he leaves that office. God forbid! Indeed, when he sits at his government desk he is still to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. In so being, he is to observe God’s Word, Will, and Way. This means whatever he does in word and deed is to be consistent with God’s Word, Will, and Way. This applies to the decisions he makes, the directives or executive orders he issues, and the laws he enacts or help to enact. This applies to his interpretation of the Constitution of the United States and State Constitutions regarding various matters that arise.
A fundamental question that every Christian should ask is should everyone be a Christian (Matthew 28:18-20)? The answer is clearly yes! Since the answer is yes, then it follows that since a nation consists of its people its people should be Christian and therefore its nation should be Christian.
Another fundamental question that all of us including government officials, politicians, lawyers, and judges should ask ourselves is: Does God expect our every decision and action, including voting, to glorify God rather than Satan, to please God rather than Satan, to obey God rather than man, to love God more than man? If so, how can any Christian support any law that legitimizes or validates any sin?
Although God and our Constitution may give a person the freedom to sin, no one has the right or liberty to ask our Government or another to go along with that sin. Let us interpret the Constitution so as to glorify God and not Satan, good and not evil (Psalms 148:11; Isaiah 5:20; Matthew 22:34-40, 28:18-20; Acts 5:29)! It can be done!
The following list of items is an excerpt from an article available on www.bible.org at about Christ being Lord of Politics. The article addresses the relationship between individual Christians and government. It establishes that each individual Christian is:
Regarding the last item above, one should be mindful that whether to vote and for whom to vote is always a personal choice. A number of factors come into play when choosing for whom to vote. One should choose based on one’s view of the world and what one hopes a candidate will do since what they say prior to office sometimes is not what they do once in office. Indeed the church leadership should never attempt to tell a person for whom to vote. Church leadership does however have an obligation to help individual Christians understand the issues and their impact on the church and society at large.
It is the task of some ministers to make sure individual Christians understand the relationship between individual Christians and government. It is the task of some ministers to ensure individual Christians understand application of biblical principles to political, social, and other issues that Christians confront in society. It is the task of some ministers to confront and rebuke Christians and non-Christians who preach, teach, and practice contrary to what God says about various issues in society. It is the task of some ministers to affirm biblically correct positions and actions made by individual Christian regarding societal issues, especially contemporary ones that they may know the truth regarding a matter. I have used the word some because I recognize that not all ministers may have that gift and calling. I also recognize that not all individual Christians have a sufficient understanding of the impact wicked political and social decisions have on
the present time and future generations.
Consider the slavery question where the founders of the United States of America made a economic based political decision to not band importation of slaves and associated slavery from the outset (See Article 1 Section 9 of the United States Constitution.).
If our founders had the moral courage rooted in Christian principles of love and respect for all people given the type of slavery practiced in America, then they would have banned the type of slavery implemented in America right away.
To God Be the Glory!
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