Church and State – Not Quite Separate

There’s been no absence of News this past week on the political front, whether about the Supreme Court and abortion, or about the events of January 6.

Regarding abortion, I am working on our Sunday morning speaker schedule with Quinn to find a time in which I can speak to the issue of abortion, not from a political point of view, but from a Biblical base. For my reflection today, especially as we approach the July 4 celebration of our nation, let me remind you of a few stories and verses in the Bible that relate to Government.

One of the foundational stories in the Scripture, the Exodus, reminds us that there is certainly a time to resist government when it becomes oppressive – not “just when we don’t like it” but when it literally enslaves its people and makes them become mere beasts of burden (see Exodus 1:11-14). God responds to this cruelty by raising up Moses to resist the government and then lead his people out of slavery (Exodus 3:7-10). There is no question that bloodshed was involved – the death of the first born in Egypt, and then the battles that followed the crossing of the Red Sea. If anything, this would be a justification for the Civil War – and with a bit of a stretch, for the War of Independence!

Most of the time, though, in the Bible, God’s people are called to speak out at the presence of tyranny (not react violently to it), or to serve under it as salt and light in the midst of darkness.

In terms of speaking out, the prophets of Israel led the way. Among the strongest voices were Micah (on Sunday we heard Micah 6:8 – “what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy/kindness, and walk humbly with your God”); and Amos 5:25 (“let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”). These two prophetic books are short: READ THEM!! It is important to remember that in those days there was no clear separation between church and state: the pulpit as such was not their platform – but rather they spoke directly as “citizens of faith” to the “powers that be” – who, at least on paper, ruled a nation governed by the Ten Commandments.

In terms of serving godless government faithfully, the foundational text is that of Jesus when he call us to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16). The two stand-out “salt and light” believers in leadership are Joseph (Genesis 39-50) and Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1, 3).

  • Joseph used his administrative skills to help the pagan king of Egypt save his people, and the surrounding nations, from a severe famine. His primary role is not conversion or controversy, but service. Through Joseph’s work, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people were saved from death.
  • Daniel and his friends served in the government of the empire of Babylon to which they had been carried as prisoners following a brutal war in the 6th century BC. They become highly prominent and trusted in the Babylonian civil service, and were not afraid to let their pagan rulers know that ultimately, they serve the living God. There is no overt attempt to make Babylon “a God-fearing nation,” but there is certainly a courageous call to be faithful witnesses, willing to suffer for their primary commitment – to God, not nation – if necessary.

To these two leaders we could add Nehemiah, who served the king of Persia (Neh.1) as cupbearer – the most trusted servant of all; and the apostle Paul. Paul never served the Roman government as such – the same oppressive government that tortured Jesus on a cross until he died, and that probably put Paul himself to death – but he certainly was proud of and used the rights bestowed on him as a citizen of Rome on an occasion when he had been imprisoned and beaten unjustly (Acts 16:37-38, also 22:25-28).

Ultimately, there is no single Christian or Biblical response to government. There is the very rare call to revolution (Exodus); there is the courageous call to speak out as faith-filled citizens; there is the everyday call to be salt and light in the middle of a pagan society bringing God back into the mix of life in small but constant everyday acts.

May God guide and protect the nation we love as we seek to serve Christ faithfully in these difficult days.

Glad to be your pastor,