Christian influence in our nations’ formative centuries, the 1700 and 1800’s was intense and provided the moral foundation for our laws, stability, and ultimate reputation for being not only the land of the free and home of the brave, but of unparalleled economic success. We were a blessed nation.
Not any more. Today many churches and denominations have written off any attempt to equip their members to engage in and influence civic affairs. Aside from the essential gospel, the balance of topics in most churches are most often addressing such personal matters as fear, anger, relationships, addictions, and how to be happy, as if they were a religious Ann Landers. (See a prior blog on this topic)
The church has retreated from the public square into a private closet. And the moral and (greed-created) economic decline bears testimony of this sad state of affairs. Surprising to me, this is at least as much a doctrinal choice by our churches as it is a fear of losing 501 (c) 3 tax exempt status.
What are the various church/state doctrines that have gained and lost favor in various nations over the years?
Here is a categorization adapted from Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology" page 1201:
Pure secularism: Government is secular; there is freedom from all religions, belief in God is discouraged; civil law is based on human experience only; practiced by Communist countries, e.g. China, Cuba, former Soviet Union and with remnants in present day Russia.
Jeffersonianism: The government is “just”, based at least on remnants of Christian influence; there is freedom for all religions; belief in God is encouraged; civil law is based on natural law (general revelation); practiced by early United States
Reconstructionism: Government is religious; the most freedom for a single dominant religion; belief in god (or Allah) is required; civil law is based on Divine law (special, often false, revelation); practiced by Islamic nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia.
These are extreme examples of degrees of religious influence in government. Of course, the United States today is much closer to the Pure Secularism side than the so-called “Jeffersonianism”.
A more nuanced version of how Christians understand Romans Chapter 13 is adapted from the Life Application Study Bible. I attached my own labels to their descriptions for quick identification:
Jehovah’s Witness version of Church and State: The state is so corrupt that Christians should have as little to do with it as possible. Although they should be good citizens as long as they can do so without compromising their beliefs, they should not pledge allegiance to any country, vote in elections or serve in the military.
Two Kingdoms version of Church and State: God has given the state authority in certain areas and the church authority in others. Christians can be loyal to both and can work for either. They should not, however, confuse the two. In this view, church and state are concerned with two totally different spheres – the spiritual and the physical – and thus complement each other but do not work together. Most larger Christian denominations follow this approach. Some misapply it to the point of discouraging Christian influence in our culture and government.
Christian Dominion version of Church and State: Christians have a responsibility to influence the state for good. They do this politically by electing Christian or other high-principled leaders. They can also do this morally, by serving as an influence for good in society. In this view, church and state ideally work together for the good of all. This was the view of our nation’s founding fathers. Today this view is practiced by a minority of faithful churches but is frowned upon by the majority of denominations and by the society and government at large.
The “Two Kingdoms” as most commonly defined are comprised of spheres or realms of life: One based on Natural Law (secular) and the other based on God’s law (spiritual). It is understood in the mainstream of Christianity to be the middle ground; the inoffensive moderate approach. Misapplication has created some problems, however. One example is an overly aggressive application of the so-called “separation of Church and State” that is applied to prohibit any display of Christian faith in the all-pervasive and growing government run or sponsored programs or facilities.
Natural Law is said to provide an innate “conscience” much like the Pope recently described as the basis for salvation without knowing God or Christ. This natural law is illuminated by “the light of God.” Unfortunately, such light becomes exceedingly dim when cultures turn from God. When the conscience of much of a culture embraces evil and is in rebellion against God, darkness prevails. When the light of God is dim a “good” conscience by way of Natural Law cannot overcome the original sin inherited by all humanity since Adam and Eve. Under these conditions, a good Natural Law-induced conscience cannot compete with original sin. It is not surprising that the concept of Natural law is not a creation of Christianity or even Judaism but has been ascribed to ancient Hindi, Chinese, and Greek writings. (Geisler page 1202). Natural law without the light of God, the gospel, and Christian influence is useless for both salvation and a moral government.
It appears to my superficial understanding of these things that many of our Churches are on the wrong track. They have become unfaithful in promoting God’s truth not only in their own congregations, but within their culture, neighborhoods and nation. Church leaders and most denominations have gotten their theology infiltrated by doctrines that are opposed to a Christian Biblical cultural mandate.
For example, the Two Kingdoms approach, when misapplied, results in a “don’t–even-try-to influence-our-culture” extreme as in a book entitled “Civil Government: God’s Other Kingdom”. Here is an excerpt of a review of that book (not mine) illustrating the problems that can result when the Two Kingdoms doctrine is carried to extremes:
…At one point in the book the author basically states that "if you become an elected official, you have to check your religion at the door. You cannot use the Bible to persuade others to make law that is in conformance with God's law. You can only argue based on Natural Law."
The problem is that each person's view of Natural Law is relative. Without God's Holy Word we cannot determine whose interpretation of Natural Law is the correct one.
Without using God's Word for law you get things like the Pro-death abortion laws. How do you argue against the mom's "choice" to kill her baby from Natural Law. Obviously the abortion doctors and those that support abortion have a warped view of Natural Law, but without using God's Word as a guide to make law, that is what we end up with. That and homosexual marriage, how do you argue against homosexual marriage from natural law and get a result other than what we see in the states that have passed homosexual marriage laws?
This view of not using God's Word to argue for a law to pass also assumes that there are no other Christians in the law making body. It further assumes that all scripture is not ... profitable for ...., for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16) We cannot take away the only sure foundation, God's Word, from law and think we will have good law.
How do you argue against spending money to indoctrinate children into believing that the true God of heaven did not create the world in 6 days, but instead the false religion of evolution that teaches a bunch of stuff happened that breaks all the LAWS of science and can't be reproduced, is the correct belief system of origins? You can't. You can't prove a 6 day creation. So, because we checked our beliefs at the door we accept laws that say "there is no god". God is not please at this. Our nation will not be blessed when we turn our back on God. It is not the unbeliever that is turning their back, but the Christian that checks their faith at the door.
I believe the author needs to rethink his portion about obeying the government also. What if the government is the law breaker (written law, not necessarily a specific portion of God's law). When the government enacts laws which are contrary to the constitution, and try to enforce it, we have a duty to resist the tyranny. For the government then becomes the law breaker, both the constitution and God's law. Under God's Law, the constitution is the highest law of the land for the US governments. The law breaker is the rebel, not the person trying to see the law enforced….
…It is no wonder we are in the state that we are when we have seminary professors teaching the pastors who then teach the congregants they should check their beliefs at the door. Anything goes for law, homosexual marriage, abortion, etc….
While the reviewers terminology is imprecise - for example using the term “God’s Word” instead of “Biblical principles” might offend some purists -he does highlight the dangers in miscommunicating the Two Kingdoms doctrine. The above review represents just one reviewer’s opinion (it is the only review of the book on Amazon) but it identifies a danger if the Two Kingdoms approach is interpreted as being a gag order preventing Christian influence in the public square.
While “whose Christianity” and “whose interpretation of the Bible” have been arguments against any Christian influence in the secular realm, we must not use that as an excuse to keep our Christian values to ourselves. Our culture is showing clear signs of the consequence of our self-imposed restraining order. Silence is a terrible option.