What the Bible Teaches About Church & State

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The church of Jesus Christ began and flourished during a period of great hostility and persecution. As more and more people believed on Christ, Christians were seen as a threat to the state. As a result during the first three hundred years of the church, anywhere between 6-18 million Christians are estimated to have been killed for their faith, many of those at the hands of Roman government leaders who saw them as a threat.

In AD 313, state persecution of Christians came to an end with Emperor Constantine with the Edict of Milan. This proclamation established religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire. It granted all persons freedom to worship whatever deity they pleased, assured Christians of legal rights (including the right to organize churches), and directed the prompt return to Christians of confiscated property.

On one hand, this was a good thing, but on the other it posed some problem because it united the Christian church to the secular state and allowed the emperor who was probably not a believer to have control over the internal affairs of the church.

Constantine centralised the Christian religion and the Roman empire at Constantinople paving the way for there to be a a central religious leader of the “Christian” church he organised at Rome – known now as the Pope.

As we reflect on this event, we have mixed emotions. What he did helped in the short-term to stop the terrible persecutions of Christians under previous emperors. But his solutions seems to be faulty. Instead of granting total religious freedom to all people to worship God according to their own consciences, he established “Christianity” as the official religion, giving “Christians” certain privileges over other faiths and direct support the church with the State. This eventually would lead to other problems as the state had a corrupting influences on the church and then the church and state combined to persecute true believers in Christ.

Without getting into all the history, we can see how that this illustrates the practical need for the church to be separate from the state and the state to be separate from the church. Whenever any government has preferred one faith over another even the “Christian” faith, the outcome has never been good. The best solution which is found in many countries today is one form or another is for the state to stay out of the church’s business and let people worship God according to their conscience and for the church to stay out of the state’s business and let them carry out their God-given responsibilities.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THIS?

 

1. Every human being is responsible to God alone in all matters of faith.

A. God created men and women free.

  • When God placed the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden, he gave them a choice.  Genesis 2:15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
  • They could freely choose to obey God and life forever in that place in fellowship with God. Or they could choose to disobey God and go their own way.
  • God did not force man either way. He genuinely gave him a choice.
  • To some degree this is what makes man, man – that he, created in the image of God, could make a choice like God. He was an autonomous creature with a will and a choice.

B. God always gives us a choice.

  • Just as God gave Adam and Eve a choice, he givens all men a choice.
  • Cain and Abel had a choice when they brought their offerings.
  • Noah had a choice when he chose to believe God and build and ark. The people who heard Noah had a choice to believe the warning about a flood and get in the ark or to reject it.
  • Abraham had a choice as recorded in Acts 7:2-4, The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, 3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. 4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran…
  • Lot, Abraham’s nephew foolishly chose the well-watered plains of Jordan to his own hurt. Gen 13:11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.
  • When repeating the law to Israel, Moses set a choice before them. Deuteronomy 30:19  19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:
  • Joshua challenged the descendants of Abraham to choose the true God. Joshua 24:15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
  • Elijah rebuked the people for vaccinating between two opinions.
    1 Kings 18:21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
  • When it comes to faith in Christ, everyone must choose to receive Jesus and believe on Him. John 1:11–12  11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
  • This is the most important choice of our life. What have you done with Jesus? Acts 17:32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

C. Each of us will personally stand before God and given an account.

  • Freedom is a wonderful gift. One that no other human being, no government, no church, and no religious should ever take away.
  • Freedom also comes with great responsibility. The freedom to choose comes with accountability.
  • God, the great Sovereign King over all has trusted us with a life, with a privilege to choose for ourselves, but that means we also much personally stand before God and given an account to Him.
  • All men will die and then stand in judgment. Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.
  • That is why Christ died so we could be ready for this judgment. Hebrews 9:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
  • Everyone of us will be judged for what we do. Deuteronomy 24:16  16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
  • Solomon’s counsel to young people. Ecclesiastes 11:9  9 Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
  • Given account for every idle word. Matthew 12:36  36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
  • All our secrets will be judged. Romans 2:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

D. The believer on Christ will not give account of sin, but of his service for God.

  • All his sin was judged on the cross and dealt with when he believed on Christ. John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
  • Judgment of our works and service to Christ should be the main motivator of the believer not what other think. Romans 14:7-9 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
  • The thought of appearing before Christ should strike a certain amount of fear in four hearts. 2 Corinthians 5:10–11  10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.

2. Each church is independent and autonomous and must be free from any ecclesiastical or political authority.

Just as every individual is personal accountable to God, so each church is personally account to God.The authority structure we see in the church is as follows:

A. Jesus – the head, the chief Shepherd

  • Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
  • No man, no denomination, and on committee should try to do the job that is only given to Christ
  • As we listen to His Word, we let Him be the head

B. Pastors/elders – under-shepherds

  • 1 Peter 5:1-5 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. 5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 
  • v.1 “among you” – a member of the body who is not over but has been gifted to teach God’s word and “feed the flock”
  • v.2 “taking the oversight” – lead and oversee (Bishop = overseer) the flock of God not through pressure but willingly and not for financial gain but because are eager to servie.
  • v.3 “being lords over” – not some kind of lord or mater over the flock but humble examples to the flock, serving the flock, leading the flock, guiding the flock, fighting over wolves, and feeding the flock through love
  • v.4 ’the chief Shepherd” – remember that will give account to the chief Shepherd to whom the church belongs
  • v.5 “sumbit yourselves” – we should submit to the shepherds God puts over us as they carry out the instructions and teach us the Word of the Chief Shepherd

C. Apostles – Christ’s chosen ones

  • The Apostles were a limited group of men that saw the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:21-26) and were specifically chosen by Jesus
  • Their job was help lay the foundation of the church. Eph 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
  • There was no New Testament to guide the church at first (the Apostles and those closely associated with them were writing it), so they had to follow the Apostles doctrine. Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
  • Occasionally, the apostles and elders came together to discuss doctrine matters (issues) that came before the New Testament was completed. Acts 15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 
  • But even the Apostles respected the authority of each local church and their accountability to God.
    • Acts 14:21–23  21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
      • Elders were chosen in each church
      • They prayed and with fasting
      • They commended them to the Lord.
    • Acts 20:32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
      • He commended them to God (entrusted them to the care of God)
      • He knew that God and His Word would be build them up and be all that they needed

The independence and autonomy of each local church is recognised in the New Testament.

  • These churches were held responsibility to follow and obey the Word of God, to evangelise and carry out the Great Commission, to exercise discipline on sinning members, to support and follow their pastor/elder.
  • They cooperated with one another to some degree, but always as independent congregations.
  • There was no overarching bishops or hierarchical body or denomination over them.
  • Matthew 18:15-17 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
  • The local church is the final court of appeal – not a bishop, a pope, a presbytery, an assembly, a synod, a convention, or a conference, not even a pastor, or a board of elders, a board of deacons, or a church committed; it is the church – the assembly of those individual believers who are in the church.

3. Church and State must be kept separate as having different functions with each fulfilling its duties free from the dictation or patronage of the other. 

  • What we have look at so far leads us to this third statement.
    • The church answers to Christ alone as head of the church.
    • The church is responsible to govern itself, to set up given men to oversee and teach God’s Word, and to carry out Christ’s mission.
  • Therefore, just as there should be no higher control over the local church other than the members of that local church, so there should be certainly be no outside political or secular control over the church.
  • We certainly can see the dangers of this in the instance of Constantine who began to intervene in the church even before he became a genuine Christian.
  • But this also came an issue during the Protestant Reformation where reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jon Zwingli cooperated in varying degrees with civil authorities to bring about the reformation of the Catholic church and ultimately separated from the Catholic church.
  • Their entanglement with the civil authorities led them to use civil power to enforce their belief.
    • In Zurich, those who practiced baptism (Anabaptists) after salvation rather than child baptism were drowned – Felix Manx was the first.
    • In Geneva, Michael Servetus was burned at the stake for denying the Trinity and infant baptism.
  • What is the responsibility of the state? Romans 13:1–7  1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
    • Those in authority are set up by God and we should obey them.
    • Their job is to be a terror to evil workers and praise the good.
    • To punish those who do evil and execute judgment.
    • We should be subject not just for earth but for conscience.
    • We should render the tribe and taxes that are due.
    • Christians should be some of the best, most loyal, and most obedience members of society.
  • Notice that nothing is said of enforcing religion or faith, even the Christian faith. Because it can’t be done.
  • Therefore, the state should stay out of the church’s business, not trying to support or stop the church.
  • And the church should not try to get involved in the state through trying to use the arm of the state to bring about faith in Christ.
  • The two are both unique institutions raised up by God for distinct and separate purposes
  • This was no doubt what Jesus was getting at when he was questions about paying taxes to heathen Rome. Matthew 22:15-22 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. 22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
    • He said give what is due the government to the government – respect, honour, and obedience.
      • 1 Timothy 2:1-2 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
      • 1 Peter 2:17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
    • Then he said give to God what is due to God.
      • God deserves our respect and obedience.
      • In most cases, we can honour the king/the government and also honour God, but if the two ever conflict, then we must honour God first. Acts 5:29  29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

REVIEW

1) You are free to make your own choice, but with this freedom responsibility to God Himself.

  • Are your ready to stand before God? The only way to be ready is to believe on Jesus.
  • Are you living your life for Jesus and to be found faithful and be rewarded by Him?

2) You have the privilege to be part of the church of Jesus Christ, which is a wonderful body of baptised believers who come together to carry out Christ’s mission on earth.

  • You never get any higher than the local church.
  • Each church has as its head Christ and should seek as a body to follow Christ and to carry out His mission.

3) Understand your responsibilities to church and state.

  • You are a member of some society and should seek to be salt and light in the society, obeying the laws of the land and honouring those in authority, as much as you can without disobeying God.
  • You are to be much more than a member of society; you should be a member of a church.
  • Don’t get so caught in politics that you forget that God’s real mission is going to be carried out by the church not the government.
    • The government has no business being involved in, promoting, or prohibiting any religion.
    • It should allow people to worship as they feel led or fee led not to.
  • We need to stop expecting governments to solve all the problems in the world.
  • The solution to the ills of the world is not government/power/money; is the gospel of Jesus Christ – which is entrusted to the local church.
  • Let us once again accept our responsibility and go forward like a might army with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 1:14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. 15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

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