The separation of church and state has been a concept that really took root in the 17th century. It has changed somewhat over the centuries to accommodate solutions for contemporary problems, but the basic premise has remained the same: conscience (a term that encompasses the worldview of religion or lack of religion) must be an individual doctrine and should not be mandated by the state.
In many situations, it was intended to prevent the church from influencing the state. In other situations, such as in the case of the move of Europeans to America in the 18th century, it was justification to flee from a state that was mandating religious practices. The United States was born from people who were trying to escape religious persecution.
This concept is solid and should be adopted even by Christians. That may sound contrary to the fight to be disciples to the nations, to spread the Word of God as we are instructed to do, but it’s not. In fact, the separation of church and state is actually a foundation that encourages the free will of humans to accept the Word of God by their own acknowledgements rather than to feel compelled by outside human forces.
In essence, separation of church and state helps Christians grow.
The real problem today has nothing to do with the separation of church and state. The problem circles around the notion that politics can help to achieve the goals of the church. More specifically, the problem lies in the belief that the hampering of the church by the laws passed and the injustices mandated through government should be fought on a political level.
This is not the right way to go about this. It’s futile in many cases, often counterproductive even when it works, and applies the concepts of man in an effort to try to protect the doctrines of our Lord.
Today, there is no shortage of Christians trying to fight against the various levels of government in order to protect a right or defend an action. For example, we covered several news items in the last couple of weeks that pertained to the church and Christian organizations fighting on a political level to achieve a goals:
- Student-Led Prayer Now Allowed in Liberal, Kansas
- Supreme Court to Rule on Public Religious Ceremonies
- 50 Years After the Schempp Decision, Scholars are Still Debating
- Are Christians at Lackland Air Force Base Being Punished for their Beliefs?
- School Must Pay Those Offended by Image of Jesus
While all of these seem like worthwhile battles, injustices that need to be corrected, or even the forces of evil at work on the people, they are not being approached the right way. They aren’t necessarily wrong, but they aren’t right, either. There is really only one political battle that needs to be fought, which we’ll get to later, but for now it’s important to understand why political action is not the right way to go about discipleship.
The Fight Must Be Personal
There is what seems to be a contradiction in scripture. On one hand, we’re told to help others, to feed the hungry, to clothe the needy, to protect the widows, and dozens of other actions intended to be selfless and help others when they are wanting. On the other hand, we are told that our own salvation must be achieved through belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, a concept that is technically selfish since the goal is to take for ourselves what is being given to us by Yeshua.
While they are not mutually exclusive, they are often tied together. They should not be. It wasn’t intended and it is not eluded to in the Bible, but that connection between our works and the Grace that was granted to us are mixed together in today’s society. It manifests itself most often in actions designed to promote the church and our rights as Christians.
Our calling in the Bible is first to be born again through Christ and then to spread the word. That’s it. We are not told to fight for the right to pray in public places. We are not told to expose the mistreatment of those who are expressing their Christian beliefs. We are not told to appeal to judgments of the court in order to keep pictures of Jesus Christ hanging in our schools.
We are told to obey the laws of the land. We are told to pray to the Lord as repentant sinners. We are told to do so in a way that is personal, not in a way that is intended to show the world what good Christians we are. As Jesus said in Matthew:
Matthew 6:1-8 (KVJ)
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
This is important to understand because all-too-often we are doing things in this world that seem right and just, but they are not. For example, in the case of the school board in Liberal, KS, they voted to allow student-led prayer in their schools. This is fine in its form and because the action was minimal to make it happen, it is justifiable.
However, if (when) the board is challenged and the courts are brought into the mix, the school board should not fight. The people, even the parents, should not fight. If the decision comes down from the government that this is against the law, it must be allowed without a fight. This is hard for Christians to understand. It’s harder to accept. However, it must be done.
The right of prayer from a political perspective is not a worthy fight compared to the personal need to pray. If it’s allowed at school events, that is fine, but it’s not a replacement for prayer in the home. If it turns into a fight, it instantly becomes a distraction and a point of contention that further pushes many of those who are close to being Christians away from the light. It also strengthens the resolve of the atheists and other non-Christians to spread their ideology further.
When belief is personal, it cannot be swayed. When people are touched by Christians and are exposed on a personal level to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, it is a wonderful thing. When it goes from being personal to becoming a public spectacle decided by government entities, it takes away from the realities of faith as mandates overrule doctrines. Even in a political win, the results can be harmful because of the vigor it gives to the pawns of Satan to push harder against the Christian faith.
Politicizing it all rather than keeping it personal to oneself and then to share it with one’s friends, family, and those who are put in front of us that will listen takes away from the potential to bring more to follow the Bible and find that Yeshua is their only salvation.
In many ways, Christians are already at war with the forces of evil. There are battles that must be fought, but political action or court battles are normally not the right approach and can undermine the efforts that truly must be undertaken at a grassroots level. This is a war fought in the trenches, not one that should be engaged on earthly terms in political venues.