Church & State: At the Crossroads
The Bride Who Will Not Wait for Christ to Return
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Thomas Jefferson, 1802
Are Christians supposed to be involved in politics? After all, don’t Christians have a better idea for what is good for people in society? Shouldn’t Biblical laws be used as rules for governing our world?
If the politically minded Christian Right—who helped elect our President—had its way, there would be laws against “gay rights,” “abortion rights,” etc. Those “rights” certainly, of course, are not Biblical. Interesting, recently fifteen US Senators from both parties consulted with Evangelist Rick Warren whose popular book sold 20 million copies over the past two years. The Senators wanted to hear his plan for tackling poverty and disease with his network of perhaps more than 40,000 churches.
Christians in Politics and Government
Let us be clear, Christians who volunteer and devote their time and energy for improving—or salvaging—society are to be commended. But are they doing God’s will for them as Christians—or just being noble and good citizens of this world? Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world…” (John 18:36). This “present evil world” (Gal. 1:4) is temporarily being managed by the “god of this world”—Satan (2 Cor. 4:4). The prophecies of Book of Revelation state that when Christ would return at the end of the Age, the seventh Trumpet would sound—then the kingdom of this world would become Christ’s. “And the seventh angel sounded…The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Not before.
True. Meanwhile, Apostle Paul says the Christian is to be subject to existing government authority—but that does not mean the Christian should get involved in government.
“Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves…for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid…for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” Rom. 13:1-3 NAS
The thought behind government rule as an “avenger” does not mean terrorizing evildoers as some might suggest. “Avenger” means a government is for “carrying justice out” (Strong’s CONCORDANCE #1558). In any case, this text teaches not control of government by Christians—but obedience to “Caesar” (by such appropriate things as taxes, Matt. 22:21).
Although historically, England, France, Germany and Russia have merged or linked church and state, America has in its Constitution, according to Thomas Jefferson, a “wall of separation.” England’s queen is still the head of the Church, and changes in church policies must be approved by the House of Lords. After the fall of Communism, the Russian Orthodox Church has been given special status. The German government today collects withholding taxes from members on behalf of national churches—Protestant or Catholic.
Waiting for Jesus’ Return
Merging church and state for mutual benefit is nothing new in Church history through the centuries. However, with what instructions did Jesus leave his Church for when he would be gone? Did he say to set up a Kingdom for him? By parable Jesus told his followers that when he would leave, he would return again with a Kingdom. “He said: A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return” (Luke 19:12 NIV). Those who were faithful with their stewardship while he was gone were then given authority over “cities” when he returned (Luke 19:17,19). In a similar parable about stewardship over faithfulness with “talents,” Jesus taught that only when he would return he would reward his faithful followers with authority to “rule over many things” (Matt. 25:13-23). When he said, “Occupy till I come,” he meant, Do business with this [“money,” NAS, NIV]. Nothing in the parable teaches Christ’s disciples try to rule the world and set up a Kingdom before Jesus would return.
When Jesus commissioned his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,” (Matt 28:19 NAS)—did he expect Christians to convert the world and set up his Kingdom before he would return? No, Jesus knew that Satan as the “god of this world” had “blinded” (2 Cor. 4:4) most people. He only expected to find a “little flock” (Luke 12:32) of faithful Christians. At his return, he would take care of Satan—and then set up his Kingdom.
Marrying Kings of Earth
Jesus expected his Bride to wait for his return (Rev. 22:20), but warned her to expect persecution. As Apostle Paul said, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…” (2 Tim 2:12). But many Christians became impatient waiting for their Heavenly Bridegroom to return. After heavy persecutions in the early Fourth Century, providence seemed to open a door of relief for the Christian church. Constantine proclaimed the Edict of Milan (A.D. 313) and essentially courted Christ’s Bride. The Roman government needed the glue of the Christian religion to keep the empire together. So after three centuries of waiting for Christ many of its leaders, eager for power, were willing to accept the proposal. So the Christian Church “married” the Roman Empire! Church leaders concluded this was the way to set up Christ’s Kingdom—Christendom.
But in scriptural language, the church violated its vow to Christ and became a harlot—a “mother of harlots” (Rev. 17:5). Besides the Roman church becoming a harlot, her Protestant daughters also married the kings of earth. Thus the Church has reigned without Jesus! The Christian Church set up its own Millennial Kingdom.
But this Roman “kingdom” did not have such a good record for ruling and blessing the world. For one thing, the capital of Christ’s Kingdom on earth is not supposed to be Rome—it will be Jerusalem. All nations are supposed to come up to Jerusalem to learn about the God of Jacob—and achieve peace as they convert their military resources to agricultural programs:
“Now it will come about that in the last days, The mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains… And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways, And that we may walk in His paths. For the law will go forth from Zion, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.” (Isaiah 2:2-4 NAS)
This prophecy is awaiting its fulfillment….And today only about one third of the world’s population even claims to be Christian. But what about the rest and the billions who died and never heard of or accepted the only Name under heaven “whereby we may be saved” (Acts 4:12)? Certainly God’s plan for “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” has not failed! So when does His Kingdom on earth come?
Today we have very sincere Evangelicals who are expecting Jesus Christ’s imminent return to set up his Kingdom. They are called pre-Millennialists. However, Evangelicals feel responsible to convert as many as possible to Christ. (By contrast post-Millennialists claim to have a more “victorious” outlook since they expect to establish Christian government and world conversion before Christ’s return.)
Pre-Millennialists expect to see Jews back in Israel, a Third Temple built, the appearance of Anti-Christ and the conclusion of the Age. Pre-Millennialists expect Christ to return in the flesh. But Scripture does not support this since Jesus sacrificed his flesh! “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." John 6:51
Some insist that everyone shall literally “see the Son of Man coming with clouds” (Rev. 1:7). Yes, they will see in the sense of understanding and comprehending that Jesus had returned. But they will not ever literally be able to see Jesus. Why? Because he is a divine spirit being. “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more…”(John 14:19)
Actually, Jesus did give as one of the signs of the end of the Age as the “fig tree” blossoming (Matt. 24:32). And Israel, in fact, is represented by a fig tree. But, according to many Evangelicals, only tens of thousands of Jews are to be saved and the rest lost. If this were so, would not Apostle Paul be grossly exaggerating when he said “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26)? Therefore, we would understand these Evangelical Christians might be expecting the wrong thing—although at the right time!
During the last half century, another Christian movement has been quietly, steadily and stealthily gaining presence and momentum. Some of the popular televangelists have been promoting a “dominionist” view of Christian responsibility. Basically they are taking God’s commission to Adam to have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28)—as something Christians should be doing now in this world. They are not advocating church-state per se, but promoting Christian government, that is, Christians controlling government at every level.
Specifically, Dominionists want to institute “Theonomy” taking the Law of Moses (including its code of punishments) and try to integrate it into American law and to reconstruct its institutions and society. Hence, the term “Christian Reconstructionists.”
But Apostle Paul clearly said a Christian who believes Jesus Christ died on the cross for us is not obligated to the Mosaic Law Covenant! “…having canceled the written code, with its regulation [not just ceremonial laws], that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he [Jesus] took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:14-15 NIV). Nevertheless, if even one feature of the Law is broken, one is guilty of all (James 2:10). But Dominionists believe that “Biblical Law” should be the basis of the American legal system—and eventually for the rest of the world. The Christian Reconstructionist goal then is to subdue all enemies worldwide—at which point Jesus will return.
This neo post-Millennialist view is really nothing new. It is just a rework of the Papal Kingdom—setting up Christ’s kingdom with the governments of earth—without Christ. But instead of Rome, America. Or instead of Calvin’s Geneva or Puritan New England, the Dominionists of Washington, DC
What will that mean? It will mean the danger of abusing perfect Biblical laws when imposed by very imperfect men.
The Churches and the U.S. Constitution
Some have observed as significant the concept of Marvin Olasky’s “compassionate conservatism” and the President’s “Faith-Based Initiative” in America. The premise puts government in a position of funding various churches to provide social programs for the neediest citizens. Although still constitutionally controversial, the President affirmed his position in the State of the Union address this year: “Our government will continue to support faith-based and community groups that bring hope to harsh places.” At the end of 2004 (December 16), a federal judge dismissed the most sweeping portions of a lawsuit that challenged the President’s faith-based initiative as unconstitutional. Even Senator Hillary Clinton said recently, “There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles.” Nevertheless, there appears to be consistent motion in the direction of cooperation for mutual benefit between U.S. government and religious institutions.
On June 27, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers for religious schools are constitutional. The Court somehow decided that even though 96 percent of the students receiving vouchers in Cleveland are enrolled in religious schools, the program doesn't constitute state sponsorship of religion because parents have “a range of secular and religious schools to choose from.”
Congress passed the first federally funded school voucher program on January 22, 2004, allocating $14 million to establish a program for low-income students in the District of Columbia. This will likely renew the national debate over school choice issues, including controversy about public money going to religiously affiliated schools.
Whether or not Christian schools will continue to be funded by the federal government, Christian schools and a strong home school movement seem to be critical to the to the Dominionists. One outspoken proponent, Gary North, said, "Until the vast majority of Christians pull their children out of the public schools, there will be no possibility of creating a theocratic republic." As many as 85 percent of parents who opt for home schooling are believed to do so based on their “religious convictions.” Furthermore, it has been asserted by Joseph Morecraft, a Christian educator, that “children in the Christian schools of America are the Army that is going to take the future.”
The Churches and the European Union
Certainly Europe in the past was church-state through the centuries. Today Western Europe seems to be waning as far as enthusiasm for Christianity. Nevertheless, there are two ecumenical bodies, CEC (Conference of European Churches) and COMECE (Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the European Community), which both strongly advocate political and religious integration in the EU. They say openly that they want to be the link between the Commission and the people.
In any case, Eastern Europe—having escaped from the oppression of Communism—seems to be renewing its religious zeal. There has been a rapprochement between the Orthodox Churches and countries of Eastern Europe. Churches have been springing up everywhere. Church leaders are requiring religious instruction within the public schools.
The Object of Christ’s Return
The enormous growth rate of Islam in the world today bodes poorly for a post-Millennial view. At this rate it does not appear possible that the world can be won for Christ prior to his coming. Pre-Millennialists seem more realistic. Unfortunately, their concept that all enemies of Christianity will be lost at Christ’s return contradicts the whole object of Christ’s return. The purpose of Christ’s Kingdom—when his faithful Bride rules with him—will be to offer the first real opportunity for the unsaved world to choose life. “And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17).
Then with Satan bound during the Millennium, Moslems, Hindus, atheists, even Christians in name only, in fact, all the rest of the world will be truly free to drink the water of life and live forever. Yes, Christ’s Kingdom will be an “iron rod” (Rev. 2:27), but it will be the rod of the Great Shepherd who will be reclaiming the lost “sheep” (Luke 15:4) with his Church at his side on the throne of God (Rev. 3:21).
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