This month is July, the month when we celebrate the birth of what is probably, in my biased opinion, the greatest country that has ever existed. In light of this, I felt that it might be helpful to touch briefly on the Bible’s teaching regarding how to honor and support the given government under which a Christian finds herself or himself.
I want to lay out a few truths from God’s Word for us to keep in mind. These should guide our thinking about the relationship which God has ordained and sanctioned between the church and the state, and how their respective, separated roles and duties are meant by God to relate to each other.
We first need to study a few relevant passages on this subject, such as Romans 13:1-4. “1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.”
We also need to look at: Luke 3:14, 1 Tim. 2:2, Prov. 8: 15-16, Psalm 2:10-12, and 2 Chronicles 26:18.
Let’s consider a few of the amazing truths these passages give us. The first is to realize that our greatest allegiance that we ever and always need to pledge is to our King, Jesus, first and foremost. Another truth we see is that any and every government should be submissive to God because He is the rightful God over any and all governments, as Romans 13:1 says. But, what is the task of government? The Bible tells us that God Himself has given the civil government the right to promote the common good and to “bear the sword” and physical force to defend the person and good name of everyone who does good, and to punish those who do evil; while the task of the church of course is to promote and administer Christ’s Word and sacraments.
However, 2 Chronicles 26:18 points out (and other verses by implication) that church and state must always be separate in their respective duties and tasks. The church and the government are each called by God to protect and guard the freedom of the other to do its God given task unhindered. Each one is to do only it’s area of expertise and calling and not attempt to perform the tasks of the other, nor infringe on the freedom and authority of the other to perform its task. This God given system is truly amazing. It is amazing how wonderful and effective a society can work if it is only allowed to work this way.
However, regarding separation, I do have to make one clarification about this modern idea of the separation of the state “from” religion. Technically speaking, saying it that way is a philosophical impossibility, though our secular world manages not to see it, as though someone could separate their religion from anything. I submit to you that one’s religion, a person's actual convictions, by definition, is something that cannot be separated from anything that a person ever thinks, says, or does. The Bible promotes a separation, but only between the tasks which they perform. This is very different from the popular notion held in our secular world of separating “the state from religion,” which is an impossible and ridiculous idea, which no one ever actually achieves, and would be morally and psychologically dangerous to do so, if we could.
Our Savior tells us that we must “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” But what exactly belongs to “Caesar?” “He” is ordained by God to promote the common good of people, to protect the good and punish the evil. And Christians are called on to help and pray for the government in this task. 1st Tim. 2:2 says pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” And this was said at a time when emperors were violently persecuting Christians.
So what does all this mean for us? Surely it means that we should be so incredibly thankful for the honor and blessing it has been to live in the United States of America. We should be so thankful that we live in a country that has understood its role of honoring and protecting the freedom of the church to perform its sacred duty of administering Christ’s Word and sacraments and promoting the goodnews of the Kingdom of God. Even if the day might very well be coming when this role and task of the government of protecting the church’s freedom and authority to perform its task might eventually become diminished or even lost, either way we need to keep praying as the passage above says, so that this freedom might not be lost. But, it also means that we definitely need to praise our God for the glory it has been to live under the freedoms established by this country’s great Constitution, which so powerfully has guarded us. If we’ve been allowed to freely praise our God even at all, then we should be thankful! So, it means that we need to be very thankful, very prayerful, and very actively exercising the freedoms which the church still has.
I hope this has been helpful to be reminded of the Bible’s teachings which relate to this time of year when we so joyfully celebrate and think about this great land of liberty, which we all love so much, and for such good reason, and for which even some in our own church have fought. It is surely right and appropriate for us to love this great country and to praise God for giving it to us, fragile though it may be. Indeed, one could argue given the recent rioting, protests, and tensions going on across the country, that it feels as if it has been unraveling even more in recent days. But, it is because this country has always been so great that it has always been under attack, and I believe ultimately by the great enemy of our souls who, of course, hates anything good. We definitely need to keep praying for our country and for all her many needs and responsibilities. But maybe most importantly, we the church need to keep indirectly serving our country, by exercising our part of the separation, of worshipping Christ and proclaiming His salvation. And in an indirect way, as the church does its job, that is how it serves and helps this country the most. Happy Fourth to all!! Amen.