It’s time to talk about the church and government. It seems we are confusing the two. As a result, many Christians are wringing their hands over a federal judge who decided to mandate same-sex marriage in Alabama. There are some facts we should keep in mind.
The Church and Government Are Not the Same
While both are from God and even though Christians are subject to both, the church and government are not identical. Each has responsibilities which complement each other but are unique. For example, government has no responsibility for evangelism and the church has no responsibility for policing citizens.
Neither Sin nor Righteousness Can Be Legislated.
One of our greatest failures is the idea that we can make people holy through legislation. We cannot. We might be able to make people conform, but we cannot save them through the legislative process. Click To Tweet We have argued elsewhere that morality must be based in God. We may extend that to argue that such God-based morality is the foundation of many of laws in the past.
Today, government is populated by throngs of godless men and women who no longer stand on Biblical morality. To them, there is no moral anchor for their actions. The single determining factor is personal desire. Whatever most people want is what they will get. The danger of this populist approach to right and wrong is that anything becomes legally possible.
It is the populist approach that gave us abortion on demand and now homosexual marriage. One can only speculate at what future wickedness will be condoned and even supported by our government. We should not be surprised that evil is slowly consuming both our culture and government.
Christians must be the Conscience of Culture
What then is the role of the Christian in our country? Christians desire that all live righteously. That is the will of Christ and is appropriately the will of his followers. Jesus said that his followers should be both salt and light (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus did not say that his people were to be politicians. It may be that Christians can affect the world through political activism and participation, but they must never confuse their Christianity with their politics.
Philip Yancey, in Vanishing Grace wrote, “The church works best as a separate force, a conscience to society that keeps itself at arm’s length from the state.” I think he has a fine point. Our task is not to run the state but to prod the state into Godly conduct. Sometimes our saltiness is successful. Sometimes our light is seen. Sadly, it doesn’t always work that way.
Our true battle is not in the smoke-filled back rooms of government. Our battle is in the hearts and minds of individuals.
Christians Live and Thrive Despite Government
I wonder if we think we are saved by government. Do we think the church needs government? The church does not need government. Every time the church gets close with the state the church loses. The one time the church actually merged with government we ended up with the Crusades.
But consider the original Christians. The church began with opposition from both the Jewish and Roman governments. Jesus, as Lord of the church and its founder, was crucified by the Romans at the insistence of the Jews. The Jewish persecution of the church began immediately with, at a minimum, the permission of Rome. Later, as Christianity spread far beyond Judea and Galilee, Rome took up the persecution under such infamous leaders as Nero and Domitian.
It was in the pressure cooker of governmental assault that Christianity grew rapidly.It was in the pressure cooker of governmental assault that Christianity grew rapidly. Click To Tweet It was also in this environment that Paul wrote, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). Earlier, Jesus noted the separation between the church and government when he answered his critics by saying, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). The Christian walks two paths, that of the heavenly way and that of state citizen. For almost all Americans, these current rulings approving sinful acts have no direct impact on how they live or worship. It may anger us, sadden us, disappoint us or sicken us, but these laws do not require us to sin or violate our faith.
But It’s an Abomination!
True enough, homosexuality is an abomination. The Bible is clear in Leviticus 18:22; 20:13. But other sins are also abominations, i.e. dishonesty in business (Leviticus 25:16), idolatry (Deuteronomy 27:15, 32:16), a devious person (Proverbs 3:32), haughtiness, a lying tongue, shedding innocent blood, devising wicked plans, those that practice evil generally, a false witness and one who causes discord among brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19).
There are many sins that are not illegal. In fact, among the 10 Commandments, only two are actually illegal (killing and stealing). The point is simple: any sin offends God and is an abomination to him. But government is not the church and has never made most sins illegal. In our country today it is perfectly legal to engage in adultery or fornication. It is allowed to lie or shade the truth. It is legal to covet anything and everything your neighbor has. One may worship idols and even offer animal sacrifices to those idols and not be guilty of a crime.
It Will Get Worse
In my lifetime, these teachings have been proving again and again. Abortion on demand takes millions of innocent lives annually, fornication and adultery are commonplace. Honesty is almost unheard of, homosexuality is accepted and glorified, morality has fled from the public square. I do not like where our world has gone, yet I live here and will glorify God as long as I can.
Jesus told us to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). But where do we sprinkle that salt? If I buy a hamburger and fries I might sprinkle salt on the fries but not in my Mountain Dew. Likewise, let us sprinkle our salt where it is most needed and most effective.
You are most effective when touching the hearts of someone you know. A one-on-one relationship makes all the difference. Writing letters to Congressmen and Senators is easy and requires no investment, but impacting the life of a living being person you know is hard.You are most effective when touching the hearts of someone you know Click To Tweet
If tomorrow we awoke to find that Congress had passed, and the President had signed, a bill to make all sin illegal, would it change anything? Would sin decrease? Would all 320 million Americans suddenly be saved? No!
Reforming government is a distraction. You cannot bring America to Christ. You bring individuals to Christ. You bring your spouse, your children, your brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, co-workers, neighbors and fellow students to Christ. We are not saved as a nation but as individual souls in need of a savior.
When I look at Jesus and his apostles I never once see them arguing for some candidate or petitioning for a law to end some sin. But I do see Jesus interacting with a Sanhedrin leader (John 3:1ff). I see Paul one-on-one with a Centurion (Acts 10:1ff), a Roman proconsul (Acts 13:12) and I see him before a King (Acts 26:1). The gospel is shared with individuals, not governments.
I, like you, am saddened when I see those who glorify sin win any battle. But I know that my task is to evangelize, not to govern. My Lord is enthroned in glory (Acts 7:55; Revelation 1:12-16) and is victorious. Do not be discouraged by battles lost in Satan’s world. Know that there is ultimate victory in Christ!
Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at preachersstudyblog.com. You can follow Bryant on Twitter @jbevans.