Church & State

Sermon Blog – Here are some tidbits from yesterday’s sermon, as well as the questions that were texted after the sermon. (Listen Here)

We dealt with the issue of church and state. The changes in our society make the need for understanding and thinking clearly, urgent for Christians. We live in a culture that is becoming more and more polarized and vitriolic. We have competing philosophies in our government on the role of government and how the church should, or should not interact with that government. My hope with this sermon was to give a framework through which to make decisions for action as well as set priorities for the believer.

We live under the authority of two kingdoms. They are both appointed by God, but they are distinct.
* The kingdoms of this world are temporary (Daniel 2:19-21). The kingdom of God is eternal (John 18:33-37).
* The kingdoms of this world are to help create peace, punish wrongdoers and protect the innocent (Romans 13:1-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-4). The kingdom of God, as reflected in the church today is called to proclaim the gospel, live a witness and make disciples.
Just looking at these distinctions, we can see that one is the greater kingdom. One is part of the overarching purpose of God, the redemption of man. Nations are a temporary structure, given by God, whereby humanity is perserved for the potential of redemption.

When we try to understand the work of God in the world, we get confused about how and why God is working through nations.
* We confuse temporal purposes with eternal purposes. A nation’s role is not to make life better, but to protect and order life, so the gospel can move forward in the world (see God’s heart reflected in 1 Timothy 2:1-4).
* We confuse Old Testament promises for Israel with God’s direction to the nations today. Israel was unique among nations. In the Old Testament, they were a nation, but they were also the called people of God. We do a disservice to Scripture and to what God is doing when we take national promises like 2 Chronicles 7:14 and apply it to our nation, or any other today.
* We confuse the kinds of power at work. God has given governments the power of control, the power of the sword and political power. The Kingdom of God operates through the power of the Spirit, the power of the Word and the power of humble servitude.

We as Christians have a unique role to play (influenced by Deitrich Bohnhoeffer).
* The church can help the state fulfill its role. By good citizenship and by teaching good citizenship, we help the state function. Another role is to speak the truth to government. There is a place for the prophetic role of voicing words of warning and correction. But this is not the same as voicing political opinion. It is the declaration against government when it is stepping outside its God-ordained role.
* The church can help those who have been damaged by the state. We need to stand with those who are oppressed by government. The truth is almost every government decision benefits some and hurts others. We need to stand with those hurt. This is reconciling, healing role the church must play.
* The church may need to courageously stand in the way when government steps outside its God-given role. When the government no longer protects, but oppresses. When it no longer punishes wrongdoers, but rightdoers. When it no longer seeks justice, but preference. The church may need to risk all to oppose and obstruct government in its error.

For me, this makes me think critically about government and the church. It also makes me remember, as a believer that the Kingdom I belong to first and foremost is the Kingdom of God by faith in the King, the Lord Jesus Christ. And my greatest call is to pray for the gospel to move forward and the work of redemption be accomplished in the lives of many.

Here are questions from Sunday.
Q1:: So, this works for a God assigned type govnt, monarachy etc, how does it work in a democratic type govnt where it is so easily influenced by a multitude of powers and personalities that have been influenced by not only God but the devil as well. Is it possible to have a democratic govnt operate as a Godly govnt?

A1:: Thanks for the question. I’m not sure that I would say there is a “God-assigned” type of government. The Kingdom of God is a monarchy. I don’t think that means it is God’s design for all human government. That being said, I think a democratic government is a little safer and has a greater chance to stay on track. Let me explain. When you have dictatorship or a simple monarchy, you have one person who directs the path of the whole. Look back through history and you see, even in the nation of Israel, that one leader meant a faster fall from God’s direction and purpose. In a democracy you have a balance of power. And while there may be a slow digression away from God’s purposes, the people are a restraining power. And in a democracy, the church has even a greater opportunity to influence the role of the government. But I don’t think this will be done by becoming political. It will be accomplished through the spread of the gospel and the transformation of lives.

Q2:: Please comment on the Chik-A-Fil [sic] issue. Certainly church and state are at odds here. Should ones religious conviction on heteral marriage be afforded protection under freedom of speech?

A2:: Wow, it was a quite a week with the whole issue. My son works at Chick-Fil-A and he’s had a crazy week. My simple answer is “yes.” Those on both sides of the issue have the right to speak their views. Nevertheless, the protection of freedom of speech doesn’t mean there are no repercussions. Whenever we speak out about our convictions, we should expect some consequences. It may be support or opposition. The protection of freedom of speech means the government shouldn’t be able to take action against one’s expression (like what is happening in Chicago and Boston when they oppose Chick-Fil-A based on Dan Cathy’s personal beliefs). You may also want to read my blogs on Christian Marriage https://jimrenke.com/2012/06/03/what-makes-a-marriage-christian/ & https://jimrenke.com/2012/05/15/getting-marriage-back/.

Q3:: It seems to me there are ultimate and penultimate things. If I can only serve one, then I must serve the ultimate. Yet the penultimate can never be the ultimate. If the ultimate uses the penultimate then it really is the ultimate for it is a necessary part of the ultimate plan. So what value does the penultimate have for us as servants of the ultimate?

A3:: Thanks, let me step through this one statement at a time, for my own clarity… Yes, there are ultimate and penultimate things. True, if there is a choice to serve one, then we must choose the ultimate. In other words, if the Kingdom of God is ultimate and the kingdoms of the world are penultimate, when a choice has to be made, we have to choose the ultimate… the Kingdom of God. I agree, true. I don’t agree with your next premise… “If the ultimate uses the penultimate then it really is the ultimate, for it is a necessary part of the plan.” Where I see a fault in this argument is in the word “necessary.” This removes choice from the one who made the plan. God can choose to use something without it being “necessary.” He chose to use it for his ultimate purposes. I believe this choice, rather than necessity, keeps the penultimate the servant of the ultimate. But let me then move to the next line. If human governments (penultimate) are chosen by God to be part of his ultimate plan, then we benefit when they fulfill their role. Romans 13:1-8 and 1 Timothy 2:1-4 indicate that we as believers should participate with government because when fulfilling their role, it benefits the ultimate redemptive purposes of the Kingdom of God.

Q4:: I was asked to send this. Students ask me, “why do you think people cheat in marriage?” How can I answer this in a public school when I can’t talk about the Bible and still remain within what it says?

A4:: Without using a biblical word, like sin, we can explain why people cheat, or sin. We could say, “sometimes people are motivated by the desire for pleasure, whether its physical, or emotional.” But then I would move to a question. “What damage do you think it does when people only think about their own physical or emotional pleasure?” I would try to encourage the students to think through that choice and see that there are ramifications that go far beyond the people involved. Then maybe move to a question, “what could people do if they are faced with the choice to cheat?” This way, you’re helping them think through a social issue and how to make positive decisions to live their lives differently.

Q5:: This has so many implications, not just w/ church and state, but w/ every day decisions we can make in the workplace. It also reminds me of the spiritual battles that take place that war for Christians loyalties. Can u speak to that?

A5:: You are right. I think for the Christian, the most important concept is the singular loyalty to Christ and His kingdom. And the challenge is to remember that every other authority in our lives falls under that umbrella. And in remembering our loyalty to Christ, we remember what His purpose is… to redeem the people of the world. Every activity, every decision and every motivation of our hearts has to be aligned with Him, His kingdom and His call on us.

Thanks for the questions. And for all the feedback I received on Sunday. If you have other comments or questions, please “comment” in the margin above. As always, you can comment anonymously.

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