Americana: The Separation of Church & State

  Inspirmedia   Jul 13, 2008     0 Comment

July 13, 2008

Bible Text: II Samuel 7:4-5 |


Theme Scripture:


NIV 2 Samuel 7:4 That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: 5 "Go and tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD says:




News flash – or maybe it’s not news.  Mohammed Hegazy converts from Islam to Christianity in the great nation of Egypt â€“ a nation to which the United States gives about $2 billion of your tax dollars each year.  As a result of this conversion, Mohammed has to go into hiding, along with his wife who is four months pregnant, because she too has converted to Christianity.  Why are they hiding?  Because religious edicts, called fatwas, have been issued calling for their death.  As this USA Today article states, “there is no Egyptian law against converting from Islam to Christianity, but in this case, tradition takes precedent.”  In other words, there might as well be such a law, because that’s effectively the law of the land.  And if you get your news from any reliable news source, you know that this is not only the news from Egypt, its news from all over the Islamic world.  To convert from Islam is punishable by death.


Another news flash – the Olympics are coming to China, a land filled with picturesque scenery, beautiful people, a long and great history.  To be Chinese is to be proud of a great heritage.  But now, since China has been ruled by a Communist government for these past 60+ years, there is the addition of concentration camps as well – certainly not something to be celebrated.  Here’s one news story – concentration camps for those of the Fulan Gong sect – people put away in camps not for doing anything wrong, but for believing wrong.  And in this case, stories of organ harvesting among those sent to the camps.  And it’s not just Fulan Gong, but you have surely heard the stories about Christians in China and the persecution that your brothers and sisters endure there.


Or how about this news story – actually you probably wouldn’t consider it news – it’s from almost 600 years ago - from 1415 to be exact. It’s about a guy named Jan Hus, from modern day Czechoslovakia.  Hus was a Roman Catholic who lived 100 years before Martin Luther, but like Luther, objected to some of the teachings of the Church – Jan Hus was an early reformer … but as it turns out, didn’t get too much reformed.  Why not?  Because when he tried to reform the church, the church burned him at the stake!  I’d say they took care of that problem pretty thoroughly, wouldn’t you?


What’s the common thread here?  I mean, besides the fact that you and I would rather not be burned at the stake, live in a concentration camp, or whatever.  What’s the common thread here?  The common thread is this: in each of these cases, religion and government were mixed up and mingled together.  And that mixing and mingling results in these tragedies, in this lack of freedom - in fact, in death.


And so we stumble upon today’s topic:  The separation of church and state. These stories we’ve mentioned so far are all times when the ‘church’, and by that I mean religion of whatever sort, the ‘church’ & state have been mingled – where the state has enforced a particular religious belief;  where the religious authorities have had the power not only to persuade, but to coerce conformity … and the penalty is, quite literally, death.


Martin Luther, like Jan Hus, was not only excommunicated from the RC church for his beliefs, but at the same time he received the death sentence from the government, because the government of his day enforced the teachings of the church with the power of the sword.


Are you surprised that the Reformers didn’t like this idea???  I’m not.  And it was descendants of the Reformers who came to this land seeking … religious freedom.  It’s no wonder that the first Amendment to our Constitution, Bill of Rights Numero Uno – a little Spanish for you since I’m going to Mexico on Friday - Numero Uno reads as follows:


“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”


Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about this – this is, after all, not a history lesson or a time to read front page headlines – it’s a sermon.  And I’ll give you a heads up – what we’re going to find is that the Bible is completely in favor of this separation.  ILLUSTRATE THIS:  Let’s check it out – as you read the Old Testament you see that there is this constant tension between the ‘state’ (kings) and the ‘church’ (prophets and priests) – the state is constantly trying to merge with the church, to tell the church what to do … but in every case God slaps the hand of the king … or worse.  And in every case God says that it is the church which must influence the state, and NOT the other way around.


Let’s just highlight two examples from Scripture – the first being the relationship between King David and the prophet, Nathan.  David being the ‘state’ and Nathan being the ‘church’:


NIV 2 Samuel 7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent." 3 Nathan replied to the king, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you." 4That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: 5 "Go and tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD says:


Then of course there is the time that Nathan the prophet is sent to confront David over his behavior – specifically over the fact that he had a man killed and took that man’s wife to be his own.


You see which way the influence is going here, don’t you?  The church is influencing the state – not the other way around.  And there is a distinct separation – in fact, King David is not even allowed to build a temple for God until the prophet, the ‘church’, speaking for God, says that it is OK.


Or how about King Uzziah?


NIV 2 Chronicles 26:1 Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in place of his father Amaziah. 2 He was the one who rebuilt Elath and restored it to Judah after Amaziah rested with his fathers. 3 Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years. His mother's name was Jecoliah; she was from Jerusalem. 4 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Amaziah had done. 5 He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success.


So far, so good.  But then check out what happened…


NIV 2 Chronicles 26:16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. 18 They confronted him and said, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God." 19 Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.


So what is the Biblical principle at work here?  God has created human beings.  God has created human government, which deals with our horizontal relationships – relationships among people.  And God has created His church – dealing with relationships that people have with Him, with our vertical relationship … AND with our horizontal relationships – that’s key.  God has said in His word that government deals horizontally; the church deals vertically … yet also speaks to and deals horizontally.  Let’s take a look, at government first, and then at the church.


Romans 13 is the classic passage dealing with government:


NIV Romans 13:3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.


God’s clear purpose for human government is to punish those who do evil.  And verse 5 of this passage would add a second layer to that, namely, that government exists to deter people from doing evil.  For instance, when people are afraid of being executed, they tend not to take it upon themselves to walk around the neighborhood willy nilly killing other people.  But it is the DOING of evil that the government is concerned with.  Do not kill.  Do not steal.  And so forth.  And God has given government what is called ‘the power of the sword’ to enforce these laws about doing.  The power of the sword, namely, to punish those who do evil.


The church, on the other hand, is given a very different sword – it is not a physical sword at all, but a spiritual one.    God gives the church the ‘sword of the Spirit’, which is the Word of God.  God commands the church in Ephesians, and He says:


NIV Ephesians 6:17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


And again Hebrews says:


NIV Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.


The church uses this sword, which is the Word of God, to deal with people’s vertical relationship – with their relationship with God.  And the church uses the Word of God to deal with people’s relationships with one another … but this ‘sword’ goes beyond doing.  It goes to thinking; it goes to the heart.  Listen to how Jesus pushed beyond actions, which are the sole responsibility of government, and went to the heart:


NIV Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.


The church deals with beliefs and actions … but there is no power for coercion.  The state deals with actions only … and there is great power of coercion.  We’ve already established in previous weeks that the Supreme Court has declared us to be a ‘Christian nation’; that our founders viewed us as a ‘Christian nation’.  And by ‘Christian nation’ they meant in part, just this, that the Bible would form the basis for the design of our government.


The Government could not dictate people’s thoughts or beliefs.

The Government could not punish people for believing the ‘wrong’ thing.

The Government could not tell people how to worship.

The Government could not tell the Church how to conduct its business.

The Church does not have the power of the sword (as laid out in Romans 13).


These are good things, wouldn’t you agree?


That’s the separation of church and state – something that doesn’t exist in Islam, doesn’t exist in communism, and, does this surprise you, didn’t exist in Christianity from the time of Constantine until the time of the Reformation – roughly from 400-1600.  That’s right – as the Reformers returned the church to the Scriptures and took it away from man-made ideas, one of the things that they found was that church and state and gotten mingled and mixed up … and they restored the separation of church and state that they found in Scripture. For you Lutherans, Martin Luther called this the Kingdom of the right hand and the Kingdom of the left hand.


And that’s what Thomas Jefferson believed as well – he too, while not a Christian, was a product of the Reformation.


VIDEO:  5:16 – 6:27

The American Heritage Series DVD 4  Church, State and the Real 1st Amendment Part 1


Why are we talking about the separation of church and state today?


Because we need to rightly understand it.  Since 1947 – that is, for the past 60 years, the meaning of this phrase has been completely and totally reversed.  Since the time of the Reformation, this phrase has been used to keep government out of church business, and to keep the church out of the ‘burning at the stake’ business.  But for all of those years, the church was not limited as to its influence on government and government officials.  Now, due to our lack of understanding, we hear that phrase, separation of church and state’, and believe that Thomas Jefferson thought it up as a way to say that the government can tell religious people what they can and cannot do, that the government should curtail the religious activities of  people because, well, isn’t there a ‘wall of separation’?  That doesn’t make sense now, does it?  So we’ve got to understand the Scripture and understand our history.


Because the church is in trouble due to a lack of understanding.

In June 2008, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story entitled, “When Gay Rights and Religious Liberties Clash.” Now as I tell you this, realize that NPR is not known as a ‘right wing religious nut group’ – it is not an organization biased toward religion, and that’s putting it mildly.  After analyzing the expansion of so-called “gay rights” in several states, here’s what NPR observed: â€œArmed with those legal protections, same-sex couples are beginning to challenge policies of religious organizations that exclude them, claiming that a religious group’s view that homosexual marriage is a sin cannot be used to violate their right to equal treatment. Now parochial schools, ‘para-church’ organizations such as Catholic Charities and businesses that refuse to serve gay couples are being sued — and so far, the religious groups are losing.” I’ll put a link on the web version of the sermon for you to check this out further, but in many facets of life, all over the country, many courts are ruling that Christians and churches do NOT have the right to the free exercise of their religion, even on their own property and with their own businesses … all due to a misunderstanding of the phrase “separation of church and state”.


Finally, I think that this is important for us to understand because, rightly understood, it’s a great thing that you and I should value.  And wrongly understood, the mixture of church and state has brought fear and trepidation, imprisonment and death, literally to millions.  But rightly understood, this idea is the cornerstone of our freedoms.  It is the reason you and I are able to sit here today and worship Jesus without fear.  It is the reason you and I are able to examine the Bible, question what we’ve learned, speak our doubts aloud without fear, say out loud, “the Trinity doesn’t make sense to me” or “I can’t figure out why God allows evil” or whatever … and not be afraid that the police will arrest me or the pastor will kill me.  It’s the reason I’m able to stand before you today, because I was able to question whether Jesus really rose from the dead or not … and in that questioning discover a depth of faith that I had not known before.  That questioning that I was able to do because somebody else understood what it meant to have church be church and state be state – that questioning led to an experience of Jesus’ forgiveness that I had only heard about before, but now realized in my own heart, for me.  That’s incredibly valuable – valuable enough to take the time to understand it and protect it.


So let’s close.  St. Paul says:


NIV 1 Timothy 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.


St. Paul says that it is of first importance that we pray for those in authority over us – the state - that we might live peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness – that’s religion, or the church.  So church, let’s stand, and do just that – let’s pray for our government:

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