Sunday, July 28, 2013

More Discussion on Church-and-State, and Church-and-Christian Distinctions



So, to pick up this thread from the beginning, you might want to look at the posts of June 29, 2013 (“Toward an Understanding of the Church’s Role in Politics”) and my friend’s comments appended both to that post and within my July 11, 2013 post (“Clarifications on Church and Politics: A Response to Questions and Concerns”), which prompted his comments below. I am exceptionally thankful for the dialogue from one who writes authentically from within a context of ministry where his principles are lived-out daily. (If you’d like to see more of his work, his blog is at http://culturalengagement.wordpress.com/.)

Here are his comments, with my reply below them:

My honored friend, you have a massive cognition. It took me this long to comprehend your words. But it was not the Roman Empire that condemned Jesus, for in the gospels Pilate considered Jesus not guilty and Herod found no charge. It was religion that killed Jesus. Rome subjugated Jerusalem, but was not represented by her. The nature of an empire is that the subjugated nation still has a voice - in this case the voice of a mob stirred by religious hatred.

Jesus instructed his followers to pay taxes, both Caesar and to the temple.

Jesus came to free us from bondage, but did not suggest jailbreak; to help the poor, but not to burn down the welfare office. I appreciate the idea that both Adolf's were bad in the early 1940s, but we live in a people's democracy, legislated predominantly by majority vote, governed by our neighbor, and by anyone who cares to serve. It's a beautiful system, and takes a lot of burden off the church, so they can have the free time they want.

The ugly reality of our own hearts as Americans is that we don't want to serve in government and make changes. We want someone else to fight our battles, just as God's people did in 1 Samuel 8.

There are plenty of government positions open for Christians to serve the people in the various human services that the church fails to provide.

Don't you wonder if the real fault is not directly with the Christian church, but is a fault of each of our selfish hearts? I think that selfish heart is what Jesus wants to change. Then the church could do what it currently pays government to do.

your admiring but barely comprehending friend



Thanks for continuing to help me work through the implications of viewing Christ’s Kingdom as influencing the course of society and government from a supra-political position.

Dr. Metzger rightly warns against imagining the gospel as a-political; I would add the warning against allowing the Church (or churches) to be co-opted into the political system. I believe we blur necessary distinctions between the church and the state in two ways. First, most commonly, some obligate their congregations to government regulation by accepting government subsidy, and then complain about potential government interference or even prescription in what is believed, proclaimed, and done.

Second, only slightly less prevalent, is the belief that the church’s influence and intervention upon society are best applied through existing governmental and social entities. Churches’ responsibilities to their communities are rationalized as being fulfilled through little or nothing more than Christians paying their taxes (except, of course, for sales and property taxes, and whatever portion is “donated” to not-for-profit corporations).

I think the primary difference in our perspectives may rest upon some distinctions you make, with which I struggle. First and foremost, for me to separate Church from Christian (as is more popularly phrased “relationship, not religion,” in that Christ saves “individuals, not institutions”) requires an acceptance of a sinful condition rather than a call to repentance. If the fault is with “each of our selfish hearts” as Christians, then “the real fault is not directly with the Christian church.” The solution is not the separation of Church and Christian, but in reconciliation and integrity within the Church of its many denominations, churches, and “unaffiliated” Christians.


In evidence of how devastating the consequences of these distinctions can be, I would expand a little on your statement, “It was religion that killed Jesus.” I don’t support Pilate “washing his hands” of his responsibilities as evidence that “it was not the Roman Empire that condemned Jesus” by handing Him over to “a mob stirred by religious hatred.” The Jewish leaders understood that they needed, and had received the secular government’s approval of their “religious” actions. Yes, “the subjugated nation still has a voice,” but only so long as they agree, even in religious matters, with the empire controlling them. (Roman policies in this regard also led to Jewish persecution against Christians later in the first century, in that the latter were bringing unwanted imperial attention on the Jewish leaders since Christianity was considered to be merely a sect of Judaism.) Likewise, the empire is culpable for what it allows among those it subjugates. So, regarding the stance that “religion…killed Jesus,” I would note that it was religion not only sanctioned by, nor merely doing business with and through political systems, but operating in conjunction with the presiding political entity (a circumstance not unlike that of the two Adolfs, nor unlike that sought by many who want to “restore Christian America”).

There are other points you make that merit more discussion than is possible at the moment. But among them are our divergent views of our current political system being “a people’s democracy, legislated predominantly by majority vote, governed by our neighbor, and by anyone who cares to serve.” Likewise, the concept of government taking “a lot of burden off the church” so that we have something we would call “free time” inverts the vision I have of the Church being supra-political into the State being supra-religious (i.e., making the church even more a subsidiary of the state). Thus, I can’t agree that changes need to be made by serving in government (although I have, and am continuing to do so, it is for the opportunities God provides there, not as even a primary means of community change). The filters and additives necessitated by cooperating within government and most social organizations cannot help but adulterate the nature of the services rendered by Christians, not least in that we, again, would need to separate Church and Christian. Where Christians serve in and through government and existing community-service organizations, the Church which is Christ’s body and which seeks to grow up in all things into Him who is the Head must retain their primary allegiance to Christ as the reason, means, and substance of their service.

Remember, in I Samuel 8, it was the people’s desire to have a human government to reign over them that we identify as sinful, especially when God Himself depicts them as having “rejected Me from being king over them” (v7).

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