The Book of Psalms

Wednesday: Church and State


Theme: When God Is Forced Out
In this week’s lessons, we see that the state has a legitimate authority from God, and is therefore responsible before God to use that authority for righteousness rather than for wrong.
Scripture: John 19:11
In yesterday’s study, I mentioned that when we turn to the Bible for instruction in dealing with the state, one thing we see is that the state does not have the authority to forbid the proclamation of the gospel.
A second area in which the state has limits is in the area of morality. The state has absolutely no right to require immoral, unbiblical conduct on the part of Christians. If the state does, not only do Christians have a right to disobey the state, they must disobey the state. We have Nazi Germany as an example. It was requiring those who went by the name of Christian to turn in Jews in order that the Jews might be packed off to concentration camps and then later killed. How many did it, rationalizing that if the state makes a demand it must be obeyed, and anything wrong that happens afterward is on the state?
Some did that, but others didn’t. They resisted it rightly because they knew what was happening. So you can see that while the state has a legitimate authority, it can also misuse that authority in an evil way. But the illegitimate exercise of the authority does not deny the reality of the state’s authority. As a result, we do not find ourselves in the position of saying that only God has authority, and that the state has no authority at all.
The second position is that the state alone has authority, and God is forced out of the picture entirely. This is the most dangerous of all. This is what the Jewish leaders did at Jesus’ trial. When they felt that Christ was slipping from their grasp, seeing that Pilate did not want to execute him, they began to talk about their relationship to Caesar. They accused Pilate of defending Jesus, whom they already concluded was opposing Caesar. Then the religious leaders went on to say that they have no king but Caesar. So much did they hate Jesus and want to see him put to death, that they denied the biblical teaching that God was their king.
To claim that the state alone has authority is dangerous, even from a secular viewpoint, because at that point you eliminate any possible check on the state’s authority. The state needs a check on its authority because, as Lord Acton said, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Absolute power in the hands of the state generally leads to the abuse of that power. In our system of government, we’ve established a way by which absolute power can be checked, through having three branches of government.
Not only does the state need a check in this human way, but it also needs a check on the divine level. We have to be free as Christian people, when necessary, to challenge the state in the name of God and remind the state that it is responsible to God from whom the power of the state comes. Woe to a country that loses that ultimate divine perspective.
In addition, the state also needs direction. Suppose you have a state that really does want to operate for the good of the people, as I believe our government does most of the time. Even then, it needs God and God’s authority because how is the state to know what to do, especially in the area of morals, apart from the kind of revelation that God provides in the Bible? At this point, somebody might object to the idea that the government isn’t in the business of legislating morality. How many times have you heard that? No matter how many times that is said, it’s nonsense. What do we have government for if it does not legislate morality?
When the state prescribes a penalty for a person who kills somebody else, what is that but the legislation of morality? By that act of punishing a murderer the state is declaring that there is a moral principle that must be upheld. The same goes for stealing. The state believes in protecting people’s property, which is why it punishes someone who takes something that does not belong to him. So it is not a question of whether or not the state legislates morality. The question is what morality the government is going to legislate. At this point, Christians in a society must argue that the Christian morality is the morality by which the state must act, and, so far as it is possible, work that morality into the laws of the land.
Study Questions:

From the lesson, what is another area in which the state has limits on its authority?
What is the second option for the proper relationship between the church and the state?
Why is this second option said to be the most dangerous?

Application: What are biblical ways we can challenge the state on areas where it is acting wrongly?

Study Questions
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