Editor’s Note: This article published in 2013 is being posted again here so the author can offer an alternative opinion. I am that author, and thanks in large part to government’s response to the coronavirus, I am changing my tune. Nevertheless, the original intent of this article is proper and is a necessary read as part of the context for why I am now all in favor of making sure we protect our 1st Amendment right of Freedom of Religion. In short, I did not believe things would be as bad as they are today, so this article is here for posterity and to represent the evolution of my beliefs.
The separation of church and state has been a concept that really took root in the 17th century. It has changed somewhat over the centuries to accommodate solutions for contemporary problems, but the basic premise has remained the same: conscience (a term that encompasses the worldview of religion or lack of religion) must be an individual doctrine and should not be mandated by the state.
In many situations, it was intended to prevent the church from influencing the state. In other situations, such as in the case of the move of Europeans to America in the 18th century, it was justification to flee from a state that was mandating religious practices. The United States was born from people who were trying to escape religious persecution.
This concept is solid and should be adopted even by Christians. That may sound contrary to the fight to be disciples to the nations, to spread the Word of God as we are instructed to do, but it’s not. In fact, the separation of church and state is actually a foundation that encourages the free will of humans to accept the Word of God by their own acknowledgements rather than to feel compelled by outside human forces.
In essence, separation of church and state helps Christians grow.
The real problem today has nothing to do with the separation of church and state. The problem circles around the notion that politics can help to achieve the goals of the church. More specifically, the problem lies in the belief that the hampering of the church by the laws passed and the injustices mandated through government should be fought on a political level.
This is not the right way to go about this. It’s futile in many cases, often counterproductive even when it works, and applies the concepts of man in an effort to try to protect the doctrines of our Lord.
Today, there is no shortage of Christians trying to fight against the various levels of government in order to protect a right or defend an action.
While all of these seem like worthwhile battles, injustices that need to be corrected, or even the forces of evil at work on the people, they are not being approached the right way. They aren’t necessarily wrong, but they aren’t right, either. There is really only one political battle that needs to be fought, which we’ll get to later, but for now it’s important to understand why political action is not the right way to go about discipleship.
The Fight Must Be Personal
There is what seems to be a contradiction in scripture. On one hand, we’re told to help others, to feed the hungry, to clothe the needy, to protect the widows, and dozens of other actions intended to be selfless and help others when they are destitute. On the other hand, we are told that our own salvation must be achieved through belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, a concept that is technically selfish since the goal is to take for ourselves what is being given to us by Yeshua.
While they are not mutually exclusive, they are often tied together. They should not be. It wasn’t intended and it is not eluded to in the Bible, but that connection between our works and the Grace that was granted to us are mixed together in today’s society. It manifests itself most often in actions designed to promote the church and our rights as Christians.
Our calling in the Bible is first to be born again through Christ and then to spread the word. That’s it. We are not told to fight for the right to pray in public places. We are not told to expose the mistreatment of those who are expressing their Christian beliefs. We are not told to appeal to judgments of the court in order to keep pictures of Jesus Christ hanging in our schools.
We are told to obey the laws of the land. We are told to pray to the Lord as repentant sinners. We are told to do so in a way that is personal, not in a way that is intended to show the world what good Christians we are. As Jesus said in Matthew:
Matthew 6:1-8 (KVJ)
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
This is important to understand because all-too-often we are doing things in this world that seem right and just, but they are not. For example, in the case of the school board in Liberal, KS, they voted to allow student-led prayer in their schools. This is fine in its form and because the action was minimal to make it happen, it is justifiable.
However, if (when) the board is challenged and the courts are brought into the mix, the school board should not fight. The people, even the parents, should not fight. If the decision comes down from the government that this is against the law, it must be allowed without a fight. This is hard for Christians to understand. It’s harder to accept. However, it must be done.
The right of prayer from a political perspective is not a worthy fight compared to the personal need to pray. If it’s allowed at school events, that is fine, but it’s not a replacement for prayer in the home. If it turns into a fight, it instantly becomes a distraction and a point of contention that further pushes many of those who are close to being Christians away from the light. It also strengthens the resolve of the atheists and other non-Christians to spread their ideology further.
When belief is personal, it cannot be swayed. When people are touched by Christians and are exposed on a personal level to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, it is a wonderful thing. When it goes from being personal to becoming a public spectacle decided by government entities, it takes away from the realities of faith as mandates overrule doctrines. Even in a political win, the results can be harmful because of the vigor it gives to the pawns of Satan to push harder against the Christian faith.
Politicizing it all rather than keeping it personal to oneself and then to share it with one’s friends, family, and those who are put in front of us that will listen takes away from the potential to bring more to follow the Bible and find that Yeshua is their only salvation.
In many ways, Christians are already at war with the forces of evil. There are battles that must be fought, but political action or court battles are normally not the right approach and can undermine the efforts that truly must be undertaken at a grassroots level. This is a war fought in the trenches, not one that should be engaged on earthly terms in political venues.
When laws are passed that require changes to Christian traditions, people often speak out against them. A common example in today’s society is the fight to remove the Ten Commandments from various public locations. People go up in arms to fight these things, but their motives are not in the right place.
We are supposed to obey the Ten Commandments. We are not supposed to fight for them to be hung in a courthouse. The presence of a physical document or marble engraving of the Ten Commandments is not a worthy battle. Nobody who sees these physical manifestations of the Ten Commandments suddenly finds Christ as a result. They are symbols, nothing more.
Obey. Teach. That’s it. If someone is placed before you who needs to hear the Ten Commandments, it’s not the time to take them to the courthouse or to discuss the fight that an organization had to keep a print of them up on a wall. It’s a time to pull out a Bible, read the Word of God to the person brought before you, pray with them about forgiveness, and introduce them to the Scripture. Rather than pointing to a marble slab, Christians should take the opportunity to give their Bible to the one who does not have it.
Even in the case of fighting for student-led prayer, it’s a battle that would be waged for the wrong motives. The effort that it takes to fight to keep prayer at a school could be better used by actually praying with the students themselves, even if it’s not during a school event and not on school property. Reliance in any form on the public school system to participate in our children’s growth as Christians is like fighting to make McDonald’s offer more salads. People don’t go to McDonald’s to buy a salad just as children do not go to public school events to pray together.
In both of these circumstances, the battle is a symbolic one that on the surface might rally support and give Christians safer passage in a world where the faith is waning, but it is much more public than it is useful. Students do not need the right to pray in public school. They need their parents or guardians praying with them before and after school, to talk to them about the Bible, and to help them grow in their faith as they grow to become adults.
The Church versus the church
This is arguably the most important reason that Christian pursuits and politics do not mix. We are so stuck in misunderstanding where the reality of our existence as Christians should lead us. We are here preparing the bride for the Bridegroom. We are not here to help our church fight political battles.
In nearly every instance of a church fighting to do something good in this world, there is a better alternative. Read the previous sentence again. It’s important.
Spreading Christianity within a framework that is growing more and more disruptive does not require fights. It requires solutions. It requires alternatives. The actual Church is the body of those who have been saved. The churches we see today are simply places run by people, some of whom are inspired and some who are not, that often focus too much on this world and do not spend enough time helping people get to the next life.
Churches and other religious organizations often head into the realm of humanitarianism rather than into the proper realm of discipleship. We are watchers. We need to expose those who are open to hear the Word of God to the truth. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be helpful towards people in physical or emotional need, but it must be done with the intention of helping them find Jesus Christ. Otherwise, the fullest belly will still be burning in hell at the end of times.
Our standard churches are often trying to heal the community and possibly mention a couple of Bible verses on the way. The actual Church is intended to bring people to Yeshua. This latter goal is one that does not need a political movement, at least not in America.
The Political Need
As mentioned earlier, there are times when political avenues are the only way to travel towards a worthy endeavor as Christians. This is when every other option has been exhausted, every alternative has been shut off, and the only possible solution manifests itself as a political action.
Unfortunately, when political means are the only answer, it’s usually because we do not have the power as individuals to truly help. Politics are the last mortal resort – God’s Will can accomplish anything. As mortals, these situations sadden us which is why the political option is often the most futile, but that does not mean that we should stop fighting.
Unfair isn’t Bad
One final note: just because things seem unfair doesn’t mean that they aren’t wonderful. People who are in bad situations in this life are often blessed more through their perseverance and sustained belief in Christ.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
As Christians, we must follow Yeshua to the end. If we can help others along the way to find Him, then we should do what we can to help. The battles for rights and privileges are not the battles necessary for bringing more to harvest. They can simply distract us from what we truly must do.
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