Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Separating Religion from Politics

With each and every social issue that weekly plagues our nation, it seems that those who advocate most expansively for the liberal separation between church and state, ironically are also those who willingly use religion to push political agendas. A recent example is the Syrian refugee crisis (we posted a separate blog related thereto HERE). It seems that the same people, Christian or not, that advocate against Christian influence in government are the same people who invoke the Bible to persuade the rest of us to back the political cause du jour. In other words, they don’t want our government to behave Christian unless the guise of doing so serves their agenda. We as Christians do believe in the Biblical and Constitutional separation of Church and State - not the brand of Church-State separation that militant atheists try to force upon us. But, true separation of Church and State means that we don’t support theocracy and we expressly believe in the freedom of religion. That does not mean that religion or spirituality is a political tool to be wielded foolishly. Does the Spanish Inquisition ring a bell? To effectively establish Biblical and Constitutional separation of Church and State, we must also separate religion from politics.

Political activism is not unacceptable. However, political activism is not an expression of spirituality. Spirituality is an expression of our personal spirit, the Holy Spirit, and the collective temples of the Holy Spirit that we call the Church. Spirituality was never meant to be ideally expressed through government. Christian, we must never consider the energy spent on politics as energy spent towards seeking God’s Kingdom first - it is not. God gave us precise commands on how to seek and build His Kingdom. And, those commands have nothing to do with politics. God’s commands towards His Kingdom were simply make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and love each other as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35). Read those verses and you will see there is not the slightest hint of political activity in those commands. That is because God is a monarch and carries no political affiliation. We, as His ambassadors, are foreigners and strangers to this world because we are members of His Kingdom. Energy spent on the “kingdoms” of this world may be entertaining and personally rewarding, but it is not God's Kingdom work.

There is nothing wrong with being politically active. But, it should not be confused with being spiritually active. The two will never serve as substitutes for each other. For the Christian, yes, you should vote consistent with Godly values. Yes, you should fight for the life of the innocent, especially the unborn. Yes, you should support candidates who best represent you. But, don't ask government to function in the manner in which the Church is called to function. And, let’s not ask the Church to function in the manner in which the government is called to function. For example, as you support Presidential candidates, remember the country is not electing a pastor or priest – they are electing the one tasked with executing the law. And, while we love Christian candidates as much as any, the President (along with any other candidates for national and local offices) is God-ordained to execute the law with wrath - even at the point of a gun. Wrath is not grace. That reality should remind us to not mix the roles between Church and State, or religion and politics. Keep each in its proper place.

Government is God's agent of wrath, while Church is God's agent of grace. These two purposes should remain separated and not co-mingled with each other. In both purposes, God has ordained these functions. The government was never designed nor ordained by God to be an agent of Grace. And, the Church was never designed nor ordained by God to be an agent of wrath. You don’t see the Church in Acts 2 being characterized by wrath. The closest thing to wrath you see in the Church is discipline. But, discipline is different from wrath in that discipline is motivated by love – as in the discipline of a child by the parents. In contrast, wrath is absolutely devoid of love. Therefore, we should never look to the government to be an agent of love and grace. That is our job. Likewise, wrath is not our job. Therefore, Christians calling for political activism with grace as the policy goal are probably misguided. Likewise politicians demanding the church to condemn or punish others is also probably misguided. If the Church or its members desire to extend grace, then they should do so. And, if the government wants to condemn, then it should do so. But, don't ask the government to do your job. And, don't ask the government to force others to do what you are called to do.

This separation between God’s ordained functions of Church and State is most clearly evident in Romans 13. And, government’s role is explicitly stated in Romans 13:3-5, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” That is pretty clear. And, this was directed to the Church in Rome, that thrived under an ungodly and oppressive Roman government. By the way, you won't find a verse that describes this wrathful function for the Church.

Asking Christians to support political causes because you believe you are on God’s Kingdom mission is misguided. For example, we oppose abortion and encourage all Christians to likewise oppose. But, we don’t guilt others to march with us or negatively label Christians who don't. That is because our fight for the unborn may be spiritually motivated, but it is not God's Kingdom work. We have a personal conviction that it is a just fight. In that fight, I can implore other Christians to play a part in defending the helpless innocent. But, the fight is not a fight for God’s Kingdom. It is a fight not that different than fighting World War II. We fight the fight not because God has Biblically commanded it in order to seek first His Kingdom, but because our conscience deems it to be a just war. And, there is nothing wrong if certain Christians do not join in that fight due to conscientious objection. If a Christian chooses to stand on the sidelines and pray, they are no less spiritual. In contrast, it is however wrong for Christians to object to obeying God's commands to build his Kingdom (making disciples and loving others). That is an activity that is the central work of God's Kingdom.

The other practical problem with political activism in place of spirituality is that you won’t be rewarded for politically lobbying for Godly principles – at least not by God. You won't find a verse where God commands or promises reward for beating down government or getting Godly legislation passed. But, you can be held accountable by God for politically lobbying against Godly principles. In other words, we don’t implore a nation to be Christian. But, we should never politically advocate for that which is clearly anti-Christian. So, the bottom line spiritually is that political activism won't likely build God's Kingdom but it can stand in opposition to it. So, be careful.

In closing, God is focused on building His Kingdom regardless of the laws under which we are subjected. His Kingdom has very little to do with political policies of each individual sovereign state. That is because His is the only sovereignty that matters. God will achieve His goals with or without the help of any state. Therefore, God’s Bride must be active in serving, loving and caring for others, especially the poor and the spiritually dead. Being politically active towards forcing others to serve, love or care is not spirituality in motion. Spirituality in motion is in the obedient actions of each individual believer and the collective Church/Bride of Christ when we actively serve, love and care for others with our own strength and resources, not the strength and resources of others. Christian, if political activism is your hobby, by all means do so to the glory of God. But, keep in mind that it is not God’s hobby. There is nothing wrong with hobbies in and of themselves - we all have them. But, our King has no hobbies. He has an all-absorbing mission. Your role is to join Him, not force others to do so.

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