The State Is Not a Secular Institution
One of the enduring myths both inside the church and outside the church is that the State — civil government — is a secular institution.
It most decidedly is not.
Regardless of what we may think about the separation of church and state, it is not possible for there to be any separation between God and government. This is because God created it.
The state is every bit as much God’s creation as the church. We are told quite explicitly in Romans 13:1 that not only is the state God’s idea, every last bit of authority exercised by civil government anywhere in any place at any level comes from him.
As Paul puts it: “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
“No authority” means none. Zip, nada, zilch. It would be hard for the apostle to be any clearer than that. All political authority, every last bit of it, has been delegated by God to the state. Its authority is an entirely derived authority.
The Scriptures also tell us, again quite explicitly, that the state is “God’s servant,” a “servant of God” and a “minister of God” (Romans 13:4,6). In other words, statesmen in the halls of the legislature have just as sacred a function as pastors in their pulpits.
Now the fact that the state’s authority comes entirely from God, and that the state has been established by God, certainly does not mean that everything that the state does is correct, even though it is using God’s authority to do it. The authority that parents have over their children is likewise God-given, but this does not mean that parents never abuse it.
The state’s authority has been bestowed by God and therefore involves accountability to God. God will not hold anyone guiltless, including politicians at any level, who abuse his authority.
Civil government can misuse the authority God has given it and do perfectly evil things, as the Nazis did in WWII. The prophets of the Old Testament were constantly rebuking the politicians of their day for refusing to be guided by God’s truth in matters of public policy.
Judah’s kings were appointed by God and anointed by God, and yet were held strictly accountable by men of God for the way in which they exercised their authority.
The prophets of old would lay the policies of the kings alongside the revealed word of God. Where the policies of a king aligned with God’s standard, he was publicly commended for doing “what was right in the sight of the Lord.”
Where policies of a king were at variance with the revealed word of God, he was condemned for doing “what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”
The clergy of today have the same prophetic role that men of God had in the days of ancient Israel: to evaluate the conduct of civil authority against the standard of the word of God and either commend or condemn. God’s men of today have just as much responsibility to hold civil government accountable to the standards of God as they did in the days of Elijah and Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Let’s be done with the nonsense that preachers must never criticize politicians because politicians have been put in place by God. In fact, it is the other way round: preachers of today must either commend or criticize politicians precisely because God has put these men in place and they must be held accountable to God’s standards.
It is in part because pastors have abdicated this sacred duty and retreated from the public square into the cozy comfort of the four walls of the church that our culture has so rapidly deteriorated. The church has taken its salt and its light out of our nation’s civic life, and therefore it is no wonder that our culture lives in moral darkness and is consumed by moral rot.
We’re constantly told that preachers, Christians, and the church should just stay out of politics. But this is exactly wrong. If the authority politicians exercise is God’s authority, then who in the world should have a greater interest in how that authority is exercised than the people of God?
Political leaders have a sacred duty to be guided by God and his abiding standards of truth and morality, and it is the role of those who fill our pulpits to remind our citizens and our politicians of what those standards are. As Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, the church is intended by God to be the conscience of a nation.
Now to be sure, the state and the church, both instruments of God, have different roles in society. The role of the state is the administration of justice and the preservation of a nation’s security. That’s why the Scripture says that the state “does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4). The sword was in instrument of force, to be use for law enforcement and in time of war.
The role of the church is different but complementary, to nurture the spiritual life of a nation and remind it – and its leaders – of God’s standards.
Bottom line: the state is not a secular institution but a distinctly sacred one. And it’s time for both the state and the church to start acting like it.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
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