A Warning to the American Church
By Publius Christus
Editors note: Every Christian in America (especially pastors) need to listen to this prophetic warning to the American Church. It is clearly Holy Spirit-inspired and truer words were never spoken. – Matt Barber
Hello. This message is for my fellow Christians in the United States of America, especially those who are in the clergy. I want to talk to you about church and State. I must confess that I’m a layman in both areas. That is to say, I’ve not made a career in either ministry or politics. But I’m Christian. I’ve been a follower of Christ for 35 of my 45 years, and I’ve been a faithful member of the church. And I’m a patriot, born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
I love this country. That is to say, I love the country that was founded here in 1776. It is not that country anymore, and in recent years – and in recent days – we have drifted farther from our founding principles than I think anyone could ever have imagined. We are a nation in crisis. And it is my opinion that we are where we are in large measure because of a slumbering, slothful church who has neglected her civic duties in a nation of the People, by the People, and for the People. Regrettably, pastors in churches across America impel this attitude of neglect through a misunderstanding first of American politics and second of the proper response – the Scriptural response – of godly people to ungodly government.
I am compelled to speak out – to respond to the recent court ruling on same-sex marriage and the response of some church leaders to that ruling. Some churches advocate capitulation. They wave the white flag of surrender and quote Romans 13 in defense of their shameful cowardice. To do so makes them wrong on at least two counts: that the Court is our final governing authority, and that as Christians we must submit blindly to any and all government foisted upon us.
We often hear about the separation of church and state. It is almost always presented in a skewed and illegitimate manner and I wonder if that has polluted our thinking even as Christians in America. What does it even mean, exactly… separation of church and State? Is it even possible to separate church and state? Well, the answer of course is yes… and no. It is possible to separate the Church and State legally, and America has done a good job of that. And both the primary reason and result has been to protect the church from the State, and not vice versa.
I must point out that the words “separation of church and state” are not found in the Constitution, or the Declaration of Independence, or in the Federalist Papers. On the other hand, the freedom to worship God without interference from the federal government is explicitly written into the Constitution. As is the prohibition of the federal government to “establish” a religion – understood by the founding generation as using tax money to fund a State Church.
While it is certainly possible, and desirable, to not use the force of government to tax the People to support a Church they might abhor, it is impossible to divorce religion from politics. This is because we live in a nation governed by the People (capital P) and for religious people our religious beliefs form the core of our worldview and therefore impacts every sphere of life. Indeed, it’s not even desirable, at least not to our founding generation, to divorce religion from politics. “Our constitution was written for a moral and religious people,” said John Adams, “It is wholly inadequate for the governance of any other.” In his farewell address George Washington admonished us: “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion”
So what is the role of the Christian – and the body of Christians called the Church – in American politics? It is an immensely important question because I believe, unfortunately, that a misunderstanding of the role of the Church in politics – from those both inside and outside the Church – is leading us down a death spiral of cultural depravity, which ultimately will lead to the very destruction of our nation, as forewarned by John Adams. It will compromise our ability to worship God freely, and to secure this liberty for our children and grandchildren. We MUST correct our understanding soon, or it will soon be too late to save America.
Two questions must be addressed: who is our governing authority, and is it the will of God that man be subject to any and every ruler, or government, foisted upon him?
What form of government do we have in the United States? Most will answer: “We have a democracy.” Fortunately, we do NOT have a democracy in this country. In fact, our founding fathers recognized that democracies were as despotic and destructive to liberty as monarchies and took great pains to protect us from the evils of democracy. What we actually have is absolutely unique in world history and difficult to describe in a word. We are sometimes described as a Constitutional Republic, and that is a good description, but we are more than that because the United States are a federation of Constitutional Republics. Each state is sovereign, though we rarely think of them as sovereign today. Each State is itself a Republic (this is actually mandated by Article IV, section 4 of the U.S. Constitution): every State in the Union must have a Republican form of government.
Who is the supreme ruler, that is, the ultimate governing authority, in the United States of America? It is not the President. It is not the Congress or the Supreme Court.
Most people respond, “The president.” A few others may answer, “The congress” or “the federal government.” But It is no mistake, that is to say it is by design that the U.S. Constitution begins with the words: “We the People of the United States in order to form a more perfect Union…”. In America, the People are sovereign; we govern ourselves. This is the essence of the American Experiment, described this way by Publius in Federalist Papers #1: “It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.
And so, our founding fathers took the once-in-history opportunity to do what had never been done before. They sat down, on a new continent, and through rumination and reflection created a nation governed by the People and structured in such a way as to secure the liberties of every individual. Although many of the founders were young, they were wise beyond their years and they were the products of the Great Awakening, one of the greatest spiritual revivals of this continent. Young Jimmy Madison and Tommy Jefferson were but little children as the revival swept through the colonies in the 1730’s and 40’s. The impact of the Great Awakening on the founding of our nation is obvious.
So, in the USA, the buck stops with “We the People.” We the People are the supreme authority, the governing authority. But what does that actually look like? If the People are the supreme authority how do you avoid anarchy; what the Scripture describes as “every man doing what is right in his own eyes”? How do you avoid anarchy and chaos on the one hand, and monarchy or dictatorship or tyranny on the other? That is the question. And our founders found the answer, in “ordered liberty.” How is liberty “ordered”? Through a Republic structured around a Constitution.
The supreme authority of the land, that is, the People, in 1787 created the supreme law of the land – the Constitution. And recognizing that the living can never be legitimately ruled by the dead, they also created a way for every generation to amend the Constitution if they so desired. But they knew and we must remember that even without a Constitution, We the People are still and always will be the rulers of ourselves, under God.
Until we decide otherwise, the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land. It is the ONLY national law, BTW, actually voted upon directly by the People in a purely democratic process, a process called ratification. All subsequent federal laws have been created by our delegated representatives. Every government position, including the President, congressional legislators, and judges were CREATED by the Constitution and are UNDER that law. That is to say, no one is above the law. This is a principle outlined in Scripture. In Deut. 17 and 1 Kings 2 it is mandated that even the king of Israel be UNDER the Mosaic Law. In ancient Israel’s theocracy, God was the source of all law. In the American experiment, We the People are the source of all law, but our laws are based on the Mosaic Law given to mankind from God. By contrast, in a tyranny, the king (or president, or judge, or a legislative body) presumes to be the source of all law. In both cases (the Israeli theocracy and the American Constitutional Republic), the civil authorities are UNDER the law. So, assuming for the moment that God DOES want us to be subject to whatever governing authority is foisted upon us, in the United States, that governing authority is We the People. It is NOT the president, the courts, or even our delegated legislators. The President, our legislators and judges, they are rightly called our public servants, elected or appointed to secure our unalienable rights. And when any member of government, be it a President or a court, seeks to usurp our authority and undermine our liberty by attempting to rule outside those bounds, they are acting outside the bounds of the law. They are law-breakers. They are not even fit to be called servants, much less “governing authorities.” It is therefore completely inappropriate for a pastor or a church to instruct their fellow believers to subject themselves to law-breaking tyrants who violate their oaths, both to the People and to God.
That the People are the final governing authority and the “government” is merely a creation of the People to secure their rights is easily demonstrated using the American Civil War as an example. Let us imagine that we live in Virginia in March 1861. Abraham Lincoln is the president. When the government of Virginia secedes from the Union in April and joins a new Confederacy, the president of that confederacy is Jefferson Davis. Now, who is your president? Is it not the man of your choosing? Or the collective choosing of your fellow Virginians? Is it not then evident that in this country, indeed in every country, that the People are the final authority and that governments are instituted among them deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed?
When the government usurps its delegated authority, when it oversteps its limited and enumerated powers, its edicts are unlawful and void. This message was prompted by the recent SCOTUS ruling that the 50 States in this Union MUST officially accept and endorse same-sex marriage, and by the response of some in the Church to that ruling. As has been noted by many political commentators, the federal government, including SCOTUS has no jurisdiction over marriage – it is not an enumerated power – and so is properly left to the States and to the People to decide the matter. When put to a vote, the overwhelming response of American moral majority is to reject same-sex marriage. However, whenever States attempted to amend their constitutions to reflect these values, the Supreme Court overruled them. Even when the federal government attempt to protect marriage – through the proper legislative avenues – by passing the DOMA the Court again ruled against the legislation, claiming it violated the US Constitution in part because the federal government has no jurisdiction over marriage. But, when marriage is redefined in a way that the People oppose and is unholy, the Court rules that we ALL must imbibe it. This is pure hypocrisy, and tyranny, because five justices have foisted upon 300 million people that which the People have dozens of times rejected by vote. But when a church tweets within hours of this ruling that God’s people are to “submit to the governing authorities” it certainly implies that 1/ the Court is the final authority and has acted properly in making its ruling and 2/ that submission to any government edict, rightly or wrongly given, is evidently absolute and unconditional.
Is submission to governing authority absolute and unconditional?
When is submission to any authority absolute and unconditional? Is a child to submit to a parent unconditionally? Is a wife to submit to her husband unconditionally? Is an employee to submit to an employer unconditionally? The answer of course to these questions is No. Then on what pretext is a citizen, or even a subject, to submit to a government unconditionally? Only God commands absolute power and authority, because He is our Creator; we are his creation. Only God is to be obeyed unconditionally. If we take the position that government is to be obeyed absolutely then we are guilty of erecting an idol and worshiping the creature rather than the created. No governing authority, not even our government when working properly (that is We the People) has absolute governing authority. All governing authorities are subject to God, which is why the Apostle Peter could declare that when the two are in conflict we must obey God rather than man.
Some churches will be tempted to use Daniel as an example of submission to ungodly government. Listen, I get what they are saying: you don’t rise up the ranks as Daniel did, essentially becoming Vice-King of the Babylonian Empire, without working within the system, but I have two words for those who think Daniel is the poster boy of submission to tyrants: lion’s den. It’s one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament. Daniel was tossed to the lions for his disobedience to Nebuchadnezzar, and his friends were tossed into a furnace. When push came to shove, Daniel did what all godly men must do in the face of despotism, obey God rather than man. How many times will we be pushed and shoved before we act? The church did nothing with the Court removed prayer and Scripture from public schools in the 1960’s. The church did nothing when the Court “legalized” abortion in all 50 States in the ‘70’s. Will the church do nothing now as the Court imposes gay marriage upon us and transforms our most cherished institutions? Or worse, will the church tell us to blindly submit to Satan at work in our government?
Some will use Romans 13 as an excuse for inaction. Romans 13 is an admonition to obey the governing authorities. But is it not common sense that Paul is referring to proper government? There are just governments and there are unjust governments. We are to fear and respect just governments and resist unjust governments. I have not yet found a pastor willing to take the position that Christians should have submitted to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. They confess that a government as evil as Hitler’s is to be resisted. But to admit that government should be resisted in such draconian circumstances is to admit that government has limits and should be resisted when overstepping those limits. The dispute, then, is evidently not a matter of principle but a matter of application. Prudence indeed dictates that we should not defy authority for light and transient causes and even the fiery Thomas Paine advised restraint and “working within the system” to correct bad laws that arise from time-to-time. But when the government, through a ceding legislature, a legislative court, and an Executive with a “pen and a phone” advances a long train of abuses meant to strip Christianity from the very soul of America, we must act. I believe the time for restraint and inaction is past us. Our country is crumbling at a dizzying pace. When we hold it within our power to prevent this, and even reverse course, why would we not? How can we not?
How should we respond? What is the proper response of a Christian, and the Church, to the present national crisis? First and foremost, it is to We must educate and mobilize the great body of Christians to participate in the political process. No more silence from the pulpit. If the godly fail to engage, can we be surprised if the ungodly steer government to an agenda hostile to Christianity?
In other words, all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
What then should we do, Church? Nothing? To whom much is given much is required. We have been given a nation. We have been given LIBERTY and we have been charged with preserving it and passing it on to our children and grandchildren. Will we bury it in the ground and then expect a “Well done” when the Master returns? “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and that his justice cannot sleep forever.”[i] I do not fear a despotic government, but I do fear the judgment of a holy Deity, and the knowledge that judgment begins with the house of God.
[i] Thomas Jefferson
Publius Christus is a pseudonym.
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