By Ron Halbrook
My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence (Jn. 18:36).
The separation of church and state is no mere accident or expediency, but was clearly taught by Jesus Christ so that even the wicked ruler Pontius Pilate understood him. God ordained his church and civil government as two separate institutions with different purposes. Rulers should honor God as the sustainer of the universe, of nations, and of governments (Jn. 19:11). Government officials should seek the providential help and blessing of God in doing the work he gave them to do, but cannot conduct the business of the church. God gave the church its own work and organization without the least semblance of civil, military, or political power. It has no right or authority from God to enter into such fields of action.
What does the Bible teach about the relationship between the church and politics?
1. Godly men should lead the assemblies of the church in fervent prayer for our rulers, from the highest to the lowest (1 Tim. 2:1-8).
2. The church teaches respectfor governments, laws, and officials (Rom. 13:1-7). God ordained civil government to restrain criminals and the evil deeds which destroy peace, safety, and order in a society, and to protect obedient citizens. Governments wield the sword as agents of God’s wrath against evildoers. God commands us to pay our taxes and to cooperate with our rulers.
3. The church preaches the positive duties of all men and the positive provisions of the gospel to all men, high and low (Matt. 22:37-40; Mk. 16:15-16). Men sin and fall into various violations of God’s law because they fail to love God first and to love their fellowman. God does not tolerate or excuse sin on the part of the highest ruler or of the lowest servant. Every sinner must believe in God’s Son and be baptized in submission to the authority of Christ in order to receive the remission of sins. No man will be saved on his own merits by attaining great honors in civil affairs or because of suffering great abuses and injustices in life.
4. Sin must be rebuked and condemned no matter who practices it (Matt. 3:1-12; Lk. 3:1-14; Mk. 6:17-18). John applied God’s Word to all men alike, including the common people, tax collectors, and soldiers. Some of his plainest rebukes were directed against arrogant, hypocritical, religious leaders. The unscriptural marriage of a king was condemned openly and pointedly. The same kind of preaching was done by Jesus and his apostles, and must be done today.
5. Individuals have liberty to participate or not in civil and political activities. The Bible authorizes governments but leaves the particular systems to the judgments of men. It authorizes citizenship without specifying degrees and levels of participation other than respect and obedience. Whether a person votes, serves in the military, joins a political party, takes part in campaigns, runs for office, and the like are matters left by God to the conscience of each person (cf. Rom. 14:5,17). Whatever decision is made, we must remember that God rules and overrules in nations, that we must act in keeping with moral principles rather than personal or political loyalties, that we must put such priorities as worship and the family above other interests, and that the most important thing we can do for our country is to live a godly life (Prov. 14:34).
6. The church’s mission is spiritual, not political. God established the church with a specified, limited work: to preach the gospel, worship God, and care for needy saints (1 Tim. 3:15; 5:16; Acts 2:42). The church is not a social welfare agency, an arm of civil government, a political institution, a secular school, or a recreational club. The church has not a minute or a penny to spend on such endeavors. While opposing immorality, dishonesty, and sin of every kind, it has no political program and endorses no candidate. It holds no political rallies, offers no candidate the pulpit as a platform for political speeches, makes no political donations, and has no political action committees at any level. The church of Christ registers no voters, organizes no voters, transports no voters to the polls, and finances no part of the voting process. Christ gave no authority in his word for the church to act in such matters. When the church so acts, it sins and rebels against Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; 2 Jn. 9). Let the church be the church and let the government be the government!
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, p. 489
August 15, 1991