Church and State in Tension

Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Luke 20:35.

There is a necessary tension that exists between the authority of the Church and the authority of the State.

Can you feel it?

With the Supreme Court’s decision striking down Marriage Amendments in State Constitutions this past week, there is a need for reasoned response.  I wonder if some of the tension from this decision comes from a misunderstanding of the responsibilities and powers of these two authorities, Church and State, and their necessary tension.

So, let’s consider what are these two God-given authorities and what does Scripture teach about the authority of the Church and the authority of the State.  And then, let’s look at Church and State in Tension.

First, let’s look at the authority of the Church.  The “Church” on earth is tasked to preach the Word of God in all its truth and purity and rightly administer the Sacraments. When a pastor preaches, he steps into the pulpit to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to God’s people in that particular congregation. God’s Word teaches that it is through the hearing of the Word, through preaching, that God transforms hearts of people to believe in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.  While preaching of the Gospel of Christ may be seen as foolishness to some, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The people served by the pastor are there by their own choice. They are worshiping at that church because they agree with what is taught at that church and they want to affiliate with the ministries offered through that church. Thus, churches are voluntary associations of like-minded people in willing affiliation accepting the spiritual authority and care of the pastor and congregation, not under coercion.

Now let’s look at the authority of the State.  When a leader in any level of government steps up to speak at a podium, they are speaking from what some refer to as the bully pulpit.  A government authority’s words are considered a bully pulpit, because they hold an office that has the full backing, authority and power of government.  It might be a surprise to some that Government was established by God, beginning with the authority of parents.  The government has authority over all the people within its areas of responsibility, within its specific office for the common good. Government has been given the authority by God to punish those who do wrong and reward those who do good that is to use power to enforce its laws.

So where is the tension?

There is tension … between the Church and State, and this is necessary, because the two have very different purposes, even as they exist simultaneously.  Both Church and State are needed in this sinful world until the coming of Christ at the end of the age, and are at their best when they support each and remain within their respective authority. It is the authority of the church to speak truth to those in government when the laws of the state are against God’s Word.  

Where I see the tension … is when the Church no longer proclaims the truth of God’s Word or is willing to change it’s doctrine out of fear, in a desperate attempt to appeal to more people, or conform or change teaching based on public opinion rather than on God’s Word. 

Where I see the tension … is when government goes outside its authority and uses the bully pulpit in an attempt to control the hearts of men and women in spiritual beliefs; When government leaders use the bully pulpit and the full authority of government power to force a person to act against their own conscience. 

Where I see the tension … is when some faith groups misuse protections afforded churches by governing authorities using limited resources in benevolence for personal gain.  Follow the money and that will tell much about a churches true purpose.  The Church’s role is to guide hearts to faith and godly living, to respect authority, to serve others and ultimately to hold to the eternal truths of God’s love and forgiveness through Christ Jesus.

Where I see the tension … is when Churches or faith groups use coercion rather than persuasive and reasoned proclamation to convince people to accept the faith as it is preached and taught.  The Holy Spirit will work through the hearing of the Word to convince hearts to believe in the Gospel.

Where I see the tension … is when churches wrongly interpret God’s Word or refuses to confront sin as sin, refusing to call people to repent and faith in God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ.  When the Church rightly proclaims God’s Word the church promotes good citizenship, people who obey the law.

Where I see the tension … is when the government wants churches to act in ways that go against the churches teachings.

Where I see the tension … is when church’s teachings may harm and endanger the lives of the members of the church as in refusing blood transfusions or medical treatment, or even restricting members from leaving that church.

Where do you see the tension?


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