Church and State in Biblical Balance
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2006 Sep 04
One of the great enemies of religion in America today is the notion that persons have a right not to hear religious talk in the public square. Pervasive are the groups that promote such thought. Notorious are the anti-religious activities of such groups including those of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Their actions are problematic when one considers an ostensible purpose of the organization: to protect and preserve liberty. The ACLU routinely attacks other organizations with which it does not agree. The Boy Scouts are a case in point. It is a well-known fact that the ACLU is pro-death with the support of abortion rights and euthanasia being among its top priorities. Free speech related to those issues is suppressed by this union that purports to preserve civil liberties. The organization arguably works for the destruction of our children having supported child porn distribution and the free speech rights of the North American Man/Boy Love Association.
Perhaps the greatest affront lies in the fact that the ACLU is anti-Christian. Well attested is their opposition to Christianity on a multitude of fronts primarily under the guise of separation of Church and State. At every turn it seems that the ACLU opposes the free exercise of the Christian religion. The prevailing mindset in America today that could be characterized as freedom from religion is largely owing to the efforts of the ACLU. The notion that persons have a right not to see religious symbols or hear religious references in the public square is part of the national confusion inflicted upon an ignorant populace by the likes of this radical group.
Against that thinking and the organizations that promote such error is the reality that America was indeed founded upon Christian principles. Legion are the individuals who have highlighted this fact and rightly call America a Christian nation in that regard. Moreover, the majority of Americans would call themselves Christians and in that regard America may be called a Christian nation. Of course, America cannot be called such in a Scriptural sense as she is not a theocracy nor is she the church which is the only group of people that may rightly be called the people of God as a whole in the biblical sense of the concept. But, we recognize that America was founded as a nation in which many Christians lived and do live and did and do find themselves in the majority.
Among the principles that we as Christians, and indeed as Americans, hold as sacrosanct is the principle of religious freedom. That Christian principle that guarantees religious freedom may be termed freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The State may establish no religion, that is, the State may not coerce individuals in terms of religion. At the same time, the State may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. That means that religion may and indeed must be part of the national conversation in every arena. Without religious speech, and may I say, biblically grounded religious speech as part and parcel of the national conversation, the nation itself is doomed. Those Christians who advocate and agitate for religious influence even in the areas of politics, public policy, and government are simply being true to the Scriptures, the principles upon which the nation was founded, and their fellow-Americans who are all in need of Christian influence.
At the same time, may I hasten to add that Christians often cross the biblical line in regard to Christian influence in the public square? At times, perhaps inadvertently or ignorantly, whichever the case may be, they fall into coercion and violate the very principles for which they agitate. A specific issue addressed by Baptist leader Dr. R.H. Pitt, editor of the Religious Herald in Richmond, VA. Circa 1900, and noted defender of religious freedom, may serve to illustrate the principle in question.
"We feel constrained to put on record our cordial and steadfast belief that the State has no right to legislate concerning Sunday as a holy or religious day, and that, when the civil arm is invoked for the protection of that day, it must not be on the ground that the day is a Christian institution, but on the ground that certain physical and economic laws, which have been disclosed and verified by the experience of mankind, render cessation from ordinary labor necessary one day in seven, and it falls in with the convenience of the public, for obvious reasons, to fix the first day in the week as that period."
Pitt goes on to give reasons for his assertion. His logic is clear. "If the State is to protect the day as a religious day, as an institution of the Christian religion, then why limit legislation to the mere matter of cessation from ordinary labor? As a Christian institution, the duties of worship and of active Christian work are not less obligatory on that day than the duty of rest. Indeed, it may be safely maintained that, in passing from the old Sabbath to the new Lord's-day, the emphasis was changed. Rest was the main idea of the seventh, worship and Christian work are the chief features of the first day. It would be singular, indeed, to appeal for protective legislation for the day as a Christian institution, and yet neglect in such legislation the chief Christian features of the day-to enforce the Jewish idea of rest and ignore the Christian ideas of religious work and worship! And this, too, while the ground on which such legislation is urged is that the day is a Christian institution, and ours is a Christian nation."
The simple point is this: how can we urge the imposition of Christian institutions and not others? Or, how can we urge the imposition of certain aspects of a Christian institution without urging the imposition of all aspects of that particular institution? The obvious conclusion is that we do not urge Christian institutions upon those who are not Christians. We do not impose Christianity on others by the State.
The concept that we are a Christian nation was addressed by Pitt as well. He noted, "The emphasis which has been laid upon this statement, that 'we are a Christian nation,' and the insistent assertion that we have therefore the right to enact general Christian legislation, to discriminate in favor of the Christian religion as against any other, though not to discriminate in favor of any special sect of Christians, seems to make it necessary to travel over somewhat familiar ground and to restate some fundamental principles. We are a Christian people, in the sense that the great majority of our people are either actively or nominally sympathetic with some form of the Christian religion; we are not a Christian nation, in the sense that we have a right to impose by law distinctively Christian duties upon others."
Let us therefore strike a biblical balance regarding the issue of Church and State. Let not the Church be silent nor silenced. Let the gospel bell be rung loudly and clearly in the public arena. Let not the likes of the ACLU propagate their liberty-trampling message. But, neither let the Church be an agent of coercion. Let the Church uphold religious freedom for all. Let the gospel be in our proclamation what it is in fact. Let us proclaim liberty for all and let us "proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" by sin, Satan, and death. Let us proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Lk. 4:18-19).
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