This past weekend, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn appeared at a “Reawakening America” rally hosted by Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Among the night’s highlights was the crowd chanting, “Let’s Go Brandon!” Think about that for a moment. A crowd chanted a phrase that means “F---- Joe Biden” in a church. (Cornerstone Church released a statement saying they have no affiliation with the group and do not endorse their ideology.)
Also, Flynn commented on America as a religious melting pot. He said, “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.” Underneath this word salad appeared to be a call for the United States of America to endorse an official state religion.
Religious liberty is an American tradition, and many different Christian traditions have argued for it throughout American history. When Roger Williams, who was a Baptist, founded Providence, he established religious freedom in the colony. The first Constitution of Connecticut, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, provided for religious freedom. Pennsylvania guaranteed religious freedom for its inhabitants, as many of the Quakers who originally settled in the region were fleeing religious persecution.
Religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution as one of the first freedoms because the Founders understood that the government is not God. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and the idea of a state religion positions government in God’s place. A government that can force you to worship in a particular fashion can take any of your freedoms and force you to do anything.
Christians have historically stood against an official state religion, especially those of the Baptist tradition, which is my denominational home. Leaving aside the obvious Constitutional issues with this, Christians should oppose the idea of a state religion because it is at odds with what the New Testament teaches about conversion and the nature of the church.
We understand that the government cannot compel religious faith. For a person to become a Christian, they must exercise personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we declare ourselves a “Christian nation,” then people are going to assume that they are Christians from birth and are going to believe that they do not need faith in Jesus.
One reason many Christians have endorsed the separation of church and state is to protect the purity of the church. A church’s official membership should only be comprised of born-again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. To admit unregenerate people into the membership of the church would end up compromising the church’s witness and purity before the watching world. While we want as many non-Christians as possible to attend our services and hear the Gospel, admitting unconverted people into membership would wreak havoc on the church’s health.
Also, the idea of Christianity as a state religion encourages hypocrisy and false confessions of faith. I grew up in a Southern county seat town. During my growing up years, it was advantageous for politicians in the South to appear to be devoted, church-going people for the sake of their political careers. You always knew it was an election year because people who had not been at church the previous three years started showing up. Now, praise God that they were there, but do we really want to encourage the kind of hypocrisy that makes men pretend to be godly men when they are not.
For the sake of the church’s mission in the world, we want people who are not Christians to know that they are not Christians. We want them to be clearly identified because then it is clear who we should be sharing the Gospel with. Then, when people hear the Gospel, they do not assume they have believed it already simply because they were raised in a church or were born into one.
For most of the last generation, Americans have assumed that the First Amendment protects the government from religion. In actuality, the First Amendment protects the church from the government, even when the government appears to have the church’s interests in mind. American Christians would do well to remember that people espousing ideas about establishing “one religion” are advocating a position that would hurt the church. They do not know American History or Christian Theology, both of which advocate for genuine religious freedom.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Ehrlif
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”