GOD'S PLAN FOR CHURCH AND STATE

A Look at God's Word by
Gary Ray Branscome


    A key factor in understanding God's plan for government lies in understanding the proper relationship of law to gospel. For it is only as we understand that relationship, that we are able to understand the role that God intended for the law to play in the salvation of souls, and the role that government should play in calling the world to repentance.


    To put it briefly, the law does not make us righteous in the sight of God. Instead it condemns our sin, thereby showing us our need of His mercy. Therefore, the purpose of government is not to make people righteous, but to act as an agent of God's wrath in condemning and punishing certain heinous sins. When rulers carry out that role as God intended, not only is justice done, but citizens take the law seriously, and when the law is taken seriously people are more likely to seek God's mercy (Matthew 24:12, 1Peter 2:14, 1 Timothy 1:9, Ecclesiastes 8:11).

    One common error is the assumption that the law has changed, or become easier to keep. However, Christ did not change the law, He fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17). He did not make it easier to keep, He freed us from it (Romans 8:2, Romans 7:3-4). For it is written, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law," (Matthew 5:18).

    That being understood, we can see that the Old Testament reveals God's will for the state, while the New Testament reveals His will for the church. While a state religion existed in Israel, prior to the Babylonian captivity, there was no state church. The priests were not teachers, there was only one temple for the entire nation, and temple worship was formal and liturgical. Therefore, even though God has abolished the religious system of the Old Testament, the template remains (Hebrews 7:2).  For that reason, the Bible is not opposed to having the government provide Christian military chaplains, or even a National Cathedral. However, at the same time, the government is not to usurp control over Christian congregations, and pastors are not to be on the government payroll.

    Another thing to consider, is the fact that even though God abolished the religious system of Israel, the political laws are still valid (Hebrews 7:2, Matthew 5:18). They were not abolished, on the contrary, Christians living in Israel prior to the destruction of the temple still obeyed the laws of the land, even though they no longer offered sacrifices, or felt bound by the religious law. While that does not mean that those political laws should be imposed on every country, it does mean that our rulers can learn from studying the laws of Israel, and are free to incorporate some of those laws into our own system of law.

    Those who would rigidly impose the laws of Israel upon every nation only confuse the situation, for they understand neither the law or the freedom that is ours in Christ. While our rulers should acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ and follow the Ten Commandments, the influence of the political laws of Israel upon the decisions they make, should be voluntary (Philippians 2:10, Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 13:7-9).

    Because our natural knowledge of right and wrong has been corrupted by sin, it is a good idea for our rulers to look to the political laws of Israel for guidance. Over the centuries the English system of law (which is the basis of the American legal system) has borrowed heavily from Biblical law. So much so that, "English jurist William Blackstone observed that the entire English legal system, including the jury system, the court system, and the practice of oaths, was based on the Bible."

[NOTE: A clear distinction between the religious and political laws of Israel is of key importance in understanding what I have just said. You may find it easier to make that distinction if you understand that the religious laws carry no political penalty. Therefore, laws that do nothing more than describe sacrifices or designate certain foods to be unclean are not political laws. In contrast, political laws deal with the government, and may specify fines and penalties (such as the death penalty), or set down precedents for civil litigation. (Exodus chapters 20-23, and Leviticus 20)]

CLEARING UP CONFUSION


    The story of the woman taken in adultery is often twisted to support the idea that God's law has changed (John 8:1-11). After all, the Law of Moses said that the woman should be put to death, yet Jesus did not condemn her (Leviticus 20:10-16). However, what those who assume that the law has changed fail to see is that Jesus was not in any position to carry out the law. He was not a magistrate. He was not legally authorized to carry out capital punishment (Luke 12:14). Therefore, he could not have done much more than He did do without breaking the law Himself. Furthermore, His words to this woman give us every indication that she was repentant, for only those who repent are free of condemnation (John 8:11, 1 John 1:9).

    Because the gospel is God's message to those who repent, the story of how Jesus dealt with that woman is gospel. It was not recorded to encourage the unrepentant (by leading them to think that the law no longer condemns them) but to assure those who repent that they have forgiveness in Christ.

    While the church does not have the authority to carry out capital punishment, and has never been authorized by God to do so, Paul called upon the Corinthian congregation to condemn a man who was unrepentant (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). And he made it clear that politically speaking, "they which commit such things" are still "worthy of death" (Romans 1:32).

THE OFFICE OF A JUDGE


    While those who are magistrates have a responsibility to carry out the law, and to punish those who are guilty, there is no need to act mean or vindictive as if we are more righteous than they. Those who are judges need to remain objective, to be fair in their evaluation of the evidence, and to pronounce sentence in accord with the law. At the same time, we who are not judges need to remember that we are sinners in need of God's forgiveness.

    When a man came to Jesus saying, "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me" (Luke 12:13). Instead of trying to act like a big-shot or showing off His own importance by sticking His nose in someone else's business, Christ simply said, "Who made me a judge" (Luke 12:14). And, by so doing He left us an example.

    When Joseph first learned that Mary was pregnant, he knew that he had not been intimate with her, so he assumed that she had done wrong. Nevertheless, because he was a just man (a man justified by faith) he was not willing to shame her publicly as if he was more righteous than she. Instead he planned to divorce her quietly. Had she been guilty, the authorities would have learned of it in time, but he was not going to usurp their job. Thus, even though we now know that she was innocent, Joseph set an example for us to follow (Philippians 2:5).

    At present our country faces a situation much like what Moses faced, when Balaam advised the Moabites to commit adultery with the children of Israel. During the last century, communists worked long and hard to undermine the moral fabric of our nation by promoting immorality, and their "liberal" fellow travelers continue what they started. Therefore, Christian rulers have every right to deal with the situation in the same way that Moses did. However, while they have that right, it would not be wise for them to exercise that right as long as a satanically orchestrated media, and university system, would demonize whatever they do. Not to mention swaying public opinion against those who enforce the law, by portraying the guilty as innocent victims of prejudice. [Numbers 25:1-18, Numbers 31:16, Revelation 2:14, 1 Corinthians 10:8, 1 Peter 2:14, Romans 13:4]

    Since rulers are agents of God's wrath, when they execute a sinner, it is as if judgement day had come early for that person. And capital punishment is in full accord with the will of God (Genesis 9:6). Not because God delights in the death of the wicked, but because those who trust in Him must be protected, and without punishment the guilty will never repent (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
 

CONCLUSION


    The Ten Commandments were given to Moses, not Aaron, and the are the basis of the political law, not the religious law. Therefore, those who would (in the name of separation of church and state) restrict the Ten Commandments to the church, are themselves guilty of violating the Biblical distinction between church and state.
    Because the church represents God's heavenly kingdom, pastors should stay out of politics. By getting involved in politics they only alienate those who do not share their views. At the same time, Christian laymen should be involved, should be an influence for good, and should never be so self-righteous that they prefer to remain aloof lest they soil themselves by contact with the world. Furthermore, every Christian (pastor and layman alike) should condemn the sins of those in power, just as John the Baptist condemned the sins of Herod.