Separation of Church and State
Last week’s article began by quoting the famous First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Since that was such a great introduction, let’s do it again. (The greatness of the introduction is the incomparable First Amendment itself, not me quoting it!)
But this time we’ll fast forward 87 years from the birth of our nation in 1776 to another famous proclamation; the source of which is more easily recognized than whether the freedoms listed above came from the US Constitution or the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights.
What you’re about to read was a remarkable reminder that our nation’s inalienable birthrights and legal birth certificates (documents) would expectantly ensure the existence of the greatest representative democracy on the face of the earth—the Republic of the United States of America. That, even during our country’s greatest crisis, the noble aspirations of our founding fathers would not be forgotten.
It begins with:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Got it yet? No … then the final words will surely turn on the light:
“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Of course you knew. President Abraham Lincoln uttered these historical words on November 19, 1863, in what has become known as the Gettysburg Address, delivered a few months after the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War in and near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Concerning, then, our two-part Eye of Prophecy inquiry and investigation: Can the lofty ambitions of a government that guarantees individual freedoms, a government that is of, by, and for the people be better accomplished if Church and State functions are shared or are separated?
Before we look at some Biblical historical precedents, we need to remember that Church, State, and Religion must first be defined, as they were in last week’s Part I article. Thus, if we’re describing religion properly (man-made set of rules, regulations, and rituals) and Church accurately (a hierarchal clergy-run institution or organization claiming supremacy over the laity and over true Christian salvation of individuals based solely on God’s plan and purpose as found in the Bible), we can conceivably get a more balanced perspective on the interaction between God and man, and between peoples … nationally and internationally.
An Intriguing Premise
I’d like to present a premise that might startle those who passionately defend the government envisioned by our forefathers and confirmed convincingly by Abraham Lincoln—a government that I, too, ardently admire and strenuously support. Indeed, it is a constitutional system of checks and balances that is the envy of people the world over. As much as individual pride, power, and pleasure will allow, the United States of America is, in principle and practice, a nation for the people.
“But that’s not all”, you might reply. “It’s also, of and by the people.”
Yes, that is what President Lincoln said. That also is what the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights intended, because these freedom documents were both of and by sincere representatives of the people who wanted independence from Church States and State Churches.
Moreover, as alluded to in last week’s article, Scripture is crystal clear that God and Messiah Jesus never meant for individual believers to be part of or subservient to a central, organized ecclesiastical system such as found in Roman Catholicism, or in Mormonism, or in the Church of England or any other systematized “ism.”
In that regard and by that definition, there should be a separation of Church and State, because the Lord never envisioned such a Church in the first place. Which is why God worked in, through and for those who revolted against the oppressive autocracy of the Church States of Europe. Notice, however: Our founding fathers didn’t leave God out of their hopes and plans; because they fully understood that freedom of religion should not be equated with freedom from religion. The majority of them acknowledged God as the ultimate source and sustainer of individual liberties that can better flourish within a republic. That both the people and their elected officials could express their beliefs without the existence of or need for a centralized structured religious system to force those beliefs on anyone, at any time, for any reason.
In today’s world, however, many have misused, abused, and distorted the balance between Church and State for two basic reasons: (1) wrong thinking and defective definition of religion and Church (especially the Christian faith), as detailed in last week’s article.
(2) Because they have dismissed anything to do with God and his plan for the human race, there are those who contend that we must eliminate all vestiges of “religion” in government, which ultimately results in expelling all references to and symbols of God in public places. Under the pretense of maintaining Church separation from State (in which the concept itself is misunderstood and misapplied), they have misled many in this country to unwittingly think and act on the (false) premise that there must be freedom from religion. Which is fundamentally true for both unbelievers and believers alike, if religion and Church are properly defined. But is simply not true if individual Christian rights are denied; thereby, resulting in a classic case of reverse discrimination.
In reality, many leaders and their followers and groups like the ACLU are trying to accomplish their “hidden” agenda so pointedly pronounced by King David (yes, he was a king … we’ll get to that shortly):
“Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. ’Let us break their chains,’ they cry, ‘and free ourselves from slavery to God’” (Psalms 2:1-3).
The Premise: Until Messiah Jesus returns to establish the Kingdom of God, the very best form of government on this earth is one that is for the people, but not exclusively of or by the people!
Stated another way: For government to be supremely successful for the people, it must be of and by God … from and through God. Ultimately, it must also be for God and his Son (for his glory) who, as Scripture says, is the “Beginning and the End.”
The Bible clearly shows us that our Creator is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent. He is truth, light, and life. He is perfect in every way. He wants the best for us and he knows what’s best for us; including, but not limited to, the ideal form of leadership and administration of daily life in the human race. Yet, he gives us free will to choose. Who and what we choose can literally be a matter of life and death … individually and nationally.
Said God to the people through Moses: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
The Lord never intended for a city, state, or nation to be governed by a “church” because he never meant for there to be a “religion.” God’s original plan was for every man and woman to have a personal relationship and fellowship with him, based on uncompromising love for him, total obedience to him, and unwavering trust in him. If Israel (all peoples) would have listened to the Lord and held tightly to his instructions, they would have been governed by God, himself.
Indeed, that was the plan from the time that God chose Abraham and told him, “…All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).
A Kingdom of Priests
Soon after the Lord delivered the Israelites from slavery and shortly before he gave the Ten Commandments to the entire assembly of Israel (Exodus Chapter 20), God told Moses:
“…Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation. This is the message you must give to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:3-6, italics for emphasis).
The Ten Commandments were the beginning of the source of light and blessing to Israel, but also Gentiles who acknowledged and accepted the existence and authority and goodness of God Almighty. Subsequently, God gave detailed instructions to Moses concerning their personal relationship with God and interpersonal relationships with each other and with the Gentile nations. This included the Levitical Sacrificial System that required individuals to present innocent animals for sacrifice (sin, guilt, peace, praise offerings) and annual observance of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) for the entire nation. Although the High Priest and other priests supervised and regulated the administration of this all-important sacrificial structure (forgiveness of sin and restoration to God), every Israelite was part of (what was for a while and what could have been indefinitely) a holy nation—set apart for a special purpose.
Israel was meant to be a nation of priests, with the optimum form of government—a Theocracy, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as, “having God as the central interest and ultimate concern.”
A government which was of God, by God, and for God. Therefore, for the people because God promised he would bless them if they made him the center of their lives; unlike the Gentile nations that worshipped man-made gods and sacrificed their children to these detestable gods (demons). The Jews were to be an example for and share God’s truth with the Gentiles; unfortunately, they did not do this.
If we as a nation acknowledge God as our Creator, then trust him completely to bless us with needed protection and provisions, there would be no cause or concern for any such thing as separation of Church and State. Because there would be no centralized Church or church system. Rather the Kingdom of Heaven would be (is) in the hearts and minds of individuals who believe and receive Christ Jesus as personal Savior. Both believers and unbelievers can then serve in various levels of government without forcing their beliefs on each other. God alone will determine the success and welfare of a nation, depending on the nature and extent of the people’s recognition of his sovereignty.
Whether this is a Parliamentary or Democratic Representative Republic, an Absolute or Constitutional Monarchy, or any other form of government other than Fascism or Communism, wouldn’t matter as much as we think it does. None of the leaders of those governments need compel any one to believe in God or accept Jesus as Lord and Savior or behave in a certain manner as long as it is legal and peaceable. Conversely, secular unbelievers should not insist (falsely) that the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is only possible if the State purges itself of anything and everything that is Christian.
In just a generation or two after Joshua led them into the Promised Land and God gave them victory over their enemies, the Israelites began to abandon the Lord in favor of pagan gods and practices. They soon lost sight of the fact that it was faith (trust) in God, himself, to lead, protect, and to forgive them when they sinned. The keeping of the Mosaic Law, including the sacrifices and festivals, became a matter of rote, ritual observance that wasn’t from their heart. Eventually, even the priests and scribes became corrupt.
They failed to make the all-important distinction between a right standing before and relationship with their God through faith alone, contrasted to obedient observance of the ceremonial and civil laws as a condition for remaining in the Promised Land … but not for individual redemption.
Individual disobedience (sin … which all men commit) could be and was pardoned by God through the sacrificial system. But national (the greater majority of the people) rejection of the Lord by deliberately removing him from their daily affairs and replacing the Lord with false man-made gods of fertility (sex), crops (abundance and prosperity), and protection (victory in battle and security), led to discipline—mainly in the form of famines and persecution by their enemies. Inevitably it led to being conquered and exiled to Gentile nations … Assyria and Babylon; then later defeat at the hands of the Romans, with dispersion to the four corners of the earth that would last for nearly 2,000 years.
From a Nation of Priests to a Nation of Kings
After they conquered and inhabited the Promised Land of Israel, the Jews decided they would be much better off with a king to lead and govern them … like that of the Gentile nations. Instead of being an example and model to the Gentiles of what a near-perfect (as much as human error will allow) government could be and actually was for a while, they preferred a king over what was already working well in Israel—priests and judges who administered the ceremonial and civil laws (and justice), respectively. See Deuteronomy 17:1-13, as an example.
In this same chapter (setting), the Lord knew that his people would want a king to rule them, so years in advance he told the people through Moses:
“You are about to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner” (Deuteronomy 17:14-15).
(Note: Remind you that a President of the United States must be a natural born citizen)?
The Lord then imposed conditions for the king (chosen by God), such as severing all ties with or influences from their former rulers in Egypt; not taking multiple wives because they would turn the king’s heart away from the Lord; not accumulating a lot of wealth, which can and often does corrupt a leader. Or, if not the wealth itself, then the power that goes with it.
Next came some profound but practical (Church-like and State-like) instructions that the Lord gave to them when (not if … the Lord knew it would happen) Israel switched from the harmonious and successful administrative blend of priests and judges to a nation ruled by a king.
“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear (respect, hold in awe) the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
Do we see what’s going on here? Do we recognize that the success of a king (Prime Minister, President) and the welfare of his or her kingdom is predicated on these profound precepts given by God to Moses? Indeed, in all of Scripture. Shall we appreciate these principles and see how they could apply to all governmental levels of the Republic of the United States; for that matter, to any government whose leader(s) would at least acknowledge and respect the true and living God? Can we fit them into whatever view we hold on the issue of church and state separation? Better yet, shouldn’t we fit our opinions into God’s Word?
Do we grasp that genuine motivation to read, study, and apply Biblical truths and guidelines will shape the mind and heart of the king (or any leader), so as to humble him. To help him (or her) understand that they are not above the law or superior to their fellow citizens. That regular exposure to Judaic-Christian values as contained in Scripture will enable a government’s successors to continue with recognition of God and service to the people in the way God intended. That leaders will set an example for all the people to do what Scripture declares so that the Lord will direct, protect, and provide for them.
“…O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Fear the Lord if you are wise! (Micah 6:8-9).
Can we also see what is not going on in God’s instructions to Moses for kings (leaders)?
Nowhere is it stated or even implied that the king shall force God’s Word or Ways on his subjects (constituents), either by executive decree or by legislation. For example, a National Day of Prayer is a wonderful idea, one to which a nation would do well to practice. But it’s completely voluntary, subject to each individual’s preference to observe or not to observe.
When God permitted Israel to change from a Kingdom of Priests to a Kingdom of Kings, he also made allowances for the faults, frailties, and failures of the people. Thus, the Lord’s instructions to the king did not, by compulsion, mandate that the people do the same thing. It would be much better for them individually and as a nation if they did seek and acknowledge God in both private affairs and affairs of state; but above all, God still gives the human race free will to choose. No better exemplified than America’s freedom to vote someone into office, but then accept the consequences (good, bad, or indifferent) of that choice.
A Priest or a King, but Not Both
With divine foreknowledge the Lord knew all too well that unrestrained, unconditional power corrupts and that the vast majority of national and international leaders throughout history would be or become malevolent monarchs instead of benevolent, he also told Israel that the same man could not be both king and priest.
In that respect, there was a (balanced) separation of kingly duties and priestly duties. What we would probably identify in today’s society as some semblance of Separation of Church and State.
For one thing, no one person had the time or energy to occupy both offices. Also, if a king was wicked—which the vast majority of Israel’s king were, as were nearly all Gentile kings—the priests and the people that faithfully followed the Lord could still live and prosper in the land because of God’s faithfulness to keep his promises (of blessing).
As the leader(s) of a nation goes, so do its people often go? Right? Of course, right. Unless, that is, the greater populace seeks God’s mercy as so powerfully proclaimed by God to King David’s son, Solomon. In that context, David set the benchmark for a godly king who, despite a couple of grievous wrongs, consistently followed and obeyed the Lord. Something that virtually none of the kings of the ten northern tribes and only 3-4 of the kings from Judah accomplished.
Listen again to the well-known words that vividly explain God’s grace and mercy if people as a nation turn to him:
“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).
Then, the Lord declares to Solomon: “As for you, if you faithfully follow me as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty. For I made this covenant with your father, David, when I said, ‘One of your descendants will always rule over Israel.’ But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them…” (Verses 17-20).
Make no mistake … this beautiful land of opportunity that we call the United States of America was, in fact, given to us by the true and living God. The surest way to lose our freedoms, if not the land itself, is to as a nation (all three branches of government) abandon, reject, and mock our Creator and Savior. Ironically, this is being done by many who claim they are protecting those liberties by eliminating all things shown, said, or done that smack of religion, with practically everything they do directed against Christians (true believers). Their real agenda is to eliminate the name of Jesus and take away the rights of those who name the name of Christ, including freedom of worship, speech, press, and assembly, in say a meeting room on a high school or college campus.
I firmly believe if we and especially our presidents, senators, representatives, governors, mayors, and judges adhered to (the basic) truths and principles found in Scripture, at least acknowledging God’s ultimate authority and thanking him for all of his blessings, there would be no need to debate the issue of Church and State separation. Our leaders would fully comprehend what it means to serve both God and the people. This service would not need to in any way, shape, or form result in a man-made religion or hierarchical religious denomination or institution to impose a distorted view of government ON the people.
(Based on the Senate’s Resolution, President Lincoln called for a National Day of Prayer … Optional of course)
So, what about a kingdom of priests for Israel? Did God’s plan fail?
I think not. God always (ultimately) accomplishes his purpose, whether the people fail or not.
And what about the absolute best model for the human race to be governed? Is that an impossible dream? Is it the stuff that myths are made of? Comparatively speaking, the United States would appear to be the most successful governmental enterprise of human history; with emphasis, however, on comparative. Meaning in contrast to dictatorships where separation of Church and State was a foregone conclusion … any State presumption or perception of interference by someone’s “religious” beliefs could mean instant death. Or compared to Islamic countries whose government is of, by, and for only those who are Muslims … the ultimate example of an oppressive State Religion.
Likewise, the misguided, unbiblical, anti-Christ(ian) monarchies of pre-Renaissance Europe that were bedfellows with the Roman Catholic Church or Church of England; or whose kings and queens fought for supremacy against those dubious paragons of religion.
There’s no doubt: The ACLU and other organizations and individuals like them have grossly mislead the American public. When placed in the context of the aforementioned Church-State paradigms, there simply doesn’t exist in this country the slightest form, whatsoever, of anything resembling or threatening to duplicate a State Church. Nor is the cry of “wolf” logical or appropriate in duping us to think there may be the slightest risk of a Church State in this country.
On the contrary, there is an ever-growing secularism and socialism that is trending to the opposite extreme … a godless intolerant government that will eventually yield its authority to one man. An evil ruler whom the Bible calls the man of lawlessness, the beast, and the Antichrist.
There is increasing discrimination and persecution (mostly through legal actions in Western countries, but also terrorism; plus physical persecution in Islamic nations, including murder) of Christians by those who claim tolerance and plurality as the only way to live. Which, translated, means no Christian rights or, worse, no Christians at all; because they believe that Messiah Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life. Anti-Christians are motivated by a convoluted logic and twisted mindset that doesn’t concede the obvious: It requires a heavy dose of intolerance to criticize, marginalize, and ostracize those they claim are intolerant!
Essentially and ultimately they are attacking our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For it was he who said that unless a person is born again, he/she cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). That he is the only way to God, the Father. That only he can give us eternal life … and so on.
Current Kingdom of Priests
Getting back to our question regarding a nation of priests. The answer is a resounding, yes!
Though the awesome sacrifice of Messiah Jesus, a new race has been born. Both Jew and Gentile who believe and receive Christ as Lord and Savior have become one new person.
“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us … He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
If we agree with God’s Word that Jew and Gentile and Gentile and Gentile can be one in Christ, no walls of separation would be needed … period. Except one wall: between truth and lies.
Says God through the Jewish Apostle Peter to all believers: “…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).
But that’s not all. God will complete his marvelous plan to establish the ultimate kingdom with the greatest King of all time to rule and reign. It will be the perfect form of government, a Theocracy of and by God for his glory and for the everlasting Shalom (peace and well-being) of all who choose life in that Kingdom over everything this worn-out, wicked world of ours can offer.
In that regard, permit me to again quote from a previous Eye of Prophecy article, Kingdom of God (published 1-17-15). In italics as follows:
Paul proceeds to tell us more about God’s splendid plan for the human race. In fact he calls it a mystery, because at the time that God gave it to him even the new Christians didn’t completely understand the eternal implications of what Christ would achieve at his first coming and would continue at his second coming. Listen to these extraordinary words:
“God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10).
That plan is none other than: THE KINGDOM OF GOD (on earth). Revealed by Messiah Jesus himself as recorded in the Gospels; and consolidated into the everlasting tenets of the Christian faith by the authors of the epistles and Revelation.
Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom of God; for example, comparing it to a mustard seed … the smallest of seeds that when planted grows into an enormous tree. Which is exactly what has happened to the body of Christ; an exponential growth down through the ages, to now consist of believers from virtually every nation and language on earth. It is the Kingdom of Heaven in the hearts and minds of those who have been redeemed by the shed blood of Christ. Next, will come the final physical Kingdom of God on this earth; at which time all people, all governments, all nations will be brought under the authority of God’s magnificent Son. He will rule the nations with firmness, but fairness.
Isn’t that what most people want? They want: law, order, equality, safety, peace. And they want someone who has the kind of authority to realize those dreams, but also someone who is kind and considerate with that authority. One who truly cares about people and what’s best for them; who can rule and judge with impartiality and kindness. A truly wise and benevolent King whose attributes perfectly reflect who and what he is: Love, Truth, Justice, Mercy.
Kings and queens rise and they fall. Kingdoms come, kingdoms go. Nations wax and wane. Soon, very soon we will witness the rise of a Royal Kingdom and a Righteous King who will rule and reign supreme on the earth: The Kingdom of God.
Things to Ponder
“Fear of the Lord leads to life, bringing security and protection from harm” (Proverbs 19:23).
“When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan” (Proverbs 29:2).
Of Messiah (Jesus), God through his prophet Isaiah promises:
“His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” (Isaiah 9:7).
Yes, Lord … make it happen!