For the first time in our nation’s history, the independent, separate relationship between church and state in America is in question. Does the state have the power, constitutionally and biblically, to dictate the church’s conduct, even to the extent of shutting it down in cases of real or imagined crisis, as many blue states are doing now?
The First Amendment to the Constitution is clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting (that includes “restricting”) the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” According to Article 6, Section 2, if a state law (or decree by a governor) does so, it is not legal either. So, the state, as well as the federal government, has no power to shut down churches, or limit in any way attendance or activities during services. It is illegal, unconstitutional, and must be ignored. A church is under no obligation whatsoever to obey. How it conducts its services is totally up to the church itself.
John MacArthur and his Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, understand this, and, after initially ceasing to meet, they began to reconvene after realizing that it was safe to do so. They understand their complete independence from the civil government, regardless of the state’s pressure to control them. An increasing number of churches in the country are following suit.
But, does this mean that church and state have no relationship with one another whatsoever? It seems that today they view each other as enemies.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Biblically, they are partners, not in competition, because God has given each separate, distinct, legitimate, and unique tasks, and neither is in authority over the other. These institutions, the church and the civil government, along with the family, are the three weapons God created to fulfill His dominion mandate (Genesis 1:26). Man is to rule over the earth as God’s vice-regent.
All three of these spheres of authority are expressions of that rule, under God. The family originated in the Garden, when God gave Eve to Adam to complete him as his helpmate in Genesis 2; the civil government came into being when God ordained capital punishment in Genesis 9; and the church was born when God came to dwell within His people on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
This is God’s master plan for His Son—to rule from His Father’s right hand (where Jesus has been ensconced since the Ascension), through us, God’s children on the earth. We will do so, through these institutions, as the Bible says, “Till I make Your enemies Your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).
When I realized this truth, some years ago now, I found myself reorienting my life. I began to focus my efforts exclusively on learning and practicing what the Bible teaches about how each of these institutions are structured and function, along with other informal expressions of God’s rule (i.e., the marketplace).
If the Bible is our “standard of faith and practice,” as the Westminster Confession proclaims, should we not do our best to bring our practice of family, church, and civil government into conformity to that biblical pattern? I will introduce some of those biblical concepts in each of the three institutions in coming weeks, but today I would like to explore how, when functioning biblically, they each relate to the other two.
Sometimes, in God’s inscrutable, decretive will and His eternal purpose, He ordains that some of His children do not marry, and other couples do not have children. In this posting, we will not deal with these special circumstances but only with His general, overall plan for the vast majority of His children.
Keep in mind that, in this posting, we are discussing the kingdom of God—the rule of Jesus Christ expressed here on the earth. That rule is exercised as we, and all for whom we are responsible, are conformed to the eternal law of God.
However, this is not a recipe to follow, a punch list to complete. No! It is a list of PROMISES that God will perform in us, never by us (Romans 8:4), spontaneously, naturally, and often even unconsciously, as we trust the Spirit to do so as we walk by faith.
1. The family, God’s first institution, is the powerful supply engine for the church and the civil government. Paul says to fathers, as the heads of their families and thus responsible for their children, to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Notice that this deals with determining our children’s external conduct, not their internal heart attitude. We lovingly and faithfully teach them truth, but we can’t make them believe it. However, we can make them do what we tell them to do, and we must! This constitutes child training.
The last few generations of parents have not done this. The rebellion in the heart of every child has been allowed to reign unchecked, and those children become the next generation’s governors, professors, judges and pastors. The untrained rebels of the hippy generation of the 60’s and 70’s are today’s national leadership.
Our nation has suffered immeasurably because of the failure of that generation’s families to produce trained children. As the family continues to deteriorate, the nation increasingly loses its original vision
2. The civil government, God’s second institution, biblically, has only two jobs: to protect law-keepers and to punish law-breakers. As our de facto, national religion becomes corporate humanism (i.e., cultural Marxism), and our ever-expanding civil government replaces God as our source of authority, its job description in America has expanded to encompass practically all of our lives. Today, it provides for us a managed economy, free education, affordable healthcare, welfare for the poor, etc.
If we have grown up in America we see little wrong with the government being deeply involved in all of those activities. However, remember the government’s job is confined, biblically, to protection (from fraud, scams, and all manner of white collar crime as well as crimes of violence) and appropriate punishment for those crimes. Therefore, the government should protect the family, so it can fulfill its divine task of raising children, and it should protect the church, so it can preach the gospel freely and clearly. They are working together, each with its own job; they are never in competition..
3. Finally, the church, God’s third institution, teaches parents in the church how to biblically raise and train their children. How can the parents know how to do this if they grew up in non-Christian homes? The church does not do the job for them, i.e., “bring them (the children) up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). That is not the church’s job, but the job of the parents!
Lastly, the church constantly speaks the biblical message of the kingdom to the civil government prophetically. It says, “This is the way the government should walk. Walk ye in it,” and, when the prophetic word given is truth, the government gratefully listens, evaluates, and modifies its behavior.
Next week we will begin to look at what each institution will look like when we bring them into the kingdom of God.