Section 8: The Church
Week 2: The Church’s Authority and Power
Day 2: The Church’s Authority Operates in a Particular Sphere
When we look at the biblical treatment of the relationship between Church and State, what do we see? We see the two operating alongside one another. The interesting thing is that this doesn’t seem to be just a matter of practical necessity. In other words, it’s not simply a matter that the early Church didn’t have the numbers to wrestle political power away from the Roman Empire. The Bible portrays government as something specifically ordained by God. Paul, for example, says:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers don’t hold terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Rom. 13:1-6
Why is that? Why wouldn’t God want the Church to run the civil government? In large part it’s because God isn’t interested in instituting an earthly kingdom at this point (see John 18:36). He will one day, when Christ returns. For the moment, though, God is content to manifest his rule in the hearts and minds of his people within the Church.
Until Christ returns to establish God’s kingdom on earth, civil governments have a God-given responsibility to fulfill. As we’ve seen, God has given the Church a different mission – to make disciples. Why is that an important distinction to make?
Suppose our government enacted laws that were perfectly in line with God’s laws. Would that fulfill the Church’s mission? Ask yourself, is discipleship merely a matter of outward actions? Of course not. God isn’t looking for people who do what he says just because they have to. He wants people whose hearts and minds have been changed so that they serve him out of love. The machinery of government can’t bring about that kind of change. That’s precisely why the Church exists.
That is not to say the Church shouldn’t try to influence governmental laws and policies. We should. But it’s a matter of priorities. When we try to do too much, we get distracted, and we don’t accomplish as much. We only have so much time and energy. When we focus those resources towards our primary goal, we can make a much bigger impact.
God has given us a mission. In order to fulfill that mission, we need to make sure we focus on the task at hand.
Is it possible for the Church to focus on its mission and still be a positive influence in the government and politics? Can the Church be too involved in politics? Can the Church be too disengaged? What can the Church do to ensure that it keeps its focus on the right things?
Summarize your own view on the proper relationship between the Church and State.