The separation of church and politics

By now, it’s a familiar notion that churches and ministers should avoid politics. In my estimation, it’s an artificial constraint of the gospel, but it’s certainly a well-known artificial constraint. It has been common for churches to avoid weighing in on politics, preferring to stick to more obvious elements of the gospel.

(What is obvious about the gospel tends to be what we have been clearly and repeatedly taught. Anything ignored slips away from us. With new people being born every day, it takes no more than a generation. Human nature being what it is, it can often take less than a generation.)

What you may not have considered is that a certain type of political environment is necessary in order for it to even be plausible that church business and politics be separate. To say “churches should stay out of politics” is to make a statement that is at once both religious and political. It is religious, because it is a statement about the proper sphere of the church. And it is political for the same reason. In order for the church to be able to stick to non-political issues, there must be some non-political issues for it to stick to.

This implies that the business of the state must be limited to its own proper sphere. If congress passes laws on everything, if judges interfere in all kinds of relationships, if civil rights commissions dictate speech and behavior inside the church, then there is nothing left for the church to handle. As the tyrannical queen once said to Alice, “all ways here are my ways!”

It certainly seems that the days of politics being strictly limited to a particular sphere are fading away. And perhaps it should come as no surprise. Historically, the concept of limited government was championed by the church. It was taught in pulpits to people of every age and description. Limited government was demanded based on religious conviction. In prior ages, Christians believed that God had forbidden civil government to operate outside its own proper sphere. And furthermore, Christians believed that the state was answerable to God for how it handled things inside its own sphere. In other words, politics was understood to be subject to God, and the church actively taught how politics was to submit to the will of God.

This is similar to the relationship between church and family. Family matters are distinct from church business, but the church is responsible to teach how a family obeys God. This does not give ministers the right to take over the administration of any family. But it also does not mean that families are not subject to the word of God.

For the older sort of Christian, the idea that churches should avoid speaking about politics entirely would be ludicrous. It would be every bit as absurd as the idea that churches avoid speaking about family relationships. Simply ridiculous. Besides that it, would be understood as an insult to the authority of God himself, and a serious danger to the functioning of a healthy society.

But even for the more modern sort of Christian, who is not accustomed to hearing about limited government from the pulpit, the idea that churches should avoid politics is becoming increasingly implausible. This is because God-hating pagans have run amok with state power. Those who know what God demands can not acquiesce. Those who do not know- well, they need to be taught, don’t they?

In order to have a healthy society, everyone needs to know how to stay in his own lane. And everyone, in any lane, needs to know what God requires of him. Teaching that is clearly church business.

 

tiny lantern

3 thoughts on “The separation of church and politics

  1. Nathan,
    Watch or listen, about an hour 15 minutes. A bit on the separation of church and state plus some history. I’ve watched and listened to a lot of her…. it’s hard to remember which youtube presentation gives the most succinct info on a subject of interest though at times. They interweave a lot. I haven’t taken any of her courses yet which would be more focussed. She is a Crusader! And there are great nuggets of treasure and truth in here. 🙂
    Craige
    PS Clearly the guvmint should have zero to do with Churches, but God should have everything to do with a politician and the people they “serve.”

    Part 1

    Part 2

    Part 3

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