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August 27, 2011

There's a reason for separating church and state

Government is a God-ordained institution created to give order and stability.

In recent years, the pressure has mounted for the Christian church to become more vocal in the public arena. Many pastors are giving up their pastorates to help "fix" America, seeking to bring this country back to its moral roots. Although this is a lofty goal, is this the focus we see for the church in Scripture? Did Jesus advocate changing the government? In Matthew 22:15-22, we see the Herodians seeking to trap Jesus. (The Herodians were a political party that supported the wicked Herod dynasty that ruled as Roman puppets in Israel.) They came to Jesus and asked, "Is is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" In other words, Herodians were asking whether the Roman government was the legitimate government to support. Jesus noted that Caesar was the one on coins, and tells them, "Pay therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God, the things that are God's." Jesus would not get involved with the politics of his day.

Jesus was concerned with the need of every man and woman to have a personal relationship with God, to have his or her sin forgiven. He had come to sacrifice his life for the sin of the world, and he did not become distracted from his ultimate goal.

How about Peter or Paul? How about Joseph, or David, or Nehemiah, or Esther, or Daniel? How did they handle unfair government practices? What do we see in Scripture? We see a respectful, prayerful, peace abiding calmness when these situations occurred. We see people totally confident that their God had set up government, and they must trust him in dealing with these situations.

Prayer was key to change in all these situations. In fact, Nehemiah prayed and mourned four months before he ever said anything to King Artaxerxes. God granted Nehemiah favor so he could go back and build the walls of Jerusalem. Queen Esther had all the Jews fast and pray before she ever dared to approach the king, and through her action, the Jewish nation was spared annihilation.

We see the Apostle Paul's admonition to the church of Rome in Romans 13, where the Bible says, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers. As God's servants, we must obey to keep a clean conscience. What an outlandish statement. How could Paul say government was a servant of God, when he was living under the corrupt Roman government?

The Caesar, for the most part, ruled as an absolute monarch. He held control over the government and military. He was the supreme commander, had veto power over any business, and was looked upon as a god to be revered and worshipped. He used excessive taxation to build Rome into a beautiful imperial city. Nero, the emperor in the last part of Paul's life, instituted the first persecution of Christians. He burned half of Rome so he could rebuild it in grander form, and blamed Christians for the fire. He was responsible for the crucifixion of the Apostle Peter and the beheading of Paul. How could Paul advocate submission, honor, paying of taxes and respect to such people? He did so because he understood rebellion against Rome was in essence rebellion against God.

Notice what Paul and Peter further state on this subject. Titus 3:1-2 says, "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men."

What do you think would happen in our country if Bible-believing citizens learned to love, pray, and treat kindly and respectfully those who have been placed in authority over them? Do you think God could change Washington? Do you think God could change Albany?

As John McArthur once said, "We should not be known as protestors. We should not be known as those who lambaste, criticize and demean people in authority. We should speak against sin, speak against injustice, speak against evil, speak against immorality, fearlessly and without hesitation, but give honor to those who are in authority over us. This is the biblical pattern for every age, and every nation, and every Christian. It has nothing to do with America." It has everything to do with Jesus. May God give us the grace to respond this way.

The Rev. Steve Estes is pastor at the West Davenport Free Baptist Church.

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