Separation of State and Church

by Tad Lindley

So often we hear people talking about the “separation of church and state”. This phrase is not found in the United States Constitution. It was originated by Thomas Jefferson in a letter written to a group of Baptists in Connecticut. Jefferson was discussing government interference with the right of individuals to practice public expression of their faith. Ironically, today, many use the term “separation of church and state” to indicate that it is the duty of the government to stamp out public expression of faith. For this reason, many public events no longer begin and end in prayer. 

What about separation of state and church?

But what about the separation of state and church? In the United States we enjoy the right to vote. Towns and villages in Alaska can for instance vote whether they want to ban the sale, importation, and manufacture of alcohol. Recently the majority of the people in Alaska voted to legalize marijuana. We elect many of our public leaders. If we do not like a leader, there are avenues to vote that person out of office. In many countries the citizens do not enjoy the right to participate in such decisions. We have been raised to believe that if we do not like something, we can change it by our vote.

The church is not a democracy

Unfortunately, that same thinking has crept into the church. People have begun to think, “If we don’t like a part of the Bible, we can just vote it out.” As the Bible has conflicted with public opinion and political correctness, many religious groups have allowed issues that are firmly settled in the Bible to be voted on by their members.

For instance, the Bible quite clearly gives the qualifications of a bishop: A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine … (I Timothy 3:2-7) Knowing that, let me ask you this, can a bishop be a woman? Can a bishop be a polygamist (married to more than one woman)? Can a bishop be an unmarried man? Can a bishop drink alcohol? Can a bishop have a criminal record? According to the Bible the answers are no, no, no, no, and no, and yet different denominations have voted to override the Bible on these issues. Essentially they have said, “We know better than the men who wrote the Bible!”

Destroying the foundation

The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The apostles are the writers of the New Testament, and the Prophets are the writers of the Old Testament. They are the foundation. The church is not built on the winds of public opinion. In fact the Bible clearly condemns Christians who would place public opinion over the word of God: be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:14). As soon as we start voting on issues that are already firmly settled in scripture, we are undermining the foundation of the Bible.

Making the word of God useless

One of Jesus’ main complaints about the people of his day was that they had ignored the Hebrew scriptures and voted in the traditions of men. It produced a powerless Judaism that had no effect. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, for laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…making the word of God of none effect [useless] through your tradition (Mark 7:7-8,13).

Do we want the power?

If we as the church of God wish to have the power of God, we must adhere to the Bible. The winds of doctrine have changed direction rapidly in the last decade, but the word of God is forever settled (Psalm 119:89). The moment that we cave in to the pressures of public opinion or even pressures from within the church itself to exalt our wisdom above the wisdom of God, we are crippling the church. The church after all is not built upon the will of the people, it exists by the will of God and is built on the foundation of the apostles, and prophets, Jesus Christ himself the chief cornerstone. The power of God is not found by exerting the will of the people on the Lord, but by a people that are willing to lay aside their will, their desire, and their intentions and to submit themselves to God.

Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.

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