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October 21, 2018 Separation of Church and State

 

Scripture reading: I Timothy 1:8-11; Matthew 5:17-20.

 

[I. Introduction] At the present time and for quite some time now, a statement made by one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, in a private letter has become the policy of not only the federal government, but state governments and local governments as well. That statement is “separation of church and state.” The statement is invoked anytime God’s commands attempt to be implemented in society. The enemies of righteousness will try to resist God’s law by reciting this phrase. Likewise, if there is any public demonstration of the birth of Christ, the death of Christ (the cross), or the resurrection of Christ the same naysayers will object for the same reason.

 

It may surprise some people that this phrase and what it has come to mean is nowhere to be found in the Constitution nor in the Declaration of Independence. There is a principle of separation between the church and the federal government that should exist, but it is the exact opposite of how it is practiced in the present day. The principle is that the government should not restrict, in any way, the exercise of religious expression in the public realm. But this is exactly what they do, turning the principle to mean the exact opposite of what it was intended to do.

 

As we consider this important topic we will answer two questions: What is God’s intent and desire regarding his laws being implemented in a nation? And, what is the meaning of the First Amendment from which Jefferson’s phrase was derived?

 

[II.] What is God’s intent and desire regarding his laws being implemented by a nation or any government entity? In order to answer this question it is helpful to understand the functions of God’s law. The Reformers identified three primary functions of God’s law according to Scripture.

 

First, God’s law functions to show man his sin and his great need of a Savior.

 

11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.[1]

 

Notice the last phrase in verse 13.  One reason the law was given was “in order that sin might be shown to be sin.” And, that “through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.”

 

All people know right and wrong innately. God has written his laws upon the human heart. He writes them in a greater way upon the hearts of those who belong to his Son. When we love Jesus we not only know God’s law with greater understanding, but we love his law! All people know God’s law but only those  whom the Spirit has enlivened love his law.

 

Even though all people know God’s law they suppress it and try to ignore it. So, the Lord has caused it to be written down so that sin might be shown to be sin and that people will come under conviction for their violations of God’s law and recognize their need for a Savior.

 

The second function of God’s law is as a guide for the believer’s life, that is, to help us in our sanctification.  One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 1.

 

Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

       nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2    but his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night. [2]

 

David loved the Lord. Because he loved the Lord, he loved his law. He delighted in his law! He meditated upon it day and night. Why did he meditate upon it? So that he could forget it? No! So he would come to understand it more fully. So he could live it out!

 

If he could live it he would be like a tree planted by water – thriving (verse 3). If he could live it he would yield fruit and not have a barren life. If he could live it he would prosper!

 

For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication[3]

 

God’s will is our sanctification. In this passage, specifically abstaining from fornication. That sin is harder to know if one has not been brought up in a Christian home. How do we know that fornication is a sin? By God’s law!

 

So, the second use of the law is as a guide for the believer’s life.

 

The third use of the law is for the restraint of evil in the world and the promotion of the good. It is for a well-ordered society. This is the usage that is referred to I Timothy 1:8-11.

 

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. [4]

 

As far as God’s law for society is concerned, it is needed because many people are disobedient. They are lawless in themselves. They deny the moral law written on their hearts. The Christian does not need this aspect of the law because they love God’s law and will do the right thing when faced with temptation. Even in those instances when a follower of Christ fails they know they have done wrong and they turn to the Lord in repentance.

 

But, look at this list of sinful activities. It refers to those who strike their parents. It is s sin to strike anyone (with the exception of self-defense), how much more sinful one’s parents. It refers to those who forcibly enslave others. We call that human trafficking now and it is a real and growing problem in our world, even in the U.S. Children are kidnapped, as well as young women, and forced into slavery. It refers to perjurers.

 

Every law must have sanctions. If there are no sanctions – penalties – then there is no deterrent. The laws are useless. Therefore, this passage in Timothy refers to God’s law for society with governmental penalties. In other words, God’s laws should be implemented by every nation. This is not only true now but was true in old Testament times as well.

 

Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? [5]

 

If the nation of Israel had lived out God’s laws more faithfully then they would have been an example to the other nations of how good God’s laws are and the other nations would have, should have, embraced them.

 

Indeed, God judged the other nations precisely because they violated God’s laws. God’s laws are for every nation in every age.

 

God desires and intends for his laws to be enacted in every nation and every state.

 

[III.] What is the meaning of the First Amendment? Sometimes things are worded in such a way that we need a little help in understanding what it actually says. Other times, writings are so simply worded that no explanation is needed. The First amendment is so straight-forward that no explanation is needed. Look at it.

 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

 

Isn’t that clear? Congress – that is the federal government – shall not make a law establishing a religion. Neither shall they make a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. There is nothing here about the separation of church and state. How did that come about?

 

The Baptist Church was involved. In the 1700’s Baptists were in the minority. The Episcopalian Church and the Congregational Church were represented in greater numbers. As a result the Baptists found themselves left behind in opportunities. When Thomas Jefferson became President he was strongly anti-Federalist. He believed that more power should be vested in the states and less to the Federal government. The Baptists were of the same disposition. The Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut wrote the President a letter which said, in part:

 

Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office, we embrace the first opportunity . . . to express our great satisfaction in your appointment to the Chief Magistracy in the United States. . . . [W]e have reason to believe that America’s God has raised you up to fill the Chair of State out of that goodwill which He bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you. . . . And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.

 

They also expressed a concern that the right to worship God and serve him was not a right granted by the government but was a right from God Himself. Jefferson wrote back to them explaining that he agreed with them. The right to worship freely is a “natural right,” meaning it came from God, not government.

 

 I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights,

 

The whole context of the quote, “separation of church and state,” shows that Jefferson meant that the government should keep itself from inhibiting religious expression and that it is a “natural,” or God-given, right. It has nothing to do with people, or even non-Federal governments (like states or municipalities), showing forth their religious convictions and beliefs.

 

Those who are antagonistic to the Christian faith ignore the historical contexts of these debates in times past. In fact, Jefferson believed that individual states had the right to prescribe religious duty! It is the Federal government that could not. In another article he wrote that the “power to prescribe any religious exercise…must rest with the states.”

 

He also sent federal funds to the Baptist church in the western wilderness and thought it not to be in violation of the First Amendment as long as he distributed and federal funds equitably.

 

By forbidding states and local municipalities from displaying Nativity scenes or other religious expressions the federal government (usually federal courts) are actually violating the First Amendment! It has been turned on its head!

 

[IV. Conclusion and Application] Our calling as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be a good citizen of our nation and our community. One way we can do this is by supporting candidates for public office who stand for righteousness. There are those who promote wickedness and those who promote God’s law. Know who is whom.

 

I encourage all to get involved in the coming election and those to follow. Volunteer to work for a candidate. Give monetary gifts. Vote. And, implement our secret weapon: pray!

 

If we do little and the ungodly do much then we will see our land continue down the path of rebellion. That end is judgment.

 

Arise, O men and women of God! The church was beguiled into being separated from the decision-making process. It was beguiled into being separated from the government for many decades. Now it comes to you. Do not separate yourself from being salt and light.

 

Make a difference starting today!

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 7:11–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 1:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., 1 Th 4:3). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 1:8–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 4:6–8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.