Church and state. What should that relationship look like? Dr. John Neufeld gives us some guidance from the Bible.
It’s hard to talk about the relationship of the Christian faith to a secular state without addressing the elephant in the room. The United States’ “Evangelical” support of President Donald Trump has taken all of the other oxygen from the room. Almost everything said these days about the relationship of evangelical Christians to the state is now being said against this background. How, it is asked, can those who used to take the moral high ground now support a man whose sexual morality, narcissism and propensity to lying are well known?
Of course, the answer is given: in order to secure political advantage, evangelicals have formed an alliance. In the meantime, one hears evangelicals either calling President Trump God’s man for this time, or a man who is harming the evangelical witness to the world. In a recent article published in the New Yorker, Pastor Tim Keller has admitted that “the word ‘evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’”
On this side of the border, all of this has given a great many of us pause for thought. What should be the relationship between Christians and the state? Does the Bible offer us guidance? I think it does; indeed, it gives us a number of significant mandates.
1. We must acknowledge that whoever is in power is put there by God. Romans 13:1 reminds that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” That includes the candidates we like and the ones we don’t like. Therefore, we may not curse the ones we dislike. God, in infinite wisdom and for the sake of His wider purposes, installs and deposes kings according to His will. Daniel 2:21 says, “He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings.”
2. We must pray for those who govern over us, whether we like them or not. 1 Timothy 2:1-2a states, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.” Hence, we have an obligation to be in earnest intercession for our current Canadian prime minister, even when he legislates that summer grants be suspended for those who will not agree to the abortion of children.
3. We must grasp the proper role of government. The Bible makes it clear that the principal task of government is to enforce laws against unrighteousness. Romans 13 reminds us that the government bears the sword and carries out God’s wrath against the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4).
Therefore, it is not the task of governments to assist us in advancing the Gospel. When Paul commands believers to pray for government, he states the reason: “That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2b). We pray for peace so that we might proclaim the Gospel; this is not the role of the state.
Finally, it is my view that the best role for Christians in relation to the state is to be a prophetic voice, rather than a governing voice. Whenever we align ourselves with a given party or a given political leader, we give up this vital role. We must remain separate from the state, lest our voice is drowned out by the political advantage of others. We must never become a dependable political voting block. Rather, we must be the people who represent the righteousness of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.