Maybe Separation of Church and State is Not that Bad of an Idea…

19 Dec

Time for some controversy.  I have been thinking a lot lately about the Amercian penchant for civil religion (banning same sex marriage, posting the ten commandments,  making sure the pledge says in God we Trust)…and I am thinking that part of the reason the church is in so much trouble here is America is exactly that same love for civil religion.  We have replaced a true and regenrating faith in the Jesus caused by the spirit of the Living God,  with religious actions, mandated by a secular government.    

I know some will say that this is not a bad thing but consider:  when have right actions, separated from a right heart ever been anything but useless?   Beyond that when has a right heart ever been a possibility apart from the regerating act of the Holy Spirit based upon the Atoning act of Jesus Christ?   I would suggest that Christians have abdicated their responsibility to share the amazing message of the Kingdom of God for a focus on getting the government to legislate in their favor, in the name of that same God.  The problem is that not only is it disobedient and ineffective,  it is also perhaps a detriment to the Gospel.   We run the danger of convincing broken people that they are more whole than they are and  more able than they know, we convince them in short that they are “good” people.  They aren’t.

This is not an insult but rather just a fact.  It’s ok, I suck too.  But Jesus saved me.  He is my only hope.  He is also the only hope for America.  I say that in all seriousness. but not in the same “God Bless America the Chosen” sort of way I hear sometimes. Jesus is the only hope for America but not through legislation, through regeneration.  The problem in this country is not that we don’t have enough laws or enough moral legislators,  the problem is that apart for Jesus Christ there is no such thing as morality and as such no hope for a “moral” nation.  The problem in America is that men and women are dead in their sin.  I said dead. and I want you to think about what that means…it means dead.  Dead.  As in laying in a casket.  That is the moral and spiritual state of our country.   And yet we seem to be trying to solve the death problem with a better casket.  That is what a moral system minus Jesus is.  It dresses thing up but does not fix the problem. Dead people don’t need a better enviroment they need to breathe!  When we fight to put the ten commandments up in the court house by arguing that they are “civil” or that we should display the Nativity in public spaces because it is “cultural” that is what we are doing:  We are redecorating the casket.  But our country does not need redecoration,  it needs resurrection.   

The Gospel is not civil or cultural, a set of rules for people outside of the faith to follow because Christ followers do.   The “rules” of the Christian faith are designed for the followers of the Christian King.  There is no more value in asking a non-Christ follower to act like one than there is in painting the toe nails on foot with gangorine.  That foot has bigger issues!  People who do not know Jesus do not need to follow our rules.  They need to know our King!

There is coming a day when Christ will be worshiped by all and his physical Kingdom will descend on earth.  But until that day may we be about the Kingdom that is established through regeneration not litigation.


15 Responses to “Maybe Separation of Church and State is Not that Bad of an Idea…”

  1. Kevin December 19, 2008 at 1:16 am #

    I don’t think you are being controversial. Preach it brother (er, cousin-in-law)!

  2. Jeff December 19, 2008 at 2:46 am #

    I loved your line, “It’s ok, I suck too. But Jesus saved me.” I want to be that on a t-shirt.

    On a serious note, that is a great illustration of your point. A good way to rephrase “white-washed tombs.” I do have one nit to pick and that would be abortion. Though I would much rather reach out to someone considering that as an option, I still find it unconscionable that we do not legally recognize unborn babies as human beings.

  3. poopemerges December 19, 2008 at 11:41 am #

    Jeff, I agree, but it would take a further post to delineate why I believe in social justice but not Civil religion…

  4. jon December 19, 2008 at 12:38 pm #

    Preach it poop! Thank you for this post. And I suck too.

    My wife is taking grad classes at a conservative Christian college. In a class discussion regarding the issue of church and state, she said, “I have no problem with prayer not being in schools.” Of course, everybody looked at her like she was the devil incarnate. She finished, “Because I don’t want a Muslim to teach my children how to pray.” I think the point was well taken.

    Unfortunately, many have a romanticized notion of this “Christian nation.” My grandmother is a American-Needs-To-Return-To-Its-Christian-Heritage fundamentalist. From what I’ve read, many of the founders were not committed to the gospel, but merely to the notion of God and civil morality. And the ones who were committed to the gospel unabashedly used the power of politics to influence religiously. Jonathan Edwards, for example, and his aristocratic clan networked to form a hierarchy of religious, social, and political authority. In fact, Edwards’ grandfather, who had towering pastoral influence, was accused of assembling a type of papal authority in New England. Much of this conflation between church and state during those times was likely driven by a postmillenial theology. Edwards thought his era was key in biblical prophecy – ushering in the kingdom through creating a “Christian nation.” This notion is woven into the fabric of America’s earliest religious roots, making it difficult part with.

    The direction of our nation often causes me to think of Christianity within the Roman empire in the first centuries of the church’s existence. Christians were marginalized, beaten, persecuted, killed, certainly still struggling with sin issues, but somehow thriving. Parts of Asia and Africa today remind me of this gross, yet gracious reality (1 Pet 4:1-2; 12-19). Please understand that I do not desire persecution. However, I’m confused with a prevalent stance – when Christians are more passionate about the freedoms that government grants to worship God than they are about actually worshiping God.

  5. mikevandrie December 19, 2008 at 1:36 pm #

    Great post Poop. We will never be able to legislate regeneration. Our parents generation tried and failed.

  6. Jeff December 19, 2008 at 7:06 pm #

    That is a fair distinction, Poop. And a good history lesson, Jon.

  7. Heather Fischer December 19, 2008 at 11:58 pm #

    It is seriously scary how much you and my husband think alike…and I’m guessing, preach alike.

  8. Rick December 20, 2008 at 11:12 am #

    I whole-heartedly agree with your perspective. It is the gospel that changes people, not legislation. My only word of caution here is: balance. I still believe it is right to stand up for legislation and participate in the legal battles for what is morally right. The problem is that we focus too much on that–the legal battles must be used as a springboard for getting out the gospel message. The Pharisees were tithing (a good practice) but omitting justice, mercy and faith, and Jesus said, “these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone”–in other words, keep tithing, but don’t omit the important stuff. The parallel here is, we’ve gone off chasing the legal battles and forgotten to preach the gospel! Time to turn it around–don’t stop fighting for what is legally and morally right, but turn your focus back to the “weightier matters”–share the gospel!

  9. ddonnie December 21, 2008 at 12:13 am #

    I would take it a step farther, Jon, and say bring on the persecution. Christians won’t start living like Christians (trusting God, loving each other, filling each others needs etc) until we have no other choice. And that full reliance on God spurs a faith that won’t keep quiet.

  10. Charles December 21, 2008 at 10:21 pm #


    I’m in total agreement. I actually wrote about something similar a while back. The post is almost two years old, but it’s still true…

    Civics and Christianity

    I think the separation is of more benefit to the church than to the state. It will let us focus on what we need to focus on.

  11. poopemerges December 22, 2008 at 12:55 am #


    “I think the separation is of more benefit to the church than to the state. It will let us focus on what we need to focus on.”



  12. e. barrett December 22, 2008 at 10:44 am #

    I think all too often we confuse compliance with faith. We think that just becuase people do something, they believe it. And that’s just not the case.

  13. Mark December 30, 2008 at 3:44 am #

    You are absolutely right on this one. I have blogged about this a time or two myself. Morality simply can’t be legislated. If we passed laws that forced people to live ‘Christian’ we still wouldn’t have changed a single heart.

  14. StainFreeMedia January 1, 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    IMHO, we can’t force proper behavior through legislation, ie: legislate morality, but we CAN pass moral legislation. Agreed, we shouldn’t pass laws forcing people to ‘live Christian’, but we DO punish those who don’t ‘live Christian’ through laws, some of which find their origin(s) in God’s Law. So in one sense of the word, we CAN legislate morality, although I wouldn’t disagree with the concept of your idea.

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