Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Christian and the State (Part 2)

1 Peter 2:13-17: 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
[Part 1 here]
II. By being good citizens we will silence the ignorant chatter of foolish men

i. Good citizenship is the best response to slander
In his call for us to be “worldly pilgrims” with our minds in heaven and our feet planed firmly in the ground Peter wrote, 1 Peter 2:12. There is a similar motivation here. Christians should be good citizens because that will help to silence the black propaganda of the world. Obey the law. Take an interest in politics and public affairs. Form a Christian view on these things and help to work for a better society, Matthew 5:13-16. Like the Jewish exiles in Babylon, we are to “seek the peace of the city”. (Jeremiah. 29:7).

ii. Submission and good citizenship does not undermine our Christian liberty

Our true citizenship is in heaven, we are free men and women in Christ, having been redeemed from slavery to sin by his precious blood, 1 Peter 1:18. We have the great charter of Christian freedom, Galatians 5:1. Why should we have to obey laws of the land? Peter answers us in 2:16. We are free to do good, not evil. True Christian liberty is never to be used as a “cloak for vice”. If the State is acting correctly, (vs. 14), then we should have no problem submitting to its authority. We are not free to do as we please, but we have been freed from the power of sin in order to serve God, Romans 6:22. Submitting to the state’s God-ordained power is no contradiction of Christian liberty.

III. Church and State

I feel that I ought to say something about this matter. Thus far we have been considering the relationship of the individual Christian to the State. But what should be the relationship between the Church and State? In our country we have an Established Church – the Church of England. Its highest officers – Archbishops Bishops etc. are appointed by the Prime Minister. The Queen as Head of State is the Supreme Governor of Church of England. Anglican Bishops sit in the House of Lords. Historically, this is all due to Henry VIII breaking from the pope and installing himself as head of the English Church. But is this right from a biblical point of view? I would suggest not. Under the Old Testament, there was no distinction between Church and State. Israel was a theocratic nation. But under the New Testament, the church is comprised of the people of God from many nations - 1 Peter 2:4-5. As Peter has shown, we are subject to the ruling authorities whether they are Christians or not. The task of the State’s very different to that of the Church. Compare 2:14, with 2:9. The Church's calling is to preach the Gospel of life, 1:22-25.
In the 16th Century Kings and Queens imposed unity on their subjects by maintaining a united Church of England. They put a brake on church reforms. The Elizabethan Settlement thwarted Puritan hopes for a reformed English Church. But the Separatists rejected the Establishment principle and argued for “Reformation without tarrying for anie”. Quite right too. The Church should not need permission from the State to implement biblical reform. Certainly, the Church is subject to law of the land. We have to comply with health and safety regulations. When the State passed a law saying that "No Smoking" signs be placed on all public buildings including Church buildings, we readily complied. But the State has no right to tell us how we should interpret the Bible or how we should order our worship. Jesus Christ is head of the Church and we are subject to him alone. That is why Baptists have adopted the Free Church principle. We argue that it would be better if the Church of England were disestablished.
The State cannot be allowed co-opt the Church and make her an agent of government policy. That is what Hitler tried to do in the 1930's with his attempt to Nazify the German Churches. The Confessing Churches resisted this. We might not agree with Karl Barth on some important matters, but he was right here. The Barmen Declaration states,
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God's assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God's mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords - areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.
We must resist the Government's attempt to impose its secularising "equality agenda" on the Church. The Church should not be forced to employ people whose lifestyle does not reflect the standards of biblical morality Recently the Bishop of Hereford was in trouble with an employment tribunal for refusing to offer a gay man the position of Youth Worker. The man in question was awarded £47000 in damages. This is a matter of of loyalty to Christ. He is the head of the Church. We must submit to his authority as it is expressed in the teaching of Holy Scripture. The State has no right to impose its will on the Church in such matters. We must obey God rather than men.
On the other hand, the Church is not a pressure group that endeavours to “Christianise the State”. We have no theocratic ambitions. Christians should be active in trying to influence Government policy in accordance with biblical principles. But Christian faith and values cannot be imposed on the people from above. Neither do we believe that Christianity can be advanced or defended by force of arms. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servant would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here." (John 18:36). The sword of State cannot be used in service of the Gospel of peace.

So, Jesus callls us to be salt and light in society. But we want no formal link between Church and State. This is not an argument for the secularisation of the public square. Christians must bring the lordship of Christ to bear on every inch of public life. Let the State take her responsibilities seriously and act to punish evil and praise good. But the Church has a different task that requires different weapons 2 Cor 10:4&5.

IV. Christian citizenship

Now we have summary statement on the Christian and good citizenship, 2:17.

i. Honour all people

We are going to disagree with our fellow citizens in this pluralistic society. But let us treat all people with honour and respect as we uphold the lordship of Christ.

ii. Love the brotherhood

We are not simply to honour and respect our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to love them, 1:22.

iii. Fear God

Proverbs 1:7. He alone is worthy of reverent fear and worship, Heb 12:28.

iv. Honour the king

Caesar was worshipped as a god. Peter subverts this by putting the king alongside “all people”. Our rulers are entitled to honour and respect for their work. But we will not render to Caesar the worship that belongs to God alone.
So then, let us as citizens of the Kingdom Heaven also be good citizens of the United Kingdom. "And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace." (Jeremiah. 29:7).
* Based on some sermon notes on 1 Peter 2:13-17.

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