How should we configure the relationship between the church as subject to the Lordship of Christ and the State? Both are God-ordained institutions, but they have different roles. The task of the Church is to preach the gospel to the world and disciple believers. The function of the State is to govern the nation, upholding the rule of law using force if necessary. Here in the UK we are in the biblically anomalous position of having an Established Church. The Church of England is in effect the religious arm of the State. The Prime Minister appoints senior Anglican clergy including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Church of England Bishops sit in the House of Lords. As Free Church people we might like to see that position changed and the Church of England disestablished. But disestablishment does not mean that Church has nothing to say to the State. Hardline secularists might insist that faith-based values have no place in public life. But if Christ is Lord at all, he is Lord of all. As Abraham Kuyper famously said,
there is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all does not cry out, ‘Mine!’.
Now, we are not saying that Christians should have the right to impose their faith or morality on non-Christians. But we refuse to retreat into religious ghettos. Jesus called us to be salt and light. Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon saying, Jeremiah 29:7. Church and State are distinct institutions, but Christians should be actively involved in public life. We have a biblical mandate to endeavour to influence and shape government legislation for the common good, Proverbs 14:34. The work of individual Christians such as William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury have had a beneficial impact on our country. So also the efforts of organisations like the Christian Institute.
Part of the problem we are facing is a shift in public morality away from virtue towards rights. Rather that Sate promoting the good (Romans 13), i.e. marriage as basis of family life, now we are in the realm of rights. The role of the State is to balance the competing rights of vested interest groups. Thus homosexuals demand the right to adopt children and the State accords them that right at the expense of the right of Christian adoption agencies to only allocate children to heterosexual couples. In this case the good of the child is not the utmost concern. That would involve the child being brought up in a loving, stable home with married adoptive parents. No, the main thing is the so-called right of gay couples to adopt.
Political Guru Philip Blond has argued that if we are to fix broken Britain then one thing we have to do is move away for moral relativism and a culture of 'rights'. We need to recover the idea of the common good. The collapse of virtue in society has led to the state having an ever more intrusive role, policing a society that is increasingly out of control. The recent proliferation of CCTV cameras bears witness to this fact. Christians should be actively bringing biblical values to bear upon public life in order to help shape a society that is based on virtue rather than rights. Our song is not “stand up for your rights” (Bob Marley), but “stand up for your love” (U2).
So, we will not withdraw from the public square. We acknowledge Jesus’ lordship over the whole of life. But we will not allow the State to dictate the teaching of the Church. Christ alone is our head.