Some Thoughts on a Pertinent Question
“Where in Scripture is the church commanded to be involved with civil government?” Many church leaders struggle with this question as they strive to glorify God by keeping their local churches as Biblically oriented as possible, while witnessing the decay of culture and civil government. Following are a few points on the subject.
First, we understand that God is the Creator of civil government. God’s creation runs by rules and laws. The laws of physics and mathematics, for example, are built into creation; they were not invented, but discovered. All true science is the discovery of God’s creation. Likewise, God’s laws and principles by which humans are to live are inherent in creation. That is why the Declaration of Independence, in its first sentence, appeals to “the laws of nature and nature’s God”. Note this well: ALL legitimate laws are derived from God’s revelation, either special revelation (the Bible) or general revelation (discovered in nature, see Romans 1:18-20, Psalm 19). ALL legitimate law is discovered from God’s revelation and used by man, just like the laws of physics and mathematics. This is not an unusual concept; it is the basis for our entire western legal system. Only recently has our lawmaking deviated in a large way from this, and we see the results in the newspaper. Note also, there are ONLY two possibilities: laws invented by God and laws invented by man. History is full of misery and death when man’s laws were substituted for the laws of the loving and righteous God.
If God created all law, and reveals it to us in creation and in the Bible, who do we suppose He expects to implement it…unbelievers who hate Him and have no regard for His revelation, or believers who love Him? Yes, His moral laws apply to everyone, just like gravity and Pi, but it seems inescapable that He would expect those who love Him to see His principles applied in the civil sphere as in all of life. (As a side note, how many times in the course of your life have you heard preachers encourage Christians to leave politics to the atheists, and then tell you to pray for Godly government? At the risk of being overly kind, I’d say this is inconsistent.)
Second, we have abundant Biblical foundation for speaking scriptural truth to civil government. The Old Testament prophets constantly warned the civil rulers that they needed to repent and change their governing practices. In the New Testament we find Jesus speaking harshly to authority, as well as Paul and the apostles having numerous confrontations. Do we need to be reminded that much of the New
Testament was written from prison? This is hardly evidence of blind submission to authority. We in America are blessed of God with a country where we can (still) oppose tyranny without, usually, being imprisoned. Perhaps we should do so while we can. (Perhaps we have sinned by not doing so for several generations.) There was a time when millions of Christians in Germany wished they had. We are living off the momentum of a time when Christians (for the most part) directed the operations of civil government according to the Bible. The momentum, folks, is running out. The free ride is over. The greatest mistake of 20th century fundamentalism was the unbiblical, heretical compartmentalization of life, overemphasizing the distinction of some areas of life as “spiritual” and others not. My question: which area of human life is God not competent to direct?
Let’s clarify a point here. When we speak of “the Church” being involved in civil government, we must carefully define the terms and conditions. There is a biblical concept of what has become called “separation of church and state”. God does define separate roles for church government and civil government. As such, the institutional church and the civil government must not interfere with each others’ proper roles. If, however, a local congregation were using its church facility to operate a burglary ring, it would be proper for the civil government to take action (according to the eighth commandment, by the way). Likewise, it is incumbent on the church to educate and speak out on issues where the civil government is acting in opposition to God’s Word. Each has its own God-ordained sphere of authority.
Perhaps in asking the question: “where does the Bible command the church (or Christians in general) to be involved in directing cultural and civil affairs?” we are actually asking the wrong question. I suggest that the real question is: “where does the Bible give us any excuse to neglect God’s ordained order for society and government”?
~ Jim Mogel