Separation of Church and State

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This morning we are going to continue our conversation in the Baptist Distinctives.  Our goal is to explore this idea of separation of church and state.

Now in the last month, I have read multiple books on this subject, and I also have surfed every youtube video I could find in regards to our topic this morning,

*I watched pastors present their views on this subject.  I even watched President Obama deliver a speech on this topic.  I reflected on the picketing done by Westboro Baptist church calling out groups of people who disobey the Bible, and I have come to realize two things…

First, everywhere you go, and in every resource you find, everyone responds a little bit differently to this idea of separation of church and state.

Some are extremely vigilant in its applications, others respect it but do not really think about its implications, and many others are trying to influence the other side into submission and yet have never taken the time to understand the principle for all its worth.

I am 100% positive that if I had handed out a piece of paper to each of you this morning before we started, and if I had asked you to write down a definition or an application of this principle, we would have very few of you who agree and interpret this idea exactly the same way.

I say that based on all of the Christian authors I read, and how differently they explained this idea either in doctrine or practical applications in today’s world.

The second thing I realized is that, the words “Separation of Church and state” is not in the constitution, and is not specifically quoted in the Amendments to the constitution.

The closest thing we have to this idea of separation of church and state is the protection given in the first amendment which says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Now that is a powerful amendment, but what it does not say is “Separation of church and state.”  So where did that phrase come from?

“Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to answer a letter from them, asking why he would not proclaim national days of fasting and thanksgiving, as had been done by Washington and Adams before him.”

“The letter contains the phrase "wall of separation between church and state," which lead to the short-hand for the Establishment Clause that we use today: "Separation of church and state."

“The letter was the subject of intense scrutiny by Jefferson, and he consulted a couple of New England politicians to assure that his words would not offend while still conveying his message: it was not the place of the Congress or the Executive to do anything that might be misconstrued as the establishment of religion.”

Here is what he wrote. “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

So that is where we as Americans continue to be affected by this idea.  Some naively believe that Separation of Church and state is in the constitution and any time they see remnants of religion inside schools, or government buildings... they cry the battle cry, “Separation of church and state!”

Let me tell a story, when my family and I went on vacation, we traveled into Gettysburg and stayed there two nights.  One of things we did while we were there was a bus tour of the battle field with a certified tour guide who was an expert in the civil war.

We got to ride one of those double decker buses where we could sit on top of the bus which was a ton of fun.

We drove by the court house and to my amazement, there was a bronze plaque of the ten commandments posted on the front of the building.  I could not believe it so I snapped a picture.

How many of you are surprised by the fact that this is still on the building?

One of the reasons I was surprised is because in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of McCreary County v. ACLU that the Kentucky displays of the ten commandments violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from endorsing or supporting one religion above others.

The justices ruled 5-4 that the Ten Commandments could not be displayed in court buildings or on government property. However, the Biblical laws could be displayed in an historical context.

Yet there it is...  Do we tell anyone?

I wanted to give you a couple more examples:

I naturally gravitate to articles related to my roles in ministry, so for example, here is one from July 5th, 2016 which was published by - The Family Policy Institute of Washington which said:

“It may now be against the law for Iowa pastors to teach on Genesis 1 that God created mankind – male and female – in His own image.

The religious liberty organization Alliance Defending Freedom, on behalf of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, has launched a pre-enforcement challenge to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s new interpretation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, passed in 2007.

Under this new interpretation, the state may prohibit churches from making (quote) “persons of any particular sexual orientation or gender identity” feel “unwelcome, objectionable, [or] not acceptable,” according to a brochure published by the Iowa State Civil Rights Commissions.

Lawyers representing the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ worry that this broad interpretation of the Civil Rights Act could be used to silence preachers teaching from the pulpit about biblical sexuality.

Comments from any church official that makes a gay or transgender person feel ‘uncomfortable’ during services or any other event open to the public may put the church in violation of the law.”

Here’s another article, entitled “Prison worker loses employment tribunal over sin sermon.”  This one was published more recently, on Friday August 4, 2017 on the website of Premier Christian Radio - By Marcus Jones

It reads: “A Christian prison worker has lost his latest appeal in the courts over his discipline by HMP Littlehey. (the jail)

Rev Barry Trayorn who worked as a gardener, but volunteered in the chapel, fell into trouble after delivering a talk to prisoners about homosexuality and sin.

Following a complaint, he was disciplined then later resigned.  Last year an employment tribunal ruled that his employers (at the jail) acted within the law.

A judge has now confirmed that ruling was fair, claiming his words could legitimise mistreatment of homosexual prisoners. Trayhorn is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre.

Chief Executive Andrea Williams said: "This ruling sets a dangerous precedent not only for prison chaplains but for any minister who preaches the gospel.

To say that quoting a verse from the Bible can be offensive, could have serious implications on the freedom of prison ministers to share the good news of the gospel.

"It should not be for the state to decide which parts of the Bible can and cannot be quoted during preaching, nor to dictate that verses that some may find unpalatable should be interpreted to fit with current social norms.

"It was clear that Barry's talk centred on God's forgiveness and love for those who repent of their sin. This is a message that those imprisoned for sexual offences desperately need to hear.

Our prisons are in need of the light of the gospel, yet this ruling sets a trajectory towards the Bible being forbidden in these institutions."
Trayhorn will now take his case to the Court of Appeal.

Church, I am both a Chaplain going into Jails, and I am a Pastor preaching in a church…  

The objective of our lesson this morning is to ask the question: What do I do?  

Do I concern myself with these recent attempts to limit what I say, or don’t I?

For example this week I was working with the teens in Broome County Jail, we are going through some topics all relating to life skills.  We got on to the subject of relationships, and more specifically romantic relationships.

The conversation turned in such a way that I had to make a decision in regards to whether or not I would call out homosexuality as bad or a sin.

Perhaps you can retain that thought for a minute, and think to yourself, what would you do in that case?  

Remember, that jails across the country are letting men go who preach homosexuality is a sin.  What would you do?

Well let’s look into the Bible for information as to whether or not separation of church and state exists, and whether or not it will help us in coming to a decision about what to do in this regard.

Probably the number one most quoted verse for this idea of separation of church and state comes from the mouth of Jesus Christ.

Turn with me to Matthew 22:15

“15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.

16 And they *sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.

17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?

19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”

21 They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.”

Speaking from the steps of the United States Capitol in 1920 to 15,000 people in the open air, Texas Baptist pastor George W. Truett declared: (quote)

“‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,’ is one of the most revolutionary and history-making utterances that ever fell from those lips divine.”

“That utterance, once and for all, marked the divorcement of church and state. ... It was the sunrise gun of a new day, the echoes of which are to go on and on until in every land, whether great or small, the doctrine shall have absolute supremacy everywhere of a free church in a free state.” (end of quote)

What this pastor is saying, is that Christ reminds all of us, that the state, or government requires of us one kind of respect, for it has authority over what is temporary.  

And God also demands respect, for he has authority over our lives for what is eternal.  

Therefore render to your government those things required of you, but render unto God what he requires of you.  These two bodies are distinct in nature and in their responsibilities.

First, let’s look at the church.  

In the past weeks, we began by talking about how the word church found in the NT is the word Ekklesia, meaning an assembly of people.  

We believe that these people, called the church,  have built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.  That we take all of our directions, and all of our perspectives on the Bible from Him.  He is the stone, the foundation we rest in for our salvation.

Likewise, we believe God called us into local assemblies, called churches whose
membership is restricted to Christ followers.  Those people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives and have joined him in his death by believers baptism.

These clearly defined people who assemble themselves together for worshipping God in the spirit of unity in a bond of peace do such by entering into a covenant relationship with one another, to encourage and support one another.

Next, we believe that the Bible is the supreme and final authority on all matter in which it speaks because they are the literal words of God spoken on paper which have no error.

After that we looked at the practical applications of the priesthood of all believers.  In other words, every member priest is to take part of two ordinances, Baptism and the Lord’s supper, and we are also used to propagate the gospel in obedience to our eternal authority Jesus Christ.

Matthew 28:18 says, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”

Then... right before I went on vacation we talked about the Autonomy of the local church, and the Two Offices held in a Baptist church.

Remembering that an Autonomous church is self governing, self propagating, and self funded.

The reason we are looking at this idea of Separation of Church and State now, compared to at the beginning of our series, is that you need -to have seen- how the church is separated from the world.

Those who do not proclaim Jesus Christ, those who are not saved, and those who do not seek out your best interest in growing ever closer in relationship to Jesus Christ, are part of the environment called the world, but they are not part of the church.

The church is called out of the world - John 15:19 says, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

Again the clear and steady message of scripture is that the church is separated from the state.

By contrast, I want you to see the state from the perspective of the Bible and how it describes its purposes.  

Turn with me to Romans 13.

1 “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;

4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”

A couple of observations here:

First all earthly government is established by God.  Look at verse one.

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

If you have any doubts as to how America came into being, look at the word established.

That word in the Greek is "primarily a military term meaning 'to draw up in order, arrange in place, assign, appoint, or order.”

In other words, God ordered America into being.  Her government was appointed for this time in history.  It was His desire to use our government in our time, for us.  Therefore, it is our duty to obey our authorities, as unto God.

For Verse 2 says, “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

The second thing that needs to be seen is that God ordained, or ordered government in place for a purpose.  That purpose is in verse 4.

“4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”

You see then the government is given the sword to “punish” evil in the world.  The government has been established then to be a minister of good.  A minister of order, so that man may live in obedience to what things are right for the people.

God has given permission to governments to judge, to jail, or to otherwise restrain evil in the world.

The church does not have such a responsibility to judge and sentence for crimes.  It has a responsibility to the eternal, and not to the temporary as clearly seen here.

I know it may seem that we are not really talking about Separation of Church and State… and yet to understand the separation, you must know how God sees each differently.  

They are different in people groups, and they are different in their responsibilities.

Now, having gone over both of those things, I want you to see Jefferson’s letter again.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god,”

(That is 100% true right?)

“that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship,”

(We believe that for our God is Jesus Christ, and he alone is who we answer to.)

“that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions,”

(In other words, they are the sword dealing with wrong ACTIONS, so that is true)

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

To me, a good well thought out letter by Thomas Jefferson.  

Let me show you now our statement of faith in regards to Separation of Church and State which reads:

“We believe that each local church is self-governing in function and must be free from interference by any ecclesiastical or political authority.  We further believe that every human being is directly responsible to God in matters of faith and life and that each one should be free to worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience.”

I hope that this statement is now easily understood by you.  Once you understand all the other pieces, and how they weave in together, we can understand this idea and the need for Separation of church and State.  

The only matter left to talk about is conscience.  Next week we will talk about Individual Soul liberty, but I want to refer back to where we were when we started this discussion.

I gave you a couple of recent news articles and asked what should I do?

In regards to the Pastor in Iowa who was told he cannot talk about Biblical sexuality, should he respect the authority of the State and regulate what he preaches?

The first question would have to be, has the state been given authority over the church by God?  No.

The State is not a group of God following believers in Jesus Christ who lives to serve him.  It is separate from the church, and her authority is outside of its practice.

The only reason this preacher should stop preaching the whole counsel of God, is if it goes against his conscience to do so.  That is between him and God.

What about the Chaplain who lost his job for teaching about Biblical sexuality?  Should I disregard the prison authority and preach the whole counsel of God in jail?

Remember my situation with the teens?  Let me tell you what my conscience tells me.  I believe that preaching biblical sexuality in context of homosexuality, should be avoided, out of respect for the state, until the teens are no longer the state’s responsibility.

In other words, those men are their for a crime.  Those men have been turned over to the state’s correctional system until such time as the state believes they can leave.

Practically speaking, if you allowed me access to your little child, and you told me not to feed him meat, because you believe it is wrong.  What would give me the right to supercede your authority of your own child?

If I really want to teach that child all that God desires, out of respect for you, I may first need to teach you, then teach him.  

More than that, I have come to believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that he convicts men of sin.  No amount of preaching at him will convict him, only the spirit can do that.

My first goal is not sanctification.  My first goal is to preach Jesus Christ and His resurrection, and after conversion, the Holy Spirit can work on his sanctification through the reading of the Word.

That’s what my conscience tells me.  Let me rabbit trail on sanctification being secondary...

This week I had two very broken people put in my path.  One man came in for a one on one in jail and as soon as he sat down, he started crying.  He bawled as he told me about how his wife left him and how much he misses his four year old daughter.

This man got into drugs to cope.  I guess I could have said, that was stupid, or that is so wrong, but is that healing to him?  What he needed was an ear.  

Afterward we talked about being in the pit, and I steered the conversation towards God.  But I did not blame him or shame him for his sin.  I simply said, there is someone who wants to make you whole.

That was Tuesday, on Thursday, my wife and I took a phone call from a young lady who is a senior in high school who has found her way into drugs... and more recently alluded to committing suicide.

Her concerned family was wondering if I could talk to her.  I agreed and had my wife set it up.  Margo and I met with her that evening.

The object of my meeting with her was not to condemn her actions.  

It was not to convict her of sin and tell her how bad she is.  The object of that evening was to create a safe environment where she could feel comfortable and loved and to talk about what was on her mind.

Guess what, God was already part of that conversation in her mind.  

She already knew the consequences of her actions and what it would lead to.  And by the end of the conversation, she was excited about going to youth group on Wednesday and excited about us being in her life.  Her sister wrote to Margo that evening saying, thanks so much for meeting with us, she loves you guys.

Now, why do I bring this up in our conversation of Separation of Church and State?  I just want to share stories that fill the gaps in my head of why we do what we do.

I think we are living in a time like no other where we need to be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.  

The root issue is not political correctness, or biblical sexuality in jail, or drugs, or suicidal thinking.  Those are just side effects of a bigger issue.

And I don’t think we should focus all of our attention on the side effects, but rather find the source of the problem.

The root problem, is that men and women still need to be introduced to the healing power of Jesus Christ.