Before addressing that issue from (most importantly) the Scriptures, first let’s see what the United States Constitution says. Here’s the relevant portion of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Concerning religion, the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment imposes two restrictions, both of those being restrictions on the Congress. The wording is plain, and its meaning should be clear to any honest reader not blinded by antireligion bias. The Congress was forbidden to pass laws establishing a religion, and the Congress was forbidden to pass laws prohibiting the individual’s free exercise of religion. Note carefully that the restrictions were placed upon the legislature. No restriction was placed by the Constitution upon the people in their free exercise of religion. To the contrary, Congress was forbidden to interfere with the people in their God-given (and constitutionally guaranteed) free exercise of their religion.
So what about the hot-button issue of “separation of church and state”? First of all, the word “church” does not occur anywhere in the constitution. Nowhere does the Constitution tell God’s people to stay separate from the state and its activities. And the word “religion” occurs only in the First Amendment, where restrictions are placed on Congress, not on the citizenry. So we see from the secular standpoint that the founding documents of our nation tell the Congress to stay out of the business of religion. No such restriction is placed upon the people. Nor is there any statement restricting the people’s practice of their religion to the private sector only. Nowhere in the Constitution is there the often-quoted phrase "a wall of separation" of church and state. And even if a wall should be imagined from the Constitution's wording, it would clearly and exclusively be a wall barring Congress from establishing religion and barring Congress from preventing the free exercise of religion. The Constitution does not even hint at a supposed wall hindering the religious free exercise of the people, the citizenry.
Unfortunately, over the centuries liberal courts have incrementally expanded the state’s intrusion into the churches’ business and have increasingly chipped away at religious people’s absolutely free exercise of their faith. They have been assisted in this by an American media that is increasingly hostile to public religious expression. Things have drifted far, far indeed from the godly motives of the Pilgrims and other settlers who wrote in the Mayflower Compact, dated 1620, that they had “undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, [their] voyage…” to the New World.
But more important than the earthly, secular perspective is the heavenly one. As our article title asks, does God want church and state separate? And to that I will answer from Scripture: “Yes and No.” The so-called “separation of church and state” — a phrase that does not occur in the Constitution — should be seen biblically from two perspectives:
In the 27 books of the New Testament we see no evidence of the churches and the practice of their faith being directed by the secular state. Leadership of and direction to the churches was given by elders (1 Timothy 5:17) and by pastors, evangelists, bible teachers, apostles, and prophets (Ephesians 4:11). Even under the dictatorial reign of the Roman emperors, the Scriptures show the churches remaining self-governed by their own ordained leadership. And their religious beliefs and practices were not directed or shaped by the secular authorities.
Did the early church obey the laws of the land? Of course, and so should we. For example, the apostle Paul wrote: “If you owe taxes, pay taxes” (Romans 13:7), reminiscent of Jesus’ famous words, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17, KJV). Taxes and many other secular issues are the rightful province of the state, the government. They are “the things that are Caesar’s.” But the Church and its people are among the “things that are God’s.” And only He, not the state, is to oversee, rule, and direct the Church, both directly from heaven and through His appointed pastors and other church leaders. And on those occasions when man’s directives contradict God’s, the apostle Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Looking now at question 2) above, God absolutely wants His Church, His people on this earth, to have direct, godly, powerful influences upon all the secular realms of this world. Jesus said to His followers that we are “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-14), and He has sent us, His people “into the world” (John 17:18) to be His ambassadors to the entire creation (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Jesus told His early disciples (and certainly us, His disciples today) to “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people” (Mark 16:15, GNT). God created and owns this world — “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). So it is entirely fitting that Jesus would commission His people to penetrate every corner of this world with His Gospel: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus never intended this earth to be a hodgepodge of religions, all respecting one another out of some warped sense of “tolerance,” and all of those religions timidly, quietly staying out of the public arena. NO! Jesus taught His disciples that He and He alone is “the way, the truth and the life [and that] no one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6). And He commissioned His Church to take the saving message of His death, burial, and resurrection to every person on earth. That did not exclude any area of the public sector.
The Congress cannot pass a law making Christianity the USA’s official religion. Nor should it. The Constitution forbids that. God doesn’t establish His Church through secular lawmaking, but by the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which wins the hearts of men and women to the Savior.
We don’t need Congress to establish religion. What we need is for Congressmen/women, governors, mayors, presidents, judges, and other governmental leaders to get saved! Let them get Jesus Christ in their hearts as Lord and the Word of God in their hearts as the foundation that determines their world view. Then as they lead, judge, and legislate from an internal values system that is increasingly lining up with the Scriptures, we will see the blessed results of having godly leadership at the local, state, and national governmental levels. Consider a few more Scriptures on this thought as we close:
In closing, let me summarize:
Do not let the government marginalize the churches or you, the Lord’s people. We have a divine commission from “Jesus Christ, the Lord of all” (Acts 10:36) to share His Gospel with every person on this planet. The Lord has called His Church to “be [His] witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our Lord and Savior has decreed that the state stay out of the Church’s business, but He has sent His Church as His ambassadors into every segment of society with His saving Gospel. Don’t let the government intimidate you. The earth belongs to the Lord, not to the government. And Jesus has sent us into it with His power, His Spirit, and His truth to bring the world’s people to the eternal blessing of His Lordship in and over their lives.
©2017, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.