Posted by: everynation | April 9, 2007

Is separation of church and state in the Bible?

by Steve Murrell

wsmleaderscircle.jpg[This article first appeared in the magazine Evangelicals Today a few years ago called: “How to Have a Godless Government.” I have edited that article to make it shorter for this blog.]

It would be impossible to describe to non-residents the level of passion that Filipinos put into their elections, so I even won’t try. That famous Filipino political passion is not limited to the editorial pages and coffee shops; it always finds its way to the church. Of course, that brings up “separation of church and state” debates.

I do not presume to know God’s will for any of our church members who are running for office, but I do know something about the separation of church and state. I have heard many church members, even pastors, quote the separation line like it was a Bible verse. Separation of church and state sounds so spiritual it must be biblical. Right? Wrong.

Separation of church and state was actually first mentioned by the author of the “Jefferson Bible”, an edition of the New Testament that removed all references to the supernatural including the virgin birth, the resurrection and all miracles. Who was this blasphemer who created the separation of church and state doctrine that is so popular in Evangelical circles today?

The separation idea first appeared in 1802 in a letter US President Thomas Jefferson (that guy on the $2 bill that no one uses) wrote to a group of concerned Baptist pastors in Danburry, Connecticut. In the letter Jefferson assured the pastors he would not allow his non-Christian beliefs to influence public policy because he held the opinion that there should be a “wall of separation between the church and the state.”

Jefferson’s separation idea appeared in a constitution 150 years after his letter. The Soviets believed separation of church and state to be essential in building a godless government, so they wrote Jefferson’s separation doctrine into their constitution. In other words, if we want to build an atheist society, then the separation of church and state makes sense.

However, if we want to build a godly society, then it may be a good idea for Christians to get involved in every level of civil government.

(I want to make it clear that I will not vote for any of our church members who are running for office in May. It is not because they are not qualified. It is because my permanent resident visa does not qualify me to vote.)

Steve Murrell is a missionary, pastor, and the author of “The Reluctant Leader” and “The Accidental Missionary.”

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Responses

  1. Steve,
    As you note, separation of church and state is not in the US Constitution, nor I have seen it in the Bible. But is secular government good (from an operational point of view)? Did Israel’s Theocracy work? It seems to me that the hight of Israel’s influence was under David, and he was a King. To me, it seems that a secular government has worked quite well in the US. I believe it was C. S. Lewis who said (very loose paraphrase) that he supports democracy as a form of government not because people are so noble and thus able to self govern, but because of our capacity for sin. Many government officials continually prove that point so I am happy to spread power among a lot of people, and have a clear way for turnover. So I think like many Christians, I support a small secular government. I would like lots of Christians to run for office though, but I would not unnecessarily vote for them because they were Christians. I would base it on their policies. I don’t recall Jesus telling us how to set up a temporal government as He seemed concerned with the eternal, and allowed us to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Secular government does not mean atheistic, especially in a county like the United States where probably only about 10% are atheists, and some who thing they are, are not (they have just rejected Christianity and therefore think that makes them atheists.)

  2. I believe every self-governing believer should be involved in politics in one way or the other. Whether it is to run for office or just writing a letter to your representative.

  3. Tom – Thx for your response to my blog. Here’s my quick response to your response.

    Remember the context. The ideas in this blog originally appeared in my column in “Evangelicals Today” magazine prior to a national election a few years ago. Because so many Filipino Christians (ET is published in the Philippines) were citing the “separation of church & state” as a reason to completely avoid politics, I thought it might be helpful to address the historical context of the separation doctrine. A few weeks ago I morphed that ET column into a blog.

    I have written several blog entries on “www.smurrell.multiply.com” that speak about this topic. Check out these titles, especially the response section:
    “Politics & Church” – Mar 12
    “Is Separation of Church & State in the Bible?” – Mar 13
    “Waitin’ for the World to Change” – Mar 17

    I agree with you that “secular government has worked quite well in the US.” I am in no way calling for a government led by religious leaders. Here’s what I said about this in response to another response on another blog. It’s a long quote, but here it goes:

    “Each sphere of gov has boundaries that should not be crossed. When the boundaries of self gov and personal conscience are crossed by church gov or civil gov, the individual must govern self as unto God, no matter what the church or civil gov demands. When family gov is violated by civil gov or church gov, then family must govern itself as unto God, not matter what the church or state says.

    The Bible speaks of the role of civil gov and the role of church gov, and they are distinct and different. Throughout history there have been numerous disastrous attempts at blurring the authority lines btw church and state. The spanish colonization of the Philippines is one.

    While I boldly call for believers to get involved in all levels of civil gov and to exert godly influence in every area of life, this does not mean the church should rule the state or that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers should function as presidents, senators, MPs, governors, and judges…”

    Like you, “I support a small secular government”.
    Like you, “I want to see “lots of Christians to run for office”.
    Like you, “I would not necessarily vote for them because they were Christians.”
    Like you, I don’t think Jesus told us to set up a Christian government.

    I am simply calling for His followers to represent Him is all areas of like, to be salt & light in a dark & decaying world, to get up and get involved rather than just sitting around “waitin’ for the world to change”.

  4. I recenty wrote on separation of church and state, then read this post later the same evening. I went back and included a link on my blog. Hope that’s all right.
    :-)

  5. Superior post.Keep up the great work,You should definitely have to keep updating your site

  6. i believe in God


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