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The Church, the State, &.... God

F. Earle Fox
Sermon at St. Luke's Reformed Episcopal Church, Santa Ana, CA  11/15/09

Trinity 23 - 09k15 Isaiah 64; Ps. 33; Phil. 3:17-21; Mt. 22:15-22

The lesson from Isaiah refers to the dealings of God with the nations: "Oh that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Thy presence.... ..to make Thy name known to Thy adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Thy presence.."

And Psalm 33:8 -- "Let all the earth fear the Lord: stand in awe of Him, all ye that dwell in the world." and :15, "There is no king that can be saved by the multitude of an host; neither is any mighty man delivered by much strength."

The whole of the Bible is predicated on the principle that God owns and rules the whole world, the whole cosmos. There is no part of it which is beyond either His control or His right to command, His authority.

Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 22 tells of Jesus conversation with some Jewish rulers who were seeking to entangle Jesus in His own words, trying to get Him to contradict Himself, asking, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"

But, Jesus goes right to the point: "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax." There was probably a special coin which had to be used, or, at least, a Roman coin. They produced one, at which point Jesus asked: "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" To which they replied, "Caesar's." To which Jesus then replied, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

It is a perfectly logical and obvious answer, once you hear it. In other words, give each one his own due. And, it stumped the rulers who were trying to stump Jesus.

A question, however, remains unanswered -- just what is each one's own due?

This passage is taken by most American Christians as supporting what we now call "the separation of Church and State". That principle is thought to mean that the civil government must be absolutely neutral with respect to religion, that the Constitution forbids the government from favoring any religion over another. It is now being taken to mean that any elected candidate can swear his oath office with hand on any scripture of his choice, he is not limited to the Bible, as has been traditional.

That view of the matter assumes that one's religion is irrelevant to how civil government operates, that religious questions are irrelevant to political questions, and that therefore whether one uses the Bible, or the Koran, or the Bagavad Gita, or no scripture at all is of no consequence, and only a matter of form, not of substance.

None of that is in fact true. It is not true historically, and it is not true logically. So, the "neutralizing" of religion is either ignorant or dishonest.

Logically, everyone has a religion -- a worldview with a cosmos, a morality, and all the other things worldviews have. Secularism is not neutral, it is itself another religion -- as asserts the first Humanist Manifesto written in the early 1900's.  It is a well-written document, and makes the point well.  So the claim of government "neutrality about religion" is impossible.

Historically, every one of our founding fathers and the overwhelming majority of the population believed that we humans are held both personally and publicly responsible by God for our behavior. Nations are judged as well as persons. That is clear all through Scripture.

A very few of the founding fathers (e.g., Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin) were Unitarians, they did not take seriously the Trinitarian nature of God, but they did take seriously both our personal and public moral accountability to God. Nations are accountable to God. They were within the Biblical worldview, believing that God is both creator and sovereign. They were not deists, as often alleged, creating the world and then letting it go on its own path.  The deist deity was not intimately connected with his creation.  

These same founding fathers consulted the Bible for their wisdom far more times than any other book or author for their wisdom on how to found a limited government for a free people. That is documented. They followed and believed the principle stated by William Blackstone, the primary British legal scholar whose books were read on both sides of the Atlantic for several decades, including during the time of the Revolution. Blackstone wrote:

"This law of nature [i.e., the moral law established by God], being coeval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original."

This is, of course, the Biblical statement of the matter. Because God is the Original Creator of all that is, He is therefore also the Sovereign Lord over all that is. There are no exceptions to the sovereignty of God over all things, including, as Blackstone notes, over politics and civil government. No law can contradict the law of God and be legitimate law. This was the legal understanding common throughout the British empire, and there were no exceptions among the leadership in America.

 

Blackstone is saying that the right of any person to command another person about anything at all comes from God, or it does not come at all. Without the authority of God behind it, any command is without authority. That means that civil government has no right to command its citizens apart from that authority of God. It may have power to coerce, but that does not make authority. Power to coerce is not the same as authority to command. Power is the ability to get your way, the ability to coerce other people. Authority is the right to command, the right to require obedience.

That understanding was affirmed over and over by the United States Supreme Court all through the 1800's. America was specifically and continually affirmed as a religious and a Christian nation. It began to waver only in the late 1940's, and the axe fell in 1962 when the Court decided that prayer was illegal in government-run schools. The Supreme Court dismissed God as sovereign.

It was the first (and maybe only) Supreme Court decision made with no precedent cited -- because there was no precedent to cite. It made up its decision whole cloth. These were not stupid and ignorant men, so one has to suspect that they were deliberately subverting the moral authority of the Constitution for their own ends. Both prior and subsequent events bear that out.

It is important to understand that civil government is about coercion, about forcing or forbidding something. We make laws only when we want something forced or forbidden. That means that everything civil government does, it does, as it were, at gun point. That is why our founding fathers insisted that the list of things which civil government could enforce must be severely restricted to those things absolutely necessary to the welfare of the people, and that all else was to be left up to their own pursuit of happiness. The freedom of the people requires that the government right to command and to enforce be restricted to those limited items enumerated in the Constitution.

 

So where does that leave us Christians with Church and State?

Alan Keyes was once explaining the event of that coin in Scripture. He asked the question, "If the image of Caesar on the coin indicates that the coin belongs to Caesar, then whose image is stamped on Caesar?" To which the answer, as any alert Jew or Christian would know, is "the image of God". So, what then does that indicate?

The Image of God is stamped on Caesar -- because Caesar, and all the rest of us are made by God in His own Image (as we read in the first chapter of Genesis). We all belong to God, whether we are an emperor or a president or a judge or a legislator. Or just the voter on the street.

Because we belong to God, He therefore owns our behavior, He has total claim to our behavior. Our behavior belongs to God. And it does not matter that we may be government officials in the United States of America. As Blackstone says, our government gets its political authority from God, and from God alone -- or it has no political authority at all.

That is to say, all moral authority comes from our purpose for existence, which only our Creator can give us. Thus, any government refusing to submit to the authority of God, refusing to submit to its own reason for existence, is, then, an outlaw government. That is a logically unavoidable fact.

Our Declaration of Independence affirms as a founding principle of America (a part of our organic law) that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men."

That is a theological statement right from the Founding Document of America. It sets the stage for the Constitution and for all subsequent legal documents and acts in America.

The primary and fundamental purpose of civil government is to secure those rights already given by God. A legitimate government has no capacity to make up its own laws, it must govern by, and consistently with, those laws already given by God. That is why we have the Decalogue posted on the wall of our federal Supreme Court -- a reminder to the judges as to under whose authority they are to judge the rest of us. That is why Judge Roy Moore some years ago placed the Decalogue in his court house -- and was then, by court order, illegally removed from his office as chief justice of Alabama.

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The separation of Church and State does not mean the separation of God and State. God rules the State just as He rules the Church. Both are under the authority of God. The role of the State is, using the law of God, to be the referee for the rest of us; and the role of the Church is to be the moral and spiritual conscience, the teacher of right and wrong, the teacher of the law and grace of God, and the leader of worship. The Church is to raise up Godly men who can then be Godly leaders for the State. But the Church and State are to mind their own business, not trying to interfere with how the other works -- unless there is substantial deviation from its true course by one or the other.

So, the role of the civil government is to bear the sword, coercive force. But the government cannot on its own decide how to use the sword. It must govern by the understanding of the elected representatives of the people as to what the law and grace of God are.

And, likewise, the Church may not hold the sword, but it is the primary source of teaching the people how to make that decision for the government by the law and grace of God. The people decide, the government wields. Because the Church may not wield the coercive sword, it must win its case in a free market of ideas and values in the public arena.

America is headed for a disaster today because we, the Christian community, have utterly failed in our task for over two centuries to uphold and defend the sovereignty of God. It has failed to teach the Judeo-Christian view of civil government, so our people have been sent out like lambs among wolves with no intellectual and moral ammunition by which to challenge the wolves.

The Christian faith has been booted out of the public arena, leaving the public arena vulnerable to interests which want and desire the centralization of coercive power -- the exact opposite of what God has given us. Our moral and spiritual consensus has been deliberately subverted and destroyed, thus plunging America down the vortex into totalitarianism.

  

So, in light of the coin passage, what is our task??? What are Christians to say today in the public arena?

"Jesus is Lord" was the beginning of the first Christian creed. It was the response given to magistrates before whom Christians were dragged to put a pinch of incense on the altar to honor Caesar as Lord. They replied, that no, "Jesus is Lord, not Caesar", and that they would obey Caesar as emperor, but could not worship Caesar as Lord, the ultimate moral decider.

It is a standard principle of Constitutional law that any law contrary to the Constitution is no law at all, and has no authority to command obedience. But that principle rests on the prior logical principle that all command, all authority comes from God, prior even to the Constitution. And therefore any law (or constitution) contrary to the law of God is no constitution, no law at all, and has no authority to command.

In other words, the Original Constitution for all constitutions, for all forms of civil law, is the revealed law of God. There is no other. If there is no revealed law of God, then there is no legitimate law at all, there is only moral chaos, tamed, perhaps, by power struggle, by force of arms. That is all the secular and pagan worlds have to create either moral or political order. There is nothing in their worlds which says otherwise. There is no principle of moral order as a foundation for political order. There is only power struggle and coercion.

So Christians must learn how to force that issue into public discussion. We will force it only by asserting it and living by it. The issue of who is Lord has already been settled. The Lord has already been chosen. We must, as our Declaration says, put our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor behind our faithfulness to our true Sovereign, our Lord Jesus Christ.

If Christians will not do that, we give the world no reason to submit themselves to the law and grace of God. We will continue to have little or no public testimony.

Last Wednesday evening, we had a bishop here from the Sudan at evensong, who has risked his life, and seen many of his own people die because they would not deny that Jesus, and no other, is King of kings and Lord of lords. He has been himself a refugee from the murderous onslaughts of Muslim terrorists.

It is time we Christians in America regained our public testimony to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus, make us faithful to You, faithful witnesses to your glory, majesty, and sovereignty, in the present and coming contest....

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Date Posted -  11/15/2009   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012