Separation of Church and State

Tract 31E30

by Joseph Keener
published by Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc.

"My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" (John 18:36)

In this explanation Jesus makes it clear that there is a definite separation between His kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. The fact that Jesus had not allowed His disciples to defend Him was evidence enough of this fact. Christ's kingdom is heavenly and seeks the reconciliation of the sinner to God, but civil and world governments are of this earth and seek for power and supremacy.

The separation of church and state is also taught in 2 Corinthians 5:20 where the Christian is referred to as an ambassador - "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ." An ambassador is one who represents one country to another. He does not become involved in the government of the other country but seeks the welfare of his own. Likewise, the Christian does not become involved in the affairs of earthly governments but represents the heavenly kingdom to them. He is in this world but is not of this world (John 17:16). His work is spiritual, not political. His responsibility is to help the people of this world to give their allegiance to the heavenly kingdom of Christ.

A key passage of Scripture in helping us to understand the relationship of the church to the state is Romans 13. It is significant that in this chapter there is no instruction given to the Christian concerning his involvement in the affairs of the state. Neither is there any teaching given to the state for the Christian to follow. This Scripture is solely given to the believer to instruct him in his obligation to and his attitude toward the civil authorities over him. He is taught to pay taxes, to honor, and to obey.

The purpose of the state, as taught in Romans 13, is seen to be in conflict with the teachings of Jesus to His disciples. In verse 4 we read, "For he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." In contrast, Jesus told His disciples, "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52). When the soldiers came to John the Baptist and inquired concerning what they must do to repent, he said, "Do violence to no man" (Luke 3:14). In Romans 12:19 we read, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." With purposes so diverse, it is impossible to be consistent while serving in both capacities. God is calling the church to be separate from the state.

The separation of church and state is not an Old Testament doctrine. God separated Abraham from his own people to make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:2). As a nation, God gave His people laws concerning the restraining of evil and the punishment of the evildoer. He placed a sword in their hand and commanded them to use it in bringing judgment upon other ungodly nations (Deuteronomy 20:17). Israel's civil law demanded life for life, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (Deuteronomy 19:21). God also charged Israel with a spiritual ministry. He worked through them to reconcile other peoples to Himself. In this sense, the Jewish nation embodied both the responsibility of an earthly kingdom and the responsibility of the heavenly kingdom.

In the change of covenants the role of church and state have been separated. No longer is it the responsibility of God's people to wield God's sword of vengeance against His enemies. No longer is it the responsibility of the state to be the standard bearer of truth. There are now two entities with diverse goals and interests. Failure to see this difference between the two covenants leads to confusion and misapplication of this vital New Testament doctrine.

The separation of church and state reaches into the practical expressions of everyday life. For example: Should the Christian participate in the military when Jesus has commanded him to love his enemies? Should he be an officer of the law when he is commanded not to resist evil? Should a Christian hold political offices and vote when he is an ambassador of another country? Should the Christian seek to coerce his government for rights by lobbying or various forms of protest when his concern is the salvation of souls? The consistent answer is no. "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18).

God Establishes and Overrules in Governments

God establishes governments. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1).

Civil power is God-given. "Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin" (John 19:10, 11).

Men in government are placed there by God. "This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men" (Daniel 4:17). Also see Daniel 4:25, 32.

The Lord directs the decisions of civil leaders. "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will" (Proverbs 21:1).

The Work of Government

Government is established to keep order in society. "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Romans 13:4).

Collecting taxes is a God-given right. "For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour" (Romans 13:6, 7).

"And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him" (Mark 12:13-17).

Our Duty to the Government

We should respect our leaders. "Honour the king" (1 Peter 2:17).

We should pray for our leaders. "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour" (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

We should pay taxes. "And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's and unto God the things which be God's" (Luke 20:25).

We should obey our leaders. "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God" (1 Peter 2:13-15).

"Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Romans 13:2).

God's Intention for the Christian

His nation is a holy nation. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

"Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Colossians 1:13).

He seeks a better country. "These all . . . confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. . . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly" (Hebrews 11:13, 16).

He represents another country. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20).


This material was typed in by Dick Sullivan. Thanks a lot, Dick!


Return to unofficial Rod and Staff home page
Return to Rod and Staff Tract Index

[Anabaptists: The Web Page]