Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Proper Relationship between Church and State

What is the proper relationship between church and state? Should they be united? Completely separated? How should religious liberty express itself in a free society?

This isn't as simple as it might seem. If church and state are united, one has religious oppression. If church and state are separated, it can develop into hostility between church and state, or the state pushing faith our of society all together. It's a dangerous balance to maintain. As Christians, how should we view this issue?

A close relationship between church and state can certainly be a strength. Think of the positives: Christianity could be taught actively in every school, college, and cultural institution. And for the Roman empire situation, think of the alternative, which was persecution and death for the early church.  Christianity was effectively hated and attacked and minimized.  When Christianity became the official religion of the empire, well, it's spread was effectively completed in many ways.  A close relationship between religion and the state could certainly help encourage a culture of reverence for God and holiness as well.  And it would avoid the danger of our present situation in the United States, which is, in many cases, state mandated hostility toward religion. And not to mention, a culture and academia and scientific establishment increasingly openly hostile to Christianity. With a close relationship between church and state such evils could possibly be avoided.

Then again, a close relationship between church and state can also be a weakness. We saw the example of how power can completely corrupt even the church when the papacy became focused on control, power, and of course the practices that led up to the protestant reformation, like the sale of indulgences. Additionally, the first colonists to north America were fleeing religious persecution in Europe.  The state ordered religions became oppressive. If the King was protestant, you had to be protestant. If the King was catholic, then you had to be catholic. Separation of church and state can be a positive good, that allows for various denominations and groups to freely live out their religious freedom.

My own perspective on this discussion of the relationship between church and state, would be that there is no need for a separation between church and state in the modern way it's thought of.  It's often become a tool for activists to push Christianity out of the public square of modern society.  This is not good. Of course also, there must never be an established religion. But government must always protect religious freedom, and allow for religious freedom to exist within public education, within universities, and within the public square. That seems to be about the best we can do in this world, if we go too far in the direction of closeness between church and state, we end up with the tyranny of religious oppression. If we go too far in the other direction of division between church and state, we find state sanctioned oppression, or state mandated hostility toward religion. But ultimately, the permanent government of the universe will be a theocracy, with one King, Jesus Christ, ruling, and in that time, there will be no separation between church and state. They will be one in the same.