What should be the guiding principles behind the relationship of the church with secular governments? Should the church seek to control the government, or should the church seek to support the government in the interest of nationalism (or internationalism)? Should the church seek to influence government policy and draft laws for the betterment of society? Should the church seek government finances in order to expand its social programs? How can we tell if a government is truly worthy of our support? Should a Christian get involved in politics?
These are all complex questions and sincere Christians have had different views on these questions. I will share some of my views also, and pray that we will all be taught by God and have God’s wisdom on the issues here.
The true church of Jesus Christ is made up of those people who have given their lives to Christ, who confess Him as Lord and belong to Him. One way such individuals express their submission to Christ is by meeting with others who have likewise submitted to Him. There is no way to love one another as Christ commanded without spending time in committed relationships with other believers. Churches may or may not set up legal entities such as trusts or companies or non-profit organizations in order to facilitate the handling of money and formalize the way things are to be done. Secular governments may or may not pass laws recognizing the validity and rights of that group of believers to exist, worship God together and do things together. But the true church does not receive its authority to exist from secular governments, but from God. Therefore all the legal entities created according to the laws of the land are NOT the true church of God, but simply a tool that certain people have availed themselves of to conduct their affairs with a minimum of problems. If a true local church of God cannot get official recognition by the government because they will not compromise on things that the Lord has taught them, they should continue in spite of the persecution they may receive. It is then up to God to help them stand, even though they don’t have a legal entity or government approval to exist as a church.
Legal entities may be desirable from many points of view, but one danger of these legal entities is that they tend to be more closely identified with the church than is scriptural or safe. Whoever controls the legal entity has a great influence on the finances and policies of the church. So if church politicians can get God’s leader removed or severely restrict his leadership by means of the provisions of the legal entity, they can grieve away the Spirit of God. When this happens, the church begins to run as an organization on human energy and corporate principles rather than on the power and wisdom of God.
I have seen pastors who began to cast out demons in obedience to God who were threatened by their denominational leaders. They would have left the denomination except that the denomination had legal ownership of the land and church building. Thus human power-brokers were seeking to use the rights they had in law to stop the move of the Holy Spirit. It happens all too often.
The Bible teaches that the Spirit is Lord and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17). To the extent that the letter of ecclesiastical law is Lord, or some other spiritual influence is Lord, there will be bondage.
How does all this relate to the the issue of the church and secular governments? We need to realize that God HAS given authority to secular governments, within a certain “sphere”, but he has ALSO given authority to his people, the church, and to the leaders he has placed in positions of authority within the church. The government does have authority to punish criminals, thieves, cheats, violent men and those who endanger others or community interests by means of their illegal actions. The government does have the right to raise taxes to provide infrastructure, a legal system, a police force and immigration. It does have the right to regulate commerce, but it ought to do so according to the principles of justice and wisdom and not abuse this power. All this is legitimate. But usually the most insidious branches of government are those that have anything to do with religion. The devil is not afraid of religion. He is the author of most of it, and will use government where he can to bring religion under his sway.
When secular governments seek to influence the collective behavior of the people of God through money or lawmaking they are stepping OUTSIDE their sphere of delegated authority and to that extent need to be resisted. Humanity’s problems began when Adam gave his authority to the devil by submitting to Satan’s influence. It is a serious matter when the church refuses to obey the Spirit of Truth because of fear of the secular governments.
I quite enjoyed the article by Glen Dean Should Christians be Libertarians which highlights some of the dangers of the Faith Based Initiative in the United States of America. He rightly points out that the Christians in the States lost control of education when they let the government come and expand it with their money. He also points towards the way governments use money to influence behavior.
Derek Prince has taught well on the need to pray for our governments. We are urged in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to pray for political leaders, but we are never encouraged to depend on them. Our dependence must be on God. If we are obedient to the Word of God, we will prosper whether or not the government likes us. The church in China is a case in point. The government there has legislated against evangelism of children, house churches, healing, casting out demons, fasting and praying and yet it is those churches which disregard these strictures which are growing at a fast pace. They must offend the government there on those points or they will offend Almighty God.
Christians are called to be salt and light wherever they are, including government. If no believers are in government, government will succumb to the natural tendency to corruption and will begin to stink. If God raises up a TRUE believer to be the president or king of a nation, praise the Lord. But MANY, even today, are hypocrites who have sought to USE the church of Christ for their own worldly interests or even demonic programs. A true Christian should only get involved in government if GodÂ calls them to and they are so led by the Holy Spirit. They should do it realizing that it is a call to serve, to love and may involve much personal suffering for righteousness’ sake. Not all have such a calling. But we are all called to boldly witness and make disciples wherever we are.