The separation of church and state remains a pillar of American democracy. Most countries throughout history have had no such dogma. Either religion controlled the state, or the state ruled religion. Usually the blending of church and state harmed both church and state.

But even in the United States with its separation clause, the relationship between church and state remains tenuous and fraught with fear. Christians offer responses ranging from the essentially secular to theonomy to two kingdoms approaches. Yet most approaches neglect pressing problems of injustice and the church’s responsibility, especially its responsibility in contending against state-sponsored wrongdoing.

Church

We believe the Church of Jesus Christ to be visible and invisible, universal and local, militant and triumphant. The universal and invisible Church of Jesus consists of believers of all eras and places. The visible and local church consists of all persons giving credible testimony and evidence of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ (Luke 3:7-14; Acts 2:37-47; 19:1-7; 20:28), having been baptized as a profession of their faith and in identification with Christ in His death and resurrection (Acts 2:41; Rom. 6:1-11; Col. 2:10-11; 3:1-4), and submitted to the leadership and discipline of the local congregation (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5; Heb. 13:7, 17).

We believe the Church exists in the world to bear worshipping witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel (Acts 1:8). We believe the Church exists to evangelize and disciple the lost of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20) and to build itself up in love (John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:11-16). We believe a biblical church dedicates itself to the right preaching of the word of God (the gospel), the right administration of the ordinances or sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the right exercise of church discipline.

We believe the teaching ministry of the church must aim at helping all Christians obey everything Christ has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). We believe that Christ commands His followers to do good (Luke 6:27, 35; Gal. 6:9-10; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 Thes. 5:15; 1 Tim. 6:18; Titus 3:8, 14), to show mercy (Zech. 7:9; Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Luke 10:25-37; Jam. 2:13; Jude 1:23), and pursue justice (Ps. 106:3; Prov. 21:3; Isa. 1:17; Mic. 6:8; Mt. 23:23).

Therefore, we believe it the necessary duty of every minister to equip himself and the church in his charge for this responsibility. We believe God expects His people to fulfill the obligations of justice in every stewardship, relationship and vocation He allows.

State

We believe that all human governments are ordained by God and government leaders are “servants of God” to do His will in enforcing right and wrong (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). We deny the idea that Christian submission to government authority rules out Christian protest against government injustice. Christians have no obligation to comply with ungodly and unjust demands of human authority (Dan. 6), demands which contradict God’s purpose that governments “punish those who do evil” and “praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). By God’s design, governing authority should “not [be] a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (Rom. 12:3). Yet governments sometimes inverse God’s order, becoming a terror to good and not to bad. Since government officials should only “carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 12:4), the Christian who does good should not live in fear of civil authority (Rom. 12:3).

Christian submission to government is limited both by God’s purposes for government and Christian conscience (Rom. 12:5). From time to time, then, and sometimes in accord with rights granted by government, sometimes against unrighteous laws, Christians conscience-bound by the word of God are obligated to resist government injustices. The evoking of civil rights (Ezra 5; Acts 16:37-38; 22:25-26) and civil disobedience (Exod. 1:8-22; Acts 5:17-42) against government injustice are duties of the Christian church.

We deny the suggestion that the spirituality of the church prevents, discourages or prohibits the church’s involvement, interest or obligation in justice matters inside or outside of the church. Just as the prophets compel Israel to work justice in its ranks, so the church, beginning with its members, is called to work justice among its own and among all. We believe such attention to justice is attention to the Greatest Commandment, to love God and neighbor.


Other posts in this series:

Part 1: Revelation

Part 2: The Trinity

Part 3: True Humanity

Part 4: Conversion and Justice

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Thabiti M Anyabwile

Thabiti M Anyabwile

Thabiti is one of the pastors of Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC and the president of The Crete Collective. He is the author of several books and as an introvert enjoys quiet things at home.

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