Christians and Their Relationship to Government
Lesson 3 in the series
Miscellaneous Lessons
Tim Temple

Introduction

One of the most cherished possessions of American citizens is the form of government under which we live. In fact, that form of government underlies everything else we hold dear in this country. Even though this is true, there are many Christians who sincerely believe that Christians, and particularly churches, should not get involved in politics. They might not say it this way, but basically they think we should practice separation of church and state.

In that regard, it is interesting to think about how often and how importantly God speaks of government. For example, this is the terminology that God uses most frequently to describe Himself; Scripture is full of references to “the kingdom of God” and “the throne of God” and “the rule of God.” In three separate passages of Scripture, He gives specific instructions about Christians and their relationship to government. In Matthew, chapter 22, verse 21, He says:

Matthew 22

21They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

In Romans, chapter 13, verses 1-5, He says:

Romans 13

1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4For 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.
5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

In I Timothy, chapter 2, verses 1-4, He tells us to pray for those who are in authority over us. Significantly, all of those instructions were written in a time of totally godless and repressive government!

Intent of the Founding Fathers

A foundational and yet almost completely overlooked fact in our day and time is that our founding fathers deliberately set out to establish a government that would be conducive to God's purpose in government. Therefore, the government that they established provided unparalleled opportunities and responsibilities for Christians' participation in government.

With all of our problems, we still have had a very successful goverment. Two hundred plus years under one piece of paper, the same constitution. That is almost unheard of! As a matter of fact, France recently celebrated her 200th anniversary. Do you know how many governments France has had in those 200 years? Seven! Seven completely different forms of government! Italy is now in its forty-eighth different form of government; we're still in our first. We are remarkable among the nations of the world.

The Source of Constitutional Principles

How did that happen? Were did the founding fathers get the principles that have given us this kind of success for so long? Well, that was a question asked by political science professors at the University of Houston a few years ago. They wanted to see where the founders got their ideas, so they launched a study in which they collected 15,000 documents written by the various founding fathers. Then they spent ten years analyzing those writings. That study was picked up by a Christian researcher by the name of David Barton, who used it in his book, America, Why Pray? , which is the source for most of the facts and quotations in this message. He also wrote a book called, The Myth of Separation , which is also a source. After ten years, they had cataloged every quote made by the founding fathers in those writings; and they found that the three men most often quoted by the framers of our constitution were William Blackstone, Lord Montasque, and John Locke, all of whom were outspoken Christians.

They also found something else in the course of their study that they had not expected to find, and that was that sixteen times more frequently than those three men, the founding fathers quoted directly out of the Bible! Thirty-four percent of all quotes by the founding fathers came straight out of the Scriptures. And in addition to that, in sixty percent of the quotations cited by the founding fathers, the men they were quoting were quoting the Scriptures themselves. The Bible was so much a part of the underpinnings of our nation that in the time of the founding fathers, the advice was, “If you want to be a lawyer in America, you first need to get a theology degree.” The reasoning was, “How can you understand the laws of man if you don't first understand the laws of God on which the laws of man are based?”

The journals of Congress go back to the very beginnings of that institution, and a study which has been done of those journals from the 1700s shows some interesting things. For example, the idea for the three branches of government (which was unique in all the world at that time; no other nation had ever been set up that way) came from Isaiah, chapter 33, verse 22, which says:

Isaiah 33

22For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.

The idea for the separation of powers, another completely novel idea in that day, was based on Jeremiah, chapter 17, verse 9. That verse says:

Jeremiah 17

9The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Do you know where tax exemptions for churches come from? The journals of Congress say that it came out of Ezra, chapter 7, verse 24, which says:

Ezra 7

24Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.

You see, those were common things that happened in the founding days of our country that we are not allowed to hear anymore. They have been edited out of our textbooks.

Quotations From George Washington

Along that same line, everyone is familiar with the attempt by Benedict Arnold in the early days of the United States to overthrow the United States government. What is not told anymore, but is a matter of record, is that when George Washington sent his report on the incident to Congress, he said, “This attempt was so cleverly conceived and concealed that had it not been for the direct intervention of God on our behalf, it would never had been discovered, and the United States would be no more. We should once again thank God for demonstrating to us that we are the object of His divine love.” Not only that, but the record goes on to show that when Congress received the report, they declared a national day of fasting and prayer with two directives: first, that Americans everywhere should pray and thank God for His divine intervention on their behalf; and second, that they should fervently pray that Christianity would soon cover the face of the earth. But no one was surprised by that directive because they had done the same thing after the Battle of Saratoga, the Battle of Yorktown, after the Whiskey Rebellion, and at other times, too.

To show you how much that was a part of what they thought and did, think about George Washington's farewell address. It used to be included in every history book, but not in the last thirty years. He was the father of our country. Forty-five years of his life were in public service. He knew what the intent of the Constitution was, because he was the President of the convention that gave us the Constitution. He was the President of the United States who called for and oversaw the formation of the first amendment to that constitution, the Bill of Rights. After two terms in office, he said, “Okay, America, this is what has brought us to this point, and this is what we have to do to keep going from this point.” Then he said, “Do not ever let anyone claim to be covered with the cloak of patriotism if they ever attempt to separate religion from politics.” He went on to say, later in that address, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that we can have national morality without religious principle.”

The Bond Between Government and Christianity

George Washington was not the only one to speak in terms of Christian principles. Another founding father who did so was John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams was one of the founding fathers; he spent eighteen years in Congress; he was President of the United States, and he did many other things in leadership of the country. Here is a statement which he made: “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: that it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” You see, the Supreme Court has it wrong. They talk about separation of church and state; but the founding fathers said that the relationship between church and state was “an inseparable bond.” The first chief justice of the Supreme Court was John Jay. Listen to what he said: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers. And it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

How long has it been since you have heard a Supreme Court justice say, “Make sure you elect Christians in the next election.”? Did he know what he was talking about? Of course; he was the original chief justice.

We could go on and on with illustrations of the Christian atmosphere that pervaded the early days of our nation, but the question that keeps coming up in our day is “What about separation of church and state? Doesn't the constitution say that the government cannot do anything to promote religion?” The answer to that question is an emphatic “No”! The phrase, “separation of church and state,” is not found anywhere in the United States Constitution or any of its amendments. The whole furor originated with a phrase in the first amendment to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. That phrase says, “Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Where do you see separation of church and state in that phrase?

Origin of the Phrase, ”Separation of Church and State”

So where did the phrase, “separation of church and state,” come from? It came from something that happened when Thomas Jefferson was President. In 1801, he received a letter from Danbury Baptist Association, Danbury, Connecticut. The Baptist ministers there had heard that the Congregationalist denomination was about to be made the national denomination of America. So they sent a letter to the President of the United States expressing their concern. In response, Jefferson addressed that group on January 1, 1802, and that is where the phrase was first used, years after the Constitution was completed.

The problem is that we only hear half of Jefferson's statement. President Jefferson told those Baptist ministers in his speech, “The first amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state…” Now, that is the part we hear all the time, but that wasn't the whole statement. The rest of the statement goes on to say, “…but that wall is a one directional wall. It is to keep the government from infringing upon the church, but to make sure that Christian principles always stay in government.” Does the current phrase sound like a correct application of what Jefferson actually said? The impression we get is that somewhere in the Constitution it says that the church and the state are completely separate and always have been and always should be. Not only does the Constitution not say that, but the quotation that is used to bolster that idea was taken completely out of context and not quoted in its entirety.

The Principle of Historical Definition

An important principle in any historical research is called “historical definition.” It is also an important principle in Biblical interpretation. This principle deals with the meaning that words had at the time they were originally written. It is an extremely important principle, because as we all know, words change their meaning and usage over time. A word that means one thing to our generation may have meant something entirely different to our grandparents' generation. An example that comes to mind is the word “square.” Fifty years ago the word “square” meant “solid,” “dependable,” “someone who is worthwhile and worthy of respect.” Now it means almost the opposite of that. You call someone a square today, and they will be offended. Fifty years ago it would have been a compliment. Yet, it is the same English word.

Because of that, it is important that we analyze the words and phrases of the Constitution in the context of what they meant when they were written. Do you know what the word “religion” meant in 1804 dictionaries and common usage? It meant “Christian denomination.” As we have already seen, Christianity was the extremely predominant religion in those days. In the terms used in those days, all the first amendment was to do was to make sure that no one denomination became the “church state” over the whole nation. One of the underlying problems they had faced in England was the fact that the Anglican church had total power, and they said, “We can't have that. We have to have God's principles at the base, but we can't have one denomination running the nation.” Five years after the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the meaning of it in a ruling in which they said this: “By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion in this nation. But all sects and denominations of Christians are placed on the same equal footing.”

Bible Reading and Prayer In Schools

There were 160 years of cases where the Supreme Court ruled in this same way. But the turning point came on June 25, 1962. This was the case that removed Bible reading in schools. That was the first time in America's history that we had ever had a ruling that separated church and state. It was in that case that the term “separation of church and state” was first used.

You see, what it boils down to is that the doctrine of separation of church and state in the way that we are hearing it used today is only a thirty-year-old doctrine. It is not one of the great founding principles of our country as the liberals would have you believe. It is not something that our founding fathers envisioned. In fact, what they envisioned was the opposite of that, but in just thirty years it has come to be regarded as being in a class with all of the freedoms that the Constitution does guarantee. Think how much the cause of Christ has lost in the process.

By the way, this case was the first of its kind in Supreme Court history. The court gave zero precedents in stating its decisions. Research has shown that in the average Supreme Court decision, there will be eighty-seven citations of precedents from other cases, but in the school prayer case, the court, in effect, just made an announcement saying, “We are not going to have prayer in schools anymore. That's unconstitutional.” They gave zero precedents; they quoted zero previous court decisions; they gave zero historical incidents; they just made the announcement.

The court never makes a decision without explaining what led to its decision, and that was true in this case. Those explanations are readily available in law libraries; they are not “hidden” material. Here is an exact quote of their explanation of why the Bible was taken out of the public schools: “If portions of the Bible were read without explanation, they could be and have been shown to be, psychologically harmful to students.” Again, no legal precedent, no historical precedent, just an announcement.

Return to the Old Ways

When the Supreme Court uses the term “unconstitutional,” they mean that the founding fathers would have opposed the thing at issue. But what did James Madison, the author of the Constitution say about the use of the Bible? After the Constitution was completed, he wrote this: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government, not on this document, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions on the capacity of each and every one of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” It is hard to understand how the reading of the Bible in a classroom can be unconstitutional when the man who wrote the Constitution said if we can't keep the Ten Commandments, we can't keep the Constitution.

Jeremiah, chapter 6, verse 16, says:

Jeremiah 6

16…Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls…

In other words, if you want the ways of peace, go back to the old paths. What were the old paths? Do you know what requirements the founding fathers had for politicians? The federal Constitution doesn't give requirements for officeholders, but most of the state constitutions do. The same founders who wrote the federal Constitution wrote those state constitutions. Look what the requirements were in Delaware, for example. You could choose any of the states and see this same thing: “Everyone appointed to the public office must say, 'I do profess faith in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost from God blessed forevermore, and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures both the Old and the New Testaments to be given to divine inspiration'.”

That was not a violation of the first amendment because it did not require that you be a member of any particular denomination, but if you were going to hold public office in those days, you had to profess faith in Jesus Christ and in the inspiration of the Scriptures. Those were the old ways.

If there is any hope for our nation, we must return to the old ways. At this point in our history, it is beyond our hope that we could elect nothing but Christians. And I am not saying that you should vote for a candidate unless he is a Christian, but I am saying that we must find men and women who will stand upon the principles of the Word of God. If we do not return to the ways of God, we are on the brink of losing everything that we hold dear.

Christians' Responsibility In Politics

What part does the church play in that? Charles Finney, a great evangelist of the early 1800s said, “The church must take right ground in regard to politics. Politics are a part of religion in a country such as this. Christians must do their duty to the church as a part of their duty to God. God will bless or curse this nation according to the course that Christians take in politics.”

When we hear this kind of information, there are many Christians who think. “Well, that's all well and good, but, really, we're in the minority by now. There's just not that much we can do.” Most Christians think that our views are the minority view, but did you know that in 1989, statistics showed that eighty-four percent of the United States population wanted prayer returned to public schools? That's not a minority by anyone's calculations. In a recent issue of the Reader's Digest , in a poll commissioned by that magazine, the figure was eighty percent. Listen! As soon as we figure out that we're not a minority and start acting like we're eighty-nine percent, we are going to see all sorts of things change. Let me give you a prime example of that: In the United States Senate elections in 1986, a study was done of the elections in five states where five incumbent senators who had voted against bills favorable to Biblical principles were being opposed by five men who were open, overt Christians. Those five men were not novices. One was a governor; another was a military commander; they were all qualified for the office. But when the elections came, those five Christian men lost in all five states by a collective total of 57,000 votes. That is an average of about 12,000 votes per state, an extremely small margin in a statewide race. But the travesty was this: In those five states there were five million Christians who didn't even vote. If even one out of every 1,000 Christians who did not vote had voted in that election, it would have made the difference.

And don't think that the political strategists don't understand this. The polls that those people use (and the information is publically available) show that only one-half of eligible Christians are registered to vote. And what is much worse, of those who are registered, only one-half bother to vote. Christians have a horrible voting record.

Do you know what that tells us? It tells us that the principles upon which this nation was founded are not being taken away by radicals; we are not being beaten by activists; we are being beaten by inactive Christians. We have the potential to make changes, but we aren't taking advantage of that potential. A congressman recently said that if he got as much as twenty pieces of mail from voters in his district on a single issue, it would be “a tremendous amount of heat.” You see, it doesn't take much, but it does take involvement.

Jesus said to the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” In saying that, He was speaking of the preservative effect that we should be having on our society. Listen, folks, we are the ones who have the truth; we are the ones who have the principles that the God of the universe laid down. If we don't make use of those principles, and if we don't promote a form of government in which those principles can be used, who is going to? If we don't do that, we are going to lose our nation. The pseudo doctrine of separation of church and state says, “Okay, Christians, we know that you are the salt of the earth; just stay in the salt shaker inside the church where you belong. Don't get out here in public life where you'll mess things up.” But you see, that is not what the United States Constitution says at all.

Ultimate Purpose of Human Government

In I Timothy, chapter 2, verses 1-4, God gives us the ultimate, bottom-line purpose of human government. He says there:

I Timothy 2

1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

You see, He tells us to pray for those who are in authority over us, but why, really? Notice verse 2:

I Timothy 2

2…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life…

Now listen very carefully. If you miss what I am about to say, you will miss the whole point of this message. The reason I am bringing this message is that this passage of Scripture tells us what the purpose of government is. It is not just for our comfort and convenience. Look at verses 3 and 4:

I Timothy 2

3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

You see, the underlying purpose of government is to provide the stability that will make evangelism most effective. That is the basic purpose. And a little over 200 years ago, God, in His grace, allowed the establishment of a nation that was as nearly ideal for that purpose as a human institution can be.

But let me tell you, we have come to the very brink of losing that marvelous opportunity! I firmly believe that if you and I do not begin to take an active part in the self-governing process that God has allowed us to have in this country, He will very soon allow us to lose it.

When I talk about getting involved in the political process today, I am not talking about getting involved in politics for the sake of politics, I'm not talking about getting involved in politics so that your party will have more power than the other party. Listen, if Christians get involved in politics for anything other than the right reason, it drives them further away from the Lord. You tend to spend more time on politics than you do on your relationship with the Lord. But the purpose of government is to provide a stable ground for the preaching of the Gospel and the spread of the Word of God, and I firmly believe that if you and I do not begin to take an active part in this self-governing process that God has allowed us to have in this country, with the right motive, we are going to lose that privilege.

Conclusion

The place to begin in that process is to confess our sins of ingratitude and laxity, if that applies. The next step is to prayerfully and carefully consider the various candidates who are running–in all the races, not just the presidential one–even if it means taking some time out of your regular schedule to do so. Find men and women who are as close as possible to the principles of God's Word in their political beliefs, and vote for them. You are not going to find a Christian in every race, but look for those who are as close to Biblical principles as possible. After having done that, if you and I do not vote in the elections, with the convenience of early voting, etc., I believe that we will answer to the Lord for wasting one of the most precious resources for evangelism and the spread of God's Word that the world has ever known!


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