The Bible and Separation of Church and State?
A. Caesar V God (Matt.22:15-22)
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money.
And they brought unto him a penny.
And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They 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 our text we see the Pharisees and the Herodians united (normally they are in opposition to each other) attempting to corner Jesus in a riddle for the purpose of reducing or eliminating His influence. They probably spent along time conjuring up this question “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” Feeling very smart, they might have said gleefully among themselves, “If Jesus answers, ‘Yes.’, we got him he will certainly anger the Jews and they will no longer accept anything he teaches. If on the other hand He says, ‘No.’, we got him because the loyal Romans will be angered and could and will probably accuse Him of rebellion against the government.” How disappointed they must have felt. Here, they were sure they had come up with the question that only God Himself could answer.
After Jesus was given a penny, and asked whose image is on it, they acknowledged that the image on it was that of Caesar. Then Jesus made this statement, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” This must have made these professional religionists drop open their mouths because… “When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way.” (v.22)
There is so much one could extrapolate from this little passage, yet to stay on topic let me offer this morsel of application lifted from this text. There are two separate spheres for our respect and support, church and state. Christians today, have the duty and privilege to obey God and country!
God has ordained both the state and the church each with distinct and separate purposes. Romans 13:1-7 outlines the purposes of the state, while the church’s purposes are outlined in Matthew 28:19-20. These passages demonstrate the differing God-intended functions of church and state.
B. Earthly kingdom V Heavenly kingdom (Jn. 18:28-40)
John 18:28-40 is the account of Jesus standing before Pilate preceding His crucifixion. Jesus told Pilate: “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.” (v.36) Jesus was acknowledging His kingship, but also that His kingdom was not presently (at that time) of this world, if it were His servants would fight for His deliverance. Since His kingdom had not yet been established in Jerusalem He would not permit them to fight.
God intends church and state to be kept separate until the King of Kings comes back and establishes His earthly kingdom.
C. Man’s authority V God’s authority
The apostles were jailed for proclaiming the gospel and commanded by the authorities not to teach in His name (see Acts 5:17-29). God delivered them from prison and via His angel, told them to keep preaching. The next morning the apostles were right back at the temple teaching. They were brought before the council for interrogation and asked, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” The response, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
The apostles recognize the existence of two spheres of authority, God’s and man’s. We also see the way a believer should respond when faced with conflicting demands. When the human authorities make demands that call for disobedience to God, we must follow the example of the apostles and “…obey God rather than men.”
It is clear from the Bible that there are two yet separate spheres of authority God’s and man’s. The Christian today has an obligation to both. We should do our best to obey both, however, when faced with conflict we should always obey God over man. This goes back to our statement that, the church will not control the government and that the government will not control the church.
Think about it...
What are some ways you have obeyed both?
What are ways you have had to obey God rather than man?