Word From The Center: Friday, May 11, 2018
Welcome to “Word from The Center” FRIDAY, a Two-Kingdom, practical reflection on the issues of the day from the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s issue…
“Separation of Church and State” – A Message from the Church? Who knew?
For the next two weeks, we are going to be talking about two articles that underscore the influence of a healthy, public relationship of the Church and the State in a free and freeing society. Today, we start with the realization that the “separation of the public authority of the Church and the State,” is not a modern invention, but a reflection of a unique Christian voice in the public square even today. In the article linked below, by Paul R. DeHart, titled,“The First Amendment Didn’t Separate Church and State—Christianity Did,” the author argues persuasively that the American experiment is rooted in a healthy understanding of the differentiation of the public, adjudicatory spheres of religion/conscience (the Church) in tension with those of the realm of the State.
This “separation” is not some modern creation of an all-encompassing, secular State, privatizing all things religious. Therefore, any modern-day understanding of “separation” must deal with the fact that such separation reflects an ancient, Christian public square proclamation of two sovereigns, Caesar and Jesus Christ—each with its authority, one temporal, one eternal—presciently present already in the first three centuries after Christ. Also to be noted, the very roots of separation go deeper as Jesus himself differentiates these realms when He taught, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars and give to God what is God’s,” and when He instructed Roman Governor Pontius Pilates that “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11).
So, what’s the point? Uniquely, In America… this Constitutional, First Amendment perspective—this separation— was for the sake of the Church, the Citizen, and the rights of the individual to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as rights from God. If there is a separation, it is for the sake of the limitation of the coercive power of the State. And, the “limited” State’s role then is primarily to protect free people, driven by conscience and faith, to be a self-governing people of a more perfect union. The limiting of the “federal” reach of the State and the freeing of the individual, self-disciplined, religious citizen was a first amendment exercise that honored the rights of those created by God, already on God’s terms.
From the Bible’s perspective, this separation is more like “differentiation.” At the LCRL, we call it “Dynamic Differentiation,” that is, the Bible declares that God is at work (dynamic) in the world two distinct ways (differentiated),to bless and ultimately to save. God is at work through the vocations of fathers, mother, business people, magistrates, law-enforcement etc. in His Left-Hand rule primarily to preserve not transform the world, curbing the vices and sinful ambitions of people through outward law and order. That’s why Jesus could even call His followers to give Caesar prayerful respect in that endeavor, though Caesar may not have deserved much else. Christians also understand God’s public work of saving the world through His Son Jesus Christ, is to be offered as gift through His Right-Hand rule in His Church. Such a public proclamation/truth calls all people to faith, especially those who realize that even a “more perfect union” falls woefully short of God’s ultimate intention for the world, eternal, abundant life with God as a gift.
Who knew that the genius of the separation/differentiation of Church and State was not a modern invention, but a very old idea rooted in God’s two ways of working in the world? Who knew that separation was the first charge against the church in its public witness of Jesus in the Roman Empire? And who knew that such a healthy separation, such a proper respect for the public realms of God through Caesar and God through Jesus, would help produce a constitutional Republic that has evidenced some of the greatest temporal freedoms to humanity. And, that such constitutional protections, would at the same time allow for the proclamation that there is a greater freedom for those who believe in God’s greatest work in Christ for all. Who knew? (next week, the “Concept of Vocation – a better way to be a “public” person in society!”)
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/04/21381/ (*A note to the reader – The link to the article does not necessarily imply full agreement with the article in its entirety)