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|Harmony of Church and State||05/22/2009|
Thomas Jefferson sought harmony between church and state, not domination or strife.
Thomas Jefferson sought harmony between church and state, not domination or strife.
In the late 1970's, we faced similar circumstances. After a powerful prayer meeting with Billy Graham, Charles Stanley, Adrian Rogers and a few other key leaders, we sensed that the free world, and the United States in particular, faced the very real threat of Soviet domination. Our freedoms and privileges were visibly threatened. We were directly in the crosshairs of a deceitful and determined ideology with the military power to back it up. All of us in that prayer meeting committed ourselves to help wake America up and become aware of this clear and present danger.
At that time, many Christians and other freedom-loving people who understood the principles that made America great began to rise up and speak out. Government had to be limited, we declared, even while protecting the American people and the principles we value. Excessive taxation had to be immediately revoked, so that those capable of producing wealth could do so. The immorality of the 60's and 70's, which had begun to catch up with us as AIDS, divorce, drug addiction and other lies disguised as "liberation" tore families and individuals apart, had to be rebuked.
Internal and external pressures escalated to the point that many Americans woke up and realized that we needed a return to foundational truths. I thank God for the undeniable change that occurred and ultimately led to the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and a return to God-given opportunity for all.
Since that time, we seem to have lost our way, both as Christians and as Americans. What began as a legitimate prayer movement and a return to rock-solid principles turned into a mere emphasis on political activism. Evangelical Christians were encouraged to become a "voting block." Instead of being a spiritual light, they were relegated to being the "religious right." This goes against the very principles that gave us the opportunity to become a strong nation.
Today, we face similar circumstances. Terrorists threaten to destroy nations. Unemployment pushes closer to the level of the Carter administration. Immorality parades through the streets and attempts to destroy anyone who voices a traditional or opposing view. Plus, there may be a more subtle danger -- one more likely to destroy our security, future and hope for prosperity. It is the threat of an ever-increasing, all-consuming government.
Individuals, entrepreneurs and others who understand how to create wealth and opportunity are now being presented and perceived as enemies. Many leaders are inspiring and encouraging a type of class warfare that makes racial prejudice pale in comparison. They promote an image of an enemy that is not, in fact, the enemy at all. Their ideology is the true enemy of freedom. Powerful communicators and crafty manipulators seem committed to creating a dependent society in the mold of many Latin American dictatorships.
What can we do to offset this trend? I do not feel the answer is to organize some kind of new political power base, so I study history and ask questions.
Our founders understood the critical importance of both church and state. Few people understand what it really means today, but they recognized it then. They rejected what had taken place all over Europe. They rebelled against a church controlling the state or a state controlling the church. They wanted freedom of religion, not freedom from it.
It compelled Thomas Jefferson to write the great Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1779, which reads, in part, that "no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." Our founders explicitly rejected excessive government control, just as they rejected the overzealous power of religious institutions. They implemented separation to ensure individual liberty, not to lessen it. Our Founders understood that both, by their very nature, would influence each other. They understood the necessity of and importance of influence, but not dominance; thus Jefferson's admonition that religion should not "diminish, enlarge, or affect" one's role in government. They established some of the greatest political documents ever written by man: the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and our Constitution. The basic principles guiding our founders were derived primarily from the pages of the Bible, yet they rejected the construction of a theocracy because they recognized that biblical principles transcended any particular group's theological position.
In light of our forefathers' wisdom and the contrarian ideologies pervasive in modern times, I ask, "What is the harmony of church and state? If they are going to rightly influence one another, yet avoid a power struggle between the two, can we find common ground?"
I believe I know the answer.
Jesus said he came to "set the captives free." He said that the truth would make us genuinely free. The Bible outlines God's desire for people to live in the safety of God-given principles and boundaries. It demonstrates the proper balance of authority and freedom, independence and dependence, all in a harmonious relationship.
Jesus said you will find life when you give it up for His purposes, which enable freedom and fruitfulness. He illustrates it with a farmer who doesn't merely till the earth, but actually bears fruit. He emphasizes love, compassion and care for others. He warns of the dangers of a life out of control or under the control of negative forces, while encouraging willful submission to principled guidelines.
Drawing upon these principles, our founders acknowledged that freedom is not the right to do whatever we wish, but rather the strength to do what is best. They understood the necessity of individual freedom. Self-motivation, balanced by compassion and humility, allows people to become as productive and prosperous as they can possibly be. Our forefathers trusted individuals to collectively form a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," as Abraham Lincoln later expressed it. They understood that government should be a protector, not a provider, and never a tyrant.
Yet people can only self-govern when they themselves are self-governed. In other words, collective freedom can only be sustained when people live with self-control. Today, most Americans are not living free. They live out of control or under the control of their own appetites and self-centeredness. They cannot be trusted to govern other people because they cannot govern themselves. They do not really care about others, so they cannot properly care for others. America has historically been as generous as she is prosperous. We have inspired, encouraged, helped and liberated more people than any other nation. But all of these characteristics and opportunities are diminishing.
We are now raising a generation of people who resent the success of others. Their sense of entitlement leads them to believe that somebody -- the rich, the big corporations, society at large, or the government itself -- owes them something. They are being taught to hate those who have something they want. I heard someone say, "I want to help the helpless. I just don't like helping the clueless." There's not much joy in giving to someone who says, "You owe me." That mentality destroys the potential of the individual and it disheartens those who truly care.
Greed and excess has been and always will be a sin, but success and prosperity is not the problem. Worshipping success and its fruit is idolatry, which is not only an abomination in the sight of God, but also a hindrance to happiness and fulfillment.
The church needs a newfound freedom in Christ and the courage to stand for truth. A new movement should not seek to support a party, but seek to move every party, politician and person toward proven principles. If leaders do not understand the ideas that made us great, such as limited government and individual freedom, then we will reject the blessings of the past and embrace the destruction of our peace and prosperity.
The Old Testament tells how God delivered the Jews out of Egyptian bondage only to watch them squander His blessings. They eventually became slaves themselves in the land that God had given them. If today's church fails to be "salt" and "light," we risk the same fate. Spiritually enslaved people in the church are weak witnesses and poor examples of the power of the God in whom they claim to believe. The church needs a spiritual awakening to begin living in the freedom and fullness that God purchased with a great price.
Our nation needs to return immediately to the principles of our founders that made us great. We need to stop depending upon the promises of politicians who merely engage in smooth-talking manipulation. We should not depend on someone else to take care of us. We should depend only on God, work toward freedom and prosperity, and compassionately reach out to the helpless. Remember, government has nothing to give that it does not first take from the people.
The harmony of church and state is crucial for our future. We all must understand the absolute necessity of submitting to and protecting principles that guarantee individual rights and emphasize the responsibilities of free citizens.
If you want to secure a future for those you love, pray and commit your life to a return to the only unshakable principle on which we can depend; that is the rock of knowing and doing what is right. Don't just hear truth. Don't just declare it or defend it. Live it. Commit to the necessary harmony of church and state, not as political power or partisanship, but principled living. This means resisting every influence of all assaults against these proven principles. It means standing in opposition to the dangerous, current trends with uncompromising fervor. Many great men and women gave their lives to establish and defend our freedom. Jesus gave His life to set us free. All of us, both Christians and Americans, should live to protect and preserve these freedoms.
Author: James Robison
Editor: Randy Robison
Word Count: 1748
About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, a Christian media ministry and mission relief organization. He and his wife, Betty, host of the television program Life Today; He has authored numerous books, including The Soul of a Nation, The Absolutes: Freedom's Only Hope and True Prosperity.
Media Contact: Randy Robison, editor at jamesrobison.net . Photo available upon request. Reprint rights granted with attribution for complete, unedited article. Revisions allowed only with approval.