There seems to always be a significant debate in our country about any connection between church and state. I have typically looked at this debate from the political and historical side. The 1st amendment says “Congress shall make no laws establishing a religion”. This doesn’t say that Congress Members should not pray at work. It doesn’t say that a government employee should not make their faith known. It doesn’t say that a Bible cannot be used as a reference book in school. It doesn’t say that a government building cannot display a nativity scene. It simply says that our congress cannot create a law that would lift up one religion as THE religion of the land.
While I still believe in this argument, today I want to come at this from another perspective. Why is it healthy for Christians to keep a separation between their faith and their government?
History has shown significant problems when we try to merge the two. The Israelites saw other nations having warrior like kings leading them into battle and wanted this for themselves too. Despite the warnings from Samuel, they insisted in having a king and God granted their request. However the merge between military and political control with religious leadership became a problem on two fronts.
First, was the shift of focus. As Christians, our King is our Lord. As the faithful blur the lines between their spiritual and political leaders, it becomes easier to shift attention as well. Second was the thirst for power. If a religious leader gains power through military and political means, that human thirst for power can cause all sort of issues.
That second problem became prevalent in Jerusalem during Jesus’ time. The Pharisees who were in the religious power began to see the power that came from connecting and working with the Roman powers that be as well. The lines were being blurred again. Jesus even said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17). He saw people blurring the lines between their faith and their politics and wanted people to put the right energies where they belong.
Then for the next 10 centuries after Jesus’s resurrection, the church’s power and influence began to merge more and more with the military and political power of Rome. As the succession of Popes worked to increase their power in Rome, they even began to shift power from many bishops around the regions, to only one bishop in Rome. The lines of power and influence between the Popes and Emperors of the times continued to blur again.
It can be tempting to want my Christian views to have the power and influence of being in control of Washington DC. As the pressures rise against the faithful, the desire to have a friend in the political world can grow. But we as Christians must resist repeating history.
The 1st Amendment was not only written to keep religious influence out of politics but it was also written to keep political pressures out of our faith.
Render unto Uncle Sam, that which is Uncle Sam’s, but your first attention, your priority should first be to render to God that which is God’s.