As in Scotland and Canada, so in Australia: a general rule of thumb is that politics and religion should be avoided in general conversation lest an argument ensue! What is a minister (whether political or religious) supposed to do? These are two of my favourite subjects! In the Christian-influenced West politics focuses mainly on State affairs and religion focuses mainly on Church affairs. Some refer to this as the ‘separation of Church and State’ by which term is meant that Church and State are sovereign spheres and operate as such.
Church and State are but two aspects of any one nation, i.e., one nation under God. These apply both tables of God’s Moral Law, but each in their respective sphere. The first four of the Ten Commandments focus on love for God and the last six deal with love for neighbour. Thus the summary of God’s Law is: Love God and your neighbour as yourself.
The nation that works best is one in which the Church and State are kept distinct but not separate. A nation is a family. It is also a political and a religious entity. It is one as the Triune God is one and it is many as God, the Triune God, is many. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct (not separate), so the spheres of Family, Church, and State are distinct (not separate). As in the Trinity, each sphere compliments and penetrates the others.
There are aspects of God’s Law that specifically apply to each of these three spheres, e.g., in the sphere of the Family it can be seen that the 5th, Honour thy father and thy mother, and the 7th, Thou shalt not commit adultery, have special application. In the sphere of the Church, e.g., the 2nd, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, the 3rd, Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain, and the 4th, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, have particular application. And in the sphere of the State, e.g., the 6th, Thou shalt not kill, the 8th, Thou shalt not steal, and the 9th, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, have direct application. However, if a nation is to remain united (i.e., one as God is one), then it would do well in each sphere to encourage the keeping of the 1st, Thou shalt have no other gods before me, and the 10th, Thou shalt not covet.
To be sure, no one is saved by their keeping God’s Moral Law. Jesus Christ is our only Saviour. However, about nations Scripture says, ‘The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God’ Psalm 9:17; ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people’ Proverbs 14:34. It is the role of the State to reward good (righteousness) and punish evil (sin/crime). Whereas the Church holds keys, the State bears the sword. The former opens and closes Heaven to the nation’s citizens by the proclamation of the Gospel and the latter rewards good and punishes evil by upholding and enforcing the law.
Consider the 4th Commandment as an example of where the Commandments overlap at a national level. The State could ensure that its citizens are given opportunity to have quality family time as well as time to gather as the Church to worship God, simply by applying and enforcing Sunday as the national day of rest. Of course, essential services would need to remain open, fire, police, ambulance, hospitals, not to mention the cows needing to be milked and the chickens fed etc. Duties of necessity and mercy still need to be performed.
The 10th Commandment clearly demonstrates the need for the distinction between Church and State under God. The mere thought of the State trying to enforce this Commandment conjures up images of ‘thought police’ as illustrated by the present ‘Political Correctness’ movement’s stifling ‘free speech.’ This happens when a State forgets or rejects its Christian mandate. The Reformation, to lesser and greater extents, set the law-abiding citizens of Western nations free from interference from Church and State. Citizens of nations that turn their back on God’s Law and Gospel are destined to return to the type bondage the pre-Reformation people experienced.
A nation has many aspects, three of which are Family, Church, and State. The Church has many aspects, three of which are the governing bodies of the board of elders (or Session), Presbytery, and Assembly. The State has many aspects, three of which are local government, state government, federal government. The more these spheres, Family, Church, and State, work in harmony with God’s Law as their basis, the greater the freedom for that nation’s citizens. For then everyone learns and knows the difference between good and evil, because each sphere is operating from the same manual. And when everyone knows the difference between good and evil, then the Church can do its job more effectively, pointing sinners to the only Saviour of sinners, Jesus Christ. By far the most obedient citizens in any God-honouring nation are those that have been reconciled to God in Christ.
If we are to honour God at a national as well as an individual level we will need to think nationally and talk more about politics and religion, not less! ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you’ Matthew 28:19-20.