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Posts Tagged ‘Separation of Church and State’

Tweet_Rand Paul

We ought to obey God rather than men.

  • Acts 5:29

Rand Paul and Thomas Massie rip Kentucky governor for tracking license plates of Easter church attendees,” ran the headline in the Washington Examiner.  The story went on to detail the reactions of KY Senator Rand Paul and KY Representative Thomas Massie to KY Governor Andy Beshear’s Friday statement outlining the actions the state plans to take against Kentucky Christians who gather for in-person worship on Easter Sunday.  “Taking license plates at church?  Quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday?  Someone needs to take a step back here,” tweeted Senator Paul.

Although the statement from the Governor’s office makes the point that the “order is for all mass gatherings and not just worship services,”  given the timing of the announcement (Good Friday), the preface that references people of “multiple faiths”, the statement’s specific warning that, “anyone planning to attend an in-person mass gathering this weekend [Easter] will face quarantine orders, and the statement’s reference to six churches in the commonwealth that are still planning to hold in-person services,” it is fair to see this statement from the Governor’s office as directed at Christians in particular.

Governor Beshear’s stance is not unique.  Last week, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer barred drive-through church services in the city, saying that he can’t allow “hundreds of thousands” of people to drive around town this weekend in observance of Easter festivities when they need to be home riding out the COVID-19 pandemic.  Just yesterday (April 11) a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order filed by a Louisville church against Mayor Fischer.  In his ruling, which applied only to the church that brought the suit, Judge Justin Walker blasted the mayor’s decision to prohibit drive-in church services as ‘beyond all reason’ and akin to what one might find only in a dystopian novel.

Earlier this month, a Tampa, Florida pastor was arrested for holding church services in defiance of a county order.  He was charged with violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency and later posted a $500 bond and was released.

Some Reformed brethren may argue that the churches in Louisville and Tampa are not Reformed and, therefore, these cases do not concern us.  But it’s worth asking this question, would it matter if the pastors of these churches were rock ribbed, 5-point Calvinist Presbyterians?  It’s highly doubtful.  They would have been arrested just the same.

These and other examples raise the important question, what is the relationship between church and state?  Does the civil government have the right to tell churches they may not hold in-person worship services, or have the magistrates overstepped the proper limits of their authority when they arrest or threaten pastors and church members for attending Sunday worship? It’s doubtful most American Christians have even considered this question before.  It’s simply never come up.  But now that it has, how do we as Christians answer it?

Citing Romans 13:1-7, some Christians have concluded that they must obey all coronavirus related government orders prohibiting mass gatherings.  Romans 13:1-7 reads,

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

For them, the command, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities,” and the conclusion, “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves,” apply in the case of orders from the civil magistrate prohibiting in-person Sunday church gatherings.

Other Christians disagree, citing, for example, Jesus command to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12.17).

It is this author’s studied conviction that the former group is in error and the latter group has the correct understanding to the relationship between church and state as set forth in the Scriptures.  What is more, this author believes the US Constitution is on the side of the latter group as well.

It is my goal in this post to defend the proposition that the government has no authority in matters related to church meetings and that by prohibiting in-person worship, these civil authorities have exceeded their rightful jurisdiction and have thereby sinned.  Further, it my conviction that this point can be proven from the Scriptures.

Before proceeding, it is worth noting what this argument is not as well as what it is.  This argument is not that churches are wrong to cancel in-person services and to seek alternate worship service arrangements due to concerns over coronavirus.  Citing 1 Cor. 11:13,  the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Nevertheless, we acknowledge…that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” If a church Session believes that, in light of that church’s circumstances that it is best to suspend regular worship and institute some alternate form or worship such as internet video, then the Session is within its right to do so.  This author has no argument with such a decision.

My argument is simply this, that there is no support in Scripture for civil government to prohibit church meetings, whether it be on the Lord’s Day or any other day, and that those civil magistrates who do prohibit such gatherings of the Lord’s people have overstepped their God-given authority and are sinning thereby.

Let us turn now to the Scriptural proofs.

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separation-church-and-state

“We have the same vocabulary, but a different dictionary,” was a saying coined a hundred years or so back. It was used by Bible believing Christians to describe liberals who were surreptitiously working to undermine the churches of the day.

The liberals didn’t like a fair fight. Instead of openly declaring their unbelief in the Bible, liberal ministers and scholars were wont to cloak their liberalism in the language of Scripture. The social gospelers would speak of the “divinity of Christ” and for all the world appear to be sound Christians. But instead meaning that Jesus was fully God, they meant only that Jesus, as do all men, had a spark of divinity within him. This is not Christianity. It is a humanist lie.

But old-school social gospelers are not the only people to redefine words to suit their agenda. One prominent example of this is what some atheists and liberals have done to the term “separation of church and state.”

If you’re like me, you probably grew up thinking that 1) these words are found in the Constitution and 2) they mean Christian ideas are legally prohibited from having even the smallest influence in matters of government. Both ideas are false.

But their falsity doesn’t stop many people from passionately believing them. Take a look at this video of a recent Town Hall held by Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.


When minister steps up to pray, some in the audience scream “Prayer? Prayer?” A man can be heard loudly repeating “separation of church and state, separation of church and state.” Another says, “He’s [the minister] not supposed to be up there [at the lectern].”

When the minister ends the prayer in Jesus’ name, the crowd again explodes.

Now for all I know, the loud mouthed protesters may have been dupes paid by George Soros. Perhaps they were expressing an honest, albeit mistaken, opinion. At any rate, they would be better served taking time to learn a thing or two about the Constitution before getting so worked up a minister doing his job.

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