Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 8

Church and State

Prayer: O Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, You have given us Your holy Word and have bountifully provided for all our earthly needs: We confess that we are unworthy of all these mercies, and that we have rather deserved punishment. But we beseech You, forgive us our sins, and prosper and bless us in our various callings, that by Your strength we may be sustained and defended, now and forever, and so praise and glorify You eternally; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

How are these outposts confused?
These outposts are confused when the responsibilities and authority of one outpost are mixed with or usurped by another.

Review the kinds of authority God gave to each of these outposts.

Confusion of The Three Estates in Political Philosophy and Literature
First, the term "Three Estates" has been used in both popular literature and political discussions throughout history. The terminology of the Three Estates comes to us from the background of Medieval Feudalism. In that context it referred to the Clergy, the Nobility, and the Commoners. There were authors
who used the Three Estates as a literary device for their humor: e.g., Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

In England the Three Estates came to refer to The Crown, The House of Lords, and the House of Commons. Through the French Revolution the third estate, the common people became empowered over the Nobility and the Clergy. In the formation of the U.S.A. Thomas Jefferson's writings incorporated a political view of the Three Estates which formed the basis for our Executive, Judicial, and Legislative government.

The political use of the terminology of the Three Estates affects our discussion on the topic in our day. Add to this the so-called "Fourth Estate," the name Edmund Burke gave to the news media when observing British Parliament in session.

Separation of Church and State
It is important for us to realize there are at least three different meanings in use for the phrase “the separation of Church and State.”

1) The Biblical Teaching
Read Luke 20:20-26: First notice in verse 20 the kind of authority the Pharisees wanted to use against Jesus.

Using what you have learned from Scripture, if the Pharisees wanted to turn Jesus over to the authority of the civil state, what did they really want to happen to Jesus?

Did Jesus reject the authority of the State?

Did Jesus reject the authority of the Church?

How did Jesus show that each of these outposts has authority from God which should be obeyed and at the same time that those kinds of authority were different in their very nature?

In some writings the Civil Government is called the Kingdom of the Left and the Church is called the Kingdom of the Right.

Historically the Roman Catholic Church has asserted that the Pope has authority over both the Kingdom of the Left (the Secular State) and the Kingdom of the Right (The Church). For this reason the Pope used to appoint kings and emperors.

Did Jesus actually give this kind of authority to the Church?

Also, throughout history Civil Governments have often claimed the authority to outlaw Christianity or certain teachings of Scripture. In other situations Civil Governments have made things forbidden by Scripture into the law of the land. And in doing so these governments may or may not allow Christians to abide by Scripture.

Consider Abortion: United States law allows for abortion and infanticide. But the civil does not prohibit Christians from having as many children as God gives them.

Consider the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Amendment: The Supreme Court ruling allows for same-sex marriage. But the decision declares that all who claim that marriage is only for one man one woman are illegally violating the civil rights of same-sex partners.

If the Civil Government establishes a law that is legal according to its own code of law, and that law does not require a Christian to violate God's Word, what is the responsibility and duty of the Christian toward that law?

What if the civil law does require a Christian to violate God's Word?

2) The Civil Law in the United States
Separation of Church and State in United States law originally meant that the Federal Government could not pass laws promoting or restricting any particular religions. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is not God's Word. It is the basis for law in the the United States' government and limits the kinds of laws the Government can make and enforce.

Though this Amendment to the Constitution is not the Biblical Doctrine of Church and State, whose authority rests behind this particular law of the Constitution?

Discuss the difficulty for Christians: If a legislature passes a law that violates this Amendment and it is signed by the President, what is a Christian to obey?

For example: The actual legal reason Churches are not taxed is this First Amendment. The authors and courts recognized that taxation on churches would be “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In the last decade some people have been advocating for the taxation of Churches because some congregations are nothing but money scams—which is true! Others object to this exemption for another reason. That is the next use of the phrase “Separation of Church and State.”

3) As a tool of political influence and coercion.
The phrase “Separation of Church and State” has become a tool of political propaganda for the purpose of removing “religion” and specifically Christianity from any discussion in Government, state run institutions, and even in the general public sphere.

When the phrase is used this way it is not the doctrine of God's Word, nor is it the Law of our land. It is actually political and religious persecution against particular religious faiths: almost always some Christian group.

Some public libraries in Minnesota have decided that they cannot allow religious groups to use meeting rooms in the library because of “separation of Church and State.” This has nothing to do with the Law, but it has everything to do with the position of groups like the American Library Association which have taken positions against Christian groups.

Discuss God-pleasing ways to address such misuses of authority which will respect the divine authority of public servants as well keeping both the legitimate doctrine of Church and State as distinct from the Civil Government's laws with respect to the First Amendment.

The Peculiar Case of Forgiveness
Forgiveness exists in each estate.

The President of the U.S.A. can forgive any citizen of convicted of federal crimes with a pardon. State governors can pardon those convicted of state crimes. In the family a person who is somehow violated or offended by another member can forgive that other. In society people can forgive those who offend them.

This forgiveness is real, but it is not the same thing as forgiveness of sins before God. The forgiveness given in the Civil Estate is valid only in the Civil Estate. The forgiveness given in the Family is valid only in the Family. The Forgiveness given from one person to another is valid only between those people.

While a sin or offense may be forgiven between two individuals, where His Law has been violated God has also been offended. God established the Means of Grace for the explicit purpose of giving forgiveness of sins against His Law. On the basis of this Scriptural distinction our Augsburg Confession states:

"The power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. (AC 28:5)

The danger is that if we don't recognize the limits of proper authority, real forgiveness of sins may never be given to those who need it. When we presume that our human forgiveness is enough, we end neglecting God's gift by not encouraging each other to specifically go to God for His forgiveness through the Means of Grace.

An example: there are three teenage siblings in one family. The older brother got drunk and crashed his car into the youngest sister's bedroom wall, destroying her property. The youngest brother says to the oldest brother, “Hey, that's OK. I forgive you.”

Is the older brother then forgiven so that he doesn't have to go to court for underage drinking and driving?

Is the older brother then forgiven by the sister simply because the younger brother said the words “I forgive you” ?

What are the real sins in this situation, and how are they really to be addressed according to God's Word?

How might the civil authority have to deal with this even if the sister chooses to forgive her older brother?

If the older brother has been forgiven by his sister and has confessed his sins to God and received Absolution, should he have to go to court or even jail?

How does your answer to this last question show how God uses Civil government for the good of Christ and His Church?

Close with the Lord's Prayer.