In this series on the state’s obligations to God I shall discuss:
- Why the state answers to God and why it must not be conflated with the church (this very post).
- The state’s authority and obligation to establish justice (Part A, Part B).
- The state’s authority and obligation to protect life.
- The state’s authority and obligation to bear the sword.
The only head of the Church in heaven or earth is Christ, not the Pope or the state. However, “secular” governors are accountable to God (not through the church, but alongside it) to protect and reward virtue, i.e., to cultivate justice, and to punish wrongdoers, i.e., to dispense justice — a policy best described as non-interference toward the church rather than separation of church and state as most people now interpret it. (For my interpretation of separation of church and state, see this post I wrote a little less than a year ago.) State regulation and compulsory registration of religious entities is not separation of church and state. It is internal interference, pure and simple. It is bad for the purity of the church, because it often, if not usually, represents some kind of attempt by the state to usurp the church’s place and the free exercise of its activities, for it is the state, not the church, that bears the sword. The church has to be protected from the state’s incursions that may happen from time to time. Thus the Lord has always jealously guarded the separation of the church from the control of the civil authority (2 Ch. 26.16-23). Theocratic rule by clerics is equally inappropriate for the integrity of the church: it creates the problem of thrusting upon the church the duties of the state, which impairs its ability to do what it alone has the authority to do. So then why is it necessary that the state keep in mind the sovereign rule of God? This principle can be derived from the fact that the source of the state’s authority is God Himself, whether or not the state believes itself subject to God:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom. 13.3-4)
However, for Christian political leaders recognition of the Lord’s rule in government also draws from the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. The priesthood of all believers implies that the state’s authority is tempered by the people, as all humans are accorded equal worth and dignity under and before God; furthermore, the leader is the servant of the people he or she leads (Lk. 22.26). The doctrine also entails that there is no wall between “spiritual” and “temporal” people, nor in any individual person’s life between what is holy and consecrated to God and what is not, for the apostle Paul notes under divine inspiration that those who follow God must present their bodies, that is, their selves, as a living sacrifice:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers,  by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world,  but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Rom. 12.1-2)
I shall say it again: when you follow Christ, Him being your Lord, there is no true secular (HT: The_Vagrant). Accordingly, a Christian who has been set into political authority is obligated to acknowledge the Lord in the conduct of his office, because he or she is the same person in public and private, since he or she must be expected not to be a hypocrite. Instead a ruler is to uphold the highest standards of justice and integrity, leading by example, by living a life above reproach, and by authority, by executing justice on his or her jurisdiction. Related post: A Belated July 4 Post. Subscribe in a reader