Does government have any role in facilitating the spread of God’s Kingdom – either by legislation or funding? Our knee-jerk response is typically, “Not at all. There’s a wall between the church and the state and the two must be kept separate.”
Now, the language of “separation of church and state” does not originate with the U.S. Constitution. It comes instead from President Thomas Jefferson’s correspondence with the Danbury Baptist Association in Danbury, Connecticut. The Danbury Baptists had experienced persecution for their faith – since their beliefs were out of sync with those of the Church of England. They had concern that, since so many of America’s founders had belonged to the Church of England (now the Episcopal Church) America’s laws would favor that church above others.
In response, Jefferson cited the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. We often refer to this as the “establishment clause”. By doing so, we tend to forget that the “prohibition clause,” immediately followed it. This clause prohibits Congress from placing restrictions on the free exercise of religion and from being hostile to religion.
But the concern in Jefferson’s time was not that religion might intrude on government, but rather the opposite. Religious groups like the Baptists feared the government’s intrusion on their religious freedom. Baptists and other Christian groups had fled a kingdom in which the head of state had declared himself as head of the church. This made it treasonous for groups like the Baptists to practice their faith. Their hope was that America might remain a sanctuary for people who desired to worship God as the Bible and their conscience dictated.
Church & State
But what were Jefferson’s personal thoughts about the government supporting religion? If we go by his actions then it should be remembered that, as President, Jefferson signed into law three separate bills. Each made provisions for evangelizing the Kaskaskia tribe (1803), the Wyandotte tribe (1806), and the Cherokee tribe (1807). It seems that Jefferson had no qualms about the U.S. Government supporting the Christian Faith. And his sentiments were shared by most of the Founding Fathers.
Subsequently, in many legal proceedings within the House Judiciary and U.S. Supreme Court, the same support for the Christian Faith was expressed. For instance, in 1854 the House Judiciary Committee concluded a one-year study of legal decisions on matters of church and state. In a written statement, they concluded, “At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and its amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, but not any one sect... In this age, there is no substitute for Christianity… That was the religion of the founders of the republic and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants”.
Separation or Support?
Another example comes from the 1892 Supreme Court decision in the case of Church of the Holy Trinity vs. The United States. After citing 87 legal precedents, the Supreme Court stated, “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.” Many other similar examples could be cited which clearly indicate that our government was expected to be supportive of the Christian Faith.
But what does the Bible say about human government supporting God’s Kingdom and the Christian religion? For many Christians speak of “the separation of church and state” as though it were something sacred. They believe it’s biblically and morally wrong for the government to give support to the church or for the church to take it.
In one sense the question is ludicrous. For, according to the Scripture (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), human government is God’s creation, not man’s. It’s also God’s servant to administer His justice. Therefore, God, in His sovereignty, can do with government whatever He pleases.
But government’s support for the Kingdom of God is not restricted to the administration of His justice and the preservation of religious freedom. Consider three biblical passages in which God used human government to clearly support the spread of religious faith. The first is in Ezra 1:1-4. In 537 BC, God stirred the heart of King Cyrus of Persia, to order the exiled Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple. They obeyed, returning to Jerusalem, building the altar, then laying the foundation of the Temple.
But in short order, the enemies of the Jews schemed to turn Cyrus’ successor against them, and a decree was issued to stop the work on the Temple. So, for ten years (530-520 BC) the work lay dormant. But in obedience to the word of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Jews resumed the work without any authorization from the Persian kings. Then, when the Trans-Jordan governor challenged them about the matter and sought the Persian King’s intervention. But it backfired on him. The King, Darius, not only ordered the rebuilding of the Temple to continue. He commanded the Trans-Jordan governor to fund the project (Ezra 5:1-6:12).
Then, nearly 60 years later (458 BC), God sent Ezra the priest, to teach the Law of Moses to the Jews at Jerusalem. But rather than leave Ezra to raise his own support, God again used the Persian government to fund this effort (Ezra 7:1-28). This time, with King Artaxerxes ruling Persia, he ordered the governors of both Babylon and Trans-Jordan to flip the bill by providing Ezra with both silver and gold, as well as animals to sacrifice in the Temple.
This world and all it contains belong to God. Its governments are God’s servants, established by Him to do His will. Though it is completely non-scriptural for the government to use its “sword” (force) to spread the Gospel. There is no prohibition against government supporting the church in this endeavor. Therefore, Christians need to be assertive in citing America’s religious heritage and its many precedents of government support for the Christian Faith. Now is no time to be timid and crawl back to our caves, as the world wants us to do, and practice our faith in private. Both God and our forefathers founded America to be a Christian nation. Let’s reclaim America for God.
Dear Father in heaven, please bless America. Transform the hearts of its people to love righteousness and hate iniquity. Redeem its government, educational institutions, business and financial worlds, and entertainment industry. Please raise up men and women of God to lead our nation on the path of righteousness, we pray. Through Jesus Christ, Amen.
(Most information is from: https://wallbuilders.com/library-2/historical-documents/; and William J. Federer, America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, pp.322-334; 599-601)