7. Separation of Church and State
Throughout history church and state have been intertwined. In ancient times the ruling monarch not only governed state affairs, but religious ones as well. In ancient Israel, if the king was faithful to God, then the nation prospered. If he was not, then calamity came upon the people. These ties between church and state continued for hundreds of years. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Martin Luther probably would not have succeeded if he had not received some support from the nobility. John Calvin established a state church. This union between state and church still exists in many places today. Queen Elizabeth II is not only the nominal head of Great Britain, but also the nominal head of the Church of England. Many countries are still ruled by religious leaders. Baptists consider such ties to be unhealthy. Abuses have been frequent.
The church and civil government each have their separate roles given to them by God. Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (E.S.V.) Verses two to six explain what the role of civil government should be and verse seven says, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” When Jesus was questioned about whether people should pay taxes to Caesar, he replied in Matthew 22:21, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” Baptists believe that both the church and the state have legitimate roles to perform and that these roles should not overlap. The state should not interfere with the church’s role and the church should not interfere with the state’s role.
That does not mean that Baptists cannot be involved in politics. John Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas and Ernest Manning were prominent Canadian Baptists who were also involved in politics. However, it must be noted that that these three politicians were members of three different political parties with vastly different political views.
A practical illustration of what separation of church and state means is that church leaders should not tell their followers how to vote and state leaders should not tell church leaders that they must perform same sex marriages. Unfortunately, church leaders often do tell their followers how to vote. They do not want the state to interfere with their affairs, but they feel quite free to interfere with state affairs.
Question: How should Christians respond to moral issues like same sex marriage and abortion, prostitution which are governed by the state?