Separation of church and state within the context of the founding documents of the United States of America is a principle that has been grossly misunderstood for many decades. Judicial decisions and legislative actions have both looked to the so-called “wall of separation” in order to prohibit any reference to God in a public setting and to deny the church any kind of meaningful voice in society.
Yet the Founding Fathers of the United States did not desire a state devoid of theism altogether. These men only wanted the government to have no established church, and we can see why this is the case if we consider the example of the Church of England, the established church of Great Britain. Historically speaking, the Church of England has enjoyed favors not given to other denominations in Great Britain, and secular politicians have had an undue say in church affairs. This confusion of church and state can cause significant problems, and in the past made it difficult for anyone who would not toe the Anglican line. Many early Americans fled England to escape persecution from the established church, which inflicted suffering on these “puritans” because they failed to conform to all the church’s dictates. These facts are forgotten today; God and state are separated under the rubric of church-state separation even though the Founders of the United States did not banish religion from the public arena.
Separation of God and state is deplorable, but the right separation of church and state — when the state favors no one denomination above others but defends religious freedom — is good for the Christian churches. Historically speaking, the state has at times become a force for evil, and, consequently, the witness of established churches has often been compromised. Consider Hitler’s Germany, for example, where the state church lended its support to the Third Reich.
Though our Creator has ordained the state to fulfill a specific purpose, there are times when the state can become an instrument of evil. No matter how one interprets Revelation, today’s passage indicates that evil powers can turn a ruling group or individual into a “beast” that preys on God’s people (13:1–10). Christians must realize that any government can be perverted to this end.
Believers must be ever wary of mixing church and state under the guise of patriotism. Though there is a right and proper way to be proud of one’s country, no Christian is ever permitted to do wrong, even if in the guise of service to the government. Let us all pray that our respective governments do not become altogether beastly, and let us be vigilant lest we bow the knee to ungodly mandates of the state in lieu of falling down at the foot of the cross.
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