In my previous article, I argued that many Christians are often more concerned with their Organized Church Identity (their relationship with other People and their reputation with the World) rather than their Individual Christian Identity (their relationship with other People and their reputation with the Creator). I also expressed concern for the habit of using Social pressure and Civil Law to artificially enforce that Organized Church Identity. Here, I wish to discuss the proper use of Civil authority in regards to faith and the proverbial wall between Church and State.
Now, when I use the term “State” or “Civil authority,” I am not referring to any specific governing body like the United States Congress, or any of the constituent State Congresses. When I say “State” or “Civil Authority,” what I mean is any Organized Society of men and women constructed for the purposes of securing, protecting, and advancing their Civil (Worldly) Interests.
Well that begs the question: “Exactly what are our Civil, or Worldly, Interests?”
Simple, your Worldly possessions: your body and your stuff; all the things you can’t take with you when you die. Just to be clear, let me reaffirm this one last time.
Specifically, people create Civil authority in order to secure, protect, and advance the:
against theft or destruction by other people.
The duty of any person with Civil authority is to keep secure for each person the justly acquired possessions of this life. This is to be done with absolute impartiality and equality before the Law. No one is to be given favored treatment or given harsher treatment because they are poor or rich; based on skin color or gender; due to political, religious, or social affiliations; or any other perceived advantage or disadvantage—Just Law is blind to all of that.
All Civil authority, power, and dominion is bound and confined to the security and promotion of these ‘Civil interests’ and these things alone. It is not to be used to acquire these things—for they are gifts of the Maker alone. And it is never, in any manner, to be used in the care, preservation, or salvation of Souls—for that is in the hands of the Maker alone.
First, people may pledge their lives, their property, their reputations, or any other worldly possession to the service of other people, however the Immortal Souls of men and women are not bound in loyalty to other men, but to their Maker—the LORD and His appointed Judge: the Christ of Nazareth. I can find no Scripture or decree from the Creator where He has given any mortal man the authority over another person’s faith.
Quite the contrary, I have found instances where the Israelites, under the earthly rule of unrighteous Kings (whether Gentile or Israelite King), were duty bound to reject the Kings authority and sacrifice their very lives for loyalty to their Maker and it was counted for them as piety. I have also found instances where the Israelites, under the earthly rule of Righteous Judges and Kings, would obey the Word of the LORD in Body, but they would not repent in their Hearts and it was counted against them as sin. It follows then, that no person has this authority over the human Heart to command belief and they cannot give it to any Civil authority.
When you are called to account in the next life you cannot say “but I was merely following my master’s orders.” Your Soul is in your keeping alone; you will be the one who stands before the Lord Christ to be judged for your actions and only the perfect Lamb of God can take your place, no other human but Christ can shoulder your sin. Authority over Salvation has been given to Christ, not the State.
Second, even if we assume any person had the authority to command the faith of another, the power of the State is based on Worldly concerns and it can only exert its force on the Earthly shell. True saving faith is based on inner conviction; no one can be compelled to believe something through outward force, the confiscating of property, imprisonment, or physical torment. Civil authority simply has no power over the Hearts of men.
True the State has many tools which can be used to promote Faith and Religion, but so do the people who created it. It is one thing to promote or persuade, it is quite another to command or compel—the first two press with arguments and reasons, the second press with penalties and force. For private Citizens and Churches simple Good-will and the force of Reasonable discourse is more than enough authority to further the Kingdom of Heaven and draw those lost to the Truth. The authority to enact and enforce Laws by use of force can only be used by the State.
A prime example of this is the various Thanksgiving Day Proclamations presented by the American Continental Congress, President George Washington, and various other Presidents. These have traditionally been a call to the people, imploring them to pray, fast, and reflect upon the blessings from our Creator. However, these proclamations have had no enforcement; no penalty or punishment if citizens neglect to comply.
All the life and power of true Religion comes from the inner conviction of ones own Heart and Mind. Faith without belief is dead. Whatever Faith we claim to follow—whatever Church we belong to, if we are not fully convinced in our own minds that we have Faith in Truth and our Church’s practices are pleasing to God, then far from ensuring the Salvation of our Souls, they are great stumbling rocks to our Salvation.
This is the reason I argue that no Civil authority should ever be given the power to establish, by Law, any Articles of Faith or Practices of Worship. The Sate can only enforce through worldly penalty and outward coercion; these do not inspire inward worship of or reverence for the Divine. Only trusting in testimony and evidence, and the power of God alone can steer the human Heart.
The use of Law to compel the works of faith, may it be charity through taxes or piety through prohibition, is the fruit of a slothful missionary.
Third, even if we could order or coerce a person into changing his/her Heart or convictions by force, it would not be an effective way to save his/her Soul. For there is only one Truth and one gateway into Heaven and, if people were forced to ignore the dictates of their own Consciences and blindly submit themselves to the will of their Political leaders, then I think it very unlikely that any Civil authority would have the wisdom to dictate the right path and get the proverbial camel through the eye of the needle. I have never seen or heard of a Civil authority which is capable of that level of competency. (Perhaps you have experienced a more capable or benevolent government than I have, but I doubt it.)
It would not be very beneficial for any person to have to rely solely on the Law of Civil court and not on Divine instruction. This is especially true when you consider that most Civil authorities and Laws are driven, not out of pious devotion to Truth and Justice, but out of lack of knowledge, personal Ambition, or untested Traditions.
On top of all this, there is no uniformity or consensus to which path is the Way of Light and Truth; every Country, every state, every community, every household even holds different views. When the power of the State is used to enforce Church Doctrine and when all these contradictions of doctrinal Opinion exist in Religion; we stop looking to the strength and merit of arguments to determine which is right, we now look to see which Church has the strongest Political Power to enforce its conclusion. This is not living with the Kingdom of Heaven in mind; it is living with a Worldly Kingdom in mind.
Now, this has been a very simple view of the State and its role in Faith and Religion. There are other complexities that always emerge in the real world, but I believe it has been more than enough to explain my basic argument. That is: Civil authority is only to be used in regards to a person’s Civil interests—that is to say the care of the things of this World. The State has no, and should have no, authority with the World to come.
We have covered the proper role and powers of Civil authority along with discussing its abuses in the area of Faith and Religion. I have offered my own arguments on why any Child of the Almighty should closely safeguard against any attempt to use the Power of the State to mandate Religious practices of beliefs. Flowing from this discussion on Civil authority, I would like to continue next time, considering the question of what kind of powers or governance is proper within an Organized Church.