In A Humble State, we concluded our lengthy discussion on the important Duty we each have to respect each others’ freedom in regards to faith and religion, it is equally important to define the Limits of that Toleration. Exactly how far is too far? As with most issues, we find that context matters.
Let’s begin where our last section ended, by saying that liberty is essential to the worship of God. Any commanded act of worship that is brought upon the worshiper by inflicting force or fear has no Faith. God will not accept praise and worship that someone offers against their own free will. In fact, it is quite the opposite, using force or fear commands the person to insult the Almighty.
We’ve discussed, at length, the things State can’t do, the things the Civil Authority has no authority to do. You may have begun getting the impression that the State is powerless. Quite the contrary, the State has great power. I simply argue that the Civil Authority is to be used only when necessary and proper, and that Civil leaders never begin to see themselves as capable of redeeming their neighbors’ souls.
“Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes, not divine, but demonic.”
–Pope Benedict XVI (Truth and Tolerance; p.116 circa 2003)
First, looking at Worldly and Holy worship.
We all agree that the Almighty should be worshiped in a public (Holy) fashion as well as private (Worldly) life. Therefore, we agree that there is a need for some kind of worshiping organizations, a.k.a. Church. These Holy Organizations are not only for our benefit; they exist so that each of us can publicly declare that we worship the LORD and proudly do His will.
Also, a Church provides organizational support to perform some duties of worship which may be difficult for any one of us, alone, to do; and provides a convenient place to draw others of the community towards His glorious Throne. These activities (caring for the Soul), are perfectly lawful for people to do in their Worldly lives, and therefore these activities are perfectly lawful to do in their Holy lives.
Now, in every Church there are two additional concerns: Procedure of Worship (Preferred Tradition) and Articles of Faith (Commanded Doctrine). However, let’s hold off on those until our next article.
Second, looking at Worldly and Holy activity.
Staying foundational for a moment, we only need to keep in mind this truth: when a civil activity enters the realm of the Holy, it is no longer a civil activity and is no longer under Civil Authority. Take for example, a bath versus a baptism. This works both ways. No worship activity, in and of itself, will make a person healthier, freer, or richer. Only God gives the increase. The only focus of the Church is the Salvation of Souls.
Now, the Church does have other duties: caring for the poor, the helpless, and the orphans; but all these duties center on that purpose of the salvation of souls. Why do we care for the poor, the helpless, and the orphaned? The salvation of our souls; because our Creator and His Messiah (the Head of the Church) command us to and we are faithful servants.
As I said, none of these duties interfere in the Worldly activities of the State or its citizens. While many are helped by the spiritually motivated generosity of their neighbors, the well-being of a person’s Life, Liberty, or Property is not dependent on whether they or their neighbor performs some particular ceremony.
I’ve already mentioned the example of a bath.
A bath is a common, Worldly thing to do. So, let’s say that some city council agrees: that taking a clean bath is so beneficial to one’s health and so simple to accomplish, that the town has agreed to pass a law requiring everyone, who is able, to bathe regularly. This is a proper function of the Civil Authority.
But, does this mean that the Civil Authority has the same power to command a Holy bath: a baptism? Absolutely not; the difference between these washings is so radical, every sensible individual can see this in an instant. The Civil Authority resides in this world, and this world alone.
Does this mean that Civil Authority is forbidden from any interaction with religion; that it is the duty of the State to segregate itself from the Holy? Heaven forbid; that’s just swinging the pendulum to the other extreme.
Let’s look at an example of this.
Imagine we have a Jewish person living in a Christian society. Jews practice religious circumcision, a surgery which has some Worldly health benefits, but no benefit so potent as to warrant a Civil law concerning it. But, specifically here the Civil Authority has no power to forbid the practice; religious circumcision is viewed as a Holy activity, and thus is beyond the authority of the State.
As illustrated above, human authority cannot establish a Holy ceremony with the Almighty, and human power cannot make void ceremonies that are Holy to God. In the same way, Worldly things cannot be deemed Holy by simple human authority; only the Holy God has to power to make things Holy. With regard to what is and what is not Holy, the only true power human organizations have is to acknowledge and respect what God has made Holy.
Third, accountability before the LORD.
The LORD has instructed us how to live life. He has provided many specific instructions for Church governance, but He has not given many specific instructions for managing a city or running a country. Therefore, the bar of responsibility is set much higher for Churches than it is for States.
There are many things in everyday life that God has not provided teachings about (e.g. which side of the plate the fork should go on; it’s not polite to point; a ten percent flat tax; etc.). Even the Nation of Israel, a Theocratic Republic prior to the inauguration of King Saul, had very few, if any, of these handed down to them. These are Worldly (Civil) activities which the State has free reign to legislate, enforce, and judge. (However, it escapes me why anyone would write a law mandating where a fork must go on your dinner table.)
Now, I feel compelled to say: just because the Civil Authority can enact laws about any Worldly activity or concern, that does not mean it should enact any Worldly law it desires. For the purposes of the John Letters, we want to remain within the topic of State interaction with Religions.
Regarding accountability of Civil Authority in general.
Because humans have been given dominion over this world, we often debate what way God would have us run a country. However, at the end of the day, we are the masters of Worldly (human) government, thus Civil Authorities exist to please us.
Regarding accountability of Church Organization in general.
The entire purpose of public worship is to please Him. Therefore, a Church has a much higher bar of accountability.
Holy worshipers must always be working to serve their Master in a way most pleasing to Him, as best, their conscience dictates. This is why it is even more critical that the State not be allowed to interfere with matters of the Church. No human authority will ever agree upon the proper way to serve the Creator and no human authority can dictate what is Worldly and what is Holy.
Even if a Civil Government or Church Organization tried to introduce something Worldly into Holy Worship, it is not proper; it would be rejected by God. Both the dog and the goat are Worldly creatures, but why did the servants of the LORD, before the Messiah, pay the blood price by sacrificing the goat instead of the dog? No other reason is needed than that God commanded it; that it is His preference.
For worship to be Holy, one cannot simply serve however he or she prefers, it must be pleasing to the One who is being worshiped. It is the LORD who separates between the Holy and the Worldly (Leviticus 10.10; Ezekiel 22.26).
This seems like a fabulous segue into the topic of our next article: Commanded versus Preferred Worship. Don’t feel bad if you feel like you’re head is about to explode, we have begun a new major section and this article was a huge download. But to review, we first asserted that because individuals are free to worship on their own, they are free to worship as a public group; simple enough. Then second, we took a deeper look at the dividing line between Holy activity and Worldly activity. And lastly, we determined that the Church has a much higher level of accountability before God than the State.