How do religion, society and the government fit together?

How do religion and society fit together? Should religion and society fit together? And if those weren’t already tough enough questions, who gets to decide the answers? Religious leaders? Social activists? The government? But hang on a minute. Just when it seems like it can’t possibly get worse, it does. What if religion, everything related to society in general, and the government are all controlled by the same people?

Do you think that’s impossible? It’s not. It’s happening. Right now. In China, they’re well on their way to making it happen. The Communist Party is continuing to strengthen its hold on pretty much everything about official religion and Chinese society. Here in the U.S., many would like it to happen. Who exactly will be in control isn’t officially decided yet. But it appears that the government is winning, with Christians bowing down to the President.

While I was writing this, the election occurred. It appears that Joe Biden will be the new President. However, given the number of Federal and Supreme Court judges that Trump has appointed in his four years as President, nothing is certain at all. Time and again, he’s gotten away with things that were unthinkable before now, if not downright illegal.

In any event, the assault on Christianity will continue either way The only question is the approach and what changes are being pushed. So, I’ll make the adjustments as we go along. And remember, since we have a Presidential election every four years, we must be ever vigilant to ensure that Christianity isn’t affected by the government. I believe we should also be vigilant about using the Great Commission to reach non-Christians, as opposed to forcing down their throats by way of government legislation.

As always, we need to be cognizant of how Jesus did things, what He taught us, remembering that He never went to the government to force people to act according to His teachings. Instead, as the leader of the Kingdom of Heaven government, Jesus gave people the free will to choose to follow Him, or to walk away.

Finally, in that line of thought, Evangelical Christians have already made it very clear they intend to keep fighting for the government to force their view of Christianity on citizens of the U.S. And through foreign policy, people around the world.

Do religion, society and the government fit together?

How do religion and society fit together?

Notice the image to the right.  It’s an overlay of two different images.  One is a group of people worshiping in a church representing Christians.  Or, I should say, some groups of alleged Christians who may or may not be trying to influence the government.  That distinction between may or may not be trying to influence the government is important.  We’ll see why in a moment.

The other, with the colored generic people forms, represents society.  It may be society at large or some smaller but powerful group of people.  That group of people also may or may not be trying to influence the government.

What’s the importance of Christians and people at large who may be trying to influence the government?  There are many possible scenarios here.  The “winner” may get to decide the direction of both the government and of Christianity.  Let’s take a look at three of them.

Some scenarios when religion, society and the government exist together

  1. Neither group is really trying to influence anyone.  In that case, the most likely outcome is probably that some small group of powerful and rich people will determine the direction of the government.  If they desire to do so, they can probably also influence what Christians believe under their government.  That’s because neither the Christians nor society at large has the power and or the desire to influence either one.  They just exist under whoever rules them.  That sounds very much like China.  The Communist party is making progress towards controlling Christianity, as well as all other religions, in addition to running the government.

  2. Society at large has the interest and the power to control both the government and Christianity.  This may work for a while, but will probably fail at some point.  This sounds like the early days of the United States.  However, as we should be able to see, that power is eroding.  The tipping point, if not already reached, will come shortly.

  3. Some groups of Christians wants to control their religion.  Some groups of people want to control the government.  However, at some point, each will realize that they can’t truly control their own destiny without also gaining some control over the other.  This is reminiscent of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament.  They wanted a human king instead of God.  That way they could, they thought, be like the people around them.  Take charge of their own affairs.  God warned them what would happen.  God’s warning turned out to be correct.  And it’s never been the same since.

When religion, society and the government try to come together, the government will always win

Of course, there’s a problem with these scenarios. And with pretty much every other possibility. The government will always win, if it wants to. Especially these days, the government has enough weapons to win any war over the church. And, the government has enough money to win any disagreement with the church. If the government really wants to control the church, they can make it happen.

I believe what we see today in the U.S. is Evangelical Christians trying to influence the government. And then they can, in turn, use the government to control society at large. By doing that, they can also control Christianity at large. At least, I believe that’s the goal. However, I also see that goal failing. These Christians are, instead of influencing the government, compromising their beliefs in order to take what they think will be control of the government. They’re being deceived.

What they see as scenario #2 above will turn into scenario #1. In their attempt to control the government, society and Christianity at large, they will instead end up being subsumed by the government. The U.S. will turn into China.

The missing scenario

There is one missing scenario. Actually, many possible ones are missing, but there’s one important one missing. Especially for Christians.

Why is this one scenario – where religion, society and the government come together – so important for Christians? Because it’s the only one that leaves Christianity, the way Jesus taught it, to survive intact! Unfortunately, it’s one scenario that Evangelical Christians don’t seem to consider. If they did, they’ve mistakenly given up on it. More unfortunately, it’s also the one scenario that Jesus gave us, His followers, in the Bible.

religion, society and the government – and the separation of church and state

Yeah – separation of church and state. Something Evangelical Christians just don’t want to see happen. And not just them, but they seem to be the most vocal. Too many Christians want to control everyone else by way of the government. And yet – that’s not at all what Jesus taught us. Consider just two passages for now.

Paying Taxes to Caesar

22:15-22 pp — Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26

Mt 22:15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Mt 22:18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
Mt 22:21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Mt 22:22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Yes – “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 

Jesus made a very clear distinction between what is God’s and what God has given temporary control over to the earthly governments. Back then – Caesar. Today – our political parties. But did we learn that lesson? No, we didn’t. Not any better than the Hebrew people when they asked for a human King. And even what Jesus said above, we tend to look at it only as Jesus not being tricked by the Pharisees. We seem to have missed the point of the actual answer.

If we still don’t get the point of the previous passage, how about this one.

Jesus Before Pilate

18:29-40 pp — Mt 27:11-18, 20-23; Mk 15:2-15; Lk 23:2, 3, 18-25

Jn 18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

Jn 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Jn 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Jn 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jn 18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Jn 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jn 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Jn 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Jn 18:38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

Jn 18:40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

Notice:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Again, Jesus draws a distinction. Aren’t we supposed to be part of His Kingdom? Answer – yes, we are. So why do we keep insisting on remaining and functioning in this one? We were supposed to be different!

Why am I so concerned about how religion, society and the government fit together?

As you may have picked up on, the Communist Party in China has taken over the government ( a long time ago). Through the Party, they control so many facets of society within China. And they on their way to redefining religion as well. Remember, this series is about how China is changing Christian beliefs in their country – and how the U.S. seems to be set on doing the same thing, although by a different path. Sadly, in the U.S. it’s the Christian church itself doing the damage.

After that rather lengthy introduction, here’s the next portion of China’s religious affairs regulations.

Religious Affairs Regulations – Chapter 1 General Provisions – Article 4

(paragraphs 1 & 2 of 4)
The State, in accordance with the law, protects normal religious activities, actively guides religion to fit in with socialist society, and safeguards the lawful rights and interests of religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites and religious citizens.

Religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites, and religious citizens shall abide by the Constitution, laws, regulations and rules; practice the core socialist values; and preserve the unification of the country, ethnic unity, religious harmony and social stability.

After that rather lengthy introduction, here’s the next portion of China’s religious affairs regulations.

Religious Affairs Regulations – Chapter 1 General Provisions – Article 4

(paragraphs 1 & 2 of 4)
The State, in accordance with the law, protects normal religious activities, actively guides religion to fit in with socialist society, and safeguards the lawful rights and interests of religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites and religious citizens.

Religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites, and religious citizens shall abide by the Constitution, laws, regulations and rules; practice the core socialist values; and preserve the unification of the country, ethnic unity, religious harmony and social stability.

Chinese government takeover of society and religion

This is what happens when religion, society and the government try to fit together. The first paragraph sounds good. The Chinese government will protect religious activities. At least, that’s what we probably think it says. But it doesn’t actually say that at all! It says China will protect “normal” religious activities. And then in paragraph 2, those normal religious activities are defined. Guess what? Those “normal” religious activities are defined. And they’re not at all what the religious people expect.

All of a sudden, Christianity, or any other religion, has to do the following:

  1. Abide by the Constitution
  2. Follow all laws, regulations and rules
  3. Practice core Socialist values
  4. Preserve the unification of the country
  5. Preserve ethnic unity
  6. preserve religious harmony
  7. Preserve social stability

Tell me – does that sound like the Christian values you learned? If it does, I’d love to know where you learned them!

American government takeover of society and religion

Now, let’s take that list from the atheist communist government in China and see what happens if we apply it in the U.S.

  1. Abide by the U.S. Constitution
  2. Follow all laws, regulations and rules
  3. Practice core American (?) values
  4. Preserve the unification of the country
  5. Preserve ethnic unity
  6. Preserve religious harmony
  7. Preserve social stability
Abide by the Constitution

It’s hard for Christianity to even abide by the Constitution of the U.S. Part of the problem is the inherent conflict between religion and government that we’ve already talked about. That’s going to get worse as we move through the rest of the list. But even more difficult to deal with is the court system in this country. State Supreme Courts define how to interpret laws. So do District Federal Courts. And then there’s the Supreme Court. They don’t agree at any given point in time. Add in the changing makeup of the courts with lifelong appointments by whoever happens to be in power, and it gets exponentially more difficult. Just look what’s happening now!

Even if the Constitution doesn’t change, the way it’s interpreted does. Christianity wasn’t intended by God to keep changing depending on the whims of people, governmental or not.

Follow all laws, regulations and rules

The same comments for the Constitution apply here as well. States, Counties, Cities, Etc. all make their own rules, and interpret them as they see fit.

Practice core American (?) values

I put a “?” in there, because I don’t even know what core American values are anymore. Not because we have immigrants who bring in values from other countries. It’s because even long time Americans don’t agree anymore. The differences on so many things are increasingly larger. The animosity between people holding those differences has reached the boiling point. We’re almost split right down the middle. Even on Christianity, not just on the government and social values.

What’s Christianity supposed to do? Have a Republican Christianity and a Democrat Christianity? And then, should it be the most vocal people who define the values or the group with the larger number of people? That doesn’t sound at all like what Jesus taught!

Preserve the unification of the country

Question – is it the job of Christianity to preserve the unification of the U.S.? Certainly, Christianity shouldn’t be intending to split the country. Although, given the political involvement of so many Christians today, that seems to be exactly what’s happening. But to answer the question, I think what we’ve already seen tells Christians something about Caesar and God. Government and religion. More on that later.

Preserve ethnic unity

Wow – is this one timely. It’s odd that conservative Evangelical Christians are so supportive of a President who, in spite of his claims, appears to support racism and white supremacists. His words and actions both point to someone who’s very much against not only immigrants but also citizens who are minorities.

I often wonder, how many Christians realize that Jesus isn’t the nicely dressed, clean, white person we see in our churches and Bibles? Baths and staying clean weren’t exactly commonplace back then. Especially for an itinerant preacher, as Jesus was.

The Cost of Following Jesus – Luke

9:57-60 pp — Mt 8:19-22

Lk 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Lk 9:58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Lk 9:59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Lk 9:60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Lk 9:61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”
Lk 9:62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Yeah – the Son of Man has no place to lay his head – doesn’t exactly sound like the way we live today.  Except for, of course, homeless people.  And they aren’t exactly the kind of people we find in wealthy megachurches, are they?

Plus, we need to remember where Jesus was born.

The Birth of Jesus

Lk 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.

Lk 2:4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Jesus was born in a nothing little town. On top of that, He was born in a manger. The place where cattle were kept.

You’d think God could’ve planned it out better! You know, use some of His miracles to at least get Jesus a small room? Even the King’s Suite, right?

Or was God sending a message? Several messages, I believe. One of them may very well be that we shouldn’t look down on homeless people, maybe? What about foreigners? And then there’s the simple truth that – gasp for some of you – Jesus was not a white man! He was Middle Eastern.

Uh Oh. There goes that white ethnic unity thing. Or are some of you willing to cease being a Christian because of that?

Preserve religious harmony

My gosh. Preserve religious harmony in the entire U.S.? We can’t even preserve harmony within the Christian church! Heck – we can’t even preserve unity within one church building where everyone is of the same denomination. How are we ever supposed to preserve harmony within all the religions existing in the country? Truth is, we can’t. Not without compromising our beliefs. Please see The problem of Coexist – and – Love your enemy over on my other site.

Preserve social stability

Let’s be honest here. We’ve already seen enough to realize that the church today isn’t going to be able to preserve social stability. In large part, that’s because there’s little social stability to preserve. It’s more a case of creating some stability, as opposed to creating more and more instability like we’ve been doing lately. And that’s just the government. Add in the fact that religious people, like many Evangelical Christians, add to the governmental and social instability in the U.S.

And don’t get smug if you’re not an Evangelical Christian. What have the rest of us done to improve stability? Obviously, not enough!

Let’s return to religion, society and the government – and the separation of church and state

Well, that was pretty depressing, wasn’t it? Let’s get back to the separation of church and state. Then we can see something better.

Remember earlier, we read: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Notice the part about how Jesus said if His kingdom was of this world, His servants would fight for Him. Why then do so many who claim to be His servants fight for Him today?

Let’s look at what that word fight means:

75 ἀγωνίζομαι [agonizomai /ag·o·nid·zom·ahee/] v. From 73; TDNT 1:135; TDNTA 20; GK 76; Seven occurrences; AV translates as “strive” three times, “fight” three times, and “labour fervently” once. 1 to enter a contest: contend in the gymnastic games. 2 to contend with adversaries, fight. 3 metaph. to contend, struggle, with difficulties and dangers. 4 to endeavour with strenuous zeal, strive: to obtain something.  [1]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Jesus servants, us for instance, would do those things if His Kingdom was of this world.  But it’s not.  But we fight anyway.  

“Fighting”, in a way, is appropriate.  But not this way.  Remember something Paul wrote.  Something where he told us who the enemy really is, and how we should “fight” that enemy.

The Armor of God

Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We seem to have lost track of this!  The enemy is Satan and his fallen angels.  God either appoints our human leaders or allows them to come to power.  Fighting them isn’t our call.  Learning from them is what we should do.  Sometimes learning that we’ve gone astray, and so God has allowed someone to come to power to get our attention.

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Unfortunately, rather than fight the spiritual fight, we get down into the political fights.  And in the process, we take off the armor of God.  Or maybe use it for the wrong reasons.  Of course, when we do that, we actually fighting against God!

Eph 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Conclusion –

Rather than fighting in the traditional sense, I think we’d be better off if we took the sentences from China’s religious regulations and changed them to something like:

The Church, in accordance with God’s law, protects normal religious activities, actively guides religion to fit in with the Kingdom of Heaven, and goes and makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remembering that surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites, and religious citizens shall abide by Jesus’ teachings; practice the core Christian values; and preserve the unification of the Church.

What do you think?  Much better, isn’t it?  After all, Christianity thrived in the early church time.  Even with an oppressive Jewish and Roman government over them.  


Two images were overlaid to make the one on this page.  They were from:

J F from Pixabay
and
Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


References

1 Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

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