Church, State, and the Voting Booth

vote“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21).  Jesus’ words reveal that we live our lives in two kingdoms: The kingdom of earthly power (the government), and the kingdom of God (the Church).

The Church is not the state, and the state is not the Church.  So, the government does not tell the Church what to believe or how to worship.  Neither does the Church tell the state how to do its business.  Both serve in different roles, with a different purpose.

We show this in our nation by not having a cross, or other symbols of religion, in our Congress.  True: many legislators are Christian, and their Christian worldview should influence how they govern.  Still, they do not represent us as members of the Church but as members of our government, of Congress.  The government is “God’s servant to carry out His punishment to anyone who does wrong” (Romans 13:4).

Neither is the Church to adorn herself with symbols of the state.  For the Church exists as an embassy of heaven, not as a representative of any particular government.  The Church exists to be a bringer of the Gospel, not as a representative of the state.  How does this impact what you experience?  Your ears won’t take in the pastor telling you how to vote.  You won’t be listening to him talk about politics from the pulpit.  No, he will “preach repentance into the forgiveness of sin,” as Jesus gave him to do (Luke 24:48).

So, does any relation or connection exist between Church and state?  Yes!  The two kingdoms intersect in you as an individual.  In the United States, we, as individuals, elect our government officials.  A person doesn’t stop being a Christian when he walks into the voting booth.  He votes, however, not as an official representative of the Church but as an American citizen who happens to be a Christian.

Jesus’ teaching is simple yet far-reaching: The state is not the Church, and the Church is not the state.  The government is not to look or act like a church, nor is the church to look or act like the government.  The state creates and enforces laws, dealing with all citizens.  To government is not to invade the religious rights of its people, nor offer God’s forgiveness for crimes.  Not so the Church: She is to use the Word of God and apply what He reveals to her members, calling all to turn from sin, never withholding forgiveness to those who repent.

As an individual Christian, you should involve yourself in our government—in your vocation as a citizen.  Join organizations, if you want.  Help promote policies in line with a Christian worldview.  Serve others.  Voting, getting involved in politics, trying to improve your community—these are all part of the calling to be a good citizen.

Scripture tells us how the Church involves herself in politics: through prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  We pray for our leaders.  Our role, as Church, in the political world is prayer, where we lift our President, members of Congress, and judges to the Lord, who in His almighty providence governs the world.

So, on November 8, go and vote.  Vote as a Christian and an American citizen.  Let God’s revealed standards of right and wrong help shape how you vote.  Where voting gets murky is lacking an ideal candidate to select.  No matter whom you pick in the voting booth, you will choose among a group of flawed individuals.  Vote as best as you can, choosing among the various candidates running for office—and once completed, rest in Gospel freedom.  Amen.