When Jesus said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21b), He was proclaiming a huge new distinction—something quite different for the coming Church Age—the age in which we live—relative to the past with Old Testament (OT) Israel. This verse is among New Testament (NT) passages that represents the biblical basis of institutional separation of civil government from God’s ordained institution of the Church.
Unlike the preceding biblical epoch of OT Israel, where God’s people and the State were one—a theocracy or sacerdotal (“priestly or ecclesiastical”) system of governance—in the age to come, Jesus expects the two institutions to be differentiated in structure, purpose, and leadership.
But institutional separation does not imply influential separation, as is posited by many secularists today. Clearly, such thinking is not supported in the Constitution nor the Scriptures.
“Render unto Caesar” represents one of many biblical passages that supports the idea of institutional separation. Let us examine this thinking more closely from a historical perspective.
As primitive Christianity began, as recorded in the book of Acts, the separation of the Church from the State of Rome clearly existed. Not until the fourth century A.D. when Constantine co-opted Christianity as the State religion (in his attempt to unify the vast and diverse Roman Empire) did the previously existing, clear institutional separation between the two disappear. Tragically, this lack of separation occurred even during the Reformation and Post-Reformation period! Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin practiced a sacerdotal societal structure versus a composite one per the clear teaching of the NT (cf. Matthew 20:20–22; Romans 13:1–8; 1 Peter 2:13–14). In that much of the Reformers’ emphasis on doctrinal correction of heresy related to soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), no surgical excising was performed by the leading Reformers relative to the aberrant earlier wedding of Church and State by Constantine.
Important to this study is the thought that in the NT era—save the first three centuries of it—a theocratic, sacerdotal system has existed in most countries of the world. Historically, not until the American experiment in government did our Founding Fathers (the stepchildren of the Reformers) react to sacerdotal England (wherein the Church of England and the State of England still remain one and the same) and seek a pragmatic solution to separate themselves from a forced religious belief system incumbent on being born in England.
If, biblically speaking, the Church and State are to be separate institutions, does that suggest, as the secularist would postulate, a total disenfranchisement of the Church from the State, i.e., an influential separation as well? Is that the extrapolation Christ would desire from the Matthew 22:21 text? No!
Scriptures teach that the institution of the State is quite dependent on the existence of a strong and healthy institution of the Church (which is independent of it, and it does not control) to build men and women in righteousness for service in government. History serves to illustrate that in a theocratic form of government, the Church soon loses its purpose (evangelizing and discipling the lost, worldwide missions, etc.) due to ungodly State leaders who ultimately control it.
Without a strong Church that makes disciples, the State soon goes wayward due to the sinfulness of its leaders. Keep in mind that the institution of the State was not and is not designed to build righteous leaders for itself—rather, the primacy of its God-given purpose is to “reward those who do good and punish those who do evil (1 Peter 2:13-14). It is therefore dependent on a discipleship-oriented institution of the Church to provide mature in-Christ leaders for itself.
Since this is such a vital matter relative to the ongoing health of the State, what more so might the book of Proverbs have to say about this very thing? A lot!
Proverbs 14:34 provides a summary insight:
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.
Righteousness in the lives of individuals—Proverbs states—both in a country’s citizens and leaders, is the primary need and superior virtue over all others. This quality is a nation’s number-one, essential national resource! The writer of Proverbs is stating that this one ingredient assures the exaltation of a nation.
Neither the international trade nor the gross domestic product nor the presence of natural resources (to name but a few) are more fundamentally crucial to the exaltation of a nation. Rather, the righteousness of a nation’s individuals is its greatest resource—and the greatest commodity that a nation needs to be manufacturing on an ongoing basis! But, again, the State is not in the business of manufacturing righteous leaders; it is not causal in this regard, it is reflective. The Church must do that for her!
The same principles that build individuals in righteousness (as expounded by the Word of God) are the same principles, multiplied by and through individuals, that build a nation. When a nation is impregnated with highly principled individuals, it gains well-being. On the other hand, corrupt men and women will only warp and hinder the maximization of trade, GDP and resources; righteous State leaders will advance them.
Given this cut-to-the-chase analysis of our nation’s greatest need, and why institutional separation is so critical to achieving the fulfillment of this need, the question then quickly becomes one of how righteousness is formed in the lives of individuals: it is the absolutely critical preeminent duty of the Church in an institutionally separated, composite society to convert the soul and make disciples of Jesus Christ in the political arena, i.e., to impute a Christian worldview to the leaders of the State and its citizenry. There is no higher calling or purpose for the Church (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).
Summarily, in our composite country, the State is highly dependent on an institution it does not control for its own health, well-being and sustainability—the Church.
It follows that for the Church to spend her energy in the Capitol community attempting to affect policy with little manifest concern for the souls of the State’s leaders is to practice, biblically speaking, a misinformed and misguided mission. It is to attempt to do what others—strong-in-Christ elected and appointed public servants—can do much better from inside the State! It is to be less than efficient; it is to get out of her lane. To do the former at the expense of the later is to misunderstand the primacy of her God-ordained calling and role in a composite society during the Church Age of biblical history!
Rather than spend all her energy and purpose lobbying legislators for better laws, the Church can best influence the State by building and sending righteous public servants to serve in government. Again and again, keep in mind, that the State is not in the business of manufacturing righteous individuals! Rather, God has designed it to punish unrighteous individuals (cf. Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:13–14). Proverbs 29:2 serves to summarize this point:
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan.
States Proverbs 11:10–11 in this regard:
When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting. By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down.
Adds Proverbs 28:12:
When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, men hide themselves.
As you can see, Proverbs has much to say about the necessity and essentiality of righteous governmental leaders! Scripture shouts about this matter! The Church must be in the business of manufacturing them via evangelism and discipleship at all levels of their career paths! Unfortunately for the past 50 years, wherein the Religious Right and the Religious Left movements have sought to change the purpose of the Church into a lobbying organization, America has only declined. It is time to change all that! That in fact is what Capitol Ministries is all about—exemplifying a biblically correct manifestation of the Church to the State: discipling political leaders in the Word of God who serve in government as opposed to being a Christian lobbying organization.
Keep in mind, at the end of the day, all Christian political activist organizations are dependent on Christian worldview elected leaders, judges, and others appointed to positions of power to carry their water.
This Bible study goes further in examining how righteousness is achieved. Also examined are the characteristics of righteous leadership found in the book of Proverbs including being selfless in service, just in judgement, committed in convictions, potent in prayer, barring of bribery, and hiring honorable staff members.
All would agree that characteristics of righteousness are necessary to the dispatch of good government, but the only way to produce these virtues in leaders is through the discipleship efforts of the Church in the lives of individuals. As the Church goes then, so goes the State. Said another way:
The Church should not expend all its efforts in activism, seeking to cajole those who hold office (who oftentimes reject Christ) to vote biblically. It won’t happen. You can’t expect someone who rejects the author of Scripture to accept the precepts of His Book. Instead, the call and emphasis of Proverbs regarding the germinating health of a nation clearly unveils an emphasis on creating and exalting righteous leadership. The Church must emphasize this task: developing statesmen in Christ! It must be pre-political! Righteous, mature in Christ public servants are the greatest resource of the government of the United States of America—and it all starts with an institutional separation of the Church from the State. Click here to read the full study which contains many more examples backed up by Scripture.