Church neither rules nor is ruled by political might

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Many church organizations and church bodies are ruled by political might when they should be ruled and governed solely by the Word of God.

It happens in local congregations and it happens in national and international church bodies. Decisions regarding doctrine, worship and mission work are determined by the group in power, whether that be a simple majority, a group of pastors or elders or a group of delegates. And whichever group has the political power wins and its favored doctrine and practice are forced upon the rest of the congregation or church body — that is, until another group gains the political might to change things.

In so many ways, congregations and church bodies are using political systems to rule and govern rather than letting God rule and govern by means of His Word, the Bible. They forget that the church is a theocracy with Christ as its head, while our civil governments are not.

While both the church and the state are ordained by God, there is a big difference in their purpose and function. The church was instituted for the eternal salvation of men. The state is for the maintenance of external righteousness and order among men in this world. The church preaches and proclaims the Word of God to bring men to faith and change hearts. The state enacts and enforces laws to curb and control men’s outward actions.

When Jesus asked the disciples who they believed Him to be, Peter replied: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16); and Jesus said that, upon this truth which the Father had revealed to Peter, Jesus would “build His church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (v. 17-18). Jesus also said: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

On the other hand, the Scriptures say of civil government: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:1-4); and, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Peter 2:13-14).

While the state — civil government — bears the sword to maintain order, punish evildoers and wage just wars, the church is ruled by and proclaims the Word of God.

The Bible says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16); and, “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

In order that men might be saved, the church has been commanded to preach the Word of God and proclaim Jesus Christ crucified as the Savior of mankind. Jesus commanded His disciples to “go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16; cf. Romans 1:16-17; 10:15,17).

To maintain civil order and righteousness in this world, civil governments have been given power and responsibility to enact just laws, punish evildoers (including the use of the death penalty), and to wage just wars (1 Peter 2:13-14; Psalm 82:1-4; Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:3-4).

As Christians, we recognize from the Holy Scriptures that no one can be brought to believe the Bible’s teaching, be brought to faith in Christ Jesus or be made a member of God’s heavenly kingdom through the powers of civil government (cf. John 3:3-6; 18:11,36; 2 Corinthians 10:4-6; Ephesians 6:10-18). Nor should the church expect civil governments to require faith or demand submission to church rites and worship.

On the other hand, neither does God give to civil governments the authority to dictate to the church what it may or may not teach or how it should conduct its worship and ministry in this world. And, when civil governments depart from their God-given duties and forbid what God commands or command what God forbids, Christians must obey God rather than men even if they must suffer the earthly consequences (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; Luke 12:4-5; Daniel 3 and 6).

As a result of this distinction between the church and the state, Christians should never substitute for the ongoing preaching of God’s Word the enactment and enforcement of laws which can only regulate one’s outward conduct. And churches should never feel they have carried out their mission if only their political and moral views are accepted by civil governments and imposed upon the people.

In fact, since the church is ruled by the Word of God, it is never a satisfactory situation when only a majority of those associated with the church holds to the Biblical truth. The Bible urges the preaching of God’s Word as God’s Word until all, by the grace of God, come to know and believe the truth.

The Bible tells us: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). And the Bible tells us that this is accomplished through ongoing and faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word — not forcing people to believe (or compromising the truth) but allowing the Holy Spirit to work to create and strengthen faith in the heart which accepts all that God’s Word teaches (cf. 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 4:1ff.; Titus 1:9; Psalm 19:8; 119:105; Isaiah 55:10-11; John 6:44, 63; Romans 10:17; Ephesians 4:10-16).

My point in all this is simply to say that churches and church bodies err and come short when they seek to rule over their members (or over an earthly kingdom or nation) through the use of politics and political maneuvering and majority decisions. Such political rule can only affect outward actions. Rather, churches should faithfully preach God’s Word that God’s Spirit might change people’s hearts — bringing them to see their sinfulness and trust in their Savior and, as a fruit of that faith, to live for their God and Savior in accord with his Word.

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