Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Role of the Church in America

The Constitution's First Amendment states that the government will make no law respecting the establishment of religion. That is, the Constitution prohibits the recognition of any religious group as the nation's official religion. Most of the nation's forefathers understood this to mean that no Christian denomination would be named the state church. Thomas Jefferson, however, looked forward to the day when those holding any belief system could freely practice their faith.

Much has been made of the supposed "separation of church and state" called for in the Constitution. The Constitution says nothing of the sort. Jefferson referred to a "wall of separation" in his writings to the Danbury Baptist Association. He told the Baptists there was a "wall of separation between the church and state." In the context of the document, Jefferson was reassuring the Baptists the government was not to involve itself in church affairs.

Having said that, it must also be noted that the Constitution of the United States does not provide for a theocracy -- the amalgamation of faith and politics. As I understand it, the Federal Government was supposed to be a democratic republic. I would put the emphasis on republic! It was not specifically a Christian government; it was in a sense a secular government. It could only be a Christian government as long as Christian values prevailed and those elected to high office lived by and made decisions according to those values. Furthermore, it meant they represented their voters' values as well. In the early years of our republic Christianity formed the majority worldview and value system. Although church membership wasn't particularly high (only about 5% in 1800), there were few who rejected the Christian gospel let alone the biblical value system. That's exactly why James Madison said our nation would only be good as long as its people were good. A moral government depends on a moral population.

The only way to guarantee a Christian nation is to have a population that is overwhelmingly Christian. Church membership is higher now than at any time in our nation's history. With apologies to the Danes, there is something rotten in Denmark! It is obvious that the Christian population is, at best, nominal. Christian faith is so privatized that it means whatever the individual wants it to mean. Churches no longer hold to biblical standards. Rare is the congregation that holds its members accountable to biblical standards or lovingly disciplines its members. The fact is, there is so little shepherding taking place that the lifestyles of most church members is unknown to the leadership. Such methodology is said to be "grace based" but in reality it is sheer disobedience.

In an effort to shore up the nation's moral values, evangelical Christians have tried to use worldly tactics to influence legislation. In many cases churches are turning into political action groups determined to influence legislation deemed Christian. In other cases Christians turned to demonstrations and violence to air their grievances. There are congregations under close examination by the Internal Revenue Service for using their "pulpit" for political ends.

I think it is time to re-evaluate our methods. As I continue my reading in the Millennial Harbinger it became clear to me that it is inappropriate for churches to involves themselves in politics. As national stress over slavery grew in the nineteenth century, Alexander Campbell refused to take a side. To Campbell the issue was a political. Campbell held the Bible regulated but did not forbid slavery. Americans could be abolitionists or secessionists but both views were political opinions and should not intrude into the church. To preach either view was not preaching the Gospel and fellowship was not determined by opinions.

Here's the crux of the issue. If we hope to restore America's greatness and rebuild its moral fiber, we must preach the Gospel. In our contemporary determination to be relevant we are forgetting to preach and teach the Gospel. The Gospel message is always relevant! When Jesus commissioned his disciples to go he noted two components they were to accomplishment. First, they were to preach the gospel and immerse those who believed it. Second, they were to teach them to observe all things he commanded. The command to teach is really a command to disciple. To disciple another is to help the believer live his life as Jesus would live it. When one truly becomes a disciple it is only a matter of time until they begin to think and act like Jesus. When an overwhelming majority are following Christ it will affect the nation.

As I have said so often before, we are doing well at winning people to Christ (translated: building big churches) but we are not doing well at producing disciples. Discipleship requires both knowing and doing the truth.

The church's role is to produce disciples devoted to Christ and who put biblical teachings into practice. If we really want a Christian nation, it is time to refocus on preaching the Gospel and then teaching those who believe how it impacts their daily life.