by Al Maxey

Issue #211 ------- September 27, 2005
I am puzzled about which Bible
people are reading when they suggest
that religion and politics don't mix.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (b. 1931)

Church and State
May Disciples of Jesus Christ
Participate in the Political Process?

A dear brother in Christ from the great state of Alabama recently wrote, "Al, I am active in the Republican Party. Many years ago I was criticized (though not by name) in a sermon because I spent time in political activity, rather than spending all my time in church related activities. The preacher apparently believed, as David Lipscomb did, that Christians should not even vote. The attitude toward political involvement is now changing in this area, but most Christians around here still don't take much interest in politics. I was very encouraged when a friend told me about a sermon Gary Bradley preached on July 3rd during the evening service at the Mayfair Church of Christ in Huntsville. I listened to that sermon by going to their church web site. I would like for you to put on your "to do list" a Reflections article on politics and religion. Thanks!"

I heard a preacher declare once, "I choose not to get involved in secular politics because there is enough politics in the church to last me a lifetime!" Sadly, the negative side of politics can also be found among the people of God. I have an autographed copy of the book "Pastoral Politics: Why Ministers Resign" by Dr. John Gilmore. John sent me this book last year as a gift, and he makes some valid points within it as to the horrors of pastoral politics and the heavy toll it takes on the lives of ministers of the gospel. So I suppose we are never truly free of "political" involvement.

Before getting into a response to the above reader's question, and as somewhat of a foundation for that response, I need to say a few words about the whole "separation of church and state" issue that we have all heard so much about in recent years, and about which there is tremendous confusion based on some rather popular misinformation. As often as one hears this phrase one would almost think it was an integral part of our U.S. Constitution. It is not. The First Amendment simply states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The words "church," "state," and "separation" do not even occur in this statement. The emphasis of this solemn declaration was an assurance to the people that their government would not seek to establish a national religion or dictate to the citizens the parameters of their worshipful expression. It simply declared the federal government would not seek to impose its own will upon the people with regard to any religion.

This notion of a "wall of separation" between church and state actually comes from an exchange of letters between Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury Baptist Association of the state of Connecticut. On Oct. 7, 1801, the Baptists wrote Jefferson of their concerns regarding the First Amendment. They felt their "free exercise of religion," as viewed by the federal government and as expressed in this amendment, was being presented more as "a favor granted" than as "an inalienable right." Thus, if their freedom of religion and religious expression was government-given, rather than God-given, what assurance was there that this government would never change its mind and revoke that freedom?!

Therefore, in the early, formative years of our great nation's history, there was no concerted effort to keep the church (or, more accurately, the influence of Christian principles) out of the affairs of state, but only an assurance that the state would not meddle with the affairs of the church. Indeed, in these early years, our founding fathers, and the government itself, were greatly affected by the teachings of the Christian faith. In the year 1799, Dr. Jedediah Morse made this rather insightful observation about the intimate, and necessary, relationship between the two: "In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom. ... Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them."

Any nation which separates itself from the church, or the influence of Christian principles, is a nation destined for ruin, and when Christians seek to separate themselves from responsible involvement in the affairs of their nation, they, in my opinion, shirk their responsibility to be a leavening force for good, and in their lack of involvement actually contribute to the inevitable decline of their nation. In other words, it is my firm conviction that we, the people of God, must be active participants in every aspect of the society in which we live. How can we ever truly expect to effect change if we isolate ourselves from the world about us? The Lord never prayed for His people to be taken out of the world, but that through their godly influence and example they might transform the world about them. That can only be done by those men and women willing to get out of their plush church buildings and into their communities! Yeast doesn't work as long as it is still in the package; it must be mixed in with the dough before change occurs! The most important thing we as Christians can do to return our nation to a responsible course, and to effect reform, is to truly start BEING the light, salt and leavening force for positive change that we are called by our God to be! That can't be done if we are not willing to actively participate and involve ourselves in seeking to ennoble every aspect of our communities, both locally and nationally.

In a position paper recently released by the Center for Biblical Bioethics it was declared that "a society cannot operate long in a moral vacuum. When people of good conscience fail to influence society with their values, then other influences will fill the gap. This has happened in America. In the past one hundred years, most fundamental Christians have left the political arena, considering it 'worldly' and outside the legitimate realm of Christian influence." The result of this failure by an increasing number of disciples of Christ is that our nation is spiraling ever downward away from God, and that can only result, as history proves, in its ultimate demise. It is the conclusion of this position paper that "Christians need to be involved in the political process in order to have a positive effect on the future of our communities and our nation. It is poor citizenship and very poor Christian stewardship to permit this great nation to plunge on toward destruction by default." William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, stated in the early 1700's, "Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad." That goodness, however, must permeate every corner of government, NOT be separate from it.

What does Scripture have to say about all this? Some attempt to make much of the fact that nowhere in the NT writings are Christians ever urged to actively participate in politics, or to seek public office. The assumption some men draw from this fact is that such silence is thereby prohibitive. However, our integrity to Scripture, and to the principles of biblical interpretation, demand that we also acknowledge as fact that nowhere in the NT writings is such involvement and participation condemned or discouraged. Thus, to assume that such silence is necessarily prohibitive, is probably to assume far more than is exegetically warranted. Indeed, there is evidence that Christians should take an interest in ennobling the societies in which they live!

Some see justification for separation of "church and state" in the response of Jesus to the Pharisees and Herodians who sought to trap Him in a question regarding whether one should pay the poll-tax to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17). The Lord said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Jesus was indeed making a distinction between secular and spiritual concerns, but He was not urging our involvement in one to the total exclusion of the other. He was, rather, advocating responsible involvement in both arenas. Yes, we can render to Caesar, and should, but we do so as godly men and women, impacting the realm of Caesar for its ultimate good, rather than allowing the realm of Caesar to impact us for evil. The passage does not say what some have attempted to make it say. Jesus is not promoting separation of "church and state," but rather responsible, godly involvement in both.

One of the most compelling passages with regard to involvement of Christians in the political process, however, is without a doubt Romans 16:23. Here Paul is sending greetings to and greetings from various Christian men and women. "Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, a brother." The NIV translates the passage this way: "Erastus, who is the city's director of public works..." The Greek word used is oikonomos, which, when used politically, referred to a "manager, steward, treasurer." Thus, Erastus was an official of the city of Corinth (from which this powerful epistle to the Romans was written in late February or early March of 58 A.D., near the end of Paul's third missionary journey). Greek scholars differ as to the exact position held by Erastus. "Denney defines Erastus' position as city treasurer, Vincent, probably the administrator of the city lands, Robertson, the city manager" (Dr. Kenneth Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, "Romans," p. 265). David Lipscomb, who, as previously noted, was greatly opposed to Christians involving themselves in the affairs of state, suggested Erastus was simply the church treasurer, and not the city treasurer (A Commentary on Romans, p. 279). This is, one is sincerely saddened to state, little more than textual manipulation and misrepresentation for the purpose of trying to validate an untenable theory. One would have expected more from such a man as Lipscomb. By the way, this man mentioned in Rom. 16:23 is "not to be identified with the Erastus of Acts 19:22 and 2 Tim. 4:20" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, "Romans," p. 457).

"Erastus was the treasurer of the city of Corinth and attended to its affairs of property. He was a person of consequence in the city" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, p. 925). He was "a notable figure because of his public office" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 169). "He may well have been a high-ranking and influential government leader -- city treasurer. If so, he would have political power, prestige, and probably some wealth" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 431). It just so happens that scholars know for a fact, from archaeological discoveries in Corinth, that during this very time there was indeed a city official named Erastus. "A paving block preserves an inscription, stating that the pavement was laid at the expense of Erastus," and it states he was the "Commissioner of Public Works" (Oscar Broneer, The Biblical Archaeologist, December, 1951). A photograph of that paving stone is seen below.

From Romans 16:23, therefore, we know that Paul sends greetings to the saints in Rome from a city official in Corinth who holds an elected office, one invested with great responsibility and authority. Erastus is a Christian. Paul nowhere condemns his service to the city of Corinth, nor does Paul condemn his participation in the political affairs of his community. It is not even suggested he should abandon that involvement. Indeed, one may even imagine Paul is somewhat pleased that a Christian is in that position of responsibility, for, after all, Paul makes mention (and not disapprovingly) of the political position of Erastus. Isn't it far better to have a Christian in such a position than a non-Christian? If not, why not?! Thus, to the reader in Alabama I would simply say, "Continue involving yourself in the political process of our land ... and do so as a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ! Let your light shine!! Be a leavening force for good. Brother, we need more like you!!"

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A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
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by Al Maxey
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Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Australia:

Thank you, Brother Al, for your constant willingness to spread the Word with both clarity and integrity. I have shared you with a number of others who are also being helped by your teaching. Keep it up. The world needs to hear, and we in Australia do not hear, such clarity of the Word as you are presenting. Have you considered the possibility of a tour "down under" to share your reflections and insights. We need a "burr under the saddle" to challenge us. Please keep up your good work of speaking the Truth in love.

From a Minister in California:

Al, A sweet young girl who has been visiting our congregation recently mentioned to her grandfather that she had been visiting our assembly (he was a pastor in the Assemblies of God and is presently working as a missionary for the Calvary Chapel church). He asked her how she liked it, and she replied, "It was different. They don't use instrumental music." He replied, "Oh, Church of Christ. That's a dying church. I predict within ten years they won't exist." He was referring to southern California, I think, but I don't really have a response with any muscle behind it. I tend to believe he is probably correct. We're so focused on what we like/prefer and are so unwilling to do anything other than what we've always done. For the most part, the post-modern generation doesn't even bother to look our way because we have nothing to offer in a way that will connect to them. And in my experience, as I've tried to talk with elders about our need to be more evangelistic in ways that do not compromise Christ, but may relate to this generation, they refuse to move. I have great confidence in the body of Christ at large ... I have almost no confidence in the Churches of Christ. And I've given 27 years of my life to preaching within our fellowship!! By the way, your article on Marcion was very interesting! Thanks.

From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:

While we cannot endorse all the ideas and conclusions proposed by Marcion, I believe there is something to be learned from his misadventure. Like many, his position was taken as a reaction. I can understand how he would perceive the God of the OT to be a God of laws, judgment and wrath. That was how the Jews represented Him. They did not seem to understand Him as a God of grace. They were absorbed in a religion largely of their own construction. One of rules, laws, rituals and ceremonies designed to appease and earn favor. They were not representative of the God of love, grace and redemption which I see in the OT. If God had not extended grace, the Jews would have been wiped out just east of the Red Sea. In the same manner as the Jews, many today have created a God of wrath. Did not Paul have to overcome this concept of God? Was not this the issue with which Luther grappled? Even John Wesley reached his own Damascus Road experience at Aldersgate and exchanged the service of a slave for the service of a son. One unfortunate reaction to the legalistic patternists of today could be to create a second God, just like Marcion did, and which some have done. A warm and fuzzy and friendly God of love who requires no accountability from man. Another reaction is to give up in frustration and fear, overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. We do not need to create another God -- we simply need to get to know the God who IS. Love ya, brother.

From a Reader in Missouri:

Al, "Marcion of Sinope" has been an interesting Reflections. I enjoyed it. It seems the struggle we face is one that has always existed. I agree, Marcion went too far, yet the basis of his reaction seems to be what I myself learned. Growing up I was taught very legalistically. I feared God, and after enough years as a child in the church quickly learned that I could never make it to heaven. I was just not good enough! Besides, God was out there watching, just waiting for me to mess up so He could get me. After all, I was told He dropped folks in their tracks who did not adhere perfectly to His laws. So, I left God for many years. But, as I made my way back many years ago, I was blessed to have met two preachers, Bob Heil and you, who helped me relearn God's Word and to see the love, mercy, and longsuffering God has for His children. And HOPE returned to my life! It became exciting again to be a Christian! I truly appreciate both of you for being there and allowing me to see God in a new light. It has been the greatest gift I could have received.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Al, I took some time to read about Marcion this morning. Quite interesting, and a subject about which I knew nothing. Thanks for the insight. I am finding your Reflections to be a considerably valuable learning tool.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, I have just finished reading your article on Marcion. I remember studying about him thirty or more years ago. Thanks for a refresher course. I also really enjoy reading the letters from the readers. One thing I have noticed, however. Even though most readers agree with you about the two-headed beast called patternism and legalism, they still refer to the "Church of Christ" group as THE Lord's church. I can see the affirmative side of that statement, but also the negative. By still using it the way the patternists and legalists use it, have they really dropped their chains of slavery? Just a thought.

From a Reader in Florida:

Al, I enjoyed your article "Behold the Pattern," and as usual it was right on target. In case you don't know, there is currently a debate on one of the brotherhood "lists" dealing with whether or not it is "scriptural" for a congregation to read a passage of scripture in unison. One brother commented that to do so would not be according to CENI. Another said that it would be no different from singing in unison, while another brother denied that and stated there is a big difference in singing together and reading together! Can you believe it??!! This just shows how irrational the "thinking" of some brethren is.

From a New Reader in Tennessee:

Recently, I did a search on the Greek "Objective Genitive" on and ran across a Reflections article by you on this. The reason for the search is that I'm currently in an Intermediate Greek course using Wallace's book Beyond the Basics. I'm very encouraged that you are laboring in the Word, exegeting the text, and sharing with the Internet community. Therefore, please subscribe me to your Reflections. Thank you for your work.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, I absolutely LOVED your article on Marcion. I believe the lesson to be learned is that being partly right isn't enough. I think you are similar to Marcion in that you both believe in living a moral life, and you both oppose legalism. After that ... the differences start mounting. After reading your article, I began to understand Origen's efforts to find Christ "in every verse of the Old Testament." This is definitely a refutation of the Marcionite heresy. Thank you for serving up a great spiritual feast!

From a Doctor in Alabama:

Al, Your presentations continue stimulating my thoughts on our spiritual heritage in the Church of Christ. Of particular interest is how our thought processes ever lead us to think (believe) that we are pleasing to God only after "seeing" a detailed pattern described in the New Testament which includes us drawing "lines in the sand" as to what (who) is acceptable (righteous) and what (who) is unacceptable (unrighteous) to Him based on what we do or don't do in a worship service. I've just read back to back your last two Reflections articles: "Behold the Pattern" and "Marcion of Sinope." On the surface, these articles didn't appear to be connected, but in my second reading of "Marcion of Sinope" one portion possibly provides insight into how our fellowship came to see the clear delineation of a "pattern" for New Testament worship and other church activities. Quoting from your article (with some adaptation): "Marcion believed the Christian Dispensation to be ... revelation of a gracious, loving, accepting, merciful God ... not the (other) lesser God of the Old Testament, who was primarily interested in the imposing of LAW ...". Marcion correctly observed a significant difference in how the Supreme Being dealt with human beings in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, his conclusion that two Gods are involved overlooks the possibility that there is only one God over both -- He was just showing the versatility in His personality.

The relevance here is that the Old Testament (Law), unlike the New Testament, DID provide a specific "pattern" for Jews to adhere to through prescribed ordinances and rituals; however, the Scriptures clearly attest to the impossibility of humans being able to satisfy such requirements. On the other hand, the thought of being able to follow a pre-established, detailed pattern brings comfort and order for many people. Perhaps this is why we have searched so diligently to find a detailed pattern for our religious practices which will demonstrate -- even document -- our devotion, love, obedience, and SERVICE to God. We say the words, but still can't seem to come to full acceptance of God's grace and mercy as a free gift through His Son, and which simply cannot be earned. I remember using filmstrips some 40 years ago to bring people to Christ, or into our fellowship. The filmstrips would depict the pattern(s) described in the Old Testament law and tried to demonstrate continuation of a parallel (new) pattern being provided in the New Testament. However, the significant difference in the composition and style of the New Testament does not lend itself to seeing a pattern EXCEPT through the reader's insertion of "necessary inferences" and "examples." As the old saying goes, "You see what you look for." Why do we find it so difficult to accept the FREE gift given to us by our loving Father? Subordinating the human will (arrogance?) to "earn our way" into salvation remains a prominent barrier to our enjoyment of God's grace. It appears the lessons God has taught us in the Old Testament through recorded Jewish history have to a great extent been taught in vain.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Maxey, An apology is due. It is due to you. And I am going to give it. I hereby apologize to you and ask your forgiveness for speaking so harshly and forcibly when I wrote to you asking about Goebel Music's book. Seeing what I wrote in print for all the world and my God to see, I now realize how harsh it was. I have learned from this to let what I write cool for a spell and re-read it before sending it out. I will try not to be so quick to bark in the future. I do appreciate you reviewing Bro. Goebel's book "Behold the Pattern" in Reflections #209. You did just as you said you would do. You are a Christian indeed!

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