Devotional: ‘A Wall of Separation Between Church and State’ pt 1

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1 Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. CSB

Paul recognized that government can have either a positive or negative effect upon our ability to worship and to spread the gospel. It is for that reason that he encouraged Christians to pray regularly for all those in authority. As Christians, we should pray that God will cause our governmental officials to allow us to have the freedom to do the duties of the church.

Our forefathers reiterated this important principle when they framed our Constitution. The First Amendment of the US Constitution states –

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It was the intent of our forefathers to prohibit government from establishing what many might call a ‘state church.’ As you well know, many of the founding fathers came from countries where the Catholic Church and the Church of England had previously tried to dictate the practice of their religions. It was for this very reason that many of our forefathers fled to the new world in order to find religious freedom. Many of our founding fathers did not want to be made to worship according to governmental rules. They wanted to worship according to the Bible.

In order to protect this precious religious freedom, our founding fathers included in our country’s Constitution these words – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” In other words, the government shall not meddle in the people’s relationship with God. Government shall not dictate who shall worship or how they shall worship. Government shall protect the people’s freedom to worship according to the dictates of their hearts. In conjunction,  government shall protect the people’s right to speak openly and freely.

In support of the First Amendment and the people’s right to worship freely, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut to respond to their concerns about our religious freedoms. Here is a direct quote from Jefferson’s letter –

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem.” (Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802)

Jefferson’s reference to a ‘wall of separation between church and State’ was an affirmation that government has no right to try to dictate how men should worship. For the record, we should also note that Jefferson stated that he also desired the protection and ‘blessing of the common Father and Creator of man.’ Jefferson reaffirmed that our country needs the blessing of Almighty God.

In recent years, many have tried to use Jefferson’s phrase- ‘a wall of separation between church and State’,  as a way to put the Christian faith in a closet. They have quoted these words so often that many now believe that they are a part of the Constitution. Yet the truth is, they are not a part of the Constitution, nor did Jefferson use them in the same way many are using them today. They have taken Jefferson’s words out of context and made them to imply something very different.

The Apostle Paul understood the proper relationship between the government and the church. The government is here to enforce civil law and the church is here to spread the gospel. The church is not to try to spread the gospel through civil law and the government is not to prohibit the church from preaching salvation. In God’s perfect plan, the two work hand-in-hand.

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