Saturday, October 02, 2010

Separation of church and State: Should Baptists be involved in politics, civil disobedience, the debate on Reproductive Health bill, or avail of benefits from the PCSO?

Several Baptist pastors and preachers, in recent elections, have run for political office (some have won, some have lost). One pastor I’ve known since childhood asked me to come along with him and other pastors in their meeting with a candidate for the May 2010 presidential elections. When I asked what the meeting was for, he refused to say why. My childhood church in the 1960’s used to invite candidates for local elections to speak to the congregation after the morning or evening service. A group of Baptist pastors goes on regular courtesy calls with Congressional leaders. Some pastors have registered with and carry around IDs issued by the Corruption Prevention Unit of the Office of the Ombudsman.

In recent days, newspaper and television reports have highlighted the conflicts between the Roman Catholic Church and the national government on the issues of the Reproductive Health bill and the legalization of jueteng. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has threatened to resort to civil disobedience if the RH bill is passed. In contrast, Baptist churches in general have not spoken up on the RH bill issue.

One question of practical value is this: Should members of Baptist churches avail of government benefits like free medicines which come from the PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office) or from the PAGCOR (the office which regulates casinos)?

The relevant provision of our 1987 Constitution is Article III, Section 5 which states: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

Our Supreme Court has fully discussed the issue of freedom of religion in the landmark case of Estrada vs. Escritor involving a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I discussed the issues of this decision in my Legal Updates blog post “The Estrada vs. Escritor case: Did the Supreme Court legitimize live-in relationships?” Baptist pastors, preachers, church officers and Bible students should take time to read this 100 plus pages decision.

Romans chapter 13, verses 1 to 7 are the controlling Scriptures in this issue of the churchs relationship with the State. Posted below are resources that can help Baptist pastors and churches decide how to act and what to say on these contentious issues:

[1] Messages on Romans 13:1-7 by John Piper, Senior Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Subjection to God and Subjection to the State, Part 1 (Audio: Listen, Download; Video: Watch, Download; Print sermon)

Now we all know that there are some very difficult questions to be answered here. When it says again in verse 1 that “there is no authority except from God,” does it include evil rulers? When it says in verse 1 that we should submit to civil authority, does it mean always and no matter what? When it says in verse 3 that the civil authorities are “not a terror to good conduct, but to bad,” is that always true, or do some governments terrorize good conduct? What are we to make of Paul's seemingly absolute statements?
Subjection to God and Subjection to the State, Part 2 (Audio: Listen, Download, Video: Watch, Download; Print sermon)

There are at least four reasons given for submission.

1) So the first reason for this submission is that all authority is instituted by the God who governs all things, and so the civil authorities are God’s servants and ministers.

2) The second reason for submission to civil authority is that they are there for our good. It is good for us that there is government rather than anarchy.

3) The third reason for the submission is that the civil authorities bear the sword (or the gun and Billy club), and if you don’t submit, they will punish you, even with capital punishment (implied in the sword, Romans 8:35-36).

4) The fourth reason for submission is that beneath and above the civil authority is a greater reality, namely, the moral law of God expressed in the words “right” and “wrong.”

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Subjection to God and Subjection to the State, Part 3 Subjection to God and Subjection to the State, Part 3 (Audio: Listen, Download; Print sermon)
1) What is the evidence from the Bible that God sometimes approves of his people not submitting to the very authority he had put in place? That is, what is the evidence for God-approved civil disobedience?

And 2) when is such civil disobedience right, and what should it look like?
Subjection to God and Subjection to the State, Part 4 (Audio: Listen, Download; Video: Watch, Download; Print sermon)
We are first citizens of heaven with a mandate to magnify King Jesus on the earth. And part of his mission for us is to enter all the spheres of society and culture with the light and taste and aroma and truth of Christ, including government.
[2] Articles from “In the Nick of Time” by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, Central Baptist Theological Seminary

[3] The Indigenous Pilgrim Principle: A Theological Consideration of the Christian, the Church, and Politics, by Jeffrey Volkmer (Assistant Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies, Biola University)
Indigenous Principle (Adaptation to the World)
  • The Gospel must incarnate, or be made manifest, in every culture and people of the world (the Great Commission).
  • The Gospel and Christians ought to be a complementary part of culture and society.
The Pilgrim Principle (Confrontation and Separation) Christians pull away and out of culture.
  • Christians live in a manner contrary to culture.
  • We are aliens and exiles in our own cultures, societies, and families.

May I suggest some guidelines that may help us to know when to act upon each influence.

1. How do we know when to be Pilgrims (i.e., separate ourselves)?

a. Is there a sin issue involved?

i. There is never a good time to do something wrong. We are always Christians and that Christianity must work itself into every nook and cranny of our lives.

b. Does our separation or coming out make God look good or further the Gospel?

i. We ought to stand for Biblical Truth.

ii. Does the act of separation create opportunities to share the Gospel?

c. Is the Holy Spirit convicting our spirit?

i. Do you feel God’s leading about a certain situation or feel uncomfortable about something?

2. How do we know when to be Indigenous (i.e., be complementary w/culture)?

a. When it furthers the Gospel (1 Cor 9:22).

b. We must ‘win’ the right to another conversation (1 Cor 8:9, 2 Cor 6:3).

i. This was a favorite saying of a missions professor of mine at Dallas Seminary. We must always be cognizant of how we ‘come off’ and must be sure that our actions do not close off opportunities for us to love our neighbor and have meaningful relationships.

c. Know your ‘cultural scripts’ (1 Cor 10:23-30).

i. Linguists and anthropologists have developed this phrase to describe the social and cultural significance lying behind various cultural forms. Cultural scripts are those unspoken assumptions that are attached to many, many things. (Read the complete article)

[3] “Separation of Church and State” and blog by Jerald Finney, a Baptist and a lawyer. Finney’s blog contains a lot more articles of interest for pastors considering whether or not to incorporate their churches or ministries. Biblical Law Center, a ministry of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple under Dr. Greg Dixon, also provides a lot of articles on the issue of non-registration of churches.

[4] “Why Last Saturday’s Political Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Was Dangerous” by David Neff
I believe that Christians have an urgent duty to engage the social, economic, and moral threats to a healthy society. That requires a wide variety of political action. However, one thing it doesn’t call for is playing kingmaker and powerbroker.

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