An Instrument of Evil
“The beast…opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them” (vv. 5–7a).- Revelation 13:1–10
Several principles, such as the separation of powers and our possession of certain inalienable rights apart from government say-so, formed the basis of the constitutional vision of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Two of these ideas, which motivated many people to flee Europe for America, are the freedom of religious expression and the separation of church and state. Rightly understood according to the U.S. Constitution itself and the Founding Fathers’ writings, separation of church and state means only that the federal government may not establish a state church. Yet over the past century, judicial and legislative actions have often misapplied church-state separation to mean no one can speak of God in a public, secular setting, and that the church has no right to be heard except by its members.
When the Constitution’s disestablishment clause is properly understood to mean the civil government may not establish a state church, the separation of church and state is a net positive. The history of the Church of England in Great Britain proves this by way of a negative example. Union of church and state in Britain today is essentially true only on paper, but history shows that the established Anglican church often used the state to accomplish religious conformity, and the state used the Anglican Church to squash political dissent. In fact, many early Americans were Puritans who fled England to escape persecution from the established church when their consciences were bound by God’s Word. Because this history is frequently overlooked today, church-state separation is regularly perverted into the separation of God and state, in effect banishing religion from the public arena.
Those who seek to separate the state from God and His authority are bound to fail. No matter how the government rails against our Creator, it never escapes accountability to Him for fulfilling its responsibilities. Yet the separation of church and state, rightly understood, has been good for the church. Today’s passage indicates that the state can become a force for evil when it abandons its God-given responsibilities, and established churches have often compromised their witness by supporting or refusing to stand against such evil. The Reichskirche support of Hitler is but one example of this.
Wicked men do at times reject God’s purpose for the state, transforming the good of civil government into an instrument of evil (Rev. 13:1–10). The church must never forget this, lest it be used by the state for wicked ends.
The only being to whom we owe unquestioning allegiance is God Himself, and confusing the roles of church and state can result in the church supporting and following the state in places where it should not. However, that does not mean the church is to be silent. Christians have a prophetic role in society and must speak out when the government does not protect the innocent but rewards wickedness.
Passages for Further Study