Don Carson has written a helpful chapter on the subject of church and state in his book Christ and Culture Revisited. He refers to the “rich complexity of biblical norms.” In other words- this is not a straightforward issue. The fact that God is creator of the world indicates that His values and priorities cannot be simply limited to the church. On the other hand, there is no real sense that the early church saw themselves as a political movement and there is the danger that the church simply ends up preaching moralism to the world. But surely we don’t want to take non-intervention too far: presumably we can all agree that Wilberforce and Shaftesbury (to name but two) were good things?

How do we take this forward? In this last post I want to pose four questions that are hesitant attempts to move the discussion forward. I’ll end by making five biblical statements that are reasonably clear whether or not we would have signed the Coalition for Marriage petition.

1. Is there a difference between individual Christians and the church? Some have argued that whilst it is not the church’s prime job to intervene politically, individual Christians may see that as a high priority for them. I think that is probably right. I didn’t think it was right for me to preach for weeks on end about the evils of gay marriage and encourage us to talk political action but nor did I object to individual Christians taking the action that they thought appropriate. I’m not sure you can take this too far (how easy is it to distinguish between the church and a collection of individual Christians?!) but it may help in some circumstances.

2. Is there a difference between campaigning for those with no voice (e.g. Wilberforce’s campaign for the slaves, the campaigns on behalf of the unborn child) and campaigning against people making a free choice (e.g. Same Sex Marriage)? I put this hesitantly in that I haven’t seen this argued by anybody else but it is probably where my mind is coming to rest on the subject. It seems to me that the Christian should have deep compassion and concern for those who are being oppressed and have no ability to speak up for themselves. Along similar lines I have a deep admiration for things like the Home for Good campaign run by the Evangelical Alliance to encourage adoption by Christian families. By contrast I wonder whether it is wise to campaign to prevent people from taking free decisions that will only harm themselves. Is not the biblical path to let people go their way, albeit with great sorrow? The danger is that if we don’t do that we end up guilty of judging the world and preaching moralism.

3. If the separation of church and state is a biblical norm what should be the implications of that? The reality is that the state and the church have different definitions of marriage (actually that was true before the recent legislation because of our different understanding of divorce.) It seems to me likely that it will not be possible in years to come for church and state marriage to happen at the same time- that is, for the church to perform marriage ceremonies that are accepted by the state. Whilst this might be regrettable, I do not think it would be the end of the world. The state could do its thing and people may need to go to the registry office to get married legally but the church would still be able to perform its own service giving thanks to God and making promises before Him. That would leave the church able to preserve its purity and values when it comes to marriage and so be a light to the world. The same could apply to any number of other issues. Frankly, there are worse things that could happen in this country than the separation of church and state. The early church didn’t need that system in order to grow.

4. How should we handle questions of freedom of religion? I’ve not really touched on that in these posts but it is a pertinent issue when it comes to petitions and the like. Should we campaign against legislation that would limit our freedom to preach the Gospel/cause offence (given that the New Testament implies that these two things go together)? Should we seek to ban the building of mosques? Should we have sought to ban Jerry Springer the Opera? It seems to me from 1 Timothy 2 that freedom to preach the Gospel is desirable and so it seems right to pray and campaign to that end. However, I’m not sure it is wise to seek a privileged position for the Gospel. After all does the Gospel really need it? For that reason I would tend to argue for freedom across the board. It is difficult to object to the way our brothers and sisters are treated around the world if Christians are campaigning against the building of mosques in this country. And the world has always ridiculed and hated Christ. Much as I find things like Jerry Springer the Opera reprehensible I’m not sure I would campaign to ban it. With solemnity I would say that we need to leave vengeance to the Lord.

I put the above with caution. They are simply examples of the way in which my mind is working as I wrestle with some of the questions that living in a society moving away from God brings to us. However, it would be a shame if we spent all our time wrestling with these questions. After all, we have work to do as a church. So let me close with five definitive statements.

1. It is not our job to judge the world (1 Cor 5:12)

It seems to me there is a danger that we fall into this. It is our job to be godly as a church and to preach the Gospel to the world around us. It is not our job to tell non-Christians to behave like Christians. To do so will not work and will actually pervert the message of the Gospel.

2. It is our job to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:14)

By our deeds we are to display the glory of God. This is a huge issue but let’s take the example of sexuality and marriage simply by way of illustration. The church needs to be a place which displays godly marriage as it is meant to be- in a way that makes the world ask questions. In addition, if we are saying that it is right for certain people not to follow through their sexual inclinations and get married, then we desperately need to display a community that welcomes single people into families and where fulness of life is possible without a sexual relationship.

3. It is our job to do good in the world (1 Peter 2:12)

I’ve argued that there are limits to what Christians can expect to achieve through political engagement. However, I am categorically not arguing for a holy huddle mentality that withdraws from the world. We are to engage in the world, caring for those in need in our communities and speaking out for those with no voice. You only have to read 1 Peter to see the importance of the good life in a context where Christians are regarded with suspicion. My suspicion is that local churches doing good in their communities is likely to have a greater impact than national campaigns.

4. It is our job to declare the praises of God to the world (1 Peter 2:9-10)

We are to tell the world how great God is- that he has taken us from darkness to light. That is the fundamental message that we need to take into the public square.

5. We are to pray “Hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9)

Let me go back to where I started- the passing of the Same Sex Marriage Act. At one level the act itself was not the problem- rather it was the symptom of a much deeper problem. The authority of God is ignored in our country. Though this should not surprise us, it should nevertheless pain us. We love God and we want Him to be honoured and we love people and want what is best for them which is to know and love God. As we see God ignored in this way, should there not be prayer rising from our hearts which pleads with God to cause His name to be honoured?

The extent to which we should fight political battles will go on being debated. I wrote these posts because I wanted to get us to think through the issue rather than simply assume that we must protest in every situation. But I wouldn’t claim to have come up with a position of clarity. Nevertheless what we must do above all else is clear even as our country seeks to ignore God- we must pray, live and speak in such a way that we shine like stars in the universe and thus call people back to the true, living and good God.