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Should Religion Be Part Of The Government?

October 2, 2010

So - we saw that government is an institution that God set up to do some basic things - like restrain evil & protect it's people.

What about before that? Who's responsibility was it?

We can go back to Genesis 4:1-16 --

Cain and Abel

Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth. ”

Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain , he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD'S presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.


Whose responsibility - God's. He was everything - He "reported" the crime - He investigated - He questioned the "person of interest" (as we call them today) - He tried the case - He was the judge - He was the jury - He passed sentence - and He even protected Cain from others after the sentence was passed.


Now - some would say that Cain got off easy. He didn't get sentenced to death in the gas chamber / lethal injection / firing squad / whatever. He didn't get life in prison. He didn't get any time in prison. Some would say he just got probation.


I submit - they are wrong. Cain didn't get off easy at all. What he really got was a form of living death.

Look at verse 13. The first sentence is -

Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear.”

If all Cain got was probation - how could that be more than he could bear? Was he that much of a wimp that he couldn't deal with probation?

Not at all. As the verse continues -

Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.

To Cain - the worst part of the sentence wasn't being driven from the land - or becoming a wanderer - or even that he might be killed.

It was the part about "I will be hidden from your presence".

At that time - being hidden from God's presence - not having a real genuine relationship with Him - was death. It was like as Hell - which is the place where God isn't.

So - in a very real sense - Cain did in fact receive a death sentence.


But that's not the way it is today. When did things start to change? Is this some recent progressive / liberal thing?

The first change is recorded in Genesis 9:1-6 (not exactly recent)

God’s Covenant With Noah

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man.

Not exactly the progressive / liberal point of view either.

In fact - it gives the murderer a double death sentence - both the body and the soul. Remember - Old Testament - no saving grace from Jesus dying on the cross. Eternal death by the law - thou shalt not kill.

Oops.

And notice - God says -Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed"
. That's what we would call capital punishment today.


And next? We go forward a mere three books, to Numbers 35:6-34 -

Cities of Refuge

“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.”

Then the LORD said to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly. These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge. These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites, aliens and any other people living among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.

“ ‘If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.

“ ‘But if without hostility someone suddenly shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled. He must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.

“ ‘But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which he has fled and the avenger of blood finds him outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. The accused must stay in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may he return to his own property.

“ ‘These are to be legal requirements for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live.

“ ‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

“ ‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.

“ ‘Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow him to go back and live on his own land before the death of the high priest.

“ ‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’ ”

Wow! If the few verses in Genesis weren't convincing enough - how about these?

And several of these thoughts are repeated in the very next book - Deuteronomy. I don't think I need to replicate them here as well - I believe the point has been made.


But now - what about the New Testament? Surely something changed there - because this still isn't anything like what we have today.


What about the Apostle Paul. There were times when he was up for the death penalty. How did he respond? Did he declare that it was against God's ways to put him to death? From Acts 25:1-12 --

The Trial Before Festus

Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against the man there, if he has done anything wrong.”

After spending eight or ten days with them, he went down to Caesarea, and the next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove.

Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”

Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”

Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Not exactly denying the right of the Roman government to carry out the death penalty - when it's deserved. Paul does argue - successfully - that in this particular cases, death is not deserved. However - he also clearly acknowledges that he is willing to die, if that's what the law calls for.


Fast forward to 2000. Here's what MacArthur has to say in his book Why Government Can’t Save You -

Whenever a nation rejects capital punishment—as the United States did during the late 1960's and early 1970's, and other Western countries have done to the present day—even for heinous offenses such as murder, God places it under blood guiltiness.

And he has a quote from Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government, by Robert Duncan Culver -

What must not be lost sight of is that, unpleasant as is the task of the jailor and the use of the whip, the cell, the noose, the guillotine, these things stand behind the stability of civilized society, and they stand there necessarily, for God has declared it so, in harmony with reality, rather than with apostate sociological opinion. Government, with its coercive powers, is a social necessity, but one determined by the Creator, not by the statistical tables of some university social research staff! No society can successfully vote fines, imprisonment, corporal and capital punishment away permanently. The society which tries has lost touch with realities of man (his fallen sinful state), realities of the world, and the truth of divine revelation in nature, man’s conscience, and the Bible.


To be sure - these two have some very conservative and controversial views.

But this topic and their views are most interesting today - as they have been for the entire history of humans. While some of what they say may cause controversy - I tend to think that they are not totally without merit in their reasoning.


At any rate, MacArthur now moves into the area of prisons.

HHhhmmmm. Prisons. Haven't read anything about them yet. Where did they come from?

At this point it’s not unreasonable to ask, What about the role of prisons? Aren’t they serving to punish lawbreakers? Let’s take a brief look at what Scripture and redemptive history say about this issue.

First, it is interesting to note that, although pagan nations around Israel commonly utilized prisons in biblical times, there is little record that the ancient Israelites used them. Instead, the Jews either executed criminals promptly or required them to work and pay reparations to their victims. One of the few Old Testament examples of imprisonment (Ezra 7:26) occurred after God’s people had spent seventy years as captives in Babylon, where imprisonment was common. But under the law and system of government God ordained for Israel, long-term incarceration was not an option for punishment because it did not accomplish that purpose.


To put the Ezra verse in context, - see Ezra 7:11-26 --

King Artaxerxes’ Letter to Ezra

This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest and teacher, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the LORD for Israel:

Artaxerxes, king of kings,

To Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:

Greetings.

Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.

You and your brother Jews may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you may have occasion to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.

Now I, King Artaxerxes, order all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you— up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons? You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.

And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.


So we see the first reference to prisons being in a letter from a Persian King to Ezra - who is called The Man Who Honored Scripture.

Oops. Not from God - from a Persian King.

Oops. Not what God said either.

And what about America? Where did we get it? From MacArthur -

Americans in the late 1700s essentially imported from Europe the concept of a prison system. In fact, it was Quaker pacifists who first introduced the idea that, if incarcerated, criminals would become “penitent” (thus the name penitentiary for some facilities). But imprisonment in the United States has historically not worked as a means of punishment, nor has it effectively produced penitence. Sadly, the country now has the dual distinction of having the highest per capita number of inmates in the Western world and the highest crime rate.


Where did the Quakers get the idea that this was the right thing to do?

I've been searching for the answer to that for a while now - and haven't found it. MacArthur's book doesn't say either.

It does appear, however, that Quakers have some views of God & Jesus that don't exactly match mainstream Christianity.


In any case - the objective of the Quakers was to have the person in jail repent - become penitent - and from there we get the word penitentiary.

Bottom line - the prisoners were supposed to repent - repay - and be reformed.


We don't have that today either. There's no need to repent. There's certainly no repayment for the crimes - in fact the prisoners earn wages - and get better medical care / food / provisions than many people who are not in prison, but are trying to survive on their own. Reform - some are - but statistics show that it's not likely.


Where did we go wrong? WWJD? How about Matthew 5:21-26 --

Murder

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

WWJD? He's tell us to repent, repay, and reform (go forth & sin no more).


And if we don't do these things? Then we may go to jail and not get out until we do.


So - where did we go wrong?

We didn't listen. We didn't see. We didn't get the point.


Settle the issues before it's too late. Otherwise there are consequences to be paid.


It's true on this earth. When we do something illegal - there is a price to be paid - if we get caught.

If we repent - the punishment may be lighter.

If we repay (take care of things before the point of punishment) - we may avoid the punishment.

If we reform - it hopefully won't happen again - but it probably will.

Then we pay the penalty again - and it may be even higher.


With God - when we violate His laws - we will be caught.

If we repent - and accept Jesus as our Lord & savior - we are forgiven.

After we are forgiven - we will want to repay.

After we are forgiven - we will want to reform.

After we repay and reform - we may still do that exact same wrong thing again. After all - we are human.

Go back to step one - ask for God's forgiveness and repeat the process.


Where did we go wrong?

God took us through the process of having Him be all things to us.

When we rebelled against that - He set up institutions for us and rules for us so that we may be able to govern ourselves.

When we rebel against that - He brings us back in line again - sometimes in a way that is meant to really shake us up - because that's the only way we get the message.


It seems that we have mixed up what God says we should do with what we want to do. We want to skip the repent and repay part - throw people in jail for a little while - into a horrific environment - someplace where God isn't - and then hope they will come out of it somehow reformed.


We can see from both the Old and New Testaments what God calls for us to do. We just don't want to do it - at least not His way.

Going back to what Culver said -

What must not be lost sight of is that, unpleasant as is the task of the jailor and the use of the whip, the cell, the noose, the guillotine, these things stand behind the stability of civilized society, and they stand there necessarily, for God has declared it so, in harmony with reality, rather than with apostate sociological opinion. Government, with its coercive powers, is a social necessity, but one determined by the Creator, not by the statistical tables of some university social research staff! No society can successfully vote fines, imprisonment, corporal and capital punishment away permanently. The society which tries has lost touch with realities of man (his fallen sinful state), realities of the world, and the truth of divine revelation in nature, man’s conscience, and the Bible.


Consider what we've done in the name of religion - going soft on the punishment side of things.

Consider what we done under the guise of freedom of religion - essentially removing religion from government and large chunks of normal day to day life - turning it into freedom from religion.


We've put religion in places where it probably shouldn't be.

We've taken religion out of places where it should be.

Is it any wonder that things are so messed up?


Back to the original question. Should religion be part of government?

It depends.

Depends on whose interpretation of which religion.

Depends on where in the government.

Depends on a whole lot of things.


It's not easy. That's why it's up to us to learn more about God's Word. Learn more about what He has in mind for us. Learn more about the world around us. Pay attention to what our leaders are doing. Pay more attention to whether they are following God's word - or are they going against it. And realize what path God has for us.


MacArthur sums up this section with a call to follow our conscience - our God given conscience. His closing reference is from 1 Peter 2:13-15. To put it in context, here is 1 Peter 2:13-25 --

Submission to Rulers and Masters

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,

and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.


Our role as Christians isn't to fix everything - or to make everything just the way we want it to be. It is to know God's Word - listen for the Holy Spirit - and follow the example of Jesus - because the government can't save you - only Jesus can do that.


For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.