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  • Writer's picturePastor Joel Cooper

Church at Rest is at its Best

When I think of New England, I think of picturesque white church steeples with their gothic structures poking out from above the foliage among the rolling hills. There they seem to be at rest as quiet sentinels patiently tending to their business of caring for their congregations. Over time, they appear to have blended into the landscape as if they had always been. The quality of being at rest is not always the position of the church today due the shock wave of cultural change. A change that has so alarmed the church that no less than a few have had their hackles raised and have sharpened their claws toward a more aggressive approach to the world around it. Whether it is known as the patriot church or so-called Christian nationalism, it extends its call to arms challenging government and institutions they fear have threatened the status quo of American life. Its activist agenda has become more and more acerbic and angry as it feels compelled to exert political force however necessary.

Now to anyone who is at all familiar with the constitution, we recognize that for wise purposes the founding fathers made a distinct separation between church and state.

After all, European history had taught them that when the church becomes entangled in the affairs of state, no good thing comes of it. The state only understands power and authority with no understanding of the spiritual, while the church is tempted to exert control by the use of the state with each seeking to use the other for its own purposes. In the end, the pilgrims were a testimony of the church’s hostilities toward those who merely were seeking to live out their convictions in peace.

But this then leaves us with a conundrum of sorts. We who live in a democracy do have responsibilities which include living within the laws of the land and in particular restricting our own freedoms in regard to the needs of others. However, the issue becomes acute when our freedoms seem to be threatened, or if they actually become restricted or perhaps removed, what then? Space does not permit a complete discussion on this issue but to cut to the chase, the Scripture does reveal clear principles as to what God has intended. Jesus being questioned by Pilot responded by stating, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”” John 18:36 Here Jesus makes a clear disconnect between the church and the state, emphasizing the true calling of the church. This fact is made all too clear when earlier Peter had taken up a sword to defend Jesus who then said, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:52

The Apostle Paul clearly grasped this under the direction of the Holy Spirit when he exhorted the church to obey and pray for the government in order to live a peaceful and quiet life. He did so in order for the church to continue its ministry of serving the needs of the saints, the community and preaching the salt of the gospel. It is noteworthy to realize that he did not differentiate as to what kind of government nor its quality of service, only that the church maintained a submissive posture toward it with the recognition that every government exists under the authority of God. One who then resists the government resists God Himself with the exception of moral issues to which the church has no prerogative to enforce them on others. In such cases the church then is called upon to suffer and grieve for righteousness’ sake. This points again to the significance of the church in society being able to demonstrate in suffering that it does in fact find its support and hope in another kingdom. “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” 1 Peter 2:19

When we include the commission of the church to evangelize and make disciples it seems to be clear enough that the intended posture of the church is to be as salt, ubiquitous, and diffused quietly throughout the culture. Be sure of this that when elements of the church take up a militant posture there will be blow back and discipline will fall swiftly. But when the church understands its calling to be salt and light working seamlessly in community it is at its best! When its voice is heard without calling attention to itself, it carries honorably the burden of God’s love to the world and if it means loving its enemies then so be it to the glory of God. When the church is at rest it is at its best.

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