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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Balmer

We Believe: In The Separation of Church & State

This is a preview of the sermon in the “We Believe: Back to Basics” series. To watch the recording of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.

Then [Jesus] said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away

—from Matthew 22:15-22 (NIV)

“We believe that civil government is of divine appointment, for the interests and good

order of human society; and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously

honored, and obeyed; except only in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.” — Article XVI. Of The Civil Government New Hampshire Confession of Faith 1833 (NHCF), 1833


The idea that religious belief should not be punished is far from universal.

That has been true in the past. That is true today.

But religious freedom isn't just a good pragmatic political idea, it's a good Christian belief.

In many places around the world, it is presumed to be normal and natural for the state to favor one faith over another. This was true for most of Europe's history.

Baptists were once "radical." And their radicalism was nowhere more pronounced than the idea that the state had no stake in enforcing right belief. Belief in God was, in fact, too important to be judged by a King, a President, or any other political leader.

One of the first Baptists, Thomas Helwys, was sent to Newgate Prison in London for this belief. He would die there. During his stay, he wrote a treatise to King James (yes, the same King James the "Authorized Translation" of the Bible is named after). In his treatise, Helwys said:

"For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks [Muslims], Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures"

It was not just religious freedom for Baptists, early Baptists advocated for it. But religious freedom for heretics, for Muslims, for Jews, and others "whatsoever" their religion might be.

For Baptists, this is not just a statement about politics. It's an important religious belief. And it stems from Jesus' teaching that his Kingdom is "not of this world." (John 18:36). His statement is that Christians should pray for civic leaders, but not look to them to determine their faith. As Jesus tells some Pharisees who tried to trip him up with a question:

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

We pay the government taxes, and we should try to be good citizens.

But we should not confuse being good citizens with being good Christians.

"Caesar" may be owed taxes.

But God deserves our lives: for he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Join us this Sunday as we discuss this important doctrine, more needed now than ever.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you ever thought about "separation of church and state" as a religious belief? Why might it be important that God alone is the Lord of our conscience?

  2. What problems might it cause when we confuse being a Christian for something like citizenship in a country: something we are automatically because of where we were born or where we live?

  3. Why do you think Jesus's message was surprising for his day?


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