Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I shared my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement a church might use that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.
I’ve recently been working on an additional point, covering the relationship between church and state, and the political nature of the local church. I’d like to take the time to make notes on my wording choices, as I did with the other sections; but for now, I’ll share what I have in its entirety, and I welcome any questions or suggestions.
Church and State: We believe the church and state ought to remain distinct as institutions. God has delegated certain authority to various spheres, or governments—namely, the household, the local church, and the civil magistrate. Neither the family nor the church exists by the permission of the state. Nor does the civil magistrate bear the authority of the keys of the kingdom to declare individuals as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Nor should the church swing the sword as a civil authority.
This distinction between the institutions of church and civil government ought not be construed, however, to mean that religion and politics should, or can, be separated. The religious convictions of individuals ought rightly to shape and direct their every action—including the policies, strategies, penalties, and measures employed by those in governing positions. Christians ought to seek to influence for good the public square, including the policies of the civil magistrate, through whatever course be available to them. Nor ought this be construed to mean that churches must not speak to political issues. Within the commission to make committed and competent disciples by teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded, churches are to teach what accords with proper justice, righteousness, mercy, and peace. Churches ought also to call upon the magistrate to uphold justice and to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ, demonstrating the peace and righteousness of the coming King, to whom the nations owe their fealty.
The ordinance of the civil magistrate is established by God in Genesis 9 as the means for man to uphold civil justice under the administration of the Noahic covenant. The governing authorities that exist are in place by the providence of God to punish evildoers and to protect the lives of the innocent under their watch. God has delegated to the civil magistrate the power of the sword in order to be a servant of God for good, to establish the justice and tranquility needed for their people to be secure in their person and property and to pursue virtue and godliness. The civil magistracy receives its authority from the ordinance of God, and rulers must never presume to act above or outside the Noahic commission, recognizing rather that they too are subject to the justice mechanism of the Noahic covenant. God has delegated the authority of the sword to civil government for certain ends only, and its rule is legitimate to the extent it pursues just ends by just means.
The church is not the kingdom, but is an outpost, or embassy, of the coming kingdom. Jesus has been given possession of all authority in heaven and on earth; he has been declared Lord over all creation. However, the political reality of his reign is not yet being exercised until he returns in power and glory to sit upon the throne in Jerusalem, thus establishing justice and peace over all nations. As an embassy of Christ’s coming kingdom, the church does not swing the sword for itself, but it does speak on behalf of the coming king who will judge the nations at his return. As such, the church has a prophetic ministry to proclaim Christ’s lordship, and to teach the nations the proper standard of justice. The civil magistrate ought to govern by the standard of Scripture, as taught by the local church, so as to uphold justice and minister for good as ordained by God; yet the church is not to coerce the state, just as the state is not to coerce the church.
Christians are to render submission and respect unto the governing authorities in all things lawfully commanded by them. The Christian’s first and highest allegiance is to Jesus Christ, though Christ calls us to seek the well-being of the country in which we reside and to submit to the governing authorities. The Christian must not obey rulers when they command that which Scripture forbids, or forbid that which Scripture requires. We are to offer supplications and prayers for all who are in positions of authority, that under them we might lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness, piety, and dignity—which ought to be the aspiration of all men.
It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto. In the managing thereof, they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth. To that end, they may swiftly carry out the just retribution of the wicked, and may lawfully wage war, upon just and necessary occasion, for the defense of borders. We affirm the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.
(Genesis 9:5–7; 41:39–43; 1 Samuel 8:10–20; 2 Samuel 23:3–4; Nehemiah 12:26; 13:15–31; Psalm 2; 82; Proverbs 8:15–16; Ecclesiastes 8:11; Jeremiah 29:7; Daniel 2:48–49; Matthew 14:4; 16:18–19; 18:15–20; 22:21; 25:31; 28:18–20; Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14, 19; 19:11–27; Acts 5:29; 17:6–7; 24:25; Romans 1:5; 13:1–7; Ephesians 1:20–23; Philippians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:10–12; 1 Timothy 2:1–4; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–17)