Church & State, War & Peace: Evangelicals for Peace summit in DC

by Rick Love

In 2008 I led a conference in Kenya of fifty evangelical leaders from around the world. One of the issues on the table was how to counter the increasing alienation between Muslims and Christians. Conference participants agreed that evangelicals have to address this vital issue but disagreed on the best way to relate to Muslims.

In response to this we decided to write a consensus document for evangelicals. Let me tell you, this was no easy task! It took months of careful writing, reviewing and re-writing. The final document, the Grace and Truth Affirmation, reflects the input of 70 global leaders and went through 20 revisions. This important document commends nine biblical guidelines for Christ-like relations with Muslims.

What most people don’t know is that we originally had ten affirmations instead of nine, the last one concerning the role of church and state as it relates to war and terrorism. But we couldn’t reach consensus on this crucial point. It was so frustrating and in my mind so important. But we had to drop it.

That’s why I encouraged Peace Catalyst to write up their own version of Grace and Truth (which is a great exercise for any organization). I thought it would be easy for our small team to rework things in light of our own ethos, and I hoped we would quickly reach consensus on the role of church and state. But no way! We enjoyed some sparks and lively discussion. Though surprised, I was impressed with everyone’s convictions and our ultimate product.

In this document, Peace Catalyst International makes two important points about the relationship between church and state. (Though this addresses our relationships with Muslims specifically, it has much broader application.) It is brief, but I think it provides a good introduction to some of the main the issues:

  1. Differentiating between the role of Church and State

    In Romans 12:9-13:10, Paul describes a godly response to evil. He portrays a sharp contrast between how God’s people are to respond to evil versus how the government should respond.

    Jesus’ followers are called to a peacemaking ethic of sacrificial love. Paul begins the section with an appeal to love (Rom 12:9-10) and closes the section by a repeated call to love our neighbor (13:8-10). Moreover, he exhorts believers to bless their persecutors, respond non-violently to evil, and seek peace with all.

    By contrast, the state is called to implement justice. Governments stand accountable to God for supporting the good and punishing the evil, and the state must also address expressions of evil such as terrorism and torture. Therefore, we distinguish between the role of church and the role of the state.
  2. Support and Challenge the State

    Followers of Christ should submit to their government, pray for their government (1 Tim 2:1-4), and support their government’s struggle against various manifestations of evil. But exactly how this finds expression varies according to a person’s conscience, especially when it comes to war. Some of us embrace pacifism, others “Just-War theory” and still others “Just Peacemaking.”

    Followers of Christ also play a prophetic role towards the government. Scripture affirms cases of civil disobedience by God’s people (Ex 1:15-20; Daniel 3:9-18; 6:6-10), the most obvious case illustrated by the apostles who boldly affirmed before the religious authorities, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

    Therefore, we pray for our government and engage politically in accordance with our conscience. We also speak out against governmental policies and practices that we believe are unjust toward Muslims.

When I teach seminars on peacemaking, I ask two questions:

  1. Does flag-waving patriotism ever come into conflict with being a follower of Jesus?
  2. Can we be both concerned about national security and be a true follower of Jesus?

I always hear a resounding, “Yes!” to both questions. We all know that it's easy to allow patriotism to trump the gospel and national concerns to, in our minds, become more immediately important than the commands of Christ. But we also believe that it is possible to be concerned about national security and at the same time follow the Prince of Peace. We know that these two concerns don’t have to be at odds.

But I have found that most people haven’t thought deeply about church and state, and war and peace. Where do you stand?

If you are not sure, or want to grow in your understanding, I invite you to listen to ten world class leaders address these issues. Please join me in Washington DC, September 14, 2012 for...

Evangelicals for Peace: A Summit on Christian Moral Responsibility in the 21st Century