Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "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." Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, "I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?" They cried out again, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a robber. (ESV)
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Friday of Lent 4
4 April 2014
The wall of separation between church and state is a one-way barrier between the citizens being governed by the US Constitution and the government which it establishes. American constitutionalism tends to place restrictions not on the people, which it declares free as a divinely secured right, but rather on the government. This is because the government will necessarily tend to limit the people's freedom. Government needs to be restrained. In the letter to the Danbury Baptists, Thomas Jefferson quoted the First Amendment of the US Constitution, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their 'legislature' should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.'" The Constitution forbids that the government meddle in God's business. It limits the earthly government to those things over which God has given government authority. This is what Jesus says to Pilate also during His trial: "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (Jn 19:11). When I say that the wall of separation is a one-way barrier I mean that it prevents the government from making laws about religion or in any other way coercing the people in matters of religious belief.
However, this does not mean that the constitutional government of the United States is free from God. This is what I mean when I say that the wall of separation is a one-way barrier. God still is Lord of all kings, governments and authorities, as Jesus points out to Pilate during his trial. God is governor of all. And government must not become God's governor.
But how does this one-way wall keep the constitutional government of the United States from being taken hostage to a particular sectarian religious view, if there is no barrier to keep religion from influencing government? This pivots on the way Christianity views the specific religious teachings of the Bible. Christians believe that the sum and essence of the Christian religion is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. These acts of Jesus are the way in which God, through the preaching of His Word in the world, converts, saves, forgives sins, and brings to heaven those who believe in Jesus Christ. None of these things are susceptible to worldly wisdom. They are, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, foolishness to human reason by itself. For Christians this is why the government can never have the competence to establish a religion of any kind or to offer religious instruction to the people. In other words, the gospel is the Church's difference from every other institution, including, and especially, government. The gospel is not the government's bailiwick. Reason is. That competence God has given to the government (even if we might doubt the rationality of the present Congress's particular actions).
God has given government power over right and wrong. Moral authority is precisely the government's gift from God. I am amazed by the number of people who say that government must not impose morals on people! What else is the authority to punish evil doers? When a murderer is sent to prison for life, how else could this be done, but by moral authority? If it is not a moral authority that permits this, then we ought merely to open all the prisons and let out those poor souls upon whom the government has imposed its moral view. I have a friend that calls himself an anarchist. He thinks that government is simply the Mafia writ large, and that all its authority part of a protection racket.
He is right. What if we simply abolish government? The Mafia writ small would be back in business in a big way. This way anarchy lies. Government is God's creature to punish and keep external order. But government may not tell you what you are to believe about Christ, forgiveness, and eternal life. Reason has not the competence. The government's competence is only in law, reason, right and wrong, do and don't do.
"When Pilate questioned Jesus about the kingdom, He answered Pilate, instructing him, and leading him in to higher matters. But why was it that Pilate did not inquire in the presence of the priests, but apart, having gone into the judgment hall? He suspected there was something great about Him, and he wished, without being troubled by the Jews, accurately to learn all. Then when he said, 'What have you done?' (Jn 18:35) on this point Jesus made no answer; but concerning that of which Pilate most desired to hear, namely, His own kingdom, He answered, saying, 'My kingdom is not of this world' (Jn 18:36). That is, 'I am indeed a King, yet not the sort you suspect, but far more glorious,' declaring by these words and those which followed, that no evil had been done by Him. For one who says, 'For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice' (Jn 18:37) shows, that no evil has been done by Him. Then when He said, 'Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice' (Jn 18:37), He draws Pilate on by these means, and attempts to persuade him to become a listener to the words, as though to say, 'If anyone is true, and desires these things of truth, he will certainly hear Me.'
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, 84.1
Dear Lord Christ, we thank You for the gift of good government through which You assure to us the blessings of liberty in our land. Help us to cherish this so that we do not lose, through our own wicked desire for security, possession of the freedom which You have granted to us. Keep us from substituting freedom of religion for freedom from religion. Send Your Spirit to us that we might worship Your name with zeal in a land where we are free to do so. Amen.
For Charlie Hinrichsen as he travels, that he would be kept safe and that his homecoming would be joyful
For the justices of the Supreme Court, that they would recognize and support the right to the freedom of religion, which is a gift of our Creator to all persons
For the Board of Regents of Concordia University Chicago and the candidates for the office of president as the selection process proceeds, that the Lord's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014