Religious Fervency and Government Establishment

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:9-10

I was flipping through Beyond a House Divided, by Carl Anderson, while at the doctor’s office today. (It’s about the only time I get to read a book.) He makes an interesting point about religious establishment and religious fervency, one I’d like to extrapolate here.

Around 1/3 of Americans attend a church service once a week. And over 50% attend once a month. This compares to weekly attendance by 17% and monthly attendance by 27% in 11 European Union nations. Now, the reasons for these disparities are numerous to be sure. One difference that I’d like to point out is that EU nations will generally have an established state church, while America does not. Interesting that we see much lower church attendance in places with an established church – but religious freedom breeding greater religious observance.

We’ve argued in the past that theocracy is not a good environment for Christianity – we will continue to do so now. (Not that anyone would accuse EU nations of religious theocracy.)

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” – John 4:23. The Lord wants relationship with those who wish for relationship with Him. Religion mandated by the state does not constitute a free choice to worship God. It is a hindrance to the free-flowing expression of love and lordship.

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matt 23:8-12. In a theocracy, the religious elites set themselves as the rulers and moral compass of the masses. Yet, in Christianity, we are all to be equals, with no one exerting such absolute authority over his brothers.

“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.'” – John 18:36. The Lord does not require earthly dominions to step in and aid Him in establishing His kingdom. It is established in the hearts and minds of those who freely choose Him (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

That’s not to say the state doesn’t have a role to play – but it is more in the defending of religious freedom than in establishing religion. (Of course, in the early days of Christianity, there was no such role for the state – we were the targets of every manner of oppression and persecution.)

It is also worth note that Americans, including Christian Americans, are very wary of theocracy – there is little danger of it rising in this country. Far more threatening, in my estimation, is the rise of a secular humanist orthodoxy that moderates individual behaviors for their own good, and the good of the whole – the vaunted progressives. But, I have hope for America yet. As Scott Rasmussen recently noted, Americans do no want to be governed from the Left, or Right, or Center – they want to govern themselves. I would add that they don’t want established religious authority from the Left, Right, or Center either – they want to choose for themselves.

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