Today's Broadcast

An Instrument of Evil

A Message by R.C. Sproul

What happens when governments of this world don’t carry out their God-appointed responsibilities? At what point do they move from being negligent ministers of justice to instruments of evil? In this message, Dr. Sproul explains to us the fundamental responsibilities of the civil government and the measurable influence Satan has had in this realm.

From the series: Church and State

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    An Instrument of Evil

  2. article

    How the State Serves Salvation

  3. devotional

    An Instrument of Evil

An Instrument of Evil

Separation of church and state within the context of the founding documents of the United States of America is a principle that has been grossly misunderstood for many decades. Judicial decisions and legislative actions have both looked to the so-called “wall of separation” in order to prohibit any reference to God in a public setting and to deny the church any kind of meaningful voice in society.

Yet the Founding Fathers of the United States did not desire a state devoid of theism altogether. These men only wanted the government to have no established church, and we can see why this is the case if we consider the example of the Church of England, the established church of Great Britain. Historically speaking, the Church of England has enjoyed favors not given to other denominations in Great Britain, and secular politicians have had an undue say in church affairs. This confusion of church and state can cause significant problems, and in the past made it difficult for anyone who would not toe the Anglican line. Many early Americans fled England to escape persecution from the established church, which inflicted suffering on these “puritans” because they failed to conform to all the church’s dictates. These facts are forgotten today; God and state are separated under the rubric of church-state separation even though the Founders of the United States did not banish religion from the public arena.

Separation of God and state is deplorable, but the right separation of church and state — when the state favors no one denomination above others but defends religious freedom — is good for the Christian churches. Historically speaking, the state has at times become a force for evil, and, consequently, the witness of established churches has often been compromised. Consider Hitler’s Germany, for example, where the state church lended its support to the Third Reich.

Though our Creator has ordained the state to fulfill a specific purpose, there are times when the state can become an instrument of evil. No matter how one interprets Revelation, today’s passage indicates that evil powers can turn a ruling group or individual into a “beast” that preys on God’s people (13:1–10). Christians must realize that any government can be perverted to this end.

How the State Serves Salvation

Jonathan Leeman

Don't put too much hope in government. But don't give up on it either. Churches need good governments. In fact, God gave the world governments so that churches can do their work in peace. The government's work is a prerequisite to the mission of the church and salvation, just as learning to read is a prerequisite to reading the Bible.

A culture and its political institutions might turn against Christianity, but Christians should strive to make an impact as long as they have opportunity. It can get worse. Just ask the Christians in China or Iran.

A Stage for Redemption

Think back to the Bible's first chapters. After the flood, God gives Noah the same commission he gave to Adam ("be fruitful and multiply"), only this time God provides a charter for government: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9:6).

The immediate purpose of Genesis 9:5–6 is to render judgment and keep the Cains from killing the Abels, just as the immediate purposes of highway guardrails is to keep cars on the road. But the ultimate purpose of government is to provide a platform for God's plan of redemption, just as the ultimate purposes of those guardrails is to help cars get from city A to city B.

Genesis 9 comes before Genesis 12 and the call of Abraham for a reason. Government provides a stage on which God's redemptive drama can play out.

Paul, therefore, observes that God determines the borders of nations and the dates of their duration so that people might seek Him (Acts 17:26–27). People need to be able to walk to church without getting mauled by marauders. They cannot get saved if they are dead. The work of government, in short, provides a platform for the work of the saints.

Two Kinds of Governments

Two basic kinds of governments, then, show up in the Bible: those that shelter God's people, and those that destroy them. Abimelech sheltered; Pharoah destroyed. The Assyrians destroyed; the Babylonians and Persians, ultimately, sheltered. Pilate destroyed; Festus sheltered. And depending on how you read Revelation, the history of government will culminate in a beastly slaughter of saintly blood.

Romans 13 calls governments servants; Psalm 2 calls them imposters. Most governments contain both. But some are better than others.

Bad Governments

Yes, Jesus will build His church. No, the worst governments cannot stop the Holy Spirit. Yes, God often moves underground, undisclosed to governments.

But bad governments, from a human standpoint, really do make the church's work difficult. The slaughter, evacuation, and near-extinction of Christians in portions of Iraq and Syria today testifies to this fact, as did the Muslim occupation of North Africa in the latter centuries of the first millennium.

In A History of Christianity in Asia, Samuel Hugh Moffett observes:

Sharp persecution breaks off only the tips of the branches; it produces martyrs and the tree still grows. Neverending social and political repression ... starves the roots; it stifles evangelism and the church declines. Such was the history of the church in Asia under Islam, until ... Tamerlane swept the continent with the persecution to end all persecutions, the wholesale massacres that gave him the name of 􏰀"the exterminator" and gave Asian Christianity what appeared to be its final, fatal blow.

By the same token, Christians should be concerned about those in European governments who want to classify belief in God as a mental illness, or to criminalize proselytizing Muslims, or to ban homeschooling because it allows children to be indoctrinated. Christians in America, too, should take incursions against religious liberty seriously.

What Now?

Four lessons follow:

(1) Pray. Paul urges us to pray for kings and all in high positions so that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives. "This is good" and "pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved" (1 Tim. 2:3–4). We pray for our government so that the saints might live peaceful lives and people will get saved.

(2) Engage. We render to Caesar what is Caesar's by paying taxes, yes, but in a democratic context, we also do this by voting, lobbying, lawyering, or running for office. Even in an empire, Paul, for the sake of the gospel, pulled the political levers he had. He invoked his citizenship and appealed to Caesar. Steward opportunities while you have them.

(3) Evangelize. Moffett observes that what finally killed the advance of Christianity across Asia "was not the persecution of a Tamerlane, though the permanent effects of that ravaging destruction still linger. More crippling than any persecution was the church's own long line of decisions ... to compromise evangelistic and missionary priorities for the sake of survival."

(4) Trust. Jesus will win. That is our only source of hope for tomorrow and strength for today.

Finally, let me offer thanks to the Christians who work in government, whether politicians or police men. It might feel futile at times, but you're building a stage for the drama of redemption.

An Instrument of Evil

Several principles, such as the separation of powers and our possession of certain inalienable rights apart from government say-so, formed the basis of the constitutional vision of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Two of these ideas, which motivated many people to flee Europe for America, are the freedom of religious expression and the separation of church and state. Rightly understood according to the U.S. Constitution itself and the Founding Fathers' writings, separation of church and state means only that the federal government may not establish a state church. Yet over the past century, judicial and legislative actions have often misapplied church-state separation to mean no one can speak of God in a public, secular setting, and that the church has no right to be heard except by its members.

When the Constitution's disestablishment clause is properly understood to mean the civil government may not establish a state church, the separation of church and state is a net positive. The history of the Church of England in Great Britain proves this by way of a negative example. Union of church and state in Britain today is essentially true only on paper, but history shows that the established Anglican church often used the state to accomplish religious conformity, and the state used the Anglican Church to squash political dissent. In fact, many early Americans were Puritans who fled England to escape persecution from the established church when their consciences were bound by God's Word. Because this history is frequently overlooked today, church-state separation is regularly perverted into the separation of God and state, in effect banishing religion from the public arena.

Those who seek to separate the state from God and His authority are bound to fail. No matter how the government rails against our Creator, it never escapes accountability to Him for fulfilling its responsibilities. Yet the separation of church and state, rightly understood, has been good for the church. Today's passage indicates that the state can become a force for evil when it abandons its God-given responsibilities, and established churches have often compromised their witness by supporting or refusing to stand against such evil. The Reichskirche support of Hitler is but one example of this.

Wicked men do at times reject God's purpose for the state, transforming the good of civil government into an instrument of evil (Rev. 13:1–10). The church must never forget this, lest it be used by the state for wicked ends.

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