Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan. Previous article in series: March 1, 2005, p. 254.
“And the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”
As we have seen in our previous article, the imposition of the Shari’a in some Muslim countries has resulted in the state prescribing every aspect of both public and private behavior. It makes men slaves to the state and women slaves to men with the threat and exercise of inhumane punishments as the means to obtain compliance. Yet believers in Islam will submit to this set of rules confident that in doing so they will receive Allah’s heavenly reward.
For modern-day Issachar, state-imposed Shari’a serves as an example of the potential result of an unbiblical union between church and state. At the same time, it should serve as a warning to those of Western “Christianity” who would promote their own Western-style Shari’a. Seriously should be taken the words of the Lord, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Clearly God has made a distinction between the work of the church and the work of the state, and history has demonstrated the sad results of uniting the two.
Roots of Shari’a in the Old Testament?
It would seem, some would say, that uniting church and state was God’s purpose, since the two were connected in the Old Testament nation of Israel. Nevertheless, it must be noted that Old Testament Israel as a theocracy was to set the pattern for the New Testament church’s relationship to God under King Jesus, not to establish the foundation for the proper relationship between church and state. If theocracy was (and is) the God-ordained pattern for church and state, He surely had a strange way of making that known. His own Son could not have stated it more clearly, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
By inspiration the apostle Peter also makes this known in I Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people….” Note who it is that Peter is calling a nation: not Old Testament Israel but the New Testament church. Not a church that would be a nation, but one that was so at that time. A church, by the way, that was in no position to exert any form of political power or influence on the powerful Roman Empire. Furthermore, it was a church that had no geographical boundaries. Clearly this holy nation of which Peter speaks is the church, not some political entity or combination of the two. This is obvious from subsequent verses, which instruct this “holy nation” to “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (I Pet. 2:13).
Our Confession of Faith Article 27 makes this clear as well:
We believe and profess one catholic or universal church, which is an holy congregation of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by His blood, sanctified and sealed by the Holy Ghost. This church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal King, which without subjects He cannot be. And this holy church is preserved or supported by God against the rage of the whole world;…Furthermore, this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world; and yet is joined with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same Spirit.
The kingdom that God’s people presently experience, and for the complete realization of which they look to the future, is a spiritual kingdom: a kingdom that is not limited by time and geography; a kingdom whose citizens are members of the human race from the beginning to the end of the world, and are gathered from “over the whole world”; a kingdom that is one in the same Spirit; a kingdom that in God’s providence is served by the good order established in society by the civil magistrates (Confession of Faith, Article 36).
Considering the God-ordained, distinct roles for church and state, that which calls itself church today should be warned by the example of Islamic Shari’a that such an alliance between church and state spells trouble.
Western Experiments with Shari’a
Furthermore, Western Christianity has some skeletons in her own closet to emphasize the point. Already in the early 300s the Christian church’s favored status under Emperor Constantine had disastrous consequences for the church. Along with the state’s smile came a significant increase in church membership by those who joined only for carnal reasons. Little wonder that corruption and pagan influences resulted.
The church’s experiments with Western-style Shari’a during the Middle Ages proved to be just as disastrous for the church, but in a different way. One example involved Pope Innocent III, who came closer than any other pope to the papal goal of establishing universal rule.
The pope lost no time in proclaiming to the world that he would tolerate no opposition from temporal powers….
The majority of the princes of Christendom became vassals of the Church. Thus it was that during the rule of Innocent III, from 1198 to 1216, the Church rose to its greatest height of temporal power.
But the ideals of Pope Innocent III went beyond the desire for temporal power. In 1215 he held an ecumenical council in the Lateran Church in Rome. In summoning this council Innocent declared: “Two things I have especially at heart, the conquest of the Holy Land, and the reform of the Church universal.”*
To achieve the “reform of the Church universal,” the Dominican Order of monks was founded: an organization that would plague the church for many years to come by means of its dreaded Inquisition. Considering this, one wonders: Is Islam under the Shari’a any worse than Christianity was under the Inquisition?
But that was Roman Catholicism. Would not the Reformation and the resulting birth of the Protestant churches be an improvement? Indeed it was, but even here an unbiblical relationship between church and state would result in untold suffering for God’s people and serious conflict in the countries where state-churches were established. An obvious case in point is the state-church situation in the Netherlands during the early 1600s that would shelter the likes of Jacobus Arminius and allow the Arminian heresy to flourish there. Two hundred years later, God’s people in the Netherlands would again experience the terrible consequences of a state-church run amuck. The Secession of 1834 would be the only solution for the faithful to the state-church’s apostasy, with persecution as the consequence.
Church history demonstrates over and over again that whether it’s the state exerting its influence on the church, the church exercising influence on the state, or some united effort between church and state, the outcome is the same: trouble for the church.
*B.K. Kuiper, The Church in History (Grand Rapids, MI: National Union of Christian Schools, 1951), pp. 176-177.