the separation of church and state

Been a bit busy with the boy lately, but I have had some new thoughts on the separation of church and state. It never held much interest for me before. Maybe because the usual debates on the topic have to do with personal freedoms or keeping religion out of government. The Christians that have addressed the separation of church and state (at least those that do so most loudly) usually denounce the concept, saying it excludes their most important convictions and practices from the public sphere. And those who vigorously support the separation, usually see it as protecting them from religious oppression.

But it seems to me that the church should be kept distinctly separate from the state (or whatever political power exists locally) so the church can speak relevantly in the public sphere. The church should stay out of power so the church can speak prophetically to power. Christians should be careful to preserve this separation so the church can be the church, in continual tension with the world.

If the church becomes one with "the current administration," if the church is endorsed by those in power, that doesn't mean God's people have won. As Jacques Ellul put it so well:

...if we do not believe that society is good and right, their approval proves nothing except that the [church's] action is in conformity with the world. It does not mean that the world has changed; quite the contrary. Each time the people of God becomes effective according to the world's criteria, this only implies that society has absorbed our action and is using it for its own ends and for its own profit. ...The efficacy we think we have is simply a power in the world's service, for the perfecting of its own being, for its better organization....
If the church becomes one with the current administration, then it's simply not the church any more. It's not the body of Christ in the world any more. It's not challenging the world like Jesus did (and does), it's justifying it, legitimizing it, using religious language (even twisting Jesus' own words) to bless it.

The church needs to stand apart like Jesus did, not to isolate itself from others, but to show there's a real, blessed alternative. To speak to others from outside the city gates, calling them out also.

Applying this more personally and practically, I've noticed that one of the places the separation of church and state gets dissolved is in Christian intentional communities. Especially those that share property and businesses communally among their members ("common purse" communities). Often the government of the community and the church are essentially one there. The political and economic power of the community is in the hands of the church, since the members are the same and the leaders are often the same also. No separation, so no independent prophetic voice from the church. Individuals within the community may at times speak prophetically. But the vote of the church is the same as the vote of the communal political body, so the same majority speaks for both. Perhaps the church there can claim to speak prophetically to "the powers that be" outside the community, but it can't speak prophetically to the powers that be within the community. Because the church there and the powers are one. And thus even when it speaks as prophet to those outside, it speaks hypocritically.

I've gradually, over a number of years, moved outside the church of "the current administration" here. Now that seems like the best place to stay. While continuing to find ways to work with, and cultivate, the church where it exists elsewhere, set apart.