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Committed Christian Seeks Secular Society

Easter seems to be the time of the year for a strong Christian affirmation. It’s not a time when most Christians want to be thinking about secular topics, or considering difficulties with their faith.

But as I am fond of reminding people, Easter morning followed Good Friday, and that year in Palestine Good Friday was really not very good at all. Jesus was on the wrong side as far as those in power were concerned. He was a threat to public order and to their power, and they felt the need to get rid of him. One answer among many to the question of why Jesus had to die is simply that people who behaved like he did in 1st century Palestine were very likely to die like he did. On first read, that may sound like I’m belittling the crucifixion, but I suspect if you think about it further, you may see what I’m talking about.

As modern American Christians, we are quite willing to go along with the Easter morning scenario, though we forget that only a few saw Jesus after the resurrection and there was no great triumph in the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming the victory of Jesus over death itself. Nonetheless, we like the idea of “showing them” and letting them know just who’s in charge. One way to get a cheer out of a Christian audience these days is to shout “Jesus is Lord!” It’s a good cheer, and I even like it. But the serious question is this: Lord of what?

According to the gospel of John when Jesus was asked about this by Pilate (John 18:33-37), he said that his kingdom was not of this world. If it had been, he would have had his disciples fighting. And that’s the hard part. Christianity calls for the “Good Friday” attitude in us, but most of us have a good deal of trouble accepting that. What we want is the name of the crucified Jesus but the power of the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross.

So why would these thoughts lead me to think about a secular society. Well, for one thing, my attention was called to it by the blog against theocracy. But I immediately started thinking about the term theocracy, and all the things it might mean to be against theocracy, and soon I was lost in definition land. So I just want to write a little bit about why I, as a Christian, don’t want a Christian government (a phrase that requires some definition as well), and why I think that’s the best thing for Christianity and for individual Christians.

My basic understanding of the gospel message stems directly from the incarnation. I really, really believe in the incarnation as the big miracle of Christianity. It seems to me that this must form the core of our belief system. We do not merely believe in good ethics; we believe in ethics empowered by a God who reached out to us in this fashion, crossing the gap between infinity and the finite. Having done that, he called on us to make disciples, “new creatures” as Paul would have it (2 Corinthians 5:17). I believe that anything and everything that distracts us from this one point diminishes Christianity.

Over our history we have repeatedly tried to use force to make other people believe or practice our faith. But that is precisely what God did not do. God condescended, reached down, emptied himself (Philippians 2:5-11), became one of us, took a human-eye view of things for a little while.

I believe in separation of church and state not so much because it is a constitutional principle (and I do believe it is; many principles are named with words not actually found in the text), but because I think the church endangers itself when it takes any other power than the power of God’s sacrificial love as manifested in Jesus Christ.

That gives us one and only one option for making this nation or the world a Christian nation–the voluntary, unforced, unmanipulated, free choice of every individual to be a Christian.

On the other hand, it gives us a very powerful approach to all the problems of the world–the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news that Jesus is willing to touch and to heal, that there is a way to transform lives, one person at a time. The task may seem overwhelming, but there are also a lot of Christians out there, and a lot of resources. They are just being used to maintain church buildings and keep the membership happy in maintenance mode.

We need to start at the bottom, just like Jesus did, with people who desperately need help and hope. The church has the ability to solve problems on a broad scale if we put our resources to work in the right way. And note that I do not mean abandon the gospel message in favor of becoming a social service agency. We need social services driven by the message of the incarnation–servant, even slave evangelists ready to take the message of Jesus and the loving touch of his current body to the world.

For that we don’t need the power of the government. Governmental power works much like idolatry–constantly calling us to something less than we are supposed to do.

I don’t mean that Christians need to get out of politics or lose our moral voice, though I would suggest we broaden it quite a bit. I do not mean that we should not talk about our faith. I do mean that we should reject seeking government sponsorship for any religious activities, because those activities will, without exception, become diluted.

Let’s use our one tool. Let’s live a life worthy of the incarnation.

PS: I posted two other Easter meditations, Continually Translating the Message and an Easter short story (fiction) Easter Morning Resurrection.

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  1. Hey Henry,

    This note is to let you know that I’ve awarded you the Thinking Blog Award for blogs that make you think. If you’d like to participate in this award:

    1. Simply add the graphic to your blog and link it back to The Thinking Blog.
    2. Write a post awarding 5 of your favorite blogs that make you think.
    3. A link back to the person’s blog who awarded you would be appreciated =)

    That’s all there is to it! I’m presenting this award to you because your blog make me think on a regular basis. Be blessed and pass it on!

    The graphic can be found here:

    That is also the link to the post detailing the award which you should link your award to.

    Here’s the link to my post mentioning your blog:


    Laura Curtis

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