But this is nothing new. Not many decades after the resurrected Jesus ascended to heaven and the Apostles died, somebody decided it would be a good idea for the church to join forces with the powers that be. Just imagine how many people could be converted, helped, enrolled and evangelized if the church were more powerful, more organized, and more efficient – if the church were in charge!
So the church went for power and won it in spades. The coffers ran over with gold, people of influence, including kings and queens, began to seek the ministers’ approval on policy, the pews were full every Sunday, there were no more martyrdoms (unless you were someone who opposed this new arrangement), and as Vernard Eller said, “the church’s computers jammed trying to move all the names from the ‘Pagan’ column to the ‘Christian’ column until somebody realized it was just easier to switch the headings.”
Ever since, and this was centuries ago, Christians have more or less pined for the seats of governmental power, believing that such an approach would enhance the work of God. What actually happens is a stinking mess. With the infatuation of being “in charge,” we seem to forget that the way of our Lord was not the way of domination, but the way of submission and sacrifice.
Roger Williams, New England Puritan preacher, founder of Rhode Island, organizer of America’s first Baptist congregation, and champion of religious liberty a full century before Thomas Jefferson, was the one who actually coined the phrase “wall of separation” between church and state.
He understood that the two should be kept separate, not to protect the government, but so as not to pollute genuine faith. Power simply has a way of corrupting spirituality. I suppose we must relearn that lesson: Any state religion – whatever name it might go by – is illegitimate, for faith is a matter of heart and spirit, not coercion or force.