Do you want Christianity to be the official religion of your country?

Hi friends,

According to a recent poll by Pew,

  • 21% of Republicans and GOP leaners say the federal government should declare Christianity the official religion of the United States, compared with 7% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

As always, I don’t want to discuss partisan politics.

Rather, this is a prompt to ask a much larger question - wherever you live, and whatever political party you identify with (or if you see yourself as an independent).

From the perspective of the kingdom of God, do you think it is a pro or a con for Christianity to be declared the official religion of your country?

According to Wikipedia,

Many countries today either officially declare themselves as Christian nations or possess state churches. This list encompasses Argentina, Armenia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Denmark (along with Greenland and the Faroe Islands), England, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Samoa, Serbia, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vatican City, and Zambia.

I wasn’t surprised to see the Vatican City on the list! But I don’t often think of Norway, for instance, as a Christian nation.

For me, the most important reason that I would not want to live in a country that is officially Christian is because it risks confusing an earthly nation with a heavenly kingdom.

I would not want someone to think that because they were born in a certain place, they are automatically a Christian. Rather, I would want each person to see that the church is its own community that one joins by placing their faith in Christ and publicly acknowledging one’s allegiance to Jesus by getting baptized.

Further, I am concerned that, in an officially Christian country, that the actions politicians take in the name of God might not represent the character of Christ. I want to be quite clear about who Christ is, how he lived, and what he taught.

Finally, the track record of state churches seems quite poor. Once it becomes a means of a secure income, community status, and some form of power, these churches seem to struggle to clearly speak the gospel. In particular, because their funding can come from the state, the prophetic voice of the pastors can be silenced. For the church to be dependent upon the state removes an important source of accountability for the government.

I’m curious to hear other perspectives. What do you think?

4 Likes

This is the first thing that came to mind. If we are to believe history (sadly, in today’s world any historical account is subject to revision) it happens in the fourth century under Constantine. We have this record from Eusebius, happy days the Kingdom of God has arrived but not for everyone.

Constantine, the most mighty victor, resplendent with every virtue that godliness bestows, together with his son Crispus, an emperor most dear to God and in all respects resembling his father, recovered the East that belonged to them, and formed the Roman Empire, as in the days of old, into a single united whole, bringing under their peaceful rule all of it, from the rising sun … even to the uttermost limits of the declining day. So then, there was taken away from men all fear of those who formerly oppressed them; they celebrated brilliant festivals; all things were filled with light, and men, formerly downcast, looked at each other with smiling faces and beaming eyes; with dancing and hymns in city and country alike they gave honour first of all to God the universal King, for this they had been instructed to do, and then to the pious emperor with his sons beloved of God. Old ills were forgotten and oblivion cast on every deed of impiety. Present good things were enjoyed, with the further hope of those which were yet to come. In short, there were promulgated in every place ordinances of the victorious emperor full of love for humanity, and laws that betokened munificence and true piety. Thus truly, when all tyranny had been purged away, the kingdom that belonged to them was preserved steadfast and undisputed for Constantine and his sons alone: who, when they had made it their very first action to cleanse the world from the hatred of God, conscious of the good things that he had bestowed upon them, displayed their love of virtue and of God, their piety and gratitude towards the Deity, by their manifest deeds in the sight of all men. (Ecclesiastical History 10.9.6–9)

Skarsaune, O. (2002). In the shadow of the temple: Jewish influences on early Christianity (pp. 429–430). InterVarsity Press.

Skarsaune goes on to say that for those who experienced the persecution of 303 to 313AD Constantine’s policies from 313 to 324AD must have been amazing. To go form the margins to management while seeing your former persecutor embrace the faith must have been viewed as God’s hand of grace in the governance of history. Surely the Kingdom was at hand.

To me, this is a loaded question: Christianity or what? In America, the question implies some sort of legislation or bill from the halls of Congress and a signature from the President; comparatively speaking, that will be the easy part, now for the hard part, enforcement. I will leave you with this quote from those glory days.

One could not yet, as Chrysostom says somewhere, force [people] to accept the Christian truth; one had to convince them of it.

Neusner, J. (2003). Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition (p. 32). Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Bonus: A cool site Official state religions

2 Likes

Being a Brit, I can think of many instances in our history where Christianity as the official state religion was abused, and as a consequence, abused its followers. For example, Christianity became our state religion, becoming more entwined with politics than it had done ever before, because Henry VIII wanted a divorce and the only way to do this was to become Head of the Church himself. This gave him total control about the form of Christianity and it’s expression throughout our nation. The inheritance that he left for his next few successors was a brutal and highly bloody heritage of official religion alternating between Catholicism and Protestantism. It was always those small groups of people who ignored the state religion - even though it was technically their own religion - in order to follow scripture more closely and be faithful to what Jesus actually taught.

How do people look back at this time today? Well, they understandably link state religion with war, abusive control, and bloodshed. This belief that religion is the biggest cause of war is easily refuted with statistics of overall causes of war throughout history, but it is significant that this error is so easily believed.

Speaking generally, those in government authority who wield religion as a state issue are not necessarily theologians who love Jesus and the word of God.

All this to say, I’m not sure that Christianity as a state religion has a positive record of being an effective witness to the gospel. On the other hand, those countries where Christianity is banned seems to have flourishing growth rates of underground Christianity that reflects the gospel and the true hope in Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I never want to have to experience persecution in order to see the gospel spread, but I think it is telling that state religion doesn’t lend itself to true evangelism and salvation. However, I know I’ve spoken very generally here and will have missed specific examples that counteract what I’ve said. I’m curious what others might think of regarding this.

4 Likes

@Carson, I share each of your concerns.

This concern in particular I believe poses significant danger to believers:

As Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” So too, as Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place,” (John 18:36).

Our hope is in the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness. Confusing that kingdom with any earthly kingdom can cause us to misplace our hope, resulting in great harm to us and to others.

My other primary concern would be as you shared here:

Further, I am concerned that, in an officially Christian country, that the actions politicians take in the name of God might not represent the character of Christ. I want to be quite clear about who Christ is, how he lived, and what he taught.

It is the body of believers who are meant to be Christ’s witnesses in the world, not any particular nation. Since no nation could be entirely composed of Christians, I would worry that a country which calls itself Christian would fail to accurately represent Christ to the world, particularly since there are likely to be many who do not believe that would compose the governing of body of a nation. I think there is an added danger too that such nations or movements may be more likely to misappropriate promises made to Israel and falsely claim such promises for their own nation.

I do think it is honorable and faithful for Christians in leadership to work toward governance that honors the wisdom and justice of God. Though what that looks like may be difficult to discern as well given what Paul says in 1 Cor 5:12-13 (or read the whole chapter for more context).

@alison, thank you for sharing your perspective from the historical impacts you’ve experienced.

I think the concerns I have exist for me even when such a declaration has the best of intentions. Yet, as your examples illustrate, such intentions are often not the primary drive. With any movement toward making Christianity a national religion, I would want the motives to be examined carefully to make sure that it wasn’t just a disguise for harm as @carson talks about in his Golden Hammer post.

I understand the heart of wanting to represent Christ through all means at one’s disposal; I’m just skeptical that making Christianity an official national religion could accomplish that purpose well. Though the quotes @jimmy shared do seem quite positive from the time of Constantine. So, despite my concerns, more research on historical movements and their impacts I think would be really helpful in shaping my thoughts on the topic.

I’m thankful for all that you all have shared so far and I’m excited to hear more perspectives.

4 Likes

I posted a link to this site. As far as I can tell, only one person used it. I think it does a good job of listing the available options for nations that are concerned about how to govern and how the nation wants to be viewed on the world stage.

Essentially, there are 3 different types of a state denomination:

  1. Positioning to a religion
    In all countries that specify a particular religion in their constitution today, freedom of religion prevails. Nevertheless, the state takes a stand in its constitution and sides with an individual denomination. This is usually for historical reasons, when a religion clearly predominates in the country and has shaped society over many generations. However, this form does not go beyond a mere mention of the religion, which is why it is not usually referred to as a “state religion”.

I think this best represents the USA, warts and all. This is a long way from the kingdom of God or even Christian Nationalism, which is at the heart of the Pew poll.

  1. Preference for one religion
    In the next stage, one religion is actually favored. Here, religious institutions are supported organizationally and ideally, as well as financially, while other religions do not receive this preference. In most of these countries, the head of state himself must profess this religion.

My uncle Johnnie and my mother lived in Austria during the Nazzi annexation and through WWII, he used to complain that they got rid of Hittler, but they kept the Church tax; he thought this ironic, considering that it was Hittler who formalized the agreement with the Vatican. Let’s not forget the first tax Exodus 30:16LEB.

  1. Unity of state and religion
    The clearest form of a state religion or state church turns into a theocracy, i.e., an inseparable connection between church and state. The state is run according to religious aspects and, through this identification, also determines laws and social rules. A free choice of religion may still exist, but the state takes on the task of actively promoting a religion and defending it against outside influences. It is not uncommon for the head of state to also be the head of the respective church.

I don’t think it is out of line to view Iran as a modern-day Theocracy and the prime example of what most people fear could happen if any religion were given a carte blanche in the affairs of its citizens.

I hope this better clarifies my position.

Regarding @blake’s Phil 3:20 reference, I take a different position. This is not my default position as long as we have Paul appealing to his Roman citizenship ( Acts 16:37-38LEB, Acts 22:25-29LEB.) I maintain that citizenship has value and that God established it when he established the nations (Gen 10: 1-32 LEB. )
The quote from Eusebius was not so much intended as a highlight but as what might be the response of a put-upon people (Christians) to a world-shaking declaration: Christianity is now the religion of the known world, after all “The meaning of history, commencing at creation, pointed for Christians toward Christ’s triumph in the person of the emperor and the institution of the Christian state.” (Neusner p.32) Maybe one could connect Heb 1:14 LEB with this event as the realization of their deliverance, 400 yrs in the making, early Christian triumphlism.

I will leave it there. As always, comments are welcome

FYI: i can spell Nazzi and Hittler but the app will not allow it.

3 Likes

I have learnt much through the different perspectives already shared in this thread. I agree with many of the concerns raised. I think making Christianity an official religion seems to differ significantly from the approach Jesus used when he walked the earth to spread the message of Christianity.

Jesus could have wielded power by being born into an aristocratic family to spread Christianity, yet he chose humility, being born into poverty into the family of a carpenter. Even the town he chose to be born was a place with no good reputation, Nazareth (John 1:46). The disciples he chose were not influential but ordinary unschooled men (Acts 4:13). Jesus didn’t rely on external structures but rather sought to draw people through love, and those who followed him made a voluntary decision to submit to him, even when their lives faced great opposition from the state. It would surely have been easier to follow Christianity for the initial converts if it was promoted by the state, but it may not have brought about the inner transformation that God seeks for His followers. Political initiatives such as establishing a state religion can’t succeed in producing enduring change as real change must come from within an individual. Lasting transformation that Christians seek in society may come only through individual transformation, by gently drawing people to Christ with love, wisdom and understanding.

It was good to learn about the different ways a nation may let religion play a role in its governance as @jimmy shared. I think even if Christianity is upheld as the official religion while allowing freedom of practice for other faiths, without adequate opportunity for diverse voices, an official Christian religion may provoke opposition from adherents of other religions, especially if they are denied positions of power. Attempting to impose Christianity by force when in power increases the risk of retaliation when leadership changes hands to followers of other religions. I also worry about the repercussions for Christians living in other countries in terms of persecution they might face.

I too agree that citizenship has value even though we await a heavenly kingdom. The bible speaks of different tongues and nations being represented in the new heavens as well. While valuing our earthly citizenship, we could still focus on spreading the message of God’s kingdom as the disciples did. I thought that is what @blake may have meant by not confusing the heavenly kingdom with the earthly one.

So to sum up, after considering all the concerns raised, I too find myself not in favor of Christianity being the official religion. Look forward to reading other perspectives though.

3 Likes

@jimmy, thanks so much for sharing these insights from the website! I definitely missed checking that out my first reading through the conversation, but these three categories are extremely helpful for thinking about what it may practically look like for a nation declare themselves a Christian nation.

I’d agree that the US is currently something like the first category, whereas the section of the poll that speaks about declaring Christianity as the official religion seemed closest to something like the third category.

My concerns are definitely more oriented toward the third and possibly the second categories. Though my main concern is about the heart posture of believers and where they find their hope - which can certainly pose issues regardless of the stance of the nation overall.

As to Phil 3:20, I absolutely agree citizenship has real value. I love the way @lakshmi put it:

National, ethnic, and linguistic diversity will certainly be a part of the Kingdom of God even in new creation!

My concern is more about where people place there hope for ultimate belonging, salvation, and deliverance. Though there are very few world leaders who are currently worshipped as gods like Caesar was, I think idolatry of the state or a political party is still very alive and well. There can be significant temptation to place your hope in a nation, leader, or political party and to put them above the call of Christ - particularly the call to love one’s enemies.

The concern then for nations that claim Christianity as an official religion is that it may lead believers more easily into idolatry of the state by implying that the nation IS the Kingdom of God or simply by leading them to believe that the will of the state is the will of Christ, when in reality there are likely to be many deviations from the teaching of Christ.

2 Likes