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In Response to: Can Churches Receive Government Aid?

February 26, 2021
Let us examine together what is the relationship of the church to the State.

In a rapidly globalizing and interdependent world, the people of God frequently interact with officials of the State in various forms—from civil laws to travel visa requirements, taxes, registration for building permits, and so many issues in between. 


We need to understand our relationship to the authorities of the State. Some have misunderstood the relationship between the church and State, virtually opposing government itself and stating that any interaction with the State violates the separation of church and State. Some even misuse the Bible to defend their reasons for not paying taxes and for disobeying authorities. But the Bible does not oppose government. It tells us that the civil laws and procedures are given for our benefit.


Let us then examine together what is the relationship of the church to the State, and in what manner the Scriptures oppose the State interfering with the doctrinal positions of the church.


The Bible Is Not Anti-Government

The Bible states God is above any earthly authority, and, therefore, if we are required by governments to disobey God, we cannot submit to such requirement:


“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29


“…But when its claims conflict with the claims of God, we must obey God rather than men. God's word must be recognized as above all human legislation. A ‘Thus saith the Lord’ is not to be set aside for a ‘Thus saith the church’ or a ‘Thus saith the state.’ The crown of Christ is to be lifted above the diadems of earthly potentates.” {AA 68.2}


However, the Bible is not anti government. On the contrary, it tells us that rulers are ministers of God for good, and we are supposed to submit to kings and governors as long as this submission does not require us to disobey God:


“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” 2 Peter 2:13, 14


“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”  Romans 13:3,4


One circumstance in which Christ showed respect to the state was when He made it clear that Christians should pay our taxes to the government faithfully:


“Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” Matthew 22:17, 19-21


Purpose of the State

According to the Bible, the State is ordained of God: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans 13:1.


It is ordained to keep order and grant peace to its citizens: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” 1 Timothy 2:1, 2.


To fulfill God’s purpose, the State must give its citizens freedom to worship God and exercise their faith without interference.


Worldly governments deal with temporal affairs without tampering with the God-given rights of their citizens to worship the Creator according to their faith or not to worship Him if they choose. God does not force anyone to worship Him and does not give anyone authority to force consciences.


Government is established to fulfill God’s purposes and will last only as long as God allows it to: “And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:” Daniel 2:21.


Is the Church Allowed to Receive Assistance from the Government?

The Bible gives quite a few examples where God’s church benefited from assistance provided by worldly governments that God moved to assist His people. The Spirit of Prophecy comments on some of these circumstances, explaining that the church is to impart the truth God has entrusted to it to the world. In turn, the church is to receive from the world that which God moves upon them to do on behalf of His church, taking any opportunity to advance God’s cause:


“O that Christians might realize more and still more fully that it is their privilege and their duty, while cherishing right principles, to take advantage of every heaven-sent opportunity for advancing God’s kingdom in this world.”—The Southern Watchman, March 15, 1904. { ChS 168.3}


“Just as long as we are in this world, and the Spirit of God is striving with the world, we are to receive as well as to impart favors. We are to give to the world the light of truth as presented in the Sacred Scriptures, and we are to receive from the world that which God moves upon them to do in behalf of His cause. The Lord still moves upon the hearts of kings and rulers in behalf of His people, and it becomes those who are so deeply interested in the religious liberty question not to cut off any favors, or withdraw themselves from the help that God has moved men to give, for the advancement of His cause.” {CS 183.1}


“We find examples in the word of God concerning this very matter. Cyrus, king of Persia, made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it into writing, saying: ’Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all His people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel.’ A second commandment was issued by Darius for the building of the house of the Lord, and is recorded in the sixth chapter of Ezra.” { CS 183.2}


“The Lord God of Israel has placed His goods in the hands of unbelievers, but they are to be used in favor of doing the works that must be done for a fallen world. The agents through whom these gifts come, may open up avenues through which the truth may go. They may have no sympathy with the work, and no faith in Christ, and no practice in His words; but their gifts are not to be refused on that account....” { CS 183.3}


“I have repeatedly been shown that we might receive far more favors than we do in many ways if we would approach men in wisdom, acquaint them with our work, and give them an opportunity of doing those things which it is our privilege to induce them to do for the advancement of the work of God.”—Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 202, 203. { CS 184.1}


Nehemiah’s Example

“Nehemiah did not depend upon uncertainty. The means that he lacked he solicited from those who were able to bestow. And the Lord is still willing to move upon the hearts of those in possession of His goods, in behalf of the cause of truth. Those who labor for Him are to avail themselves of the help that He prompts men to give. These gifts may open ways by which the light of truth shall go to many benighted lands. The donors may have no faith in Christ, no acquaintance with His word; but their gifts are not on this account to be refused.” —Prophets and Kings, 634. { CS 184.2}


Receiving Gifts From Outside

“You inquire with respect to the propriety of receiving gifts from Gentiles or the heathen. The question is not strange; but I would ask you, Who is it that owns our world? Who are the real owners of houses and lands? Is it not God? He has an abundance in our world which He has placed in the hands of men, by which the hungry might be supplied with food, the naked with clothing, the homeless with homes. The Lord would move upon worldly men, even idolaters, to give of their abundance for the support of the work, if we would approach them wisely, and give them an opportunity of doing those things which it is their privilege to do. What they would give we should be privileged to receive.” { CS 185.1}


“We should become acquainted with men in high places, and by exercising the wisdom of the serpent, and the harmlessness of the dove, we might obtain advantage from them, for God would move upon their minds to do many things in behalf of His people. If proper persons would set before those who have means and influence, the needs of the work of God in a proper light, these men might do much to advance the cause of God in our world. We have put away from us privileges and advantages that we might have had the benefit of, because we chose to stand independent of the world. But we need not sacrifice one principle of truth while taking advantage of every opportunity to advance the cause of God.”—Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 197, 198. { CS 185.2}


According to Biblical examples and the Inspired comments above, we understand that the church can accept assistance from anyone as far as they impose no conditions to compromise our beliefs. By doing so, the church is not infringing upon the separation that must exist between the church and the State. All that is in this world belongs to our Creator. “10For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. 11 I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. 12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” Psalms 50:10-12.


When Church and State are United

When religion is used for political purposes, and when the State interferes in the way people worship God, then they lose their God-given purposes and become merely another way of wrongly acquiring power. “David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p 719.


When church and State unite to compel people by force to attend or support any religion or cause them to be punished for their religious opinions or beliefs, they go directly against God’s will. This is exactly how the leopard-like beast of Revelation 13 began its existence. “It was by departure from the Lord, and alliance with the heathen, that the Jewish church became a harlot; and Rome, corrupting herself in like manner by seeking the support of worldly powers, receives a like condemnation.” Great Controversy, p. 382.2


In the past, when a fallen church controlled the State, it used both religious and state power to impose its false doctrines. This will happen again:


“And let it be remembered, it is the boast of Rome that she never changes. The principles of Gregory VII. and Innocent III. are still the principles of the Romish Church. And had she but the power, she would put them in practice with as much vigor now as in past centuries. Let the principle once be established in the United States, that the church may employ or control the power of the State; that religious observances may be enforced by secular laws; in short, that the authority of church and State is to dominate the conscience, and the triumph of Rome in this country is assured.  {GC88 580.3}


“The dignitaries of church and State will unite to bribe, persuade, or compel all classes to honor the Sunday. The lack of divine authority will be supplied by oppressive enactments. Political corruption is destroying love of justice and regard for truth; and even in free America, rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance. Liberty of conscience, which has cost so great a sacrifice, will no longer be respected. In the soon-coming conflict we shall see exemplified the prophet's words: ‘The dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.’ [Revelation 12:17.]”  {GC88 592.3}


“Heretofore those who presented the truths of the third angel's message have often been regarded as mere alarmists. Their predictions that religious intolerance would gain control in the United States, that church and State would unite to persecute those who keep the commandments of God, have been pronounced groundless and absurd. It has been confidently declared that this land could never become other than what it has been, the defender of religious freedom. But as the question of enforcing Sunday observance is widely agitated, the event so long doubted and disbelieved is seen to be approaching, and the third message will produce an effect which it could not have had before.” {GC88 605.3}


When Church and State are Separate

The State oversees of the temporal affairs of its citizen, including granting them religious freedom. The church provides for the spiritual needs of the inhabitants of this world.


Even the Welfare Ministry, which exists to provide for the temporal needs of the less fortunate and relieve their suffering, contains a spiritual connotation as it also serves to reveal God’s love and present His kingdom to humanity.


“Those who teach the Bible in our churches and our schools are not at liberty to unite in making apparent their prejudices for or against political men or measures, because by so doing they stir up the minds of others, leading each to advocate his favorite theory…” {CCh 316.1}


 “The Lord would have His people bury political questions. On these themes silence is eloquence. Christ calls upon His followers to come into unity on the pure gospel principles which are plainly revealed in the word of God. We cannot with safety vote for political parties; for we do not know whom we are voting for. We cannot with safety take part in any political scheme.” {CCh 316.2}


“What are we to do, then?—Let political questions alone.” {CCh 316.4}


“In the name of the Lord I would say to the teachers in our schools, Attend to your appointed work. You are not called upon by God to engage in politics. ‘All ye are brethren,’ Christ declares, ‘and as one you are to stand under the banner of Prince Emmanuel.’ ‘What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and His statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? . . .” {FE 477.2}  Keep in mind that there were many abuses by the government in the time of Jesus. His solution was not political but spiritual.


“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John 3:5.


“The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart.” Desire of Ages, p. 509.


Praised and blessed be the Lord our God for always supplying for all the needs of His church, for sustaining it with His power, and providing ways for His people to carry out His mission separate from politics.