“The Day the Church & State United”
July 1, 2012 Canada Day
Message “The Day the Church & State United” - Mark 3:6 “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”
By Rev. Stephen Filyer
Bible Reading: - Mark 2:23-3:6
Clachan and Bothwell Baptist Churches
On this Canada Day Sunday morning in which we have both sung national anthems and then read of Jesus conflict with both Government and Religious officials, I want to give a quick outline of what I understand to be our own modern day relationship with these two often conflicting entities.
Separation of Church and State
By a long-standing tradition politics and religion in many Western countries are separated from one another.
Here in Canada we get much of our popular “culture” through the U.S. media. From that influence alone we may just assume that we would naturally have what is referred to as “separation of church and state.” After all, Canada appears to be like any other secular nation; its government and all its public functions are [for the most part] separated from religion; that which is secular is concerned with the worldly not the spiritual. Due to past religious discrimination and persecution, historically, Baptists have long supported that position.
Religion Appears in State
But here in Canada the secular and the spiritual are always crossing each other’s path. Canada’s Head of State, The Queen, is crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior cleric of the Church of England. She is accorded her position “By the Grace of God.”
Back in 1867, at the time of Confederation, politicians came from a number of religious denominations. Verses from the Bible were deliberately carved into Parliament’s decorated walls. The rights of Canada’s mostly French Roman Catholic Churches were guaranteed, but even so, it was assumed that Canada’s leading denomination would be the Anglican, which in those days was our local version of The Church of England.
Today, while singing our national anthem, we prayed for God’s help. In our Canadian Constitution, the Charter of Rights recognizes “the supremacy of God.” Every day before activity can start in the House of Commons the Speaker reads a prayer that begins, “Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens...” Here, in Ontario, as taxpayers we fund both Public and Catholic separate schools. The lines are definitely blurred between “Church” and “State.”
Christian Prime Ministers
Our prime minister, Stephen Harper, is a Christian as are many other Members of Parliament. There is a Christian Caucus of MPs in Ottawa, although it keeps a very low profile. There are also Sikhs, Muslims, and Jews in the House of Commons. The various religious practices and cultural values found within Canada have led to the term “cultural mosaic.” This stands in contrast to the so-called “melting pot” approach long practiced by our near-by national neighbour.
Yet even that practice can be confusing. After 9-11, Canada with its history of inter-twined religion and culture still chose a religiously neutral site, and were led in a remembrance event by Prime Minister Chretien that was secular in the extreme. It therefore seems ironic to me that our American friends invited the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham to address them from a Christian pulpit.
POLITICS IN JESUS’ DAY
Back in Old Testament days when King Saul was crowned by the Prophet Samuel, Israel ceased to be a theocracy; that is, a nation ruled by God. But by the time of Jesus’ appearance, even that form of monarchy was long past. A host of invaders had left Israel as an empty shadow without any of the power it had enjoyed years before under David and Solomon. Rome acted the part of a semi-benevolent ruler, paying lip service to the former religious culture of the land. But it appears that Jesus, from the very beginning of his ministry, found himself in disagreement with both of these factions.
Today’s Bible reading centres around worship, both when to do it and also how not to do it. The Jewish worship day since Moses Ten Commandments has always been the Saturday Sabbath. Christians changed that to Sunday in honour of Jesus’ Easter morning resurrection. And that was pretty much the way it was until the very late 1800’s or early 1900’s with the advent of modern forms of transportation and electricity which led to the development of differing forms of entertainment. When I was growing up no one debated the practice of Sunday worship. Stores were closed. In addition, some even closed on Monday, while still others added Wednesday afternoon. As a teen I remember being cut from the local baseball team because my father would not allow me to play on Sunday. It was a different time.
Nowadays it is hard to find a store that is not open. At our recent Assembly in Toronto of the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec the speaker, pastor of a large church in downtown Vancouver, told us that his Sabbath runs from 5:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon until 5:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon.
On a number of occasions Jesus’ own approach brought complaints from the religious authorities. He only made things worse by claiming to be God, Son of Man and Lord of the Sabbath. He asked leading questions about what was more important, giving and saving life or blind obedience. Yet these jealous officials were not interested in worship or in truth. They merely wanted to use the accusation as a means of trapping him into self-incrimination.
You see this, for all of its evil intent, when Jesus is confronted by the man with the withered hand. Did he just happen to show up at church that day, or was all of it a set-up?
But did you notice “what” Jesus didn’t say? Did you notice “what” Jesus didn’t do? This healing is a little like the Old Testament account in 2 Kings 5 when Elisha was visited by Naaman the Syrian military commander. Naaman wanted a healing with all of the lights and glitz of Las Vegas. Yet Elisha says “Go away. Go down to the Jordan river and duck under seven times.” That would be like going down to the Thames River at the Clachan Bridge or over to the Sydenham River near the park at Shetland; dirty brown water and no glitz at either location. The point is that Elisha “did” nothing. He merely gave some orders and directions. No “laying on of hands.” No “I pronounce you healed.”
Jesus follows the same pattern here with these angry, scheming, political and religious enemies. Say the prohibited words of healing on a Sabbath day? No! Reach out and touch the supposedly “unclean” man? Because that is how these disabled people were treated back then. No. So what does Jesus do? Much like modern soap dispensers or gentle car washes he practices a form of “touchless” healing. “Reach out your arm.” Nothing more than that…just, “Reach out your arm.” And as the man obeys the miracle happens before their eyes. No glitz, not even the Sabbath Commandment broken. No work or healing done there…or was there?
Their Response to Jesus
Wouldn’t it be heart-warming if at that point these cynics fell on their knees in worship or at least offered a hearty “amen?” But no--in the words of our theme verse these mortal religious-political enemies representing both Church and State find common cause. “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” At the very beginning of Jesus ministry, before he has hardly had time to call all of his Disciples to follow him, he is marked as a target. No wonder Jesus spent so much of the next three years up in the Northern Province of Galilee, far from the Capital City and its power brokers.
What kind of application is there here for us on a National Holiday, Canada Day 2012? One that quickly comes to mind are these words from 1 Timothy 2:1-6a (NIV2011) 1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” Perhaps we should be reminded that when Paul wrote those words, the un-holy Emperor Nero, enemy of Christians, was ruling from Rome. So it does not matter which stance you take regarding the primacy or Church or of State. Firstly, God, through Paul, instructs us to take part in “Prayers for all in authority...” That will differ for many of us depending on where we have travelled from within this Four Counties area: our local councilors and Mayors; various MPP’s and MP’s; Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty and Lieutenant Governor David Onley; Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General David Johnston and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
That commandment to pray concludes with this promise from God: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Sheena shared at Youth Group that Jesus has given us a sure-fire recipe for that kind of “abundant life.” It is found in our Bibles—all of the ingredients are there. We must not to stray from that recipe’s instructions, not make any substitutions. As we continue to enjoy our national freedoms let us determine to study God’s Word, seek out his truth, and find His Wonderful Words of Life. Amen.
Let’s sing in closing, Communion Hymn #206 (verse 1-2) of “Wonderful Words of Life”.
Much of this section taken from article at http://www.canadaandtheworld.com/churchandstate.html