I believe the contemporary Church in America is largely confused about the church’s role in the relationship between church and state.
For example, the liberal church (and I’m throwing Jim Wallis in this camp) falsely assumes, through a misuse of the prophetic literature, that the Kingdom of God is realized by putting national resources (particularly money) towards social welfare programs. Thus, advocacy and lobbying become the primary methods of Christian responsibility and witness, and the role of the church is replaced by that of the state.
At the same time, the conservative church falsely assumes, through a misreading of Romans 13, that the state IS the Kingdom of God and that we need only to bring our nation back to “the way it was” in order for the state to receive all of the blessings God has prepared for it. Thus, individual morality as patriotism becomes the primary method of Christian responsibility and witness, and the identity of the church is fused into that of the state.
In either case, I think the Church in America could benefit from the teachings of Karl Barth. Barth, a theologian in Germany during the rise and fall of Hitler, saw first hand the problem of attempting to weld together the church and the state.
For Barth, politics begins with the Word of God and God’s action in Jesus Christ, and therefore any political movement that is based on or incorporates human action fails to be any type of politics that we could call Christian.
In his essay “Justification and Justice” (the church and the state) Barth argues that while justice is necessary and appropriate for organizing a society â€“ and as the Church we can voice our support for justice in the world, justification (salvation by grace) is the political program of the Kingdom of God available to us from God through death and resurrection.
Thus, the ideal Christian political position is for the church to be identifiable apart from the state as a witness to the Kingdom of God which is made possible by God’s action.