The Problem with Church and State

I have a cousin who recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute. For background, my family consists of some Christian reverends and preachers as well as my more immediate Muslim side and assorted cousins. We enjoy getting on religious topics every now and then so I was happy to have a resource such as my cousin that I may contact in regard to deeper Christian theological questions. However, I’m also a bit dismayed. I asked him under what authority was Mr. Moody able to start and grow his own Bible institute; teaching and preaching the bible as he understood it. The Moody Bible Institute’s website is absent of any mention of formal Bible training. It seems he was a fervent and passionate preacher and traveled around with his message. I’m sure there’s more depth to it than that but my dismay is all the same; any number of people can be passionate about the message in the Bible and I can be OK with that if the only question were a matter of how much zeal a person can speak of Jesus and their interpretation of the Bible.

However, what I, and many others, are not OK with is treating a person’s interpretation of the Bible as the definitive interpretation of law. Without any authority, or formal education, or juristic tradition, no one should be able to take their interpretation of the Bible as the law by which everyone must abide.  This isn’t to diminish the messages in the Bible or even of its legal requirements. This is specifically a message about Protestant Christianity. In contrast, Catholicism and Judaism, using a similar text, do have legal and juristic traditions attached to them. This is not to say I think they’re right; rather, there is structure, method, and sobriety, not just passion and zeal.

Even then, there are inconsistencies. The common justification for Christians not having the same prohibition on pork as found against Jews elsewhere in the Bible is that Jesus had done away with those laws. If that is the case, then so goes prohibitions on homosexuality, adultery, dress codes, working on the sabbath, charging interest, and whatever other law found in the Old Testament. All you’re left with is messages of love and compassion but no laws.

Thus, there’s a logical and practical inconsistency for most who clamor for closer integration of Church and State or who demand to have some Biblical laws applied to their lives (and others’ lives) but not all or most Biblical laws. This is also why it might appear that Jews and Muslims get some sort of special treatment in applying their religious laws to themselves in their worldly matters (note: we’re not trying to apply them on everyone; just wanting to carve out some exceptions for us). We’re actually trying to follow the laws and standards found in our religious texts and traditions. There are some Christian groups that do so as well, but again, Protestantism, by definition, threw out the Catholic mode of operation, which largely threw out the Jewish mode of operation.

Finally, unless one wishes to conveniently dismiss large portions of European history, it should be safe to say that removing political power from the Catholic Church has been good for most of humanity. But with that also meant creating laws and political structures based on the analysis and ideas of men, using philosophy and study of other practices and not necessarily based on the Bible. For Protestant groups to desire bringing us back to an age of Biblical jurisprudence is like supplanting the Catholic Church in name only without also the exploring of other ideas and practices.

In a later post I’ll try to go further into how governing based on a Protestant interpretation of the Bible is more of an nonsensical idea than with other religious groups. For Muslims especially, I’m aware there’s the Islamic State trying to lay claim to being the latest religious state but I still contend that the proper interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence is fewer laws (as in, fewer requirements) and more recommendations (as in, highly encouraged, but not necessarily required). When we elevate recommendations into requirements then we start to see the likes of religious states (mind states as well as nation states) that people generally seem to detest and find unsustainable.


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