Can the church, as a structure, be alongside the state, in a way that we can bring the two together with the conjunction ‘and’, for the purpose of distinction, separation and confrontation of the two? In the New Testament the only book which refers to divine condemnation upon the Roman state is the Book of Revelation. Nero in this book is the beast. In the Gospel, Herod is a fox. This was a divine verdict concerning two governors. However, as the Gospel was spread and as Rome had to confront heathenism, Peter and Paul have spoken about submission to the authorities and they have not addressed the rights of the church in relation to the state, nor of an integral relationship between the two. This relationship has not started until Constantine, in the beginning of the fourth century, and particularly with his dynasty. As Constantine converted to Christianity, he has known that the church is something else since it cares about the inner things, i.e. the spiritual matters, the sacraments and the doctrines, while the emperor is “the bishop of the outer things”.
The Roman emperors’ worry was to organize the kingdom. And here the theological controversies have to be considered, since they were dividing the kingdom, and the emperor used to intervene in favor of what he considered orthodox against the holders of heresies. Then the notion of ‘synergy’ has spread namely the consistency [or the harmony] between the church and the state, with the consideration of each one’s independence. The Eastern Roman Empire is the continuation of the ancient Rome that is why it considers itself as standing on its own, though the people are Eastern Romans on the one hand, and Orthodox Christians on the other.
Russia has followed this manner until Peter the Great came and subjected the church to the state. And now after the fall of the communist regime Patriarch Cyril, who is newly elected, speaks of the consistency between the state and the church, however, each as independent of the other.
I will not speak of the West which in general has followed secularism, with its different spectra, which does not consider the religious affiliation of the citizens; however, it might support the church as in France and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the philosophy of cooperation in Eastern Europe would not have been possible except for the fact that the citizens were from the same religious background, so that there could have been a common language between the church and the state. But whenever the state is multi-religious, then, how could discourse occur between the state and the religious minorities? Then, there would not be a religious discourse between the denominations and the governing authority. And if the government is based on a religion, then, some of the arguments of a religious discourse would be invalidated between the religious communities and the government.
Then, we would have to return back to the apostolic era, when the church was not addressing the state; rather all believers were subjects to the state, even the persecuted heathens.
This is the case concerning history. However, from the doctrinal perspective there is no theoretical confrontation between the church, which exists in the heart of God moving toward eternal life, and the state which governs the human times or is governed by the human times. These are two realities which are not related by any conjunction.
It is through the individual believer that the spirit of the Lord is disseminated to the people gathered in a state. These are prophetic whiffs. Thus, the structured church and the structured state do not meet. The prophets, namely the ones inspired by the spirit, change the people, and it is from the people that laws originate and the political engagement arises. And if the state is multi-religious, then, diverse whiffs appear from the followers of the religions, which sometimes are convergent, and some other times are divergent, and the national texture comes to be multicolored.
Thus, it is not possible to bring the state and the church of Christ into an encounter, whether of association or dissociation, since there is no such encounter in principle. Though some countries consider working with denominations and this makes secularism truncated or relative in those countries. Nevertheless, it seems that in France [for example] there are tendencies for working with religions, since they are carried out by ethnicities of strange origins, which have not been integrated into the French society.
An accountable answer concerning this relationship [between state and religion] from the Christian side will not be given unless the church is perceived as moving toward eternal life, while its children utilize this world and witness in it. And the testimony is left to everyone of them based on his/[her] own analysis of the political situation of his/[her] country. One of the believers might come up with an analysis different than other believers, and thus, he/[she] might take a different practical position [than others]. Political fragmentation in the church community is not only possible but also it is spiritually sound, since it signifies maturity, and variety is the fruit of maturity. However, whenever church leadership strives to convene its children upon that which is different than the Gospel, the doctrine and the inner purification, this would mean that it has forgotten the unique nature of Christianity, which soars above the obsolescent. The church exists in time, and by this it is the expansion of Christ’s presence in it, however, it is not of this world, as the Gospel of John tells.
No doubt the church observes what is going on in the world, however without any competence, since its members work with competence in society. The rulers and the legislators have studied politics and its branches as a science and they are practicing politics as they have studied it. While those, responsible for the salvation of the souls, have studied, so to speak, the art of the salvation of the souls. And whatever is void of science [or knowledge] is expressed in an experimental or approximate manner. And thus, they do not meet the people of science.
Therefore in this matter the clerical referentialities do not mean much to me. Their work is sanctification itself and the purification of the believers. And whenever they delve into the political discourse they would be saying, or as if they are saying, that they do not have confidence in the efficiency of the Holy Spirit, which they are entrusted to convey to their communities. They do not believe in the efficiency of the Spirit and [thus] add to it the efficiency of the political discourse.
Similarly, the so-called lay-people (i.e. non-priests) are not capable of delegating their spiritual leader for a task other than the calling by which God has called him/[her]. This does not prevent that the bishop or the priest is from those who carry the Holy Spirit. This, however, is not of the sacramental priesthood. Rather, this is of prophesy, in the sense used in the New Testament, meaning that the bishop or the priest, through grace, can address the kings, the governors and the presidents in the name of the Lord, and not on behalf of one’s denomination, nor in the name of the country. The bishop or the priest can advocate for the oppressed and the weak from any religion or denomination and can uphold the endurance and the unity of the country, since this is a matter of love of all the people of the country.
You work and teach in the name of Christ, namely in the power of the Gospel and not of the numbers or the ancient mythologies. Christians are not privileged in any country, and they should not be so, since then they would be conceited while they should be washing the feet of the poor and the weak of every religion and denomination. Christians are not a denomination or a group of denominations. This is rather because of Lebanon’s sociological system. Christians are only the body of Christ and not the accumulations of history. Thus they are not on any side since Christ was not on any particular side. And whenever they do not have a power from above they will be wasting their and others’ time if they were searching for a power that comes to them from the texture of this world. They have to decide whether they are of the Gospel or no. While they contrive their stay on this earth with wisdom, which might be of this world since endurance is the condition for witnessing, but death also is of witnessing. The one crucified was a king, and He was raised on the wood bleeding till the end. I do not call anyone to being crucified; however those capable of it are the partners of the Lord in creating a new world.
Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi
Original Text: “الكنيسة والدولة” –An Nahar- 28.03.2009Continue reading