Over the centuries there has been this confusion or controversy over what the Church and state or society relationship should be. Part of the problem of understanding this Church and state relationship is a lack of understanding of what the role of the Church in the state is. Is the role of the Church restricted to evangelism (winning souls through witnessing, prayer and fasting for itself and the wider society)? Is the Church meant to evangelize and serve the state without getting into politics? Some people, including Christians and non Christians, have answered yes to all of the above questions.
Others have argued that the Church should go beyond winning souls, prayer, fasting and providing some form of care (traditionally in education, healthcare and in emergency situations when people’s lives are at risk) and be proactively involved in every aspect of human existence: religious, social, economic and political. The question is how far should she go in these areas? The answer to this and other questions in large part depends on an understanding of the role of the Church in the state and society. What then is the role of the Church in the state and society at large?
The introductory article of this series that is centered on examining Church and state relations observed the following main points in the way of providing a background to the series and definitions of terms. It is proper and even essential for serious minded Christians and others to reflect on what the purpose of the Church on earth is. It is therefore significant for us to examine the public and private influence of the Church in all of society. What then is the role of the Church in state and society?
The Christian Church is the people of God; the body of believers whose head is the Lord Jesus Christ. So the Church of God is not a building but the people. Simply put, a society is any group of people who share a lot in common by way of food, language, mindset, and attitude to life as a whole.
Human beings everywhere live in societies of all sorts.
Politics broadly defined is the art of living together in a community. It deals with how we manage our common life. Politics is about the society and its citizens and their responsibilities to it and one another as well as the privileges they derive from being members of the society. It is concerned with the whole of life in society. In the narrow sense politics is the art of a particular government formulating and implementing specific policies to run societies. Business in the context of this series is the art of producing, selling and supplying goods and services for money. Business is the art of engaging in commerce and trade of some sort.
This brings us to the role of the Church in society. Just before his ascension (going up to heaven after his resurrection) Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all by teaching them all that he had taught (Matthew 28:19-20). Succinctly put the purpose and role of the Church in society is to evangelize it. I am using evangelism far beyond the common understanding of. It is not just about winning people to a particular Church (group of believers) but a total transformation of individuals and their societies. True evangelism as Jesus taught and demonstrated it is aimed at total transformation. Jesus taught a message of liberation and empowerment, healed the sick and fed the hungry. He told those who were oppressing and exploiting others to stop and instead to set people free (Luke 4:18-19).
He told them to go and be his witnesses in the form of being the light of the world and salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). Light has the main characteristics of driving out darkness, revealing what is good and bad and, guiding. Likewise salt has the key characteristics of giving flavor (good taste), as a form of medicine to heal and to preserve. In other words, Christians or disciples of Jesus Christ ought to be an agent for positive good in every society they find themselves.
The Church through her members ought to penetrate every sphere of society and be a witness of truth, encouragement, service and empowering people to live better lives. In short the Church should be about spiritual growth and renewal of its members and the wider society, assisting people find and make good use of their talents, time and treasure before God and man, taking care of peoples’ spiritual, social and physical needs, and to be a prophetic voice calling her members and society to the practice of love, truth, justice and advancing the common good of all of society and the environment. Subsequent articles will go into more details as how this multifaceted role of the Church to society can be fulfilled.