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The Sword and the Keys

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As institutions, Church and State are separate but not so separate that either one can deny the law of God as it applies to each of them. “This separation in no way implies a radical antithesis between God and State, between Christianity and State, between morality and State, between Bible and State.” [1]

The biblical relationship between Church and State must be considered. A jurisdictional (juris = “law” + dicere = “speak”) separation can be seen in both the Old and New Testaments. To have “jurisdiction” is the right to address (“speak law to”) legal issues in a designated area. In the Bible there are clearly two separate institutions with different jurisdictions. Yet, in Scripture, both Church and State operate in terms of God’s law. The separation is depicted by the use of two metaphors. The State holds the authority of the sword: “It does not bear the sword for nothing” (Romans 13:4). The Church holds the authority of the keys: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

The God-given jurisdiction of the Church is to carry out the Great Commission of discipling, baptizing, and educating the nations: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). The Church’s task is a ministry of grace: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). The God-given jurisdiction of the State is the administration of justice, i.e., the punishing of the lawless and the protection of the law-abiding: The state “is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:4; cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-14).

Restoring the Foundation of Civilization
Restoring the Foundation of Civilization

There are many Christians who will not participate in civilization-building efforts that include economics, journalism, politics, education, and science because they believe (or have been taught to believe) these areas of thought are outside the realm of what constitutes a Christian worldview. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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In this final part of his civics presentation to a high school class, Gary discusses the issue of civil disobedience. Is it ever right for Christians to disobey a law or an edict of the government? What does the Constitution say? What does the Bible say?

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[1] Joseph C. Morecraft III, The Keys and the Sword (Cumming, GA: Chalcedon Presbyterian Church), 2.

American Vision’s mission is to Restore America to its Biblical Foundation—from Genesis to Revelation. American Vision (AV) has been at the heart of worldview study since 1978, providing resources to exhort Christian families and individuals to live by a Biblically based worldview. Visit for more information, content and resources


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