An Evangelical Free Church in Cary, NC

The Keys and the Sword

by Mike Maggard, former EFCA pastor and ReachGlobal missionary

Last month, we had the privilege of attending the annual Evangelical Free Church of America theology conference near Chicago. The pre-conference theme on the relationship of the church to the state was both intriguing and timely. Here are a few highlights we gleaned from the presentation by Dr. Jonathan Leeman:

According to Genesis 9, following the universal flood, God twice restated to Noah and his offspring His creation mandate for them to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.

However, sandwiched between this mandate in verses 1 and 7, God introduced and established government to provide justice when human life was taken.  Although such justice could never be perfect in a fallen world, governments would hopefully be protectionist: protecting and preserving people from harm and preventing and punishing those who cause harm.  This God-given mandate to bear the sword of justice does not authorize governments to do whatever they wish, nor to redefine what God has proclaimed to be true. Preventing harm and punishing those who harm was and is the primary role of government.  Throughout history, we find some governments have obediently sheltered people, while other governments have rebelliously devoured them.

According to Matthew 16:17-19, Jesus gave the keys to His Kingdom to one individual (the “you” is singular). But in Matthew 18:15-20, He extended this authority to include all disciples whenever they are gathered as a local church (the “you” is plural). Consequently, God has appointed both individual Christians and their collective gatherings to be His ambassadors, proclaiming His Gospel to a rebellious world under the authority of a multitude and variety of governments.  The church is like an embassy, representing a distant country while physically located within another country. It has authority to pronounce judgments on what is true and what is false, because God has entrusted His Church with His inspired Word. There is profound authority when someone preaches in a local church compared with saying the same thing to a neighbor. Great care must be taken not to say from the pulpit what we don’t have the authority to say.

Governments and churches have different spheres of responsibility, and neither should yield their God-given authority to the other. For example, the church shouldn’t speak on a country’s trade policy and a government shouldn’t choose a preferred Bible translation.
However, God desires that those who bear the sword cooperate with those who hold the keys. The establishment of government in Genesis 9 precedes the proclamation of the Gospel in Genesis 12 through Abraham and his descendants. Consequently, the work of government is a often a prerequisite to the work of Gospel witness, like learning to speak and read is a prerequisite to hearing and reading the Bible. While remaining separate from the church, government cooperates with churches when God’s people are able to gather and witness without fear of being harmed. 

Old Testament Israel is the only nation in all of history upon whom God has put His Name. God intended Israel to be a witness to His glory and grace to the surrounding peoples- Exodus 19:5-6. Yet, the country often brought shame upon His Name by imitating the nations around it- Ezekiel 36:20-22.  In the New Covenant, God has not put His Name on any nation. Rather He has placed His Name upon all those who follow Jesus. Christ followers, not any historical or modern day nation, are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden- Matthew 5:14.


Mike Maggard and his wife Kathi now serve with Strategic Impact International.  He has written a book, Leading from the Inside Out, available on Amazon.  You can reach him at (Mike and his wife Kathi now serve with Strategic Impact International.  He has written a book, Leading from the Inside Out, available on Amazon.  You can reach him at mikeandkathi@generalmail.com

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