“The separation of church and state” is a phrase which is used far more frequently than it is understood.
In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut. In this letter, he wrote to calm the fears of the Baptists there, emphasizing that the 1st amendment to the Constitution was included as a wall to protect the church from legislation by the state (in this case federal government). The first amendment includes the promise, ““Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Today, many think that the “separation of church and state” means that neither can have anything to do with the other. As the Supreme Court recently ruled, the US Constitution does not prohibit government money being given to religious institutions. The government cannot choose one over another.
One problem that many do not notice is in the definition of “religion.” The Constitution does not specify “organized religion.” Some seem to apply this supposed separation to Christianity, but not to other religions. Further, some think that all religions have a particular god (or gods) which they can identify. Atheism (saying that there is no god) is also a religion, though less organized, as is “secular humanism.”
For some, “nationalism” is a religion, whose chief symbol is the American Flag! Luther said that “a ‘god’ is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need.” Does that sound like the government, for some?
As we gather for national holidays, it is important to remember that God serves through church and state. We are citizens of the United States and citizens of the church. We serve the same God through both. If in one, we are called to serve a different god, we must refuse, as did Paul, the Apostles, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3).