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Separation of Church and State – Time to Jump off the Train

January 19, 2017 by

When I was a boy, my grandfather Hans Meier would tell me of his growing awareness of, and reaction to, governments and their power by recounting this story: His father ran parts of the Zurich train depot. As a twelve-year-old during the First World War, Hans watched the trains rolling out of neutral Switzerland full of young recruits. He saw the upraised arms of priests blessing the young men as they tore free of one last embrace, red carnations floating down around them.

At night the trains returned with the wounded and dying. Other trains came filled with armaments, bombs, bullets, and artillery, some traveling east to the Axis and others west to the Allies. Neutral Switzerland reaped money as the combat wreaked terrible death.

Seeing this, Hans refused to enlist in the Swiss Army, which resulted in a court martial and a prison sentence. Close friends had suggested a non-combat position, which he considered – until one night he had a dream of a long train speeding toward an abyss. Many people were getting on the train with the express purpose of slowing it down, changing its course, or even turning it around – an obvious impossibility. “Every car was hitched together and of course moving in the same direction, and no matter why you got on, you travelled with the train in that direction.”

The only way to avoid the abyss was to get off. Hans got off. He did not find a train going the other way – he had to walk – but he found others to walk with.

Hans
The author's grandfather, Hans Meier, during the later years of his life.

What relevance does this story have today? My country, the United States, just had an election. The right wing won, and the left wing is stunned and horrified. But we forget that every bird has two wings. Both are part of the same bird and controlled by the same brain. Why do we Christians place such emphasis and dependence on either wing? Or on the bird at all, for that matter?

Our country is swerving in wild and crazy arcs; first left, now right, but the average direction is pre-determined and will hold. Some may feel that Christianity equals America. But Christianity is not a national religion; it must not be subjugated to that. Jesus proclaimed only his father’s kingdom. He reached out to all people on an individual, personal basis. Persecution by the state started at his birth in Bethlehem and continued to his death. The law and order of his day, both Roman and Jewish, worked together to silence his message of liberation. Read the Gospels carefully and you’ll realize it is not individuals but powers and principalities that joined forces in an all-out attempt to block this approaching sovereign kingdom.

This is not an intellectual discussion of “church and state.” This opposition is far deeper and more serious than that. Neither left-wing Christian peace and love nor right-wing Christian morals have any meaningful answers. We have tried to split Christ’s message to suit ourselves. But Jesus is one, his message is unity, and he will take back what is his, exposing the state for what it is. And man will again have the chance to be swept into the awesome joy, unity, and love of Pentecost.

Isaiah 25:7 foretells the shroud or curtain being lifted and torn from this world. An awakening spirit will bring us again to a decision to jump off the train. I do not want to discourage any who, for the love of Christ, are trying to influence our government for good – but be ready to jump!

In his essay “The Peace of God,” Eberhard Arnold writes:

In solitary greatness amidst a world of enemies, the prophets of old felt compelled to make known their opposition to the priesthood of established religion and to the sovereignty of their state. . . In the same way, the apostolic prophets of early Christianity have had to fight with ever-increasing ardor against the bloody violence of political power and against all religion that hypocritically supports them but in truth has fallen away from God.

Back to my grandfather Hans: someone once asked him, “Who would make the best president? Would Jesus be a good president?” He replied that it was in some ways a shallow question: “You have to think deeper. Yes, Jesus might make a great president. But he would refuse to be – he is the king of another kingdom!” Embassies of the coming kingdom are present today in churches that tilt neither right nor left but that move towards that kingdom. May many Christians – and many other people – flock to them. For the love of Christ, which gives its own life for others, calls us all to unity.


Danny Meier is an elementary school teacher at the New Meadow Run Bruderhof. He and his wife Tessa are almost done raising their six children – the youngest is in tenth grade – so he finally has time to put pen to paper.

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  • Profoundly interesting, thank you.

    Garnette arledge
  • The kingdom of this world is not the kingdom of our Lord. Amen

    Pam Ostrander
  • Excellent!

    RON LANDSEL