As one of his first administrative acts after taking office, President Biden reestablished the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February 2021. This office was initially established by George W. Bush 20 years earlier when he was pushing school vouchers and faith-based social services (then called the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives). In our current political climate, it is refreshing to see bipartisan cooperation in support of any initiative. However, the question must be asked, Is this alliance between the government and “faith-based” entities good for Americans? In this article, we’ll consider the prophetic implications.
Two prophecies in Revelation give us word pictures of church-state relationships during Earth’s final crisis, just before Jesus returns. Revelation 17 shows us a woman riding on a beast. She’s dressed in purple and scarlet, and on her forehead are the words “BABYLON THE GREAT / the Mother of Prostitutes” (verse 5). In the biblical prophecies that use symbols, a woman represents those who claim to serve God. In the New Testament, a woman represents the Christian church: A virtuous woman symbolizes the church in its apostolic purity, as in Revelation 12:1, 2. An evil woman, on the other hand, represents the church in deep apostasy.
Revelation 17 says the woman it calls Babylon commits adultery with the kings of the earth (verse 2). Adultery refers to a relationship that God condemns. So Revelation 17 describes an end-time Christian church that will enter into a forbidden relationship with Earth’s “kings”—its political powers, states, or governments. And the consequences of this union will be severe. The last part of chapter 17 and all of chapter 18 describe the total destruction not only of the prostitute but also of the world’s economic and political structures.
Earlier in Revelation, in chapter 13, the author used different symbols—two beasts. One of these beasts, arising from the sea, receives the worship of nearly all of Earth’s inhabitants (Revelation 13:4, 8). It also blasphemes God, persecutes His people, and slanders His dwelling place in heaven. This beast, obviously a religious power, uses political power to do what it wishes. Revelation says it is “given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation” (verse 7). So this chapter also pictures a union between church and state that takes place during the end time.
The second half of Revelation 13 describes a beast that arises out of the land. This beast has “two horns like a lamb,” but it speaks “like a dragon” (verse 11). Elsewhere in Revelation, the lamb is a symbol of Christ, and the dragon is a symbol of Satan (Revelation 5:6; 12:9). This land beast combines these two symbols. Obviously, Christ would never speak like Satan, but Satan is only too glad to impersonate Christ.
Revelation 13 says the land beast will support the sea beast and its evil activities. It will set up an image of the sea beast and order Earth’s inhabitants to worship the sea beast and its image. It will also force all people “to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that . . . [no one can] buy or sell unless they . . . [have] the mark” (verses 16, 17). And ultimately, dissenters will be threatened with death (verses 11–17)!
The land beast is a tyrant of unusual dimensions. It is an unopposed superpower; Revelation says it gets all the other nations to follow its lead. No one can escape its authority. The issues are global.
Everyone who is alive at that time will be brought to a decision—whether to worship the beast and its image or to remain faithful to Christ. Those who choose loyalty to the beast powers will receive the mark of the beast, while those who choose faithfulness to Christ will receive the seal of God (Revelation 7:2).
When we connect the dots between the prophecies of Revelation 13 and 17, we discover that, in the end time, a false religion bearing the name of Christianity will become tyrannical. It will use the power of the state to enforce a compromised set of beliefs and practices that bear the form of Christianity but deny its power (see 2 Timothy 3:5).
The Creator God, who is revealed in the Bible, never forces anyone to believe or to worship but instead seeks to win the faith and worship of all the world’s inhabitants through love. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself” ( John 12:32).
religion and government
So where do government funding and faith-based initiatives fit into this scenario? I’ll begin by telling you what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that faith-based initiatives are about to plunge America into the Inquisition of the Dark Ages.
However, there is a growing hostility on the part of many conservative Christians to the principle of church-state separation. In that context, faith-based initiatives do concern me. Faith-based initiatives represent a paradigm shift in church-state relations. The church is turning to the state to meet needs that historically God has met through church-member donations.
For more than 200 years, America has been a beacon of freedom to the world. The American constitutional system of church-state relations—cutting the church loose from the state to depend entirely upon God and the support of its members—is unique. Christianity in Europe has long been in decline, weakened by centuries of establishment by government and financial dependence on tax dollars. America is one of the few Western nations where Christianity has remained a vital force.
The effort to obtain Caesar’s gold for the church’s services undermines the principle of church-state separation and, more important, the true spirituality of the Christian faith. It is a tacit admission that God is no longer enough. We cannot trust Him to supply the needs of our religious ministries. We no longer wish to depend on the One who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills,” who owns all the gold and the silver in the world (Psalm 50:10). We now look to the state for our financial security.
A spiritually vibrant church doesn’t need to rely on Caesar’s gold and silver. Only a church that has largely lost its grip on God—lost its spiritual force—must supply the lack by reliance on the state.
It is confusion when the state looks to the church to solve difficult social problems, and the church looks to the state to fund its religious mission. Revelation’s name for this is Babylon. That name is derived from Babel, which, the Bible says, means “confusion” (see Genesis 11:9). (Remember the Tower of Babel?) It will be a confused church that joins with the state to enforce its doctrines and worship on pain of economic boycott and death.
The government’s financing of education vouchers and the church’s social services are not the fulfillment of the prophecy in Revelation, but they are a beginning. Historically, every time there was a union of church and state, taxes were collected for the church.
Tax dollars that support religious charities certainly won’t bring on the mark of the beast next month or next year. But tax funding of religion corrupts both church and state and marks a trend that can lead to the religious persecution that Revelation predicts. It’s time to raise the prophetic voice and warn of this danger.
Alan J. Reinach is the executive director of the Church State Council, the religious liberty educational and advocacy arm of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He is a member of the New York and California bars.