A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.
Copyright © February 11, 2018
This series of lessons will examine Bible teaching which makes clear that state (civil government) and church are so distinct that they are mutually exclusive—that God ordained each for particular purposes and that He desires that both operate under Him but that neither work with, over, or under the other. The Old Testament develops the doctrine of civil government. There we learn that God ordained civil government to directly control evil since the restraint of conscience was insufficient to control the sinful man. God added the restraint of civil government as a further direct, worldly control over man. The Old Testament deals with Gentile civil government and the theocracy and Israel, their purposes and authorities under God, their history, and prophecies concerning, among other things, concerning their fate. The New Testament announces something new, the church, a spiritual organism made up of spiritual beings.
Combining church and state has had dire consequences, as history shows.[i] Catholic and Protestant theology historically justified (and continue to justify) the union of church and state by examining Scripture not literally, but allegorically or spiritually, when and where convenient to support a desired conclusion (such as union of church and state). Those religious organizations interpret Scripture in such a way as to apply the principles for Israel and Judaism to Gentile nations. Just as religion and state were combined in the Jewish theocracy, this spiritualized and allegorized theology, when implemented, unites church and state in Gentile nations.
Many of America’s founding fathers—most especially James Madison and Thomas Jefferson (see [ii], a copy of Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty drafted by Thomas Jefferson)—and other leaders understood that church and state should be separate. From a worldly common sense point of view Madison and Jefferson and others arrived at their understanding by studying the consequences of such unions both historically and also contemporaneously. From a Bible or spiritual perspective, Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, John Leland and other Baptists understood both the problems created by combining church and state and the true reasons for those problems. Backus wrote:
- “Christians must be careful not to apply God’s principles for the Jewish religion and the nation Israel to church and state. The principles for the two are so distinct that they are mutually exclusive. The government of the Church of Christ is as distinct from all worldly governments, as heaven is from earth.”[iii]
Indeed, union of church and state is contrary to biblical principles; and, therefore, the consequences of church-state union have always been dire and will be so until the return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom.
God gave both church and state certain powers. God gave the state earthly and temporal power within jurisdictional boundaries which He set out. The power given a church was meant to provide a spiritual and eternal good.
The purpose of the Gentile civil government is fleshly or earthly.[iv] Gentile civil government, according to God, was ordained by God to deal with those temporal earthly matters assigned it by God. God gave man certain authority over man. He gave man the responsibility to rule over man under His rules. Gentile civil government has authority to punish those who commit certain crimes against their fellow man and to reward those who do good. The purpose of the Gentile civil government is to control evil men thereby maintaining some degree of peace in this present world. A civil government, as defined by God, is made up of men under God ruling over man in earthly matters.
Much of God’s spiritual word deals with actions of individuals, families, churches, and nations here upon the earth. Civil governments are not given jurisdiction over many areas of life which are governed by the Word of God. A civil government which ignores God and His Word is setting itself up for judgment.
God ordained a church under God, not a business under civil government, an entity that is to work hand in hand with or perhaps over the state to bring in the kingdom of God, or an entity that is to work under state rules. Admittedly, the ultimate God-given purpose of both a church and a civil government is to glorify God, each acting under God, but neither acting with or under the other. However, the underlying purposes of a church and the state are significantly different: the underlying purpose of a church is heavenly or spiritual; the underlying purpose of a civil government is earthly. God gave neither a church nor the state authority to rule over or with the other. Civil government does not have the authority or the ability (the knowledge, understanding and wisdom) to rule over God’s churches. For reasons already looked at in these lessons, a church is not to join with the civil government in any way.
Christians are told to obey civil government as regards certain earthly matters and civil government has authority over all citizens as to some temporal earthly matters. Individuals, families, and churches are not to be under the civil government with regard to spiritual matters, which include many activities and actions as shown in the Bible.
[i] See the historical section of this study of this abridged course for more on this. See, for a more advanced study, (1) Section 4 of God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application which is available free in both PDF and online form or may be ordered in softback and Kindle by going to “Order information for books by Jerald Finney” which also has links to the free PDF and Online Form of the book; (2) the section on the history of the First Amendment; and/or (3) An Abridged History of the First Amendment.).
[ii] Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom drafted by Thomas Jefferson:
[iii] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 561.
[iv] See Section I.A., The Biblical Doctrine of Government of this short course for more on government. For a more advanced analysis, “The biblical doctrine of government” for more on the jurisdiction and purposes of the various God-ordained governments including civil government.