Separation of Church and State
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Such a noble idea and magnificent declaration! One that protects freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, petition, and religion in the United States of America.
Most patriotic or even marginally patriotic Americans know where this profound proclamation can be found. Or do we?
Let’s say that you are a guest on the TV game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The next to last question is: American citizens are guaranteed freedom of religion and speech in what famous document?
You stare at the four multiple choice answers on the screen, each one challenging you to choose it… but only one is correct.
You mull them over: It’s in the Declaration of Independence, right? No, it has to be part of the Constitution of the United States. Wait, could it be in Preamble to the Constitution? Of course, it must be the Bill of Rights? These rights and others are in the First Amendment, which is in the Bill of Rights.
Your uncertainty turns to supreme confidence. “Bill of Rights,” you yell. “My final answer.”
“Absolutely right,” exclaims the game show host. The audience is going crazy.
Our founding forefathers didn’t include such liberties in the Constitution itself because they assumed that these rights were innate to a democracy, especially a Republic. They should be a natural extension of “the inalienable rights” of Americans, and shouldn’t need to be listed. Right?
No, wrong, said many of the early Americans even after victory in the Revolutionary War won these rights from the British. The newly crowned “citizens of the United States of America” wanted written guarantees that the United States Government, present and future, would not in any way infringe on the God-given freedoms that make up the very heart and soul of this great country, of man himself. Thus, Amendments were necessary, rather than repealing the Constitution itself.
One more question to go, tied in to the previous question … get it right and you’re an instant millionaire!
The final question: Is the separation of Church and State guaranteed in either the US Constitution or the First Amendment?
For a million dollars, this couldn’t be easier. Only two choices … Yes or No.
No need to guess, because practically everyone knows the answer. It’s in the US Constitution. If not, it’s got to be in the Bill of Rights First Amendment. Either way, you win.
With a growing smile on your face and without needing to exercise your option of calling a friend for their advice, you hold your answer with a dramatic, tension-building pause.
You take a deep breath. After a long suspenseful exhale, you shout:
“Yes! At least one of them guarantees a wall of separation between Church and State.”
The game show host feigns his own anticipation-filled pause to intensify the drama. He smiles and begins to nod, then slowly shakes his head and frowns. You hear the impossible words that crush your dreams of instant wealth.
“No, I’m so sorry,” he groans. “There is no mention of Church and State separation in the US Constitution or the First Amendment.”
Nonsense! It must be a stupid technicality. The game show is fixed. Everyone knows that either the Constitution or First Amendment or both dictate that Church and State must be separated. Dismayed, you head straight for your hotel where you will look up the First Amendment on your iPad.
On your way you call your friend, whom you should have called on the show. She sadly reminds you that the earliest reference to actual separation of church and state comes from a revered, well-known American … Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States at the time. But not from the Constitution or the Bill of Rights or any other subsequent Amendment or from any federal or state law.
Back to Reality
In a moment, we’ll look again at the precise words of the First Amendment; plus some commentary on what I and millions of others believe to be the true and sincere intention of our founding fathers regarding, freedom of religion. With, however, an acknowledgment that many others see this differently. In fact, with the exception of abortion, same-sex marriage, and illegal immigration (and lately, Donald Trump!), there’s hardly another subject that divides American opinion more than the issue of Church and State compatibility.
Neither today’s or next week’s article is meant to debate the issue, including court decisions pertaining to the First Amendment freedom of religion, influenced by Thomas Jefferson’s famous line, “…thus, building a wall of separation between Church and State.” That well-meaning but controversial opinion was penned in a letter … the original source of Church and State separation.
What I will do is to emphasize the indisputable evidence that—even as President and years earlier as primary author of the Declaration of Independence—Jefferson’s “wall of separation” was supposition, not law. That point has been accurately and adequately defended by a number of reliable historians and judicial experts.
Thus, it’s not a question of whether separation of Church and State is the law of the land. It is not. Rather, it’s a question of whether it should be adopted, either by law or in principle. If so, to what extent?
Mostly in next week’s article, we’ll examine what Scripture has to say. All the while remembering that the framers of the United States Constitution were heavily influenced by their reliance on Judeo-Christian principles and precedents given by God through his Word.
I will, as much as possible, refrain from presenting my own opinions (in so many words) as to whether a wall should be erected, or already exists between Church and State. Instead, I prefer to present the Biblical evidence; to perhaps assist in forming your opinion if you have none, reinforce it, or possibly change your views on the subject. Obviously, that’s up to you. Whatever your opinion, I believe what you’ll see in Scripture just might surprise you.
Based on what I see as a firm Biblical premise, I’ll give you a healthy hint: The Lord is for and against separation of Church and State!
“What kind of a deductive cop-out is that,” you ask? Isn’t the Lord either for or against virtually everything? No, there are exceptions. For example: Even though the sinner and the sin of the sinner are practically inseparable (especially the consequences thereof), God loves the sinner but hates the sin.
The answer is both yes and no because the answer is contingent upon two basic conditions: (1) the definition of church and the definition of state; (2) Once the definitions are understood, it also depends on the type of government and the people running the government—their moral fiber, innate integrity, spiritual status, and their degree of acknowledgement, if any, of the Lord
The Actual Words & Clear Intent
Let’s return to the First Amendment.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
We’ll stop there, for a moment.
The primary purpose of the Pilgrims and Puritans leaving Europe was to gain freedom mainly from the tyranny of the Church of England but also the Roman Catholic Church. These two ecclesiastic institutions had exerted an inordinate amount of influence on the governments of several countries. Much of the time, the King or Queen of a nation vied for sovereignty against Popes or Cardinals; thus, their citizens became pawns in the deadly game of King versus Bishop. Whoever prevailed for however long resulted in either a State Church or a Church State.
HOWEVER, this struggle for supremacy had nothing to do with born-again believers who reported directly and only to God and Jesus Christ. The only involvement of true believers was that of being seriously persecuted by State, Church, or both.
(Please, pause with me for this message: Will the ACLU ever realize that no one is really being persecuted, discriminated, deprived, harmed, injured or otherwise mistreated, except the Christians who the ACLU alleges are guilty of the aforementioned offenses?)!
The First Amendment does not state or even imply that Church and State must be separated as such; certainly not to the degree demanded by many in today’s society, i.e. no Ten Commandments posted in government offices or public places. Or, no “Christian” prayers, objects, or references anywhere except in one’s home or church. Not even mention of Jesus’s name by military chaplains! Yet, Muslim prayers are not only allowed in some schools and public places, they are encouraged by our United States President! That is the height of duplicity, but also a subject for another day.
The First Amendment stipulates that Congress (used generically to include all three branches of our government), shall not make (pass) any law that would directly or even indirectly result in the creation or adoption of a “religion” from or through which the government would govern the people.
Does that mean complete “separation” of church and state? Let’s continue.
Equally clear is that Congress cannot be party to, “…prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Meaning prevention of or interference with individual or group freedom to exercise their beliefs (practice, which includes preaching), as further addressed and amplified through freedom of speech and/or right of peaceful assembly, and right to publish.
Does this additional condition mean that there is Church and there is State; and, like east and west, never the two shall meet? Or is it at face value simply saying what it appears to be saying? If so, then is a pastor of a local church permitted to speak Biblically on the subject of abortion to a high school class whose teacher invited the Pastor? Can a member of Congress, who supports marriage between one man and one woman, announce that belief as an invited speaker for a graduation ceremony of lawyers without someone playing the Church and State card? Can a business who owns their store and property put up a nativity scene?
Why not? Give me one good reason, why not?
Separation of Church and State?
No, I asked for a good reason.
Did I say earlier I would refrain from conveying my opinion? These are not opinions, they are simply observations! Besides, most of the Biblical evidence comes next week.
There is no language in the Constitution regarding the concept of Church and State separation. Nor does the First Amendment make such a statement. That Amendment doesn’t tell a Church (any religion) what it can or cannot do, or place any restrictions on individuals or groups as long as whatever they do (exercising their rights) is done peaceably.
Instead, the First Amendment places all the responsibility and restrictions on the Government. Specifically, that our Government stay out of the business of establishing its governing body and functions on or through (one or more) religion. To also cease and desist from any interference with individuals or groups practicing their faith.
Yet, the totally secular in our society want nothing more than to eliminate (through the guise of tolerance and political correctness) ALL vestiges of Christianity in ALL government, educational, and public places. If they accomplish that, they’ll head for our homes and churches. They accuse anything or anyone who displays in any manner, whatsoever (including speech), something that smacks of Christianity to be in violation of the law of Church and State separation, which doesn’t exist in the first place.
Those who support their concept or definition of Church and State separation (whether they know their history or not), do so primarily because of the (now famous) letter written by President Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists, a Christian congregation in Connecticut. This small congregation had become extremely concerned that the more populated and dominant Congregationalist Church, whose membership included politicians, could or would exercise (usurp) enough power to become like the Roman Catholic or Anglican Church in Europe. With the unimaginable and unacceptable potential for possible control of the United States Government.
Here is a portion of President Jefferson’s written response to the Baptists:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions. I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” (Italics for emphasis).
(Benjamin Franklin’s Comments)
Jefferson’s opinion formed the basis for the Supreme Court’s declaration in the Reynolds v United States (1878) case that: “it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere (religious) opinion, but was left free to reach (only those religious) actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.”
In other words, both Thomas Jefferson and the Supreme Court interpreted the First Amendment wording on religious freedom predominantly, if not exclusively, in favor of the people’s right to believe and practice those beliefs as long as the “exercise thereof” didn’t result in violation of the law or become subversive.
As alluded earlier, the 19th, 20th & 21st century position of those who detest religion of any sort use Jefferson’s “separation” opinion as law and do so virtually in reverse. That is, to remove any verbal or visual references to God, Jesus, or the Christian faith in general. Which makes the contemporary application totally out of balance … one sided. The “separation” pendulum has swung much too far to the left; far enough to deprive individuals of other First Amendment rights pertaining to “religion.”
That is not my opinion; it is a known fact in the United States and other Western nations. Plus, it’s a foregone conclusion in Muslim nations—no tolerance for Christians at all.
Having said that, there is Biblical evidence to support the (balanced) view of some separation between Church functions and government functions within a nation, state, or city.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…” (Psalms 33:12).
Before we examine the Biblical historical evidence, we need to define Church and State. The definition of Religion will be indirectly included. This is necessary to adequately understand and appreciate to what extent, if any, there exists a practical distinction between what Governments should be (and do) and how the “Church” should interact with and respond to the administration of government.
What Would Jesus Do (What Did He Say)
We will, however, begin with one of the most profound statements in all of Scripture, indeed, in the entire history of mankind. A concept presented by none other than Messiah Jesus … actually, just one of many remarkable truths given to us by the Lord.
Here is the setting: “Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested … ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22:15-17).
Sometimes Jesus’s response would be patient, even gentle to the religious leaders who wanted to discredit him, then later plotted to kill him.
But sometimes not! This was one of those times.
“But Jesus knew their evil motives. ‘You hypocrites!’ he said. ‘Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax.’ When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, ‘Whose picture and title are stamped on it?’
‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
‘Well then,’ he said, ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God’” (Verses 18-21).
“His reply amazed them, and they went away” (Verse 22).
Personally, I run to Jesus, not away from him. Nevertheless, his response amazes me every time I read it. I would never have thought of such a reply. Once again, the religious leaders fell into their own trap.
This astonishing response of Jesus fits perfectly with the concern of “Church and State;” but does so in the context of the Roman Empire led by its dictatorial Caesars (with some authority wielded by the Roman Senate), having conquered many nations including Israel.
Should there be a “wall” between Church and State. If so, how high should it be?
One thing is clear in Jesus’s teaching and throughout Scripture: Anyone who truly believes in God and seeks him, particularly those redeemed by the atoning sacrifice of Messiah’s death on the Cross, must acknowledge the authority of their government—unless that government passes laws or imposes conditions on believers that are in direct conflict with God’s truth.
After all, it is the Lord who sovereignly sets up and brings down rulers and governments.
“It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall” (Psalms 75:7).
Personally, I want my position (view) and practice (conduct) regarding separation of Church and State to be based on God’s view of the subject.
Such as the Holy Spirit inspired words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior; who wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:1-5).
Definition of Church
This is the most important thing to grasp of all. I have commented on this subject in a few previous articles, particularly one of the earliest Eye of Prophecy articles, The Woman and the Beast, Part IV (published 11-2-13). Here are some excerpts in italics from that post, which also demonstrates that the Christian faith is not a “religion” as such; rather it is a personal relationship with the Lord based on what God has done for us through his Son (purchased our redemption) that we could not do for ourselves:
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find any evidence whatsoever that Jesus needed a seat of government, or permission from a king, or endorsement by ruling officials or religious leaders to fulfill his mission on earth. In fact just the opposite occurred: He was ultimately rejected first by the religious leaders and then by the greater populace because they assumed that The Messiah would rule and reign from Jerusalem and deliver Israel from Gentile oppression. That will, in fact, happen one day when Christ returns to this earth. But the Old Testament was crystal clear that the Messiah must first suffer and die to liberate mankind from its worst tyranny … enslavement to sin; which is, after all, what produces the unjust and criminal conquest of rulers and nations against each other. Not to mention the devastation of individual lives resulting from greed, envy, lust, pride, theft, jealousy, immorality, sorcery, lying, and murder.
Nor do we find any evidence in Scripture or church history that 1st, or 2nd, or 3rd century believers were commanded to establish a centralized system of church rule that would unite all individual “churches” into an authoritarian hierarchy that would, in turn, govern (through church officials such as priests, bishops, vicars) and rule over individual believers.
The early Christian churches were more often found to be in the homes of believers, and were so identified in Paul’s epistles as (for example), “God’s holy people in the city of Colossae,” or the “church of God which is at Corinth.” But never (for example) to the “church of Rome,” meaning the one and only Church of (belonging to or controlling from) Rome. And when Jesus refers to all seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, he addresses his comments to (for example) the “church in Sardis.”
This is much more than just semantics … This distinction constitutes the very essence, the very character, the very identity, and definition of the church. It is the living church of God and of Christ, not a structure or system or seat of centralized, ecumenical power that claims ultimate authority over all who belong to that system including ex-communication; and that compels admission to and membership in the “Church” (beginning with baptism, including infants) as a fundamental requirement for salvation and, thus, qualifies its’ members to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Or, at least, places the members in good standing and gives them a head-start toward heaven; as long as they, in some fashion, remain in a “state of grace” though the conditions of this state are quite ambiguous.
The very words of Jesus contradicts and refutes this premise of salvation by admission to, affiliation with, and inclusion in any religious order by declaring, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The man to whom Jesus spoke was, of course, Nicodemus; who was a member of the elite Jewish Sanhedrin, whose every colleague was thought to be securely and eternally connected to God and the Kingdom of God. Instead, Jesus said that a spiritual rebirth—made possible only by personally believing and receiving Christ as God’s Savior to mankind—was the ONLY way anyone would ever see the Kingdom of God.
Although the book of Galatians is written to the “churches of Galatia”, the word “of” is needed because there were several churches (plural) in the region of Galatia. When writing to a particular group of Christians in a specific city, Paul always uses the functional preposition in or at. Thus, the church was so identified by the presence of believers in or at a particular location; not by a structure or centralized organization that exercised a governmental type of regulation over believers or the churches in which they fellowship and served, whether someone’s home or a building to accommodate the growing number of Christians in that city. The highest degree of administration over any individual church should be no more than the church board, normally composed of pastors and elders.
Application to Church and State Separation
It was precisely structured religion in the form of the mighty Anglican and Roman Catholic Church and the intrusion of these institutional “religions” from which born-again believers fled; exposing these Church-State organizations that did not represent true Christianity nor comprise the true Church consisting of individual believers, without need for a hierarchical structure to govern them.
In today’s world this would include any religious entity that seeks to control national or state or city governments, the most obvious of which are Muslim efforts to establish an Islamic Caliphate; but also individual nations whose governments are controlled by one of four Muslim sects—Sunni, Shi’ite, Alawite, or Wahhabi.
As indicated earlier, in colonial times the primary obstacle to and enemy of those who longed for all the freedoms granted by the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights was the Church of England and the Church of Rome. Both of these professed to be God’s institutional authority on earth. Both demanded complete loyalty, often times clashing over whose authority was supreme … the King or the Pope (including cardinals, bishops and even priests).
Nothing could be farther from the truth! Excessive authority, yes. From, by, and through God … no.
By Biblical definition and application, this would also include the Mormon Church and organized Protestant denominations, such Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian; if, in fact, their organizational hierarchy claims ultimate authority over Scripture or any born-again believers in their congregations.
The core principle of God’s offer of salvation for the human race through the Gospel of Jesus Christ is individual freedom—to choose or reject that offer. If accepted … total forgiveness of sin and complete pardon from sin’s penalty. If rejected … slavery to sin often resulting in human bondage to tyrannical rulers and governments. Then, eternal separation from God after death.
God’s marvelous truth of salvation is not, repeat NOT, to be forced on any individual or group of people in the same vein as Muslim attempts to convert non-Muslims and even fellow Muslims (from another sect) by forced submission. If the “infidels” do not submit, off with their heads!
What’s worse is that “professed” Christians (in name only) have attempted to coerce “conversion” through the military might of a nation or ecclesiastical intimidation or both. To that end horrific anti-Christian means have been used, such as war, inquisitions and excommunication that their misguided adherents believe is the kiss of (eternal) death.
Little wonder, then, that the First Amendment became the cornerstone and defender of the American dream of freedom to worship, assemble, publish, petition, and protest peaceably. To that end, the First Amendment specifically and exclusively addresses the restrictions placed on the United States Government not to prohibit or otherwise interfere with the beliefs of individuals and the peaceable expression of those beliefs.
Definition of State
Actually, it’s not so much a matter of how State is defined, as it is the type of government in force at any given time. In that regard, what are the different kinds of past, present, or future governments that can, in large part, determine whether a wall of separation between Church and State should exist, and to what extent implemented (enforced), if at all? I think that some excerpts from an Eye of Prophecy article, God Is in Control (2-21-15) sufficiently summarizes national governments down through the ages. As follows, in italics:
From the dawn of human existence virtually every kind of government has been in place at one time or another. A country’s government is often a reflection of its people … their race, beliefs (religious or secular), moral values, ethnic upbringing and tribal territory. But sometimes government can be an ill-conceived and unwanted bureaucracy with leaders vying for power and supremacy. All too often, innocent people are victimized by such power struggles, both citizens of the country and residents of neighboring nations that take exception to such Machiavelli type systems.
The common people, representatives of those people, wealthy entrepreneurs, ambitious leaders (good and bad), or all of the above can determine whether a country will become a parliamentary or a democratic representative republic; an absolute (king/queen) or constitutional monarch; an autocratic ruler or state controlled (communism or fascism) dictatorship; an aristocratic or military oligarchy; a cleric-run theocracy or even a true Theocracy. The idea of a theocentric government is, “having God as the central interest and ultimate concern.” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).
Moreover, the destiny of nations (both good and bad) has often been determined by the benevolence or malevolence of rulers … the laws they make and enforce, the decrees they issue, decisions they make, benefits they provide, and goals they aspire to. As the leaders go, so go the people. A ruler with integrity, compassion, and wisdom can be, and often is, a moral compass to the entire nation. Conversely, a selfish, deceitful, evil ruler can bring an entire nation down. Even the United States of America, which many contemplate to be the greatest nation of all time (at least the greatest Republic), relies heavily on its President—considered by some as the most powerful position in the world—to lead … economically, socially, militarily, legally, and morally.
The rise and fall of great leaders, noble and ignoble; of great nations, moral and immoral, is the stuff that legends are made of. And many of these individual and national epitaphs can be found in the Bible as well as secular history. For example, the glorious rise and inglorious fall of Babylon.
Satan’s supreme goal is to create a universal system of belief that will: (1) internally and covertly destabilize and replace the Kingdom of Heaven currently in the hearts of men, woman, and children who have been redeemed by Christ through his great sacrifice for our sins. (2) To establish an international religious and political system that will overtly crush nations whose fundamental existence and intrinsic value is centered on freedom of worship and enterprise … a government of, by, and for the people, such as Israel and the United States.
These two satanic strategies are underway primarily through the cults of Christianity (internal subversion) such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witness; and externally through non-Christian religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Communism, and Fascism … All of these systems are predicated on a works based program of appeasing God to somehow (maybe) merit salvation. Likewise, Fascism and Communism—with the only difference that of the State rewarding meritorious conduct and service with … whatever rewards they deem necessary.
Things to Ponder
Ironically and unfortunately, a prime example of a wall of separation between Church and State is a godless, agnostic government (whether Communist or Fascist such as Stalin’s Russia and Germany’s Third Reich) that brutally suppresses all things Christian (and Jewish).
But no more than a national government headed by a monarchy or oligarchy based on a religion that is equally intolerant to anyone not a part of that religion … like most Islamic nations. Also, like the Church of England in which the King was head over both State and Church. Or like the Roman Catholic Church in which the Pope (for many years) reigned supreme over national heads of state.
Either one of these suppressive forms of Church or Anti-Church governments is exactly what the First Amendment seeks to prevent.
Can Christians contribute to, without control of, government?
Without valuable Christian contributions to (not control of) government, is it then possible for a democracy or a republic to flourish and survive if its citizens carry the idea of Church and State separation to its extreme?
Some tough questions, but there are Biblical principles and precedents.
Next week’s article will explore God’s interaction with people through different administrative (government) systems. To see divine instruction given and precedents set to determine whether there should be, “a wall of separation between Church and State.”