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Feb 24: Separation of Church and State

Separation of Church and State: The Bile and the Flag Vision Viewpoint

Vision Viewpoint, a ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI, takes a look in its Christian radio program this week at the political troubles of the day, and where the Word of God’s authority stands in light of them.

What is it our pulpits aren’t telling us? One of the myths foisted upon the churches, and upon our body politic, is embedded in the phrase “separation of church and state” – a phrase not found in the Constitution. It’s not correct to appeal so much to the Constitution when denouncing the intended meaning in this phrase, but rather, we ought to appeal to the biblical understanding of it – an understanding that America’s courts formerly affirmed for nearly two centuries (If the colonial era is included, it is much longer.)

You read that correctly: the biblical understanding of the church and the state to one another has been upheld time and again in the courts of this country, as in the 1844 case of the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Vidal v. Girard’s Executors. Stephen Girard, a native of France, bequeathed an amount of money to the city of Philadelphia – to the entire state of Philadelphia, in fact – his own personal property. After his death in 1831, his estate was worth about $7 million, and in his will he required the city to construct both an orphanage and a college according to his specifications. He made it clear that at no time should any minister of any sect (denomination), missionary, or ecclesiastic ever hold or exercise any station or duty within the college. In other words, he wanted the college to be atheistic.

Now that would hardly raise an eyebrow today. But we’re talking about 1844 – the era in which Christianity was so strongly upheld, it was important to distinguish between the jurisdictions of the two institutions, requiring the founders of this country to indeed call for a separation of church and state – but not in the way it’s perpetrated today.

The decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Vidal v. Girard’s Executors is an interesting one, and made this point: “Christianity is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against to the annoyance of believers or the injury of the public. It is unnecessary for us, however, to consider the establishment of a college or school for the propagation of deism or any other form of infidelity. Such a case is not presumed to exist in a Christian country.”

The high court went on; it didn’t stop with this statement. “Why may not laymen instruct in the general principles of Christianity, as well as ecclesiastics? We cannot overlook the blessings which such laymen, by their conduct, as well as their instructions, may, nay must, impart to their youthful pupils. Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, – without note or comment -be read as a divine revelation in the schools? Its general precepts expounded, its evidences explained, its glorious principles of morality inculcated? Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly and so perfectly as from the New Testament?”

That wasn’t the only Supreme Court decision to state that America was – at that time – a Christian nation. The Bible never lends itself to the idea of a private versus public morality, as though the two were mutually exclusive. Never is there a private realm where we may apply our God-given morality in the name of Christianity, but then also a public realm where the authority from which comes that morality may be denounced. The first chapter of Proverbs tells us the fear of the Lord is to dominate the principles and actions of both.

Our forefathers understood that and stated it as such. What was to be separated were the governments of church and state: those that rule in the government of the church – for example, elders, ministers, and deacons – were not to have jurisdiction over the civil magistracy, and vice versa. These are two separate governments, but, as both our forefathers and the Supreme Court asserted, both are to be influenced by and are to defend and uphold the Christian faith and biblical precept, although the governments have different jurisdictions.

In fact, way back when the phrase “separation of church and state” was first used in England, there was actually a separation of not only church and state, but also of the family, when this issue was first propagated and first understood. There is a separation of the governments, but all of them are under God, from whom their authority is derived. All have the same call to fear the Lord, and all are to open the same Bible, to be directed by holy precept.

Christian radio program Vision Viewpoint is a ministry of Reformation Hope Church and will continue its series on addressing political problems with biblical solutions.

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