The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Closing the Door on Christians

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One way to keep Christians out of the public arena, especially politics, is to claim that there is a separation between Church and State. The argument is based on the assumption that in biblical times Church and State were merged, and in modern times the First Amendment separates the two institutions. Supposedly, under biblical law, priests ruled over elders, judges, and kings. If this is the case, so the argument goes, the Bible cannot be used in our modern pluralistic society where the Constitution forbids the State to be ruled by ecclesiastical officers. Of course, as we will see, Church and State were not merged in the Bible, and the Constitution does not mention a Church-State separation because the institutions were already jurisdictionally separate in the colonial era. Max I. Dimont, writing in Jews, God, and History, sets the historical record straight:

In the Mosaic Code the civil authority was independent of the priesthood. Though it is true that the priesthood had the right to settle cases not specifically covered by Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 17:8–12), that did not place it above the civil government. The priesthood was charged with the responsibility of keeping this government within the framework of Mosaic law, just as the United States Supreme Court is not above the federal government but is, nevertheless, charged with the responsibility of keeping it within the framework of the Constitution. Moses also laid the foundation for another separation, which has since become indispensable to any democracy. He created an independent judiciary.[1]

The Bible teaches that there are multiple jurisdictions with specified functions and limits of authority and power: family, Church, and State.[2] Each of these governments has its own jurisdictional boundaries. In Israel the torah (law) was viewed as the authority for all three governments. While the standard of law was the same, not all laws could be applied in the same way under each jurisdiction. For example, a father could discipline his own child for an infraction, but he could not discipline another family’s child, excommunicate a church member, or impose and carry out the death penalty on a criminal. While the State has the authority to try and execute convicted murderers and impose other civil penalties, individuals, families, and churches do not.

An elder in a church, in conjunction with other elders in his church, has ecclesiastical jurisdiction within his own ecclesiastical body to discipline any member according to the guidelines laid down in Matthew 18 and to participate in proceedings to reconcile differences between fellow-believers (1 Cor. 6:1–11). He cannot go to another church, however, and exercise discipline there, although he may be asked to sit in a judicial capacity, but only under the direction of the government of the church where the proceedings are taking place. Neither can he enter the jurisdiction of civil government as a representative of the church and use the power of the State to impose ecclesiastical laws upon the general citizenry.

None of this means that an individual church member cannot use the Bible to determine whether a candidate running for political office is fit for that office. The Constitution does state that no religious test can be given to someone seeking public office (Art. 6, sec. 3). But this refers to governments supplying the test, most probably designed to keep denominational distinctives from being imposed uniformly.[3] Some scholars claim that since the Constitution requires an “oath or affirmation,” and “an oath imposes a sacred obligation,” therefore “an oath requirement could be characterized as a ‘religious test.’ Nineteenth-century church historian Philip Schaff wrote, ‘in recognizing and requiring an official oath’ for both state and federal officeholders, ‘the Constitution recognizes the Supreme Being, to whom the oath is a solemn appeal.’”[4] It seems that George Washington, a constitutional participant and our nation’s first president, understood the oath in this way since he took his oath with his hand on the Bible and stated “so help me God.” Some of the constitutional delegates pointed out the religious nature of an oath.[5] None of this means that individual voters cannot develop their own test and vote accordingly.

Endnotes:

[1] Max I. Dimont, Jews, God, and History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962), 47.
[2] Gary DeMar, God and Government, 3 vols. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision).
[3] For an opposing view, see Gary North, Political Polytheism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990).
[4] Daniel Dreisbach, “The Constitution’s Forgotten Religion Clause: Reflections on the Article VI Religious Test Ban,” Journal of Church and State 38:2 (Spring 1996), 289.
[5] Dreisbach, “The Constitution’s Forgotten Religion Clause,” 288–289. The word “affirm” was most likely “added to accommodate the religious sensibilities of Quakers, Moravians, and Mennonites who take literally the Biblical injunction, ‘swear not at all.’ Matthew 5:33–37” (290, note 157).

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