“Getting to Know Your Church-State Jurisdictions” is Part One in this series, “The Biblical Model of Church and State” is Part Two, and Part Three is “Can Secularism Account for Morality in Government?”
To understand the relationship between Church and State we need to go to the source, and that source is not the United States Constitution. Modern-day social theory is based on an evolutionary model. This means that there is no way to account for morality, governmental jurisdictions, or separation of powers since they are found in biblical sources. Some will argue that they can be accounted for using natural law. But Darwinism ended natural law as a basis for anything except change.
Charles Darwin destroyed natural law theory in biological science…. His successors destroyed natural law theory in social science. In the 1920’s, quantum physics destroyed natural law theory in the subatomic world. This immediately began to undermine modern legal theory.
Does anyone remember how the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly then-Senator and now President Joe Biden, attacked Clarence Thomas for believing that the Constitution had to be interpreted in the light of a higher law theory? While the Constitution states that it is the “law of the land,” there is very little actual law in the Constitution. For example, there are no prohibitions against murder, theft, or rape. So why are these actions morally wrong? The Constitution doesn’t say. The Constitution either implements whatever moral worldview is in vogue at the time or it rests on a fixed set of external moral precepts. Thomas believed that natural law was that external law. Some present Supreme Court justices understand the need for a law external to the Constitution. They’ve appealed to International Law for the Constitution’s external moral pou sto. This is similar to the belief of some prominent scientists that Earth had in long ages past had been “seeded with life.” The logical question to ask is, “Where did the alien seed originate?” In legal terms, what is the foundation of International Law that gives it moral validity?
God, Man, and Law
It is commonly stated—especially among Christians—that the Bible is the bedrock of the American legal system. Very few, however, understand how and to what extent the Bible has influenced the formation of American law. In this series of 8 downloadable audio MP3's, Herb Titus challenges the listener to develop a Biblical understanding of law, with particular focus on law in the United States of America.Buy Now
The framers believed that “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” a phrase found in the Declaration of Independence, were almost universally accepted. This is why Thomas could write: “We look at the Natural Law beliefs of the founders as a background to our Constitution.” When the left-leaning members of the committee heard this, they went on the attack. Thomas was saying that there are fixed moral laws written into the created order that even the Constitution and its interpreters are bound to follow. During the Thomas hearings when he was being considered as a Supreme Court Justice, Biden wrote an article that appeared in the Washington Post. He claimed the following for his version of natural law:
· It does not “function as being a specific moral code regulating individual behavior.”
· It is not “a static set of unchanging principles.”
· It is “an evolving body of ideals.”
According to Biden, natural law is whatever the courts say it is or isn’t. A Supreme Court justice doesn’t have to believe in law as fixed moral principles unless, of course, it means giving women the legal right to kill their unborn babies. If there was ever a fixed law, the right to abortion is it.
“In our system,” Biden declared, “the sole obligation of a Supreme Court justice is to the Constitution. Natural justice can supply one of the important means of understanding the Constitution, but natural law can never be used to reach a decision contrary to a fair reading of the Constitution itself.” To repeat, there is almost no law in the Constitution. Biden knows this. This is why those on the Left (and a good number on the Right) want to be the judicial gatekeepers. Personal opinions are the basis of moral decision-making today, and those with the most power get to say what’s right or wrong. This is why there cannot be a higher law governing the Constitution and the decisions of judges. Biden’s article does not tell us anything about how we determine what’s right or wrong, and that’s the way he wants it.
Biblical jurisdictional separation principles have a long history going back to the Older Testament. Moses became the chief judicial officer in Israel, assisted by numerous lesser civil magistrates (Ex. 18:17–26). Aaron, Moses’ brother, became the chief ecclesiastical officer as High Priest, assisted by numerous lesser priests (29:1–9; Lev. 8). Moses did not carry out the duties of a priest, and Aaron did not perform civil tasks.
In the days of the Judges, Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Gideon, and Samson served as civil officers (Judges 1–13), while the son of Micah, Phineas, Eli, and the Levites served in an ecclesiastical capacity (Judges 17; 20:28; 1 Sam. 1–8).
During the period of the monarchy, King Saul served as a civil official while Ahimelech ministered as the chief ecclesiastical leader in the nation (1 Sam. 10 and 21). David was king while Abiathar carried out the duties of a priest (1 Chron. 15:11). David’s son Solomon ruled as a civil officer while Zadok pursued ecclesiastical obligations (1 Kings 1:45). King Joash and Jehoiada the priest (2 Kings 11) and King Josiah and the priest Hilkiah (2 Kings 22:4) maintained jurisdictional separation. Even after the return from exile, Church and State as parallel institutions operated with Governor Nehemiah (Neh. 7) and Priest Ezra (Neh. 8).
In biblical terms, there was never such a separation between Church and State that the State was free from following the guidelines of Scripture for its civil duties (Deut. 17:15–20). Priests and kings were required to sit before the law to be instructed.
The priest was to follow guidelines about ecclesiastical affairs, while the king would glean from Scripture those directives designed for his civil office. If a case was too difficult for the civil ruler to decide, the Bible gives the following instruction: “You shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them, and they will declare to you the verdict in the case” (17:9). Notice the use of “the Levitical priest or the judge.” Both were required to be experts in the law. The judges did not follow a different standard in adjudicating legal issues. The Levites were to assist the civil ruler as much as the judges, but the Levites were not called on to rule in place of the king.
King David did not dismiss the exhortation of the prophet Nathan after being confronted for his sins of adultery and murder.
Although David at first did not know that the rebuke was leveled against him, he did not act as if it was unusual for someone in Nathan’s position to seek the counsel of the king and even to offer the king advice. David accepted Nathan’s rebuke. He did not tell Nathan that there is a “separation between Church and State”: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD’” (2 Sam. 12:13). Modern-day separationists are closer to the way Herod responded when John the Baptist rebuked him for his adultery (Mark 6:14–29). “What a ruler does privately is none of your business.”
There is always the danger of jurisdictional usurpation, when, say, the civil government removes the jurisdictional boundaries and enters the domain of the Church. The Bible includes some examples of how the king sought to overrule the authority and jurisdiction of the Church. King Saul assumed the duties of the priests when he offered sacrifices. He stepped out of bounds from his kingly duties (1 Sam. 15:9–15, 22). In another place, Saul killed the godly priest Ahimelech because he would not fulfill the king’s political goals (1 Sam. 22:6–23). King Jeroboam established his State religion in Bethel and Dan. Non-Levites of the worst character were appointed to serve as priests (1 Kings 12:26–31).
Then there’s the incident of King Uzziah who crossed the boundary in a very minor way but was judged harshly. God is serious about jurisdictional church-state separation. The king is said to have been “proud” (2 Chron. 26:16). His pride led him to go beyond his legitimate civil jurisdiction and move into the ecclesiastical area.
While he was “chief of State,” being the king in Judah, he was not a priest. King Uzziah could not assume the role of a priest and perform the most basic ecclesiastical duties. He had no jurisdictional authority to serve in the Temple, the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament Church. Uzziah ignored God’s law and “acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God, for he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chron. 26:16).
The king was struck with the most feared disease in all Israel: leprosy! “And king Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the LORD” (v. 21). He lost access to the Temple, was isolated from the general population, and lost his kingdom to his son, Jotham, who “was over the king’s house judging the people of the land” (v. 21). Azariah the priest was not passive in this incident. He knew the limitations of the king’s power. He, along with “eighty priests of the LORD” (v. 17), took action against the king. They “opposed Uzziah the king” (v. 18), making it clear that “it is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense” (v. 18). The priests commanded Uzziah to “get out of the sanctuary” (v. 18).
These “ecclesiastical officials” are called “valiant men” (v. 17) because they acted with great risk. While there were eighty of them, the king still commanded an army. He could have put them to death. There was a precedent for this when Ahimelech the priest helped David against King Saul (1 Sam. 21–22). Saul called on Doeg the Edomite to attack the priests after the king’s own servants refused: “And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five who wore the linen ephod” (1 Sam. 22:18). Doeg the Edomite had no qualms about killing the priests. King Uzziah had Saul’s hate in his eye: “Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged” (2 Chron. 26:19).
There have been times when the Church has forgotten its God-ordained jurisdictional role. The Church can deny its prophetic ministry when it is seduced by politics, that is, to see politics as the sole way to advance God’s kingdom. Isn’t this what happened when the people wanted to crown Jesus as King, to make Him their political ruler? (John 6:15). They showed their true allegiance when Jesus refused to accept their view of what they thought God’s kingdom should be like. “The distribution of bread moved the crowd to acclaim Jesus as the New Moses, the provider, the Welfare King whom they had been waiting for.” When Jesus did not satisfy their false conception of salvation, they turned elsewhere: “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). They denied the transforming work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate the dead heart of man. For them and for many today, man’s salvation comes through political power.
Salvation does not come by way of politics. Politics—civil government—is a ministry under God’s sovereign unlimited government. It is a servant to the people when it acts in terms of its jurisdictional limitations. Turning to the State for salvation is an act of rebellion against God a direct violation of the First and Second Commandments. Christian involvement in politics is to ensure that civil governments at all levels are limited in power and serve as ministers and not masters.
God's Law and Government in America
The three sermons presented in this book exemplify the full-orbed worldview of early American Christianity we need to recover today. They remind us of a time not too far gone in which preachers were highly and broadly educated men who brought biblical worldview to bear in full force to every area of life. In these sermons, we see this especially in regard to the application of biblical law to civil government.Buy Now
Gary North, Political Polytheism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), xxii.
“Thomas Spars With Committee over Natural Law and Abortion,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Review, 49:38 (September 21, 1991), 2644.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr., “Law and Natural Law: Questions for Judge Thomas,” The Washington Post (September 8, 1991), C–1.
John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 42.