CON Contact Us DON Donate
Our History General Assembly Worldwide Outreach Ministries Standards Resources

Ordained Servant Online



Church and State in Historical Perspective

Alan D. Strange

The relationship between church and state has often been a zero-sum game—the church wins, the state loses; the state wins, the church loses. The Reformation, at least in its ultimate outworking, made two things clear in terms of church/state relations: the church and the state are distinctive institutions and neither is over the other. In other words, because each has its own proper place under God, the church need not flourish only at the expense of the state and vice-versa. To be sure, biblical religion had made clear, in both testaments, that church and state are distinctive (even in the Old Testament, priest and king were separate offices). A heresy like Islam, however, blurred the distinction and the Roman Catholicism of the Middle Ages came to claim that, while distinct from the state, the church is over the state. Caesaropapism, contrariwise, asserted by rulers in the West and East, especially the latter, claimed that the state is over the church. Luther and Calvin, as well as the other Reformers, distinguished church and state (as had, most notably, Augustine earlier), and taught that both were under God.[1]

What remained, and remains to this day, a source of contention, even among the Reformed, is the precise relationship of church and state to each other.[2] Some argue that the state is to be transformed in every place into a Christian state[3]; others argue that the state is a separate kingdom from the church and is not under the rule of the Bible, as is the church, but is guided by natural law.[4] This essay examines the shape of church/state relations historically, seeing how that the two are separate institutions, both under God, with one not ruling over the other. Additionally, this essay will analyze briefly both the transformationist and two-kingdom models of church and state, seeking perhaps a modest third way, stemming from a right understanding of the spirituality of the church.

The Distinction of Church and State

The distinction of church and state is seen, first of all, in Scripture itself. In the Old Testament, we see the beginning of the church in Eden (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith [WCF] 8.6, 25.1-2), along with the institution of the family (Gen. 2-3). The state, or perhaps the proto-state, makes its explicit appearance after the Flood, with God instructing Noah in the establishment of rudimentary government (Gen. 9). While in Israel a much closer tie between church and state subsists after the covenantal development at Sinai (Ex. 20) than in the time of the patriarchs, a distinction remains: there is a ruling class, particularly with the development of the Davidic kingship (2 Sam. 2), which is separate from the priestly class, the Levites. Israel does have, during this time of the national covenant (as that period is called by some writers), a theocracy of sorts, but not the kind, as in many other theocracies, in which the priestly class was the ruling class (though the Levites had some functions that may be said to be civil). During this time, Israel had not only the moral law but also a fairly full judicial law, together with the ceremonial law, revealed by God for the regulation of all of life.

This detailed legal code, it might be noted, is variously constructed by Reformed writers. Some see it as a kind of "intrusion ethic" (to use Meredith Kline's term), pointing to the eschaton and not suited for the nations, civil society being governed by natural law.[5] Some, on the other end of this spectrum, maintain that the civil law applies to all the nations as they are Christianized in the New Covenant era.[6] Many Reformed theologians, while not adopting either of these approaches explicitly—i.e., the two-kingdom or the tranformationist—simply settle for what all confessionalists agree upon from WCF 19.3-4: Israel in the Old Testament was the church under age, with the ceremonial law being fulfilled in Christ and the judicial law expiring with Israel, except for its general equity (which is variously constructed). The moral law given to Israel at Sinai is the fuller expression of God's will that he began to reveal to man in the Garden of Eden before the fall of man (WCF 19.1-2). This moral law binds all forever, although "true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned" (WCF 19.5-6). The precise role of the moral law in civil society, however, remains disputed among Reformed thinkers.

Fallen man knows this moral law both through general revelation (Rom. 1:18 ff., Rom. 2:14-15; Ps. 19:1-6) and special revelation (Ps. 19:7-14), though the latter is necessary for a proper understanding of the former, given man's sin and his "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18). Because of common grace, even where special revelation may be absent, unregenerate man is able to make some use of this natural law, albeit twisted. Because of the antithesis, unregenerate man perverts natural law apart from the guidance of special revelation. Since general revelation was never sufficient—even before the fall man needed, and had, a word from God—special revelation is even more necessary after the fall, not only for man's salvation, but also to testify explicitly to the truth seen in general revelation that unregenerate man distorts.

Still unanswered, however, is the question of the precise relationship that the church as an institution ought to sustain to the state. In Israel, as stated above, it was close, yet still distinct. When Uzziah sought to enter the temple, even though he was king, his not being a Levite was immediately an evident problem: he was struck with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-23). Uzzah also encountered trouble by intruding into the prerogatives of the priesthood. He suffered death when he, though not a Levite, sought to touch the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6:5-11). God did not intend for those holding civil office or no office whatsoever to intrude into the sole prerogatives of the Levitical priesthood.[7]

Clearly the distinction continued into the New Covenant era in which the church, previously limited largely to a certain people in a certain place (ethnic Israel in her land), universalized, finding herself thrust into the nations, primarily the Roman Empire. Thus the church, as it spread out from Pentecost, witnessed in the book of Acts and during the time of persecution, up until the conversion of Constantine and his declaring Christianity legal in the Edict of Milan (313), had no choice but to see itself as separate from the pagan states into which it came. Of course, our Lord had declared both that his kingdom was not of this world—demonstrating the spiritual character of it—and that we are to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, showing that we are to have proper respect and submission to civil governors (John 18:36; Matt. 22:21).

The New Testament church, particularly, was established with its own oracles, officers, and ordinances that were separate from the state and often seen as a threat to the state, prompting the apologists to respond variously, with some seeking to show the commonalities of paganism and Christianity (Justin Martyr and Origen, e.g.), with most, like Irenaeus, showing commonalities and differences, and with a third class highlighting antithesis (Tertullian and Tatian, e.g.). Perhaps the conservative Romans who feared that the Christians weren't good Romans—charging them not only with cannibalism, incest, atheism, and the like, but also looking suspiciously at their non-attendance at the games, circuses, and theatre (all places of debauchery)—were right in concluding that the church threatened the Roman way of life, helping bring it finally to an end. Thus the church in its separateness was neither innocuous nor hidden but salt and light, a city upon a hill, calling the nations to repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:13-16; Acts 17:30, 20:21).

The Confusion of Church and State

Confusion about church and state as distinct institutions that are both under God (one not being over the other) arose in the ancient church with and following the conversion of Constantine. Constantine declared Christianity to be legal, exempted the clergy from taxes, restored much confiscated property, and did other things both proper and beneficial for the church. But he sought to intermeddle in her affairs as well. And this continued in the fourth century under his successors, who were in turn Arian and semi-Arian, and who sought to impose such views on the church. While we may be thankful for the orthodox Theodosius I restoring Nicene Christianity, his edict Cunctos Populos (380), declaring Christianity to be the sole religion, only heightened the place of the emperor in the life of the church.

Particularly in the eastern part of the empire, the emperor, as the strongest single figure, tended to rule in both state and church, calling councils and deciding theological controversies. In the West, with the weakening of the empire, and then its fall in 476, the bishop of Rome became the single strongest figure, taking to himself many civil as well as ecclesiastical prerogatives. While Pope Leo the Great (r. 440-461) may, in negotiating with Attila the Hun, have rendered service that no one else in Rome at the time could have, the effect of his and his successors intermeddling with civil affairs not only worsened relations with the Eastern church but also rendered the Western church less faithful and useful than before.

The fall of the Western Empire proved troubling to many. Had not Eusebius declared the triumph of Christianity in the conversion and victories of Constantine? If the church had conquered Rome, how could the now Christianized Roman Empire fall? Some alleged that Rome had fallen because she had abandoned the old pagan ways and embraced this troubling thing called Christianity. Augustine wrote City of God (413-426) to answer this charge and to assert that the City of God (the righteous in Christ) is not dependent upon the City of Man (the ungodly). Kingdoms rise and fall in this world—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome just to name a few. But the City of God, manifested primarily in the church, is eternal, and Rome's demise did not, Augustine argued, entail the City of God's demise.

Augustine's mentor Ambrose had also distinguished the church and state in a time when it was being confused, but perhaps only to assert the power of the church over that of the state. Ambrose believed that Emperor Theodosius had acted with undue harshness in putting down a revolt in Thessalonica in 390 and excommunicated Theodosius, telling him that even the emperor is not over the church but is in the church. To be sure, the penitent Theodosius acknowledged that he was in but not over the church and that, even though emperor, he was bound as a Christian to conduct himself in a godly manner.

Certainly preachers ought to call their parishioners to obedience to the commands of Christ in every area of their lives. Such an assertion, however, does not decide whether Ambrose was competent to determine that Theodosius had acted with excessive force. Similarly while it may be right for Augustine to specify the conditions under which just war may be waged, who determines whether any given war or offensive action is just? Is it solely the prerogative of the ruler, and what if he is wrong? Is the church competent as an institution to make such a judgment? These are the kinds of problems that remain unsolved among us, having to do with the particular relationship that the church and state ought to sustain to one another and that are not easily answered by any of our existing models (transformationist or two-kingdom).

Perhaps the most striking confusion of church and state as institutions occurred in Islam. John of Damascus (675-749), along with other medieval theologians, rightly regarded Islam as a Christian heresy that denied, among other things, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In its take on monotheism, Islam could not account for any distinctions whatsoever—as orthodox Trinitarianism alone can account for the reality of the one and the many—and thus posited a radical oneness for all of creation, with everything ultimately collapsing back into Allah, subject to his whimsy, all reducing to voluntarism. Certainly on this schema there could be no distinctness of the institutions of church and state, Islam claiming to be a comprehensive worldview that addressed all of life from the Quranic viewpoint.

Many today fail to understand that the separation of church and state that we take for granted in the West is a distinction that is utterly foreign to, and seemingly incapable of being grasped by, Islam. Some Christians who lament the secularization of the West confuse that with the separation of church and state. I believe that the former is a result of the Enlightenment, primarily, and the latter a child of the Reformation, to be celebrated and not mourned. All this is lost on Islam, though, which sees any separation between religion and politics as an abomination, a position that we must be careful not to identify with but rather avoid.

Further medieval confusion may be seen not only in a confrontation like that between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV at Canossa in 1077, but also in the relationship between the church and state sustained in the Crusades (beginning in 1095) and in the Investiture Controversy (settled in 1122 by Concordat of Worms). In the Crusades, we might question the urging of the church to the state to take up arms in the cause of the Cross, and in the Investiture Controversy we might question the claim of the king to invest the bishop with mitre and staff, the symbols of episcopal office (although we might question as well the propriety of a centralized church claiming the right to install "its men"). This all came to a head in the papacies of Innocent III (r. 1198-1216), whose papal powers were at their zenith, and Boniface VIII, who issued Unam Sanctam in 1302, in which Boniface claimed that the pope possessed all power and ruled over both the secular and sacred kingdoms. By such an assertion, Rome had fallen prey to a version of the Islamist heresy: the utter domination of the civil power by the religious authorities and the failure to distinguish properly church from state.

Reformation Clarity on the Church and State Question

While the Reformation was about far more than ecclesiology, having a particular concern about soteriology—especially the doctrine of justification by faith alone—ecclesiological issues were significant. Prominent among the ecclesiological issues was the question of the distinctness of the church and state and the relative authority of each with respect to the other. Not only did the Reformers seek to throw off the usurpation of the bishop of Rome over the whole church, but those rulers who supported the Reformation also sought to resist the tyranny of the one that many of them contemptuously dismissed as a mere "Italian prince." In this process of rejecting the claim of the papacy in Unam Sanctam, that the church's sword is to be exercised under the authority and at the direction of St. Peter's keys, many Reformed princes went the opposite direction and embraced what ultimately came to be some form of Erastianism, in which the state is over the church.

This reversal witnessed in the Reformation was promoted by a number of things, including the 1555 Peace of Augsburg in which Lutheranism or Roman Catholicism was established in a territory, depending on the religion of the ruler of that territory, the principle of cuius regio eius religio (a privilege not formally extended to Calvinism in the Holy Roman Empire until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years' War). One of the practical effects in Protestant lands of the state assuming power over the church was that the power of excommunication was taken out of the hands of the clergy and placed in the hands of civil governors. Calvin experienced this in Geneva in 1538 when he vainly sought to keep those whom he judged unworthy from the Lord's table, only to be overruled by Geneva's civil rulers. Though brought back from his three-year exile and ultimately granted some of the ecclesiastical modifications that he sought, Calvin continued to battle with the Genevan town officials who continually intermeddled with ecclesiastical affairs.

It is perhaps understandable why the Genevan officials, and those in a host of other towns, cantons, provinces, etc. of the Reformation, did not trust the clergy with the power of excommunication and other forms of church discipline. Church discipline had previously been so misused, being heavily politicized. Even in the ancient church, Athanasius's Arian opponents (many in the imperial courts) and Chrysostom's local and Alexandrian opponents shamefully abused church discipline to persecute these godly men. In the Middle Ages, many became quite cynical about the papal abuse of church discipline, recognizing that the pope often used discipline, even interdict (ecclesiastical censure of an entire region), to punish his opponents. Many Reformational rulers apparently thought that something as important as church discipline, especially such a heavily politicized use of church discipline, could scarcely be left to the clergy but ought to be in the hands of the civil governors. Thus many Reformed princes went in the opposite direction from Rome: they did not argue that the church is over the state; rather, contra Rome, they adopted the old Caesaropapism—the state is over the church.

Calvin, in his insistence on the right of the consistory to admit to the Lord's table, obviously saw the church as distinct from the state, though their precise relationship in his thought remains somewhat unclear. He affirmed that there were two kingdoms, but what he means by this is arguable. Luther in theory affirmed a clear two-kingdom model but in practice not only allowed the prince in an emergency situation to reform the church (as in his Address to the German Nobility) but also gave the state ultimately more authority over the church than his theory would ever warrant, perhaps because he feared further peasant revolt and anarchy and figured a strong state to be a small price to pay for peace and security.

Luther, in his affirmation of all Christians having a vocation, and in his always speaking of Christians living vigorously as Christians in the temporal kingdom, may escape some of the charges of dualism brought against his position (as is also brought against Aquinas's upper/lower-grace/nature paradigm, though Luther's position was two kingdoms side-by-side, both under God). Calvin, as noted above, along with Luther, distinguished civil and spiritual government (Institutes 3.19.15; 4.20). Such kingdom distinction, then, was not their chief difference with respect to this question; rather, the real difference between Luther and Calvin lay in Luther's subordination of the kingly office of Christ to his priestly office and the effect that had on Luther's view of church and state.

A Modest Proposal for Church and State

Ethicist Nelson Kloosterman has raised the question as to "what benefits accrue to relating human politics (indeed, all of society with its cultural institutions) to Christ's kingship?" Kloosterman answers that "we obtain a better sense of the unity between the spiritual and worldly kingdoms" and that "we are in a better position to give an account and rationale for the diversity and integrity within and among the worldly and spiritual kingdoms." He further opines that "perhaps it is better, then, not to speak of two kingdoms but rather of various offices." Where would one assign the family— to the worldly or spiritual kingdom? "Far better," Kloosterman concludes, "to speak of various offices each of which demonstrates its own unique manner of service and rule. A prince, a father, an employer, a minister—all of them rule but in very different ways. We must speak in a more pluriform fashion than Luther did. No one office is more or less worldly or spiritual than another, but all have been integrated and ordered in Jesus Christ."[8] This seems one fruitful way of slicing the difference between the two prevailing models.

Further, I would observe, it is in the American experiment, not in the ruthless secularization that it shares with the West broadly, but in its proper distinguishing of church and state with neither over the other, that we find the Reformation promise of the distinction and equality of the two domains coming to some fruition.[9] Something as simple as Charles Hodge's understanding of the spirituality of the church is key in this regard. Hodge understood that the church in its essence is a spiritual organism that manifests itself in a spiritual organization, gemeinschaft giving rise to gesellschaft. Hodge crossed swords on this point with the great southern theologian James Henley Thornwell. Both agreed the church was spiritual. Where Hodge differed with Thornwell was on the precise meaning of the spirituality of the church.[10]

Thornwell argued that the church is purely a spiritual body and must not meddle with any secular or political matter. Hodge agreed with this inasmuch, as he wrote, "There is indeed a sense of the words in which the church has nothing to do with politics. She has no right to pronounce judgment on purely secular matters, or upon such questions which ordinarily divide men into political parties." Thornwell had, arguably, developed the doctrine of the spirituality of the church as he had so that the church would not condemn chattel slavery as practiced in the antebellum South. Although he had defended Southern slavery as biblical, Thornwell argued against those in the church who would condemn slavery as unbiblical and call for Christians to repent of slaveholding. He argued that it was a violation of the spirituality of the church for the church to condemn slavery and thus insert itself into what he claimed was a political question.

Hodge, however, objected to the notion that "the action of the state, however inconsistent with the Word of God, could not be testified against." In fact, Hodge maintained that this "new doctrine" of the spirituality of the church (as developed by Thornwell), placed a "muzzle" on the mouth of the church, keeping the church from "exercising one of the highest and most important prerogatives." Hodge was satisfied with the statement adopted by the 1860 General Assembly that addressed the spirituality of the church in a balanced fashion: the church "disclaimed all right to interfere in secular matters" while at the same time "asserted the right and duty of the Church, as God's witness on earth, to bear her testimony in favor of truth and holiness and against all false doctrines and sins."

That Hodge was sane and balanced on the question of the spirituality of the church as taught by Thornwell can be seen in his opposition to the Gardiner Spring Resolutions, the adoption of which in May 1861 led to the withdrawal of the southern brethren from the Old School Church. Dr. Gardiner Spring of New York City had introduced resolutions at the 1861 General Assembly, calling for, inter alia, the erection of a committee "to inquire into the expediency of this Assembly making some expression of their devotion to the Union of these States and loyalty to the Government." These resolutions, which ultimately affirmed that the church must do all in its power to "strengthen, uphold and encourage" the U.S. Government (including the newly-elected Lincoln administration), passed by a vote of 156-66, with Charles Hodge leading the charge against the adoption of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions.

Hodge, in the protest that he submitted to the Assembly of its actions, wrote: "We [who protest the Gardiner Spring Resolutions] deny the right of the Assembly to decide the political question, to what government the allegiance of Presbyterians as citizens is due, and its right to make that decision a condition of membership in our church." He later further amplified his opposition to the Resolutions: "Those who resisted the action of the Assembly were themselves ... loyal to the Constitution [of the United States] and the Federal Government.... Why then did they refuse to avow [the Spring Resolutions] in and through the General Assembly? For the same reason that they would refuse, at the command of an excited multitude, to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" at the Lord's table. They refused because in their judgment it was wrong and out of place.... The General Assembly had no right to decide the political question as to what government the allegiance of Presbyterian citizens is due." Here, in the totality of Hodge's position, one may see the true doctrine of the spirituality of the church.

Perhaps it is best to end by re-focusing more sharply on the distinction of the church and state by examining the nature and limit of the relative powers of each. In brief, the state wields the sword and the church exercises the keys (even as the family the rod). It is given to the state to maintain order in civil society, being an encouragement to those who do good and a terror to those who do evil (Rom. 13:1-7). It is given to the church to evangelize and disciple, in short, to address that which pertains to the spiritual lives of its members and to maintain biblical doctrine, government, worship, and discipline among them (Matt. 28:18-20). The church gives expression to its doctrine in its confessions of faith and catechisms and to its government, worship, and discipline in its church order, which includes a form of government, book of discipline, and directory for public worship, all of which serve as reflection on and application of the Word of God. Our Form of Government (FG) in its opening chapters (1-4, especially) clearly sets forth these things about the nature and exercise of church power, especially chapter 3.

In distinction from the nature and exercise of church power in the Roman Catholic Church, "all church power," according to FG 3.3, "is only ministerial and declarative." The Roman communion views church power as magisterial and legislative, and the Roman church claims the right to "bind the conscience by making laws on the basis of its own authority," (FG 3.3) there being no necessity that "all ... decisions should be founded upon the Word of God" (FG 3.3). In distinction from the nature and exercise of state power, "all church power is wholly moral or spiritual. No church officers or judicatories possess any civil jurisdiction; they may not inflict any civil penalties nor may they seek the aid of the civil power in the exercise of their jurisdiction further than may be necessary for civil protection and security" (FG 3.4). Here we have the clear distinction of church and state and the relative authority of each under God. A few modest comments about how the two might relate to one another have also been offered. Let me conclude by observing that of all that we have worked out in our theology, the precise relationship that the church and state bear toward one another warrants continued work and prayer.

Endnotes

[1] See Wolfgang Huber, "Church and State," in The Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 1 (published jointly, Grand Rapids and Leiden: Eerdmans and Brill, 1999), 502-508: "The Reformation churches never achieved a unified doctrine of the relation to the state, but the distinction between God's spiritual and secular government was a basic insight to which they always appealed." Huber proceeds to relate that, though Luther had a two-kingdom doctrine, he never worked out the distinction comprehensively and that Zwingli and Calvin "agreed with Luther in differentiating the two realms but added a new emphasis" that had concern for Christ's "rule even in the political sphere" (507). On the other hand, David VanDrunen has argued that Calvin held a more vigorous than previously understood two-kingdom view: see his "Context of Natural Law: John Calvin's Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms," Journal of Church and State 46, no. 3 (2004): 503-25; and his "Two Kingdoms: A Reassessment of the Transformationist Calvin," Calvin Theological Journal 40, no. 2 (2005): 248-66.

[2] The diversity on this question within the Reformed faith in contemporary America ranges, on the one end of the spectrum, from D. James Kennedy, who, in his What if America Were a Christian Nation Again? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003) argues for a the recovery of a lost "Christian America," to Darryl G. Hart, on the other end of the spectrum, whose Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006) serves, according to the publisher, as a "ringing rejoinder to those who would link religion and politics."

[3] Some of the more recent key transformationist authors and texts in this regard are Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985); Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002); Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1984); and Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (1959; rpr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).

[4] There has been a mini-renaissance of late in the recovery of both two-kingdom and natural law theories in Reformed theology. Good examples of this may be found in Stephen J. Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006) and David VanDrunen, A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, 2006), see esp., chs. 3-4.

[5] VanDrunen, A Biblical Case for Natural Law, 26-32.

[6] In addition to the transformationists cited in note 1 (above), there are a number of Christian reconstructionists who also believe in a thorough-going Christianization in which not only the moral law but also the judicial law of Israel finds expression in the laws of nations and states. For prime representatives of this position see Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1977) and R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1973).

[7] In fact, that only the Levitical priests could offer atoning sacrifice was so firmly entrenched in Israel's psyche that the book of Hebrews serves as a necessary apologetic for the propriety of someone from the tribe of Judah offering sacrifice. The Book of Hebrews, then, is an argument as to how a non-Levite may properly offer a sacrifice: Jesus may do so because he is of a previous and superior order to that of Levi—the order of Melchizedek—the superiority of the latter to the former being seen in Levi paying tithes to Melchizedek in the loins of Abraham (Heb. 7).

[8] This paragraph quotes from an unpublished classroom lecture in which Kloosterman had previously challenged an approach, on the one hand, that makes an appeal directly and exclusively to the Decalogue for matters of public policy and cultural values, and a stance, on the other hand, that claims the sufficiency of natural law to supply the necessary warrants for public policy and its underlying values, calling instead for a third way: namely, "employ and apply fundamental principles of morality and justice furnished in Scripture and confirmed and illustrated in natural law." I agree with such an approach because, as noted earlier, man, in his sinfulness, has a propensity to twist the natural law, seen particularly now in our post-Enlightenment world in which reason is almost always constructed as autonomous (this point helpfully developed by K. Scott Oliphint in Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), esp. 7-13, which demonstrate the differences in constructing natural law before and after the Enlightenment). Because of such twisting, Scripture is needed to give content to what it means to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you." The "golden rule" is a universal dictum that must be given proper content or it becomes meaningless when abstracted from the Word.

[9] So much must go unsaid here about the establishmentarian principle, particularly in England and Scotland, and how it fared in America, especially in the Presbyterian context (from the Adopting Act of 1729 to the confessional revision of WCF 20 and 23 in 1789). For the former, see the articles on "Church and State," Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993), 179-182; for the broader American context, see "Church and State, Separation of," Dictionary of Christianity in America, Daniel G. Reid, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1990), 266-269.

[10] The next four paragraphs are a description of the Hodge/Thornwell debate on the spirituality of the church, taken from my preface to the 2001 reprint of Charles Hodge’s Discussions in Church Polity (New York: Westminster Publishing House) viii-ix.

Alan D. Strange, an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is associate professor of church history and theological librarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana. Ordained Servant, May 2007.

Printer Friendly
OPC
© 2014 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church
o

Search OPC.org

MINISTRIES

Chaplains and Military Personnel

Diaconal Ministries

Historian

Inter-Church Relations

Pensions

Planned Giving

Short-Term Missions

RESOURCES

Church Directory

Daily Devotional

Audio Sermons

Trinity Hymnal

Camps & Conferences

Gospel Tracts

Book Reviews

Publications

Newsletter

Presbyterian Guardian