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Church & State: How Separate? (Part 3)

In the two previous blogs I approached to the Constitution’s address of where religion fits into the civil society, as it was one the topics broached at the previous Republican Presidential Primary debate held in New Hampshire a few weeks ago. The final question of this series on the nature of the Constitution’s First Amendment is what good has been brought to the civil society when religion has been removed from the public sphere of life? 

There are many today in our society, through all levels of society, who believe or promote the notion that the Constitution’s First Amendment teaches the separation of church and state.  This opinion has lead to a modern day isolationist mentality where one’s faith should be kept private from the public arena.  However, a clause which declares “the separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution.  The First Amendment does say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but “establishment” and “separation” are two completely different definitions. 

The word “establishment” means that there would be no national church that would be agreed upon by the governing bodies the people must submit too.  For such a lawful action to have been enacted would have lead to a theocracy, which was outside the scope of intention by the framers.  The founders understood from history that people having to follow the religion of a king, queen, or a blending of pope and king, did not bode well for the people, more often it lead to some form of tyranny. 

What was understood was that the nation’s liberty was tied to its freedom to exercise religion.  For in the Declaration of Independence, the precursor to the Constitution, it says that individuals are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”.  Such a declaration recognizes the absoluteness of God, who grants “unalienable rights” through Natural Law. 

The following are a couple of examples from the earliest developments in our nation’s history of men who wrote of the positive attributes religious freedom, particularly Christianity, brought to society.  In Francis Schaeffer’s book A Christian Manifesto he cites William Penn who expressed, “If we are not governed by God, then we will be ruled by tyrants.”  The other is of John Witherspoon who was a Presbyterian minister and the only pastor who signed the Declaration of Independence.  He eventually became the president of Princeton, but said in a sermon on the first Thanksgiving Day after the American Revolution, “A republic once equally poised must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.” (Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, 33-34)       

A nations well being and longevity, of being free from a reign of tyranny, is related to the moral fabric of its society.  This is especially true of the Israelites as recorded in the Old Testament.  When the Israelites recognized the Lord and followed his statutes life would generally go well for their nation.  When they fell into apostasy they were disciplined and driven from their land.

The removal and movement away from the recognition of God, poses a serious problem, for it always leads to moral decay and despotism.  There is a difficult balance between religion and freedom.  2 Peter 2:19 describes one of the characteristics of false teachers/prophets as this:   "they promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity-for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him." 

Although the context of Peter’s writing is in regards to false prophets and teachers, I believe this verse is particularly relevant today.  How often we have heard the nature of Peter’s argument in our own politics as well as other world religions?  Often in politics there is a twist where to be free, means a freedom from responsibility, or without limit, or constraint.  Such a freedom is a lie, as really it leads to more depravity.  In some world religions throughout history there has been a belief that true freedom contains no moral restraint.  Think of the Greeks and Romans, where they believed their revelry brought them closer to the gods.  This too, as the Bible teaches us, leads to more depravity.  The best defense from such teachers is given in 2 Peter 3:17-18.  We are to be on guard, and grow in the "grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 


Church matters should be different from the politics. I hope they would learn where their limitation is. - Aldo Todini

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Former coffee house manager, turned barista and coffee afficianado, Matt is currently pursuing an M.Div at Talbot School of Theology. He's a critical thinker who seeks to be engaged in the culture, while blending faith into life.