A few weeks ago we addressed the use of the term “Separation of Church and State” by Jefferson in context with dealing with the Barbary pirates and in responding to a church that had hired a minister from out of country in violation of federal immigration laws. Today we will take a look even further back in the use of this term.
Jefferson was actually a latecomer to this famous metaphor, for it had long since been introduced in the 1500’s by prominent ministers in England. Throughout the 1600’s it was carried to America by Bible-oriented colonists who planted it deeply in the thinking of Americans…all long before Jefferson ever repeated it.
When God established civil government for His people Israel, He placed Moses over civil affairs and Aaron over the spiritual ones… the nation was one, but the jurisdictions were two, with separate leaders over each. The account of King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26 i! s an illustration on how God insisted on the two jurisdictions. Uzziah’s reign lasted 52 years. Prosperity and stability characterized his civil ruler- ship. But then a dramatic changed occurred. It is recorded in verse 16. Uzziah entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense. As civil ruler over the kingdom he decided that he would also take unto himself a function of the priest. Burning of incense on the altar had been strictly reserved by God for His priests. Uzziah by trying to perform the responsibilities of both Church and State had crossed a line drawn by God Himself. When the priests withstood him, Uzziah became enraged and proceeded to act. God weighed in. He instantly struck Uzziah with leprosy. When Uzziah attempted to violate the jurisdictional separation between State and Church, God provided a dramatic precedent as a message of warning to all future generations.
In the first three centuries of Christianity there had been no attempt to merge the two separate and distinct God-ordained institutions of State and Church. That changed when Roman Emperor Theodosius I unilaterally assumed control of the Church and assimilated it into the State, decreeing Christianity as the official religion of his vast empire and declaring all other religions illegal. With that edict, the State crossed the boundary God had established, and Christianity became coercive, thus repudiating the voluntariness infused into it by Christ Himself. Emperors of the State now made themselves officers of the Church. It became a time of secularization of the Church and the deprivation of Christianity. State leaders felt it was their responsibility to put their swords at the service of the Church and orthodoxy. [“Inquisition”, The Catholic Encyclopedia, October 1, 1910]. Because State and Church became one, a Church leader became a State official and answered to State authorities, being required to enforce any religious doctrines the State decreed. As can only be expected, widespread atrocities marked this period, and civil and religious leaders were frequently ruthless, ever inventing new sadistic tortures and inflecting death with the same lack of compunction they manifested when squashing a roach in the putrid vermin-ridden dungeons they frequently maintained. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs...published in 1563 and some 2,300 pages in length… enumerates the slaughter of countless thousands of Christians by these so-called Christian leaders.
Because the Church had been taken over by the State, it was Bible-based ministers who finally stood up and demanded that the State separate from the Church. English clergyman Richard Hooker was the first to use the phrase. King Henry VIII (1491-1547) had wanted a divorce, but the Church refused to give him one, so he stared his own national church…the Anglican Church…and after decreeing new state-established doctrines, he gave himself a divorce. [“Anglicanism”, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910]. The English Parliament also passed laws stipulating who could take communion and who could be a minister of the Gospel, thus taking control of what should be purely ecclesiastical matters. Rev. Hooker knew that this was wrong so he called for a “separation of Church and Commonwealth”. Other Bible-centered ministers also spoke out including Rev. John Greenwood (1556-1593). He started a congregation attended by many of the pilgrims when they still lived in England.! At the time, Queen Elizabeth I was head over both State and Church. Rev. Greenwood asserted “that there could be but one head to the church and that head was not the Queen, but Christ!”. [Greenwood Genealogies, 1154-1914, Lyons Genealogical Company, 1914, pg.31]. He paid for his stand with his life. Parliament then passed a law requiring that if ” any of Her Majesty’s subjects deny the Queen’s ecclesiastical supremacy…they shall be committed to prison without bail”. At that point most of the pilgrims fled England to Holland. Subsequently, they moved from Holland to America, where they boldly advocated separation of Church and State, asserting that government had no right to “compel religion, to plant churches by power, and to force a submission to ecclesiastical government by laws and penalties”. [Claude H. Van Tyne, The Causes of the War of Independence, 1922, pg.3].
This is not the whole story. There is much more and I shall conclude it next week. We must always remember that the purpose of the Constitution is to protect the citizens and the Church from the government, not vice versa.
– Bob Munsey