A Brief History of Church/State Relations Part 1

The Old Testament: A Sacramental System

In order to have a Biblical perspective on politics one must first understand the two political systems, or more specifically societal paradigms, presented in Scripture. Each of these systems are easily defined and has unique characteristics that differentiate it from the other. The first of these is the Sacramental System; beginning at the fall (Genesis 3:7) and ending as the temple veil was torn (Matthew 27:51).

A Sacral Society is a monolithic society centered around one unanimously embraced religion. The fundamental driving force behind a sacral is the idea that societal harmony requires religious unanimity; it assumes that religious diversity always results in social discord and within a sacral society, it does. The key to understanding Sacral Societies is realizing that there is no distinction between church and state, the two are synonyms, and can be used interchangeably because they refer to the same institution.

There are numerous distinctives of a Sacral Society. First, within a Sacramental System, the church and the state represent a singular institution, this is commonly known as a theocracy. Second, a Sacral Society has only one religion, the state religion. Third, a Sacramental System is physical in focus; religious form outweighs spiritual essence. Because the state cannot judge the heart motives of an individual, outward compliance is the mark of a true believer, and subsequently a true citizen; the state must create and regulate standardized religious forms. Fourth, because Sacral Societies are theocratic and the mark of true citizenship is outward religious conformity they employ coercion to maintain religious harmony.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of what a Sacral Society looks like.
Israel was a Sacramental Society; as a theocracy, they were by definition Sacral. Even Israel’s enemies were Sacral Societies, whether it be Egypt and their god’s, Dagon of the Philistines, Baal-zebub of Ekron, or any of the god’s of the nations surrounding Israel they were all societies united in and by the worship of their god(s). The law given to Israel maintained civil and spiritual unity; there were no distinctions between the two, which is why those who broke spiritual unity were stoned. The nations that opposed Israel also opposed Israel’s God and likewise the nations that opposed Israel’s God opposed Israel, there is no separating of the two in Sacral Society. This is precisely why the Jews, including the Disciples, could not conceive of a Messiah that did not rule an earthly Kingdom (Acts 1:6).

The New Testament: A Composite System

The second of these is the Composite System; beginning at the tearing of the temple veil (Matthew 27:51). A Composite Society is just that, a compound differentiated society, one could even consider this Democracy, where individuals of differing religious orientations can peacefully coexists within a single society. This is a society where individuals can maintain loyalty to a secular political entity while maintaining their religious orientation; a society where one can “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21).” The key to understanding Composite Societies is realizing that there is a clear distinction between church and state; they represent two distinct separate institutions that do not overlap in any way.

There are several distinctives of a Composite Society. First, within a Composite System, the church and state represent two distinctly separate institutions. Second, a Composite Society is religiously diverse. Third, a Composite System is spiritual in focus, since there is no state religion there are no standardized religious forms. Fourth, because the church and state are two separate institutions individuals can maintain loyalties to both institutions and ones religion becomes a mater of free choice. It is implied in the previous sentence that the state neither aids nor hinders any religion.

The New Testament paints a clear picture of what a Composite society should look like. God makes it clear that He establishes all human governments from Hitler to the Romans that killed Christ and He commands us to submit ourselves to these authorities (Romans 13:1; Acts 4:26-28; Colossians 1:16). He even establishes Governments that oppose Him, and His servants, to the point that we are to be encouraged that neither rulers nor powers can separate us from the Love of God in Christ our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Even at this we do not war with these earthly powers (Ephesians 6:12). Paul even claimed citizenship to Rome, the same Rome that killed Christ (Acts 22:25). Paul understood that the Kingdom of God and the empire of Rome were not in opposition to the point that he could claim citizenship to both. While in Athens Paul noted that they worshipped many gods, even noting an alter inscribed “to the unknown god.” The Apostles recognize that the Sacramental System had ended and the surrounding word did as well, societal harmony was no longer dependant upon religious unanimity.

It is also important to note that the New Testament is completely devoid of prescribed worship forms, as found in the Old Testament. The main word describing Old Testament worship (proskuneo in the Greek Old Testament) mainly occurs in the Gospels and in Revelation, and at that it is in reference to falling down and worshipping Christ. It is also used once in Paul’s letters and that in reference to an unbeliever viewing the literal presence and power of God through the entire congregation prophesying. The gathered church and their actions are never referred to as worship in the New Testament. New Testament worship is no longer bound to strict, location oriented, external, government-enforced forms of worship; we are free to worship in spirit and in truth.

Intermission

Why is this important? I defined the above categories at length because it is imperative that we understand and recognize their characteristics, as the repercussions of their influence has had a profound impact on human history and will play a large role in shaping human history. All this will become clear in my next post, which will be far less in-depth and hopefully far more enlightening.

**I owe much of my understanding and clarity of thought, on this subject, to The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Dissent and Nonconformity Series) by Leonard Verduin, on which I will post a book review in the coming weeks.

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