Separation of Church and State?
What do you think of the idea of separation of church and state?
It all depends on what you mean by it. If you mean, “Do I believe in institutional separation, i.e., that the government of the church should be kept separate from the government of the state”, then yes I’m all for it. The church should not be a department of the state nor the state a ministry of the church. Each has its own officers and its own sphere of responsibility.
But if you mean, “Do I believe in the separation of God from government,” which is what so many people mean who cry “Separation of church and state!” then no, I don’t believe it for moment. The state, no less than the church, has a responsibility to acknowledge God and to be subject to him.
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him (Ps. 2:10-12)
Those who hold office in civil government have a responsibility not only to live faithfully as Christians in their private lives, but also to govern faithfully as Christians in their public office, openly acknowledging the Lord’s authority and governing in terms of his word. Much of the Bible, in fact, is given as instruction to those who hold public office—the case laws of the Old Testament, for instance. God tells Moses, “These are the judgments [i.e., rulings] that you are to set before” the elders and judges of the people (Ex. 21:1; cf. Deut. 1:17). Civil magistrates are not to rule on their own authority, but are to look to God’s law as a guide in terms of the proper scope of government, as well as in terms of specific pieces of legislation, and in terms of how to rule in criminal cases.
Not only this, but much of the material in the prophets is both a denunciation of rulers for failing to uphold God’s law, and a call for them to repent.
Church and state each have their own particular spheres of responsibility. The state has two chief responsibilities. First, it is to defend its citizens against foreign invasion. Second, it is to maintain domestic order by enforcing laws against what God defines as criminal behavior. The church, on the other hand, is to teach the word of God and to be a center for his public worship. So church and state each have their own responsibilities, but both are under the authority of God and his word.
Leaders in civil government ought to be members of the church who listen to the teaching of God’s word and faithfully apply it to their calling as public officials. This was, in fact, a requirement in the early days of our nation. The colonies, and later, after the War for Independence, the states had religious tests for public office-holders. As a part of the swearing in ceremony officials had to swear that they believed in the Christian religion and in the divinity of Christ, and that they accepted the Bible as God’s own revealed word.
It is unfortunate that our nation’s founding documents are not more explicit in this respect. Our Founders shied away from requiring a religious test for federal office-holders, not because they were hoping to establish a secular society, but because they deemed this something to be taken care of at the state level. The states had their own religious tests. If the federal government imposed a religious test, it would impinge upon the right of the states to do so.
The Founders seem to have taken it for granted that ours was a Christian nation and the states would send Christian men to serve in the Federal government and so they didn’t see the need to express themselves more fully on this point in our founding documents. In the Declaration we have mention made of the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” And it is said “all Men are created equal,” and that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” In the Constitution we have an acknowledgement of the Lord’s Day, and the date of its passage is said to be “the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven.” So there is clearly a Christian presupposition in these documents. But we could wish the Founders had been prescient enough to have seen the need to give a fuller account of these things so that there would not be so much confusion today concerning their original intentions.
 Note that I said criminal behavior, not sinful behavior. All criminal behavior is sinful, but not all sinful behavior is criminal.
 See, for instance, Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story (Powder Springs, GA: 2005)
 “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI).
 This is also the rationale behind the establishment clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The Amendment restricts the power of Congress in these matters lest the acts of Congress contradict the laws of the states.