Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

The Separation of Church and State

by Sam Waldron | May 19, 2020

Let me be clear that I am not speaking of separating the state from God. The separation of church and state does not entail “the separation of God and state.”

The Presumption of Such a Separation:

We must begin by reminding ourselves of the redemptive history of the Theocratic Kingdom. With the expiration of the partially restored Theocratic order in A. D. 70, all civil authority in the world ceased to be Theocratic in the proper sense. God is no longer the unique king of any civil entity. No nation is now mandated to adhere to a specially revealed civil order. While the moral principles enshrined in the civil laws of the Old Covenant remain authoritative, no nation is bound to the detailed, civil order of Old Testament Israel. This is the explicit teaching of the 1689 Baptist Confession: “To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.”

Add to all of this the destruction of the Temple as the earthly throne of Yahweh, and one must also conclude that no longer are church and state a united entity. The redeemed community no longer has a civil structure. Thus, the divine establishment of the Gentile civil authorities means that the separation of the civil and ecclesiastical institutions in human society is now God’s preceptive will. The alteration of this order will be signaled only by the return of Christ. Thus, the separation of church and state is assumed and commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ when he directed that we should “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

The Arguments for Such a Separation:

Many arguments could be brought forward in defense of religious freedom or soul liberty. I will only mention two:

(1)         Dictating religious belief and worship is not the task or function of the state. It is outside the sphere of the civil authorities. The state is to preserve civil justice and peace and protect men from violence to their bodies or property. This is the teaching of the Bible (Rom. 13:3, 4; Mt. 22:21; I Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 2:14; Ps. 82:1-4, 58:2, Deut. 4:27; Gen 6:11, 12, 9:5, 6; Ps. 72:14, Ezek. 7:23, 45:9; Prov. 21:15, 24:11, 12, 29:14, 26, 31:5). Men may and do differ as to religious belief without disrupting the peace or offering violence to others. The weapon of the civil authority is the sword (Rom. 13:1-7). Swords are not good weapons—they are not even the right weapons—with which to mold or rule men’s consciences. Civil authority rules men’s bodies, not their souls (Neh. 9:37).

(2)         If a state is to dictate religious belief or worship, this inevitably requires the State to rule the church or the church to rule the state. Both church and state, however, are now independent under God. Since the Bible teaches the sphere-sovereignty of both the state and the church under God, to require the state to restrain violations of the first table of the law necessarily violates the teaching of Scripture.

The Limits of Such Separation:

Are there limits to religious freedom? The obvious answer is certainly! When anyone’s professed religion disrupts civil justice or peace and threatens violence to the body or property of someone else, then it exposes itself to the legitimate action of the state. Such “religious liberty” must be restrained. It is no one’s religious right to beat their children to death. It is no one’s religious right to have an abortion on demand. Many other examples might be provided of religiously held “rights” which should not be permitted.

We can uphold the great truth that Christ is King over all things. We can affirm that civil government must rule in light of the whole Word of God. We can assert that the 1st Table of the Law should be enforced by the father on his family, by the church on its members, and by the individual on himself. We can uphold and affirm all of this, but we to do so we need not revert to the dangerous viewpoint of the union of church and state. That view enshrined in the original Westminster Confession destroys religious liberty and a proper separation of church and state.

Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.

[ Top | Eschatology | Theology | Bible Studies | Classics | Articles | Other Articles | Sermons | Apologetics | F.A.Q. | Forum ]