The importance of this problem is immediately evident to anyone who scans the History of the New Dispensation and recalls the struggle of Pope and Emperor, the question of Calvin and Servetus. The long discussions surrounding Article 36 of our Netherland Confession, and the attempt of Dutch Christian groups to work out a Christian polity and state. And for a very concrete instance of the importance we can look at the Russia, Germany and Japan of today, and not to relax our vigil, the America of tomorrow.
In considering a problem such as this, one often feels the question come up, whether we are intended to have a solution. Does Scripture intend that we should have in this dispensation of crooked and perverse generations, in the midst of sin and abnormalities and ending in a cataclysm of judgment, a solution for these problems.
There are, indeed, Christians who from out of the church take the practical, unreflective attitude that we cannot do anything, we just live along, are dragged along, and the less one has to do with the entire life of the State the better. Here the tendency is to reject the creature because of the sin that has affected it.
On the other hand are the rather blind idealists, who always believe that we are advancing, with these institutions to a more ideal condition, and immediately embrace anything that seems to contribute momentarily to that pleasant prospect, regardless of its ethical quality.
The one throws away nature with sin; the other embraces sin with nature.
We can immediately establish that they are two entities clearly taught in Scripture, and any denial of either the State (Anabaptists, and the modern dialectic theologians) or the church (conventicles and sects, who deny the institute, or Modernist who deny the organism) is an ignoring of the Scriptural relations of nature to sin and grace.
Now we can conceive the relation of these two in several ways.
First, according to their essence as: 1. Unrelated, 2, Co-ordinate, 3. Church subordinate, 4. State subordinate.
Now it seems advisable to learn the essential being of both and thereupon their historic embodiment in order if possible to determine the mutual relation, if any. And though the order of their arising might suggest that we speak of the State first, yet it seems advisable to look first at the church as being most easily defined, thus giving us something of a guide in formulating the more difficult.
The Church we can define as the Mystical body of Christ, i.e., the organism of elect humanity in and through which He lives and manifests His eternal life of righteousness, holiness, love, etc., and this church we can view from three aspects, viz., the church invisible, the church visible in its extra-institutional life and the church visible as institute.
With the church as instituted we have now especially to do, and know that the nature of this institution is determined organically by the manner in which the mystical life of Christ would come to manifestation and in accord with this by the Word and precepts of Christ and the Apostles. So arising and guided she is the bond and mother of the believers in the world, and provides all necessary means for the profession of faith, in word and deed, the teaching, the discipline, and the ministry of mercy.
In this God-ordained function it has sovereign competency and recognizes no other authority than the Word of Christ.
Coming now to the definition of the State we face difficulties. For although their formal organizations have so much in common that they are easily conceived of and also often talked of as almost twin institutions, yet when we seek their essence we are forced to ask wherein they are alike.
First of all we lack the definite advantage which we had in the case of the church, viz., that there was a concrete essence, which we could grasp and which was determinative for the institute, i.e., the living Christ, and further we lack that same full Scriptural material.
We stand before the questions: What is its idea, what is its purpose, wherein is it founded?
Now in struggling with this question, Christian theologians and statesmen have usually asked the question, what is its origin? Dr. A. Kuyper, who has written several works on Staatkunde, strongly advocates that the state has come to existence because of sin. Household and family relations (gezin en familie) arise out of creation but the state does not come up out of creation and would not be except for sin, but is mechanically added. And he asks the very reasonable question: What would be the task of the state if there were no sin, remembering of course that the proper task of the state lies in the realm of equity.
On the other hand, however, there are other considerations that would induce us to seek its origin in creation. 1. We may point to the world of angels, which, though it has no sin, yet is according to Scripture well organized in ranks and authorities; 2. We may point to the family before sin entered, where we have the authority of the man over the wife, and over the creatures; 3. There is no doubt that the great similarity between the term used to picture the nature and relations, in the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdoms of earth is found in an underlying likeness, and abiding element; 4. But not least is the utter lack of an explanation how such an institution could be introduced after the “beginnings”.
Scripture does not tell us of any such act of God after the fall, and if we conceive of the word-revelation given to Noah as the founding of the state we must remember that it is not a creative word, such as those words and blessings of the six creative days. And if we consider it a command we must ask, how, besides the obedient church, also the disobedient world came to assume that command and lived according to it ever after.
We may regret that Dr. Dooyeweerd (Wijsb. der Wetsidee, Vol. III) did not enter upon this problem, which he apparently considered outside the province of his studies on Structuren der Tijdelijke Menschelijke Samenlevensbanden, although he adopts in principle the viewpoint of Dr. Kuyper.
Now perhaps this difference is not as great as it seems, it being somewhat accentuated by the viewpoint that is taken.
It is very possible that the potentiality for the state is given in creation, including such factors as the great variety among individuals with predominance in some, and the natural knowledge and bent for equity and external deportment, whereas the exercise of these powers first appears, when sin calls forth authority vested in certain persons with the power of the sword.
This brings us to the second question: What is the purpose of the state. What is it that the Creator would reveal in the civil order, analogous to the purpose of the church? And the answer is undoubtedly that the state is a creaturely temporal organ for the eternal righteousness of God. So it was in the Old Testament Theocracy. The state was a minister of righteousness, of equity and of vengeance; so it is also in Romans 13.
This natural faculty for equity is indeed given in the creation of man and by it he reveals that equity is desirable and that it must be maintained if human life is to reveal its fullness so that all of life acquiesces in and corroborates the eternal rightness of God.
And in this respect there is a strange difference between the state and the church, for whereas the church can only fulfill that purpose when it does so as a willing organ, the state can also do so to an extent in unbelief toward the Creator. The explanation is that the state maintains only the righteousness whether to destruction or to restoration and does so by virtue of in-created power, whereas the Church is a manifestation of God’s restoring grace, and can be an organ thereof only when it is itself restored by grace.
Since then, the state arises out of the creation and has its function in the natural sphere it would seem questionable whether she has anything to do with revelation or the Gospel. However, this does not at all follow, for if the state in its government is to function efficiently it will have to use all the know ledge of God and His will that it can obtain and there is no reason why the state must not be guided in all its official conduct by revelation, not only in nature, but also in Scripture generally, and even as it is specifically given us in the Gospel of the crucified and reigning Christ.
But this does not yet determine the limits of the competency for the state, for this is quite different ‘from the question of a believing personnel, or of the complete norms of its conduct.
The question of its competency is often stated by asking its relation to the first table of the Decalogue. And although it is debatable whether the division of the decalogue is so simple, whether we know how it was divided, and then whether the tables intended to indicate man’s relation to God. And his relation to his fellow-man respectively, we may retain as a gist the question our fathers meant to ask, viz., must the state also concern itself with our relation to God.
Now it has of course been felt that ascribing to the government power also over man’s relation to God, places us before insurmountable difficulties, and this practical consideration has apparently also affected the historic stand of the church on the question. Yet this practical difficulty may not influence us when we seek for principles. We are bound to face the problem of the sphere and just extent of competency.
And the nature of this competency is determined by the nature of the physical sphere and the subjects found therein. For she has dominion over a geographic domain and the citizens resident therein for the purpose of maintaining and avenging justice and equity among men, and this again determines her means for whereas the church has as its sphere the small circle formed by those who are susceptible to the method and means of spiritual appeal, and grace and forgiveness, the government cannot use the methods of grace, for its subjects are not presupposed to be susceptible thereto. They require the restraint and vengeance of temporal physical power and the sword, and only these does the government have.
However when we now view the relation of the government to the first table, we must evidently take into account the traditions of the people, for what might be to one people a very unobtrusive act of the government might be to another a very disrupting process. Yet we may say that any transgression also of the first table insofar as it affects the communal life of the citizens and temporal welfare of the state falls under the sway of the state. She must punish Sabbath breaking, Atheistic, Communistic propaganda, and any kind of “Moloch Sacrifice.” This does not mean that she is trying to establish the Kingdom of God with the sword, but that she is vindicating the law of God for the relations of men as it is revealed in outward life, and this does not make the striving of the state mere humanism so that Atheistic blasphemy is less wrong than speeding or trespassing, but it is a question of her competency, and she can serve God fully only when she abides in her sphere.
Thus in judging an issue between a Christian and an atheistic group the state would be called only to maintain equity in the material and personal rights. Thus it is with the government and education, where the estate has no competency and every parent or every group of parents must determine what their children shall be taught. So she is neutral which does not at all imply that she is Antichristian, but that officially she has nothing to do with it except to regulate its civil ordinances.
Indeed, in many cases this principle of relations would be hard to maintain, but the difficulty would undoubtedly lie rather in the actual application in a sinful world than in applying the principles theoretically and that is where we must always begin, of course.
But there is also a definite interrelation of the two in their conduct. The Church has certain functions that extend into the state and vice versa. As instances of the first we have the church proclaiming a severe morality whereas the state is often lax in its divorce laws; contrariwise, when the state advocates prohibition the church may feel called to preach that all creature of God is good. Such preaching cannot fail, theoretically to affect the citizenry of the state.
On the other hand we have the state’s concern about church property. And just recently the question of her calling to pay the victory tax and to display the flag has arisen. In these cases it is very necessary to discern the proper relations. Why, e.g., should not the officers of the church deduct the victory tax? For surely when they function in the task of financing they are not engaged in the spiritual task of the church. And why should not the government regulate the administration of monies that are an integral part of the financial fabric of the nation? So also with the taxation of church property, which is not “spiritual” but is merely a part of the wealth and also the responsibility of the nation.
The question of displaying the flag may be noticed here. The propriety undoubtedly, depends on whether the flag on the church property symbolizes that the property and the members are subject to the government, or whether it means to symbolize that the church as custodian of the Gospel places itself in the service of the nation. But just because the flag is symbol we must be sure that the symbolism is properly understood and gives no false impression of allegiance. Should the church preach patriotism, is another vital question. And here again we must carefully discern. Indeed the church must. The Scriptures everywhere teach it. Subjection and tribute and honor and fear are enjoined toward the government. This is essentially no different from the love and reverence we owe our parents. We are to love our fellowmen in that relation also according to God’s ordinances. But let us not forget that she preaches patriotism to men of all nations.
And here again we must carefully discern. Indeed the church must. The Scriptures everywhere teach it. Subjection and tribute and honor and fear are enjoined toward the government. This is essentially no different from the love and reverence we owe our parents. We are to love our fellow men in that relation also according to God’s ordinances. But let us not forget that she preaches patriotism to men of all nations.
And it is true that this point which seems to raise such conflicts in our minds in war time with its choosing of sides and is seen much more easily in its positive beauty and constructiveness, does nevertheless, not raise an essential conflict. It implies nothing less than that when we in war-time pray that God may cause His children to be faithful also in their calling as soldiers, we pray for those of every nation. If then it seems absurd that we pray that our enemy may do his best when he faces us in the battle line, the only answer is that the true Christian loves law and order, more than he does personal success and victory. Unless, then there is another competent government ready to take charge, also our enemy may not institute anarchy in the ranks against his lawful government. Tyranny may be unbearable to the flesh, but anarchy is unbearable to the spirit; it is nihilism, the destruction of the order of the universe itself.
We may end with the practical remark that if the relations are so serious there is room for more clear-cut testimony of the truth to the government, although it is questionable whether this should be clone by the church and not rather by the Christian citizen and citizen-groups.
Our space forbids to treat the relation of the state to the Incarnate Christ, whether her essence is temporal or abiding, and what is her ultimate relation to the church in that perfected coming Kingdom.