...

We are discussing the position which is defended by Rev. MacKay concerning the matter of church and state. His view is expressed in the third article of the 33rd Chapter of the original Westminster Confession which we quoted in the previous issue. In regard to this we must now add the following: 

1. This article is subject to the same criticism which has been cited against our position, namely, that it contains a significant contradiction. It begins by stating that the civil magistrate may not assume to himself the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven but then it continues to enumerate the duties of the civil magistrate as follows: “It is his duty to make order that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered and observed.” What else is this but exercising the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven? (See Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 31). Is it not significantly contradictory, therefore, to say first that the civil magistrate may not assume to himself these duties and then to go on and say that it is his duty to perform them? Possibly it might be objected that the magistrate himself is not to do this but is merely to see to it that the church is faithful in the execution of this duty. To this we would then reply: Firstly, this is not what the Westminster Confession says and, secondly, the church does not receive the mandate to exercise discipline from the state but from Christ. This Confession delegates functions and authority to the civil rulers that properly belongs to the office bearers of the church. In so far we cannot agree with this position. 

2. MacKay cites several examples from Scripture on the basis of which he claims to find support for the position that civil rulers are called to function in the calling of Synods and supporting, promoting and defending the true religion. He refers especially to the God-fearing kings of Judah, Jehosophat and Hezekiah. The whole argument here confuses theideal church state relation as it is realized exclusively in the Kingdom of Christ and as it was typified in the Old Testament theocracy with the practical church state relation as it exists in the present world of sin. Would we dare to say that the position held by Hezekiah as king of Judah, God’s, chosen people, is equivalent to, let us say, the position of the President of the United States, the chief executive of a mixed conglomeration of people that vary from avowed atheists to true children of God? We agree with MacKay that ideally the civil ruler use his God-given authority to bring all things within the state into conformity with the true religion and that this religion be upheld, defended and maintained. But the matter is not as simple as all that. It is one thing to speak of the dutyof the magistrate and another thing to speak of hiscapability to execute that duty. MacKay’s position presupposes that the rulers of the nations are men of Hezekiah’s caliber who are capable of enacting such reformation. This is not the case and MacKay may say, “Mr. Vanden Berg is very pessimistic for he thinks that there is no possibility of the two powers—both of which are ordained of God—not continually fighting each other” but I would point out that this is not pessimism but reality. What is true with respect to, the church that she is the recipient of Divine grace, delivered from the bondage of sin and made through the same grace a willing servant of Christ Jesus—is not true of the State. Rather, as in David’s time, so today, “The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed” (Psalm 2). That’s reality. The church is no longer a national church as in the Old Dispensation but is dispersed and gathered from all nations of the world whose kings are hostile to her. I could not say that those kings have the authority to keep pure and entire the truth of God in the church, etc. I have no objection to MacKay’s assertion that the: rulers of the state have a calling before God but I disagree with his position in the definition of that calling!

This matter is significant. Permit US to reflect a bit further upon it. We do well to remember the factual effects of sin upon man also in his capacity of civil ruler. Man, originally created good and upright was endowed with a Must (obligation), a May (right), a Can(ability) and a Will (volition) to love and to serve God in harmony with his will as prophet, priest and, king. Sin’s entrance into the world affected this relationship so that the ethical right, the natural ability and the free volition to serve God no longer exists. Only the obligation remains for God does not change in His demands. Now, with respect to man in his capacity of civil ruler, the same is true. Man has lost his ability and will to bring the affairs of the civil state into compliance with the law of God. He has even lost the ethical right to do so since as king of the earthly creation he has allied himself with the Prince of darkness and rebelled against God, surrendering his kingdom to the devil. Hence, when tempted by the devil, the Lord did not dispute the claim of Satan that “all these kingdoms were his.” Actually of course this was not so. All things belong the Christ by whom and for whom they were made but from the ethical point of view, it may be conceded that the kingdoms of this world, belong to the Prince of Darkness whom they serve. But here also the Divine obligation imposed upon man in his capacity of civil ruler is not abrogated but remains, God holds man responsible in spite of the fact that he is unable and unwilling to perform his rightful duties in the sphere of the state: Upon him the wrath of God abides that ultimately results in the destruction and ruin of all the nations of the world. (Daniel 2:44). 

Now the position of MacKay’s advocates is that this civil magistrate takes to himself the authority to keep pure and entire the truth of God in the church, to suppress all blasphemies and heresies, to prevent or reform all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline. That is like saying that a drunkard is to enforce the laws of prohibition. I maintained that this is a practical impossibility in this world and that where the state attempts this an inevitable conflict will ensue. The true worship of God against which the kings of the earth have set themselves will not be protected but persecuted, heretics will not be punished but honored, corruptions and abuses will not be prevented but promoted even as they are, within the sphere of the state. Nor is it the task of the state to do all this but it is rather a more correct circumscription of the duty and authority of the ruling elder in the church whom God has appointed as overseer of His house. 

Hence, the fathers went toe far in ascribing these duties to the heads of the state; duties which can be true only where church and state are a unity (one) as will be the case in the perfect. Kingdom of Christ and as was the case in the typical theocracy. The church and state as they now exist are two separate entities and it is wrong to delegate the functions of either one to the officers of the other. 

3. In the third place, the position which Rev. MacKay defends is tantamount to State domination over the church even though Rev. MacKay will likely not be ready to admit this. Nevertheless, notice that the functions of the preaching of the Word, administering the sacraments and exercising the keys of the Kingdom belong to the church and these, according to the article, the civil magistrate may not assume to himself. However; who is to determine what the truth of the Word is, what heretics are to be suppressed, what abuses and corruptions to be eradicated? These functions belong to the civil magistrate. If he considers your preaching or the, doctrine of your church to be the heretical, he has the authority to suppress them. He may even convoke a Synod and be present there to provide that whatsoever is transacted there be in accordance with the mind of God. Would it not logically follow that the civil magistrate himself then also determines whether those transactions of the Synod are according to the mind of God? Thus the Synod and all the functions of the church are brought under subjection to the civil powers and this is certainly not in harmony with the Word of God. But then, perhaps MacKay will not accept these conclusions only then let him explain these difficulties in this position. 

Now let us go back to consider the footnote of Art. 36 of the Netherlands Confession which MacKay criticizes for being inconsistent and contradictory. His objection is that this decision repudiates the Established Church idea and advocates the principle of church and state separation while at the same time insists that the state bas a divine duty towards the first table of the law of God within its own sphere. This he terms contradictory. Concerning this we must note as to our position:

I. The entire decision should make clear to Rev. MacKay that the Synod in speaking of separation of church and state did not have in mind the Baptistic construction which was also in the minds of the Deistic framers of the U.S. Constitution. It may be admitted that if the phrase is so construed, the decision contains an unexplainable contradiction. But this not necessarily the case. According to the framers of the U.S. Constitution the state is to be religiously neutral (religiously atheistic, physically separate) and leave all matters pertaining to God and religion to the church. This is plainly not the idea or meaning of the decision of 1910 which states: “That both State and Church as institutions of God and Christ have mutual rights and duties appointed them from on high, and therefore have a very sacred reciprocal obligation to meet through the Holy Spirit who proceeds from Father and Son.” Absolute separation is not taught, Rather this separation must be construed in the sense that church and state are distinct institutions, distinct entities, distinct in nature, scope and operation. With respect to both of them the principle expressed in the Dutch saying, Souvereiniteit in eigen kring” applies. We do not deny that church and state both have a calling before God. They certainly do. Each in their own sphere! And each is the sovereign minister of God to execute that calling within its own sphere. 

2. That these two distinct entities are also related to each other is evident. They do not simply co-exist side by side but in this world they belong to the same physical organism, the human race. Members of the church are citizens of the state or vice-versa. In bold type the Rev. MacKay speaks of this also by saying, “Church and State are joined together by God—there is a real unity between the two—but they are not organically united and they are not intermingled or confused.” Related they are and yet separate so that neither may encroach upon the others’ territory. Let us then not confuse them. To the rulers in the sphere of the state God gives distinct and clear mandates and likewise to these whom He appoints to rule in His church. 

—G.V.D.B.