Before we enter a discussion of the significant 31st Article of our Church Order, I am going to comment on the recent writings of Rev. Malcolm MacKay that appeared in The Contender and in which he reflects upon a series of Articles 1 wrote in The Standard Bearer several months ago Under the caption, “The Church and State.”
First of all, I want to thank Rev. MacKay for his criticism, elucidation and enlightening articles. Even though I do not agree with everything he writes, I can enjoy reading his articles even as I have enjoyed reading The Contender of the last five years. When he criticizes, the spirit in which he voices his criticism is such that it lends itself to further discussion of the issues involved and in that atmosphere a discussion can be profitable toward mutual understanding of one another’s views as well as arriving at the truth of the matter.
Secondly, I want to remove any personal offence to the Rev. MacKay if I, as he expresses it, “put him in a disadvantageous light before the readers of The Standard Bearer at the beginning of his comments upon our articles by referring to us as a former Presbyterian minister in Nova Scotia.'” He feels that with this statement I created the impression in the minds of our readers that he is no longer Presbyterian but something else and he wants The Standard Bearer readers to. know that although he has left the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Canada because of the control modernism had gained over it, he is, nevertheless, and continues to be a faithful Presbyterian minister, i.e., faithful to the true cause of Presbyterianism. The, organization known as the Presbyterian Church of Canada (and also U.S.A.) which MacKay left ten years ago departed radically from the historie position of true Presbyterianism and to this departure MacKay takes exception, leaves the organization and continues to staunchly defend and maintain the traditions of Knox and the Presbyterian fathers. His position of course we can understand for our experience bas been quite similar. In 1924 the Christian Reformed Church of America departed radically from the historic Reformed position and cast faithful officebearers out of her fellowship. Over against this departure, we, in the ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches, have continued to maintain and defend the historic position of the Reformed fathers even though, like MacKay, we have “no recognition or standing” in the eyes of men.
In the third place, with respect to the area of our differences on the matter of church and state, I have read carefully MacKay’s articles and reread my own series on the subject. I had intended to reserve all comment until MacKay was finished but, since he bas only one more article to write on the, Subject, I felt it was better to place this evaluation of his criticism here rather than interrupt a series on Article 31 later. In this evaluation it is not my intention to comment upon every statement or point the Reverend raises hut will in the interest of the subject itself confine myself to a few main issues.
For sake of clarity then, I want to say first that our area of differences is not, in my opinion, as great as MacKay presents it: On many things regarding this subject we are basically agreed. In fact the area of agreement is wider than that of disagreement as will be evident if we just briefly state the various possible views of the relation of church and state.
First, there is the view of Roman Catholicism according to which, briefly, the state is subject to the church. The pope not only holds the highest ecclesiastical office in the church but is also temporal ruler of the state. We need write no more than that we both agree that this view is false.
Secondly, there is the view advocated by the Arminians which is really the reverse of the preceding and holds that the church is subject to the state. MacKay has made clear that he repudiates this view also but I must warn that the logical and practical sequence of the position he does take may very well lead to this. We’ll say more about this a bit later but let it suffice to say now that we are agreed that this position of state domination of the church is also contrary to Scripture which emphatically affirms that Christ is the head of the church which He rules, not through civil authorities, but through the offices which He has instituted.
Thirdly, there is the Deistic and Baptistic view of separation (absolute, complete separation) between church and state which view also underlies the First Amendment to the Constitution of the U.S.A. According to this view, the State limits its functions to civic matters and the Church to those of God and religion. Every religion, true or false, is given equal right and protection under the law of the land. The State may not interfere in respect to the religious’ beliefs and practices of any group but freedom of religion shall be exercised. The State is atheistic, without God and leaves all matters of religion to the individual conscience; those that see fit may belong to the church of their choice and those that so desire may also affiliate with no church at all. Previous writings make plain that both MacKay and I agree that this view is also is wrong. In the fourth place, there is the view expressed in the footnote of Article 36 of the Netherlands Confession, adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1910 and, since it has undergone no change since, is today the official view of our Protestant Reformed Churches. This view the Rev. MacKay evaluates with this statement:
“. . . .the 1910 Statement is right insofar as it calls for the state to acknowledge and serve God, but it is false and inconsistent in so far as it demands the separation of church and state.”
His criticism of this position is that it is a mixture of true and false, a contradictory statement, inconsistent with the truth and brought about as a compromise solution on the part of the church to “bring itself into line with the popular American doctrine of separation of church and state.” The Reformed position is compromised with that of the Deist, Baptists and framers of the U.S. Constitution. With this criticism of MacKay we do not agree but will come back to comment upon it later.
Finally, there is the view that Rev. MacKay advocates, which is expressed in the original 36th Article of the Netherlands Confession, the original 28th Article of our Church Order and the 23rd Chapter of the original Westminster Confession. To quote from the Westminster Confession, Article 3, Chapter 23, this view states:
“The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take 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. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in, them be according to the mind of God.”
The clear language of this article plainly implies, as I see it, that the State is duty bound “to establish and maintain a State Church, advancing and supporting the same as the only true Church, and to oppose, to persecute and to destroy by means of the sword all the other churches as being false religions.” (Footnote of 1910). The point now is not, “What church will the state recognize?” but rather the fact that if she is to execute the duties outlined above she must recognize one church and say of her, “there the Word of God is kept pure and entire,” and anyone who does not abide by the doctrines and practices of said church must be the object of civil punishment. If this is not the case, it is ridiculous to so define the duties of the state. When MacKay writes the following, we agree: “The state, as well as the individual person, must PUT INTO PRACTICE its profession to acknowledge God as its God. Otherwise it become a hollow and hypocritical mockery. No man can respect either himself or his neighbors if he or they say that they believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ, and then stop with that, making no attempt to put their profession of Him into practice. In the same way, the state cannot stop short with a mere verbal and legal acknowledgement of God as its God, and consider that its duty toward God is done. In other words, it cannot adopt a law or amendment to the effect that it acknowledges God as its God and then ignore it by making no real effort to put it into practice. If it did, the state would be guilty of the same kind of sin as an individual: who acts in this manner.” It follow then that if the duties of the state are correctly stated in Chapter 23 of the Westminster Confession, the state must consistently carry these duties out to the extend of punishing all who do not abide by the doctrines and practices of that church which by the state is recognized as the church that keeps the Word of God pure and entire.
(Parenthetically we wish to note here that it is the duty of every citizen to be in subjection to the state as long as the state functions within its Divinely appointed authority. To fail to do so is to rebel and sin against God who ordained the powers that be. Now, if the duties attributed to the state under this position are truly stated, it must follow that the citizens of the state are bound to be in subjection irregardless of which church the state recognizes as true. After all the prerogative to determine which church is true is the States, not the individuals. No doubt as long as the State recognizes Presbyterianism as the true religion as was done in Scotland, MacKay is satisfied with this view but would he also accept the natural consequences of his position if the State in power recognizes the Roman Catholic Church? He may object that that is not the true church and the true religion but what right does he as an individual have to make such a claim over against the State, God’s appointed minister to make this, determination?)
Hence, I claim that this view leads to State domination of all religion, of the church, and disagree with this expression of the duties of the State. This leads to the crux of MacKay’s criticism of my previous series on this subject. His contention is that I oppose the original Westminster Confession which he claims, respecting this matter “is squarely founded upon Holy Scripture and likewise holds forth the true teaching on church and state.” This charge is serious for it implies that I am militating against the Scriptures and promulgating false doctrine in respect to this matter. Concerning this we will have more to say, D.V., next time when we will show the reasons why we do not agree with MacKay’s position.