With the position that favors church-domination over the state we cannot agree. The church has no more right to impose itself upon the state than the state has to imposer itself upon the church. Yet, is not this the conclusion that must be reached by those who oppose “separation” and insist upon “unification” of church an state? If these two separate entities are amalgamated, it is inevitable that the stronger of the two will dominate the weaker so that either the “church-state” or the “state-church” will be practical result.
For personal reasons one who is of Reformed persuasion might not object too strenuously to the formation of a church-state provided that the church that is in power is The Reformed. This, we concluded, appears to be the position favored by the Rev. MacKay and to which we take exception. Suppose that the Roman Catholic, the Seventh-Day Adventists or some extremely Modernist Church gained control of the State? What then? To that, of course, Reformed people would object just as much as those who belong to these churches would object to the Reformed Church being thus empowered. But, you might say, the true church must receive recognition under the law. True enough but how is this to be determined? If the State is to “recognize by law,” as Mac Kay desires, the true church out of myriads of denominations that fill her province, what standard will she apply to determine this other than the rule of majority membership? And, if she applies this norm the true church will seldom, if ever, gain legal recognition in this world. Is the State competent to apply any other norm? Can she, for example, determine what is pure doctrine; what is the proper administration of the Sacraments; what is true discipline according to God’s Word? Can she determine the marks of the true church? We judge that in this she is neither competent nor called and should the State, therefore, seek to elevate one church above all others and give to it legal sanction, she would have to do simply on the strength of numbers which would be a very unjust determination. This church, with the largest membership, would then be in position under the law to impose its doctrines upon all other churches. Invariably an unjustified, widespread persecution must follow for the simple reason that the principle “might makes right” or “the majority is “always right” can no more be observed than the equally false maxim that “all religions are before God equal.”
To solve the problem of the proper relation of church and state is by no means easy. Perhaps it must be admitted that in the present sinful world there is nor ready-made solution. Sin has so terribly disrupted all relations in this world that there is no possibility of again placing these in their proper order. Various attempts to do this have been made but none of them have really solved anything. To arrive at a real solution would be tantamount to establishing the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ on this earth and this cannot and will not be done for He said plainly, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). In the Kingdom of Christ there will be no problem of this nature. If love were perfected there would be no problem now. All the difficulties involved in this intricate relation stem from the reality of sin and, therefore, any real solution must necessitate the abolition of all evil which will not be effected until the “regeneration of all things” (Matt. 19:28).
This, however, does not preclude our saying something about the problem and consider what the proper relationship ought to be. It may not even stifle our earnest desire to strive inasfar as we are able to bring all things into harmony with the ideal. We do not believe that the attitude of many is correct who entirely ignore the problem, assume the attitude that since we can do nothing about it anyway we may as well live along with things as they are and the less we gave to do with the State the better off we are. Such indifference cannot be justified. Scripture does not so define the Christian’s calling in relation to the State. Since we live in a sinful world, our calling is not to ignore this reality but rather to combat it in all its manifestations even though we are keenly sensitive to the fact that we shall not have complete triumph over sin until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Among those who hold an attitude of indifference there is, very little consistency shown for they must certainly also realize that sin has not only corrupted the relation of church and state but also every relationship of human life. And do they assume the same attitude and apply the same practice to family relations, business relations, social relations, employer and employee relations, relations to the schools, etc.? They know better than that!
On the other hand, equally wrong is the approach to the problem of the blind idealists who mistakenly think that we are making progress toward a real solution of this problem. These are usually quick to grasp any new idea that may seemingly contribute toward a certain phase of the whole difficulty. The broader scope of the problem they, in their blind zeal, fail to see and of the deeper spiritual cause of they problem they are obviously ignorant. Hence, to these idealists ethical values have little, if any, meaning. They are moved solely by human considerations and usually the programs they introduce for the solution of concrete difficulties result in creating many times more problems in other areas of public life. A great deal of the present mess undoubtedly has its cause in the bungling of such idealists. We aver that all such unchristian attempts are destined to failure.
We shall have to approach our problem realistically. We cannot afford to ignore certain fundamental truths which have a bearing upon the matter simply because these happen to be unpopular to the natural mind and even unpleasant to the material complacency of many church members. We will have to be confronted with the question concerning the application of the law of God to the institutions comprising human life as well as the application of these same laws to the individual. Since this matter involves the mutual calling of church and state, we may not be oblivious of the deep inroads sin has made into this relation. If we are to arrive at an amicable solution to the problem, we may not be moved by humanistic philosophies or influenced by temporal considerations but rather we shall have to base our judgments on sound principles taken from the Word of God. In other words, we may not ask, “What looks good or what will serve in the best interests of the most people?” in drawing the lines of church-state relations, but we must ask, “What is right?” Doing this we shall unhesitatingly be compelled to announce the sound judgment that the inability of human society to conform its practices to those principles of God’s Word (the fact that the State is out of harmony with God) inevitably spells destruction. It cannot be otherwise for God is not mocked. The doctrine concerning the impending damnation of the ungodly world and the inevitable destruction of human civilization is not one that shall have appeal in this unrealistic generation that boasts itself in the achievements and conquest of MAN!
But the church is related to that state for she exists for the present in her midst. As for the church, that by grace lives in the midst of the world from the principles of God’s Word, it may be said that her position over against the worldly state, whose principles and practices do not conform to that Word, may never be that of compromise. When, for carnal, materialistic, temporal or other reasons, she does that, she becomes apostate, corrupts her garments, looses her essence as a spiritual institution and is good for nothing but to be cast out upon the dung-hill. Essentially the same result is attained when the church discovers an area of so-called “common grace” within the worldly state wherein she deceivingly tells herself that she can labor cooperatively with that worldly state unto the attainment of materialistic and temporal ends. The practical fruits which bear evidence of this need not be enumerated in this connection. Only let it be observed that such policies place the church in the same category as the “blind idealists” we spoke of before.
Rather the church must “hold fast that which she has,” namely the Word of God, cherishing its principles and living by the confession that “its laws are worth more than thousands of silver and gold.” Doing this her problem in relation to the worldly state does not become smaller, but on the contrary, it is magnified. Throughout her relation will be one of spiritual conflict and in many areas physical conflict will be unavoidable. By the former we have in mind a conflict of philosophies and by the latter a conflict in the practical application of these philosophies to human life. Naturally, such pertinent matters as the subjection to the authorities, honoring the king, obedience to God or man, the extent to which authority can be recognized, are all involved here. Scripture enjoins them and similar things upon the church. The church, existing within the worldly state, has a very difficult position and this difficulty is intensified as the social complexities of the modern world increase. It is no easy matter to define the proper relationships of church and state. We are convinced that this cannot be done by such terms as “subordination,” “domination,” “cooperation,” “co-ordination,” etc. Such oversimplification does injustice to the real question involved which in our mind concerns the correct definition and evaluation of “state” and “church.” Unless we first understand that, we cannot arrive at a proper conception of the right relation between these two.
Of these two, it is undoubtedly most difficult to define the state. What is its essence, its purpose, and function? That, the state is an institution of God is evident from Romans 13:1, “The powers that be are ordained of God.” Whence this institution has its origin is perhaps a more difficult question. The common Kuyperian view, which has also infiltrated the Confessions, holds that the state was brought into existence because of and in consequence of sin. The reason for this view is not difficult to see. According to it the chief function of the state is to wield the sword power, to punish the evildoer and to protect the righteous (Rom. 13:4). Consequently, it is reasoned it would appear that in a perfect world-order there would remain no task or function for the state to perform. Before sin came there was no need for an authority to punish sin.
However, there are other considerations that would favor the repudiation of this view and incline one to favor the conception that places the origin of the state in the creation itself. Firstly, we might consider that there are also ranks and authorities in the angelic world even though there is found there no sin. This would seemingly overrule the contention that the function of the state arises from the fact of sin. The state, it seems, must be given a more positive purpose than that. Then we should not ignore the fact that the original relation of man and woman, husband and wife, was that of authority and subjection even though there was no sin. The interpretation given by the Catechism of the Fifth Commandment implies that the state has its origin in that very relation. Thirdly, certainly in the Kingdom of Heaven, wherein is the total absence of all sin, Christ shall be eternally manifest as King. There will be those who sit on thrones to reign, and it appears to us that the institution of the state was created from the beginning to be a likeness of this heavenly rule even after the pattern that all things earthly were made in the image of the heavenly. It would seem strange and difficult to account for the reason that such an institution was added after the “beginning.” We conclude, therefore, that the State originates in creation aid is, in consequence thereof, temporal and earthly.