The Lawfulness of a Connection Between Church and State

By James Bannerman in The Church of Christ

In dealing with the subject of the Church in its relations to the state, we have found that the two societies, ecclesiastical and political, are essentially distinct and independent, having each of them a separate existence and action, a co-ordinate authority and will. Upon this fundamental principle we must be prepared to proceed in considering the further question of the possibility and lawfulness of a connection and friendly co-operation between the two. There can in fact be no connection, in the proper sense of the term, when a previous and independent existence is denied to the one or to the other. Deny, on the one hand, the separate character and independent authority of the Church as a visible society, and you supersede the possibility of an alliance between it and the state,—you merge the ecclesiastical in the political body, making it merely one member, and a subordinate one, in the constitution of the state. Deny, on the other hand, the separate character and independent existence of the state, and you equally prevent the possibility of a proper alliance between the two,—you merge the civil in the ecclesiastical body, and make the state a mere function or inferior office of the Church. There have been a number of different theories of the connection between the Church and the state, which have proceeded on an entire forgetfulness of this simple principle, and so have been in reality, not so much theories of the connection or alliance of the two societies, as schemes for their identification, or for the subordination of the one to the other. The essential idea, I repeat, that lies at the foundation of any true conception of a connection between the Church and the state, must be the acknowledgment of their previous existence as separate and independent societies, capable of entering into an alliance upon equal terms, but not capable, without a surrender of their essential character, of becoming one with each other, or subordinate to each other.

How much this has been lost sight of in the attempts made to construct a scheme of the alliance of Church and state, the briefest reference to the history of such attempts will evince. In the eighth Book of his Ecclesiastical Polity, we have Hooker’s views of the relations of the Church to the state. He there lays down the fundamental position, that in the case of nations professing Christianity there can be no essential distinction between the Church and the state; but inasmuch as they are composed of the same individuals, who on the one hand are subjects of the commonwealth, and on the other are members of the Christian society, these two must be one and the same; and only differ as the same man differs when dealing at one time with secular, and at another time with spiritual, concerns. “The Church and the commonwealth,” says Hooker, “are in this case personally one society; which society is termed a commonwealth, as it liveth under whatsoever form of secular law and regiment,—a Church, as it hath the spiritual law of Jesus Christ.”1 It is upon the fundamental principle, thus laid down, of the essential oneness of the Church and state in a professedly Christian country, that Hooker proceeds to explain and justify the actual relations of the civil government and the religious society, as witnessed in the case of the Church of England, against the objections taken to them by the Puritans. Upon this ground he defends the royal supremacy over the Church, inasmuch as the king, in the common society, is the “highest uncommanded commander,” and generally maintains the proper jurisdiction of the civil magistrate within the department of the Church as, in fact, but another department of the commonwealth. The fundamental errors in Hooker’s system are, the denial of the essential distinction and independence of the Church and state as two separate bodies, which may co-operate, but cannot merge into each other, and the unfortunate assumption, that the individuals of a professedly Christian nation necessarily compose only one society under two names, rather than two separate societies, accidentally the same to a large extent as to the members they embrace, but not the same as to their true character and proper functions. The moment that the line between the body politic and the body ecclesiastical is obliterated or drawn amiss, that instant the true theory of a proper alliance between the two is hopelessly lost.

The doctrine of Coleridge, in his work On the Constitution of the Church and State according to the idea of each, is very similar in this respect to Hooker’s. He makes the Church to be one out of the many various estates of the body politic, not essentially distinct from them, and necessary to harmonize and cement together the rest. Like Hooker, he overlooks the fundamental separation between the Church and state as two corporate societies, which, from their very nature, are distinct and independent.2

Warburton, in his work On the Alliance of Church and State, although taking up somewhat different ground from Hooker, yet virtually lies open to the very same objection. He does not deny, as Hooker does, that the visible Church on the one hand, and the body politic on the other, are two societies, originally separate and distinct in their character; but he denies that the distinction is so fundamental and essential that it cannot be modified or surrendered. The doctrine of Warburton is indeed the doctrine commonly adopted by all the defenders of an Erastian connection between Church and state who have not thought very accurately or earnestly on the subject; and it virtually amounts to this, that although the two societies are originally distinct and independent, yet the difference is not so vital, nor the independence so essential to their nature, but that the Church may consent to the surrender of its inherent rights, as the price of certain advantages obtained from the state in return. The state requires the assistance of the Church to accomplish some of the objects it has in view; and the Church requires the aid of the state to uphold and protect it. Each, therefore, has reasons of its own for seeking a voluntary alliance and co-operation with the other. And this alliance is completed, when the state endows the Church with a competent maintenance for the clergy, and with certain civil rights for the protection of her authority and discipline; and when the Church, on the other hand, foregoes her original and distinct independence, and becomes the instrument or engine of the state for certain civil purposes. Here, again, we meet the very same disregard of the fundamental and ineffaceable distinction between the two societies as before. With Warburton, the difference between the Church and state is not a difference essential to the idea of each, and therefore never to be abandoned; but one non-essential, and to be surrendered in return for certain accidental advantages. The original independence of the one from the other is admitted; but it is denied that it is an independence belonging to the essence both of the body politic and of the body ecclesiastic, and which cannot, therefore, be sacrificed without the sacrifice of the essential character of the one or the other. With Warburton, the independence of the Church with respect to the civil magistrate is a thing accidental, to be bartered away without the surrender thereby of the true character of a Church of Christ.3

The argument of Paley, in his Moral and Political Philosophy, for the connection of Church and state, proceeds apparently upon the disavowal of a visible Church as a corporate society altogether. According to Paley, the state, in seeking an ecclesiastical connection, forms an alliance, not so much with another society equally independent and equally organized with itself, as with a form of religion, apart from any corporate religious body. To quote his own words, “the single view under which we ought to consider any of them is that of a scheme of instruction; the single end we ought to propose by them is the preservation and communication of religion.” In conformity with this idea, Paley tells us that the only three things comprehended in the notion of a religious establishment are: “a clergy, or an order of men excluded from other professions, to attend upon the offices of religion; a legal provision for the maintenance of the clergy; and the confining of that provision to the teachers of a particular sect of Christianity.”4 From Paley’s notion, then, of a religious establishment, the idea of a Church as a visible and corporate society, vested with certain powers and rights and privileges as a corporate society, is totally excluded; and the Church is regarded in the single aspect of a number of men set apart to teach a certain form of religious faith. It is plain that such a scheme denies or ignores the existence of a visible Church altogether,—affording another example of the position, that there can be no true conception of the proper alliance of Church and state which does not set out from the fact of the distinct and independent existence of the two as separate societies.

There is one other theory of the connection between the Church and state, of which the late Dr. Arnold of Rugby may be taken as the most eminent English representative in recent times. It is in some respects the opposite of those already mentioned, and yet it stands exposed to the very same objection in point of principle,—that, namely, of denying the essential distinction between the two societies of the Church and state, and proceeding upon the possibility of identifying or confounding the two. When a nation turns Christian in outward profession, instead of the Church being, according to Hooker, merged in the state, the state, in Arnold’s theory, is merged in the Church. “By so doing,” says Arnold, “it—i.e. the state—becomes a part of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church,—not allied with it, which implies distinctness from it, but transformed into it.”5 Under what is apparently an opposite phraseology, the theory of Arnold, like some of those already referred to, proceeds upon the principle that it is possible to merge into one two societies which, according to the Scripture view of them, are distinct and independent in their origin, in their aims, in the power that belongs to them, and in the manner of administering that power. Grant that the Church and state are thus separate and independent, and it is plainly impossible that the one should be merged in the other, or the office of the one discharged by the other, unless either the ecclesiastical or the civil society is to sacrifice something of the proper character and essential nature that belong to it. It is competent for the two to enter into connection upon equal terms; it is not competent for them to enter into connection through the surrender, on either side, of an independence that essentially and inalienably appertains to each.

There is one fundamental condition, then, essential to an alliance between the Church and state, and on which both parties in the alliance have equally a right to insist: the condition, namely, that the Church and the state, as distinct societies, shall be recognised as mutually independent in their existence and entire offices and functions. Without this, there can be no true or scriptural alliance; and any connection formed must involve an Erastian or Popish encroachment on the one side or other. Now, what is implied in this fundamental condition of the alliance? First, on the side of the Church, there is implied that the Church has a right, from her Divine Head, to the full possession and free use of all the powers and prerogatives which He has vested in her, without interference or obstruction of any kind from the civil magistrate. In preaching the truth according to Christ’s Word, in administering ordinances according to His appointment, in exercising authority and discipline in conformity with His gift and injunction, the Church must be free to judge and act for herself according to the law of Scripture, without responsibility to or interference from the state. All this is implied in the office and function of a Church as essentially belonging to her, and which she can on no terms surrender, but must ever and uninterruptedly assert. In any alliance between the Church and the state, the Christian society has a right to expect that these things shall be expressly guaranteed to her by the civil magistrate, as the fundamental condition of the alliance; or, in other words, the Church has a right to expect from the state a legal recognition of her character, powers, and freedom, as a Church. Second, on the side of the state, there is implied that the state has a certain province and express authority appointed to it by God, and that, in the administration of the civil powers and offices thus belonging to it, it shall be free from the encroachment or opposition of the Church. In following out the office and duties of the civil magistracy, the magistrate has a right to expect that the spiritual society shall interpose no let or hindrance in the way of that authority and freedom which, within their own province, God has given to the civil powers as His ordinance for good. In other words, in any alliance entered into between the Church and state, the state has a right to demand a guarantee from the Church in regard to its principles and practice, or a Confession of Faith, in which the civil magistrate may receive a declaration of the doctrines which the Church is to promulgate, of the rule of discipline by which she acts, and of the extent and limits of that authority which she claims. These two things seem to be implied in any safe or scriptural adjustment of the terms of alliance between the Church and state, and are necessary to secure the equal and mutual independence of the two parties in the alliance: first, a legal recognition, on the part of the state, of the freedom and powers of the Church; and, second, a confession of its faith on the part of the Church, for the satisfaction and security of the state.

Taking, then, these two conditions as essential to any true or scriptural basis for the alliance of Church and state, the question at once meets us: Is it possible, on these terms, for the state to form a connection with the Church, or is it lawful for the Church, on such conditions, to enter into an alliance with the state? Can the state, on receiving from the Church an authoritative declaration of its form of faith and rule of discipline and claim of authority, and approving of the same, enter into friendly cooperation and compact with it? Can the Church, on receiving from the state a legal recognition of and security for its spiritual powers and privileges, accept of the alliance and sanction of the state? The higher and further question of duty in the matter—the question of the obligation that may rest upon one or both of these parties to form such a connection—I postpone for future consideration. I confine myself at present to the single point of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of such an alliance between the Church and state; and in briefly considering it, I shall give rather the principles on which the question may be argued, than the argument itself.

I. In the first place, there is a foundation laid for a friendly alliance between the Church and state, in the fact of the twofold character which Christ sustains of Head of the Church, and also of Head over all things to the Church.

That civil government is an ordinance of God, as the God of nature and not of grace, is a most important truth, and one that lies at the foundation of the essential difference between the state and the Church, which owes its origin to Christ as Mediator.6 But it is no less true that God has handed over to Christ, as Mediator, the ordinance of civil government, to be employed by Him in subordination to the great purposes of His mediatorial reign. Among “the all things” over which Christ is now made Head to the Church, is to be numbered the ordinance of magistracy or civil government in this world,—a truth which seems unquestionably to draw with it the conclusion that, in the hands of Christ, and under His control, the civil government of nations may be made instrumental in advancing the interests and promoting the well-being of the Church. In the joint dominion to which Christ has been exalted, both over the state and over the Church, and in the express and avowed object for which this dominion has been vouchsafed to Him, we recognise a foundation laid for those two Divine ordinances, originally separate and still essentially distinct, becoming serviceable and advantageous to each other. In the assertion that Christ is made Head over the kingdoms of men for the good of His Church, there is unquestionably implied the further assertion, that Christ can make the kingdoms of men, in one way or other, contribute to the well-being of His Church. Even were the state to be identified with the world as ungodly and alienated from Christ—as many Voluntaries are accustomed to identify it—still He could, by His power and grace, convert the state, as He does convert even wicked men, into the unwitting instruments for promoting the interests of His Church. But the state is not to be identified or confounded with a world that lieth in wickedness. It is an ordinance of God, both good in itself and appointed for good. The very end for which it has been placed under subjection to the Messiah is, that it may be instrumental, under Him, for securing the spiritual interests and promoting the welfare of His kingdom of grace; and it approaches very nearly to the assertion that Christ has failed in the object for which He has been set over it as Head, to assert that the state, from its nature or constitution, cannot in any manner be converted into a willing and conscious instrument for promoting the prosperity of the Church, and advancing the cause of Christianity. In the common subordination to Christ which the body politic and body ecclesiastical alike underlie, and in the object which is to be promoted by that subordination, we see the foundation laid for a friendly alliance and co-operation between Church and state. Distinct and separate in their essential character, they are yet brought into one through their mutual subjection to the same Divine Head, and their mutual subserviency to the same gracious purpose. Fundamentally unlike in their character on earth, they are resolved into a higher unity through means of one Head in heaven. The Church and the state, because equally the servants of Christ, are helps made and meet for each other.7

II. In the second place, there is a foundation laid for a friendly connection between the Church and state, in the fact that they have certain ends of an important kind in common.

No doubt there are certain ends of a temporal kind which it is the immediate and primary object of the state to attain, and which are not directly contemplated by the Church; and, on the other hand, there are certain ends of a spiritual kind which it is the immediate and primary duty of the Church to subserve, and which the state does not directly contemplate. In this we recognise and assert an element that goes to prove the fundamental distinction between the two. But it is perfectly consistent with this to assert that there are certain objects which the Church and state may contemplate and subserve in common, and which it is their duty to promote together; although these may not be the primary and immediate objects for which they both were instituted. This is a general position, which may be safely laid down, notwithstanding of the objections taken by Voluntaries against it. I do not now enter upon the question whether the civil magistrate, as such, is equally bound with the Church to contemplate in his actings the glory of God, and to strive to promote the spiritual interests of the community. This is a question which will fall to be discussed afterwards, and which at the present stage of the argument we can afford to postpone. It is enough for our present purpose to assert—and it would be difficult directly to contradict the averment—that there is a large class of duties as between man and man, and not as between man and God, which it is the joint province and end both of the Church and the state to promote. The first Table of the moral law comprehends an order of duties which it is the main and direct object of the Church to inculcate and advance among men, and which Voluntaries will not admit to appertain in any sense to the civil magistrate. But setting aside these, there are the duties of the second Table of the moral law, which no one can pretend to deny are the concern of the state as much as of the Church. The life of man, as entrusted to the keeping of his fellow-men, or exposed to their violence; the ordinance of marriage, with its rights and privileges both civil and sacred; the property of man, with the laws that regulate its possession, and declare the guilt of encroachment upon it; the duty and solemnity of an oath, which forms the cement of civilised society, and without which it could not cohere as a society at all; the obligation of honesty and justice between man and man, and the peace and contentment of each with his lot and outward estate: these are matters which are equally the concernment of the civil magistrate and of the Christian Church, and fall equally in one shape or other within the province of both. Whatever peculiar and more immediate objects may fall directly under the contemplation of the Church and state respectively, there can be no doubt that there are certain ends—indirectly, it may be, as regards the one or the other—that are common to both, and after the attainment of which it is the duty of both alike to strive. There is common ground here where the Church and state may meet,—where, in fact, they must meet, unless they would abdicate their functions and deny their responsibility. There is such a community of duty and interest between the Church and state in regard to these matters, that they must act in concert, either more or less openly avowed, if they act at all; and we see the foundation laid in the fact of their having such ends in common for a friendly alliance and co-operation between the two.8

III. In the third place, there is a common ground laid for the possibility and lawfulness of a friendly alliance between the Church and the state, in the fact that they may or do consist of the same individuals.

From this fact, that the Church and state among a Christian people embrace very much the same membership, Hooker and others, in their schemes of connection between the two, were led to infer a substantial identity between the two societies, as being innately not two, but only one under two names. But although this conclusion has been drawn in defiance of the fundamental distinction which both Scripture and reason lead us to recognise between the body ecclesiastical and the body political, yet there can be no doubt that the fact on which it professes to be based does furnish a satisfactory foundation on which to rest an argument for the expediency and practicability of a friendly alliance between them. The twofold character which the members of the Church, being at the same moment the members of the state, in these two respects sustain, unavoidably leads to some sort of friendly understanding between the two societies. A member or office-bearer of the Church, when he becomes invested with civil influence or office, cannot denude himself of his previous character, or cease to recognise the duties and obligations which that character implies. Into his new position as a member of the civil society, he must carry his former and still subsisting obligations as a member of the Church; and unless it be alleged that the duties and offices of the state are unlawful to a Christian, there must be some way or other in which the two can be discharged in harmony and concert. In other words, the duty of the member of the Church and the duty of the member of the state cannot be contradictory to each other, but must be in harmony in such a sense that they may be binding on the same individual conscience, and may be discharged by the same individual man without opposition, or rather with perfect adaptation to each other. And what takes place in the instance of the individual must also take place in the instance of the community, or the collection and combination of individuals. There is no new element of disturbance or hostility introduced when certain things come to be the duty, not of the individual, but of the whole body, whether of the Church or state, and when these two are called upon to act under their respective obligations together. Their duties are not in opposition, but in adaptation to each other. The entire membership of the state may also be the membership of the Church, and in their twofold capacity find nothing to put the duties of the one character in hostility to the duties of the other, but the reverse. In the fact that the body politic and the body ecclesiastical do or may consist of the same individuals, there is the foundation laid for the possibility and the lawfulness of a friendly co-operation between them.

IV. In the fourth place, there is a foundation laid for asserting the lawfulness of a friendly connection between the Church and state, in the fact that such a connection is actually exemplified in Scripture, with the direct sanction and approbation of God Himself.

Into the nature or peculiarities of the civil establishment of religion under the Jewish dispensation, it is not at all necessary that we should at present inquire. It is enough for us to know the fact, that under the Jewish economy there was a close and intimate union between the Church and the state—between religion on the one hand, and the civil magistrate on the other. The Church and state were not merged into each other under that system, but still remained separate and independent. They were different in regard to their laws, to their office-bearers, and to a certain extent in regard to their members; but nevertheless they were nearly connected, and that, too, for a lengthened period of time, and under the express sanction of the Almighty. In this fact we acknowledge and assert a warrant for the alliance of things civil and sacred, for the connection and co-operation together of the king and the priest, of the throne and the altar. It is altogether irrelevant to the argument to dwell, as the advocates of Voluntary principles are accustomed to do, on the peculiarities of the Jewish dispensation, and more especially on the peculiarities of the Jewish Church and state, as if these were sufficient to set aside the fact that the lawfulness of a union between the two has already been sanctioned in the history of God’s own people, and by the immediate command of God Himself.9 There were peculiarities in the Jewish dispensation, typical or ceremonial, and not universally applicable, or to be drawn into precedent for all time. There were peculiarities in the case both of the Church and state among the Jews, forming no pattern for our imitation. Nay, there may have been peculiarities in regard to the endowment and pecuniary support of the Church in Israel, suited to them, and not binding on us. But unless it can be proved that the Jewish Church was no Church at all, and that the Jewish state was no state, the fact of the union between them under the express appointment of God cannot be got rid of. There was no peculiarity about the Jewish Church such as to render it no Church at all; and there was no peculiarity about the Jewish state such that it forfeited its character as a civil government. Whatever other purposes, typical or temporary, the Church under the former dispensation might be intended to serve, it was unquestionably intended to accomplish the purposes of a Church in regard to the people of God,—differing, indeed, in outward form and accidental circumstances from the Christian Church, but really the same in its essential character and nature. In the same manner, whatever extraordinary features or peculiarities may have been superinduced upon it, there can be no dispute as to the fact that the civil state of the Jews was the ordinance of God to them in the same manner as the state is to us. And if the Church of God, as a Church, was intimately connected with the state as the state, under a former economy, the difference of that economy from our own in temporary or typical peculiarities will not overturn the fact of such a connection, or invalidate the warrant that it affords for an alliance of some kind or another between the spiritual society on the one hand and the civil magistrate on the other. We see the Church of the Jews standing in the relation of connection to the state of the Jews, and that under the express warrant of God; and there is no way to evade the force of the argument drawn from the fact in favour of the lawfulness of such a connection, except by asserting—what few perhaps will venture to assert—that the Church under that dispensation was no Church, but the type of one, or that the state was not a civil government, but a typical or temporary peculiarity also.

Upon principles such as these, it is not difficult to establish the lawfulness of a friendly alliance and co-operation between the Church, in all the integrity of its spiritual powers and independence on the one hand, and the state in all the fulness of its civil supremacy on the other.10 This is arguing the question of the competency of civil establishments of religion on the lowest grounds. But there is a higher position that ought to be taken up,—the position, namely, of the duty and obligation resting on the Church and state respectively, as separate ordinances of God adapted to each other, to seek and occupy a common ground in advancing His glory and His work on earth. Before proceeding, however, to discuss this subject, it may be well to advert briefly to an attempt which has been made to evade the force of the very strong, and I believe irresistible, argument last brought forward in favour of the lawfulness of an alliance on sound and scriptural principles between Church and state.

Subsec. The Non-identity of Church and State among the Jews

It has been maintained by some writers that the distinction between Church and state was unknown before the introduction of Christianity, and that among the Jews, in particular, they were really one and the same. This position has often been taken up by Erastians, and has sometimes been unwisely conceded to them. It was held by Erastus himself, who asserted that the civil and the ecclesiastical government among the ancient people of God were vested in the same hands, and formed only different functions of the same society, and argued that what was lawful then could not reasonably be regarded as in itself unlawful now.11 Beza, in reply, denied the grounds on which Erastus founded his argument, and proved the essential distinctness of the Jewish Church and state with great ability and success.12 The same point was discussed by various writers during the course of the Erastian controversy in Holland. It came into special prominence at the time of the Westminster Assembly, when the position of Erastus was taken up and defended with much display of Rabbinical learning by Selden, Lightfoot, and others. They were conclusively answered, however, by Gillespie and Rutherford; the masterly work of the former of whom is especially worthy of being consulted for a clear, full, and satisfactory discussion of this, as of every other favourite Erastian argument.13

That the civil and the ecclesiastical society were essentially separate and independent, although allied, under the Jewish dispensation, may be proved by the following considerations, which we can merely indicate in the briefest way, without entering into details:—

I. The Church and the state among the Jews were distinct in respect of their origin. The Jewish state was, in the strict and literal sense of the word, a theocracy. God, who has revealed Himself to men as the Supreme Ruler and Governor of all the nations of the earth, revealed Himself of old as the Ruler of the Jewish nation in a special and peculiar sense. Civil government among the Hebrews had its origin from God as the King of Israel. “By Him their kings ruled, and their princes decreed justice.” Not so in regard to the Jewish Church. There is a distinction clearly and repeatedly drawn in the Old Testament between Jehovah as the King of Israel, and Jehovah as the Angel of the Covenant, who led the people out of Egypt, who went before them through the wilderness, who was seen in the Shekinah, in the Tabernacle, and in the Temple. It was from the latter, not from the former, that the ecclesiastical government of the Hebrews had its origin. The Church of the Old Testament, like the Church of the New, had the Second Person of the Godhead for its Founder and its Head.

II. The Church and the state among the Jews were distinct in respect of the objects which they contemplated and the ends which they had in view respectively.

In this respect we see precisely the same distinction between the two societies as is witnessed among ourselves. The state was established among the Jews for the protection of life and property, for the preservation of civil order, for the punishment of evil-doers, for the promotion of the temporal well-being and advantage of all classes of the community. The Church, again, was established for religious and spiritual ends; and in seeking to attain these, it dealt with such matters as the manner, place, times, and arrangements of the worship of God, the conditions of acceptance with Him, the method of atonement for breaches of His commands, and generally all matters directly bearing on personal and public morality and religion. On the ground of this difference rests the well-known distinction between the political and judicial laws of the Jews on the one hand, and the ceremonial and moral laws upon the other; the former class of precepts being those belonging to the state, the latter those connected with the Church.

III. The Church and the state among the Jews were distinct in respect of the nature of the power which they exercised respectively.

Here, again, the very same difference is to be observed between the two societies as exists under the present dispensation. It is true, indeed, that exceptional instances may be pointed out of individual men who, in virtue of an extraordinary commission from God, united civil and ecclesiastical functions in their own persons. Such an instance we have in the case of Moses, whose extraordinary mission, in the peculiar and transitional circumstances of the nation at the time, entitled him to the possession and exercise of power alike in Church and state.14 But setting aside this, and perhaps one or two similar instances, which are clearly of an exceptional kind, and easily to be explained from the peculiar and extraordinary circumstances of the case, the line of distinction between civil and ecclesiastical power among the Jews is broad and strongly marked. The power exercised by the Jewish state was purely civil and coercive in its nature. This is evident from the kind of penalties inflicted, such as fines, scourging, death by stoning, or hanging on a tree. The power exercised by the Jewish Church, on the other hand, was not coercive, but spiritual in its nature. It did not affect the properties or the lives of men, but was exerted in the way of warning, rebuke, ecclesiastical censure, and finally excommunication, or “cutting off from the congregation.” This power of excommunication, or of inflicting the last and highest of ecclesiastical penalties, we find still vested in and wielded by the Jewish Church in our Lord’s time. The “casting out of the synagogue” (ἀποσυναγωγος γενεσθαι), repeatedly spoken of in the New Testament,15 is precisely identical with the “cutting off from the congregation of Israel” (הִכָּרֵת מֵעֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל) so often mentioned in the Old. That this was a strictly ecclesiastical sentence inflicted for religious offences, and that it did not imply the punishment of death, is plain from various considerations. 1. It was awarded for sins of ignorance and infirmity, and accidental ceremonial defilements, which could not be punished with death. A man might be “cut off from the congregation,” or as it is sometimes expressed, “cut off from the presence of the Lord,”16 for accidentally touching a bone, or coming in contact with a dead body, or eating blood. These and similar offences against the ceremonial laws of Israel involved a temporary suspension from Church fellowship; they were not, and could not be, regarded as involving the death of the offender.17 2. The sentence of excommunication, or “cutting off from the congregation,” was inflicted on account of offences for which certain sacrifices and purifications were appointed, in order to bring about the restoration of the excommunicated person to the full privileges of the Church. Such sacrifices and cleansings were never appointed or allowed in the case of criminal offences. 3. The same thing is proved by a comparison of the parallel passages in the New Testament. When the Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians, in respect of one of their number who had been guilty of an incestuous marriage, “to deliver such an one unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh,” to “put away (ἐξαρειτε) from among themselves that wicked person;” or when he expressed his desire that the false teachers who had disturbed the peace of the Galatian Churches “should be even cut off” from among them (ὀφελον και ἀποκοψονται οἱ ἀναστατουντες ὑμας),18 he was using language precisely similar both to that of the Evangelist John in recording the casting out of the synagogue of the blind man healed by Christ on the Sabbath-day,19 and to that of the Old Testament with respect to “cutting off from the congregation.” In all the cases just referred to, it is the same ecclesiastical sentence of excommunication that is spoken of; and surely the conclusion is obvious, that no more in the latter case than in the former did that sentence involve the infliction of death.20

IV. The Church and the state among the Jews were distinct in respect of the administration of the power exercised by each respectively.

The rulers and judges who were appointed to hold office in the state for the transaction of civil affairs, were entirely distinct and separate from the priests and Levites, who held office in the Church for the transaction of spiritual affairs and the charge of the interests of religion. The elders who “sat in the gate of the city” are not to be confounded with the elders who formed the sanhedrim of the synagogue. Thus, for instance, to refer to only a few out of the many passages which might be adduced in this connection: in Deut. 18:8–12 a distinction is manifestly made between the sentences pronounced by “the priests the Levites,” and those pronounced by “the judge;” and it is intimated (ver. 12) that both courts of appeal were supreme, and their decisions final in their own provinces. In 2 Chron. 19:5–11 an account is given of the measures taken by Jehoshaphat for restoring and promoting order and constitutional government both in the Church and state department. Holding the very first rank among those measures of reformation we find the establishment or renewed confirmation of a civil and an ecclesiastical sanhedrim. The distinction here taken between the duties of the two courts, and the office-bearers of whom they were composed, is clear and unmistakeable. The “matters of the Lord” over which “Amariah the chief priest” was to preside, are most undeniably separated from “all the king’s matters” over which, in the civil sanhedrim, “Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah,” was appointed.21

V. The Church and the state among the Jews were distinct in respect of their members.

To a large extent, of course, the two societies in Israel were actually made up of the same persons; just as, under the present dispensation, in professedly Christian countries the nominal membership of the Church and state may at some periods nearly coincide. But the conditions of membership of the body ecclesiastical and the body politic were by no means identical among the Jews any more than they are so among ourselves. All born Israelites were ipso facto members or citizens of the Jewish state; but all born Israelites were not ipso facto members of the Jewish Church. They might be uncircumcised, or temporarily unclean, or under synagogue censure; and in each and all of those cases they were excluded from the membership of the Church. And, on the other hand, a man might be a member of the Church without on that account becoming a member of the commonwealth of Israel. Such, for example, was the case with the class known among the Jews as “proselytes of righteousness.” They were members of the Jewish Church, but they were not members of the Jewish state.

On all these grounds, then, we conclude that the ecclesiastical and the civil societies among the ancient people of God were essentially distinct and independent; and that the argument, therefore, drawn from the facts of the Old Testament dispensation in favour of the lawfulness of an alliance between Church and state remains unimpaired.22


1 Hooker, Eccles. Pol. B. viii. chap. 4.

2 Coleridge, Constitution of the Church and State, 2d ed. pp. 48–70, 92–104.

3 Warburton, Alliance of Church and State, Works, vol. vii. B. ii.

4 Paley, Principles of Mor. and Polit. Phil. 26th ed. vol. ii. B. vi. chap. x. pp. 312–356.

5 Arnold, Fragment on the Church, 2d ed. p. 177.

6 [Apollonius, Jus Majestatis circa Sacra, Pars i. cap. ii. pp. 33–39; Jus Div. Reg. Eccles. Part ii. chap. v.]

7 [Jus Div. Reg. Eccles. Part ii. chap. ix. sec. i. Lectures on Civil Establishments of Religion, Edin. 1835, Lec. i. pp. 16–25.]

8 [Lectures on Civil Establishments of Religion, Edin. 1835, Pref. Disc. pp. 10, 11, 50–61; Lec. i. pp. 14–16, 45–53.]

9 [Marshall, Ecclesiastical Establishments farther Considered, Glasgow 1831, pp. 67–87.]

10 M‘Crie, Statement, pp. 10–13, 109–141. Symington, Messiah the Prince, 2d ed. pp. 300–358. [Turrettin, Opera, tom. iii. Loc. xviii. Qu. 34. Lectures on Civil Establishments of Religion, Edin. 1835, Lec. i. Chalmers, Lectures on Religious Establishments, Lec. i., Works, vol. xvii. pp. 187–217.]

11 Erastus, Theses de Excommun. xlviii.–lii. lxxiii. lxxiv. Confirmatio Thesium, Lib. iii. cap. i. ii; Lib. iv. cap. iii.

12 Beza, Tractatus de ver. Excommun, et Christ. Presbyterio, Genevæ 1591, pp. 99–116.

13 Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, B. i. Rutherford, Divine Right of Church Government, chap. xiv. xv. Hetherington, History of Westminster Assembly, c. iv.

14 Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, B. i. Append. pp. 66–68.

15 John 9:22, 12:42, 16:2.

16 Lev. 22:3; comp. Gen. 4:14, 16.

17 [“If all the offences,” says Gillespie, “for which ‘cutting off’ was threatened in the law had been punished by death, the Mosaical laws, no less than those of Draco, might have been said to be written in blood. Is it credible that all and every one who did by any chance eat the fat or the blood, or did make a perfume for smell like to the holy perfume, or did touch a dead body, or a grave, or a tent wherein a man had died, or anything that an unclean person had touched, and had not been thereafter sprinkled with the water of separation, were without mercy to die for any of these things? Yet these were ‘cut off’ from among their people. Ex. 30:38; Lev. 7:15, 17; Num. 19:13, 20.”—Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, B. i. c. v. p. 27.]

18 1 Cor. 5:2, 5, 13; Gal. 5:12. [Both ἐξαιρω and ἀποκοπτω are repeatedly used by the LXX. for כָּרַת in the phrase “to cut off from the congregation,” or “from Israel.”]

19 John 9:22, 34, 35. [Beza, Tract. de ver. Excom. et Presbyt., Genevæ 1591, pp. 81–84.]

20 [M. Renan, indeed, is quite as certain that excommunication in the early Christian Church meant death, as many Erastian writers are that “cutting off from the congregation” always implied death among the Jews. At such a state of things he is very justly indignant. Every such ecclesiastical sentence was, in reality, “un attentat punissable devant la loi civile.… Certes, si l’autorité romaine s’était bornée à réformer chez les juifs et les chrétiens des principes aussi condamnables elle aurait eu mille fois raison.”—Les Apôtres, pp. 88, 89.]

21 Compare also, Ex. 24:1; 1 Chron. 23:4, 13–32, 26:29–32; Jer. 26:8–24, etc. Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, B. i. chap. iii.

22 Vitringa, De Synagoga Vetere, Lib. i. Pars ii., Lib. ii. Pars. i. c. x. Apollonius, Jus Majestatis circa Sacra, Pars ii. cap. i. Ayton, Constitution of the Christian Church, chap. ii. pp. 54–80.

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