Q. One key doctrine of the Baptists is the Separation of Church and State, but I don’t know why this is so. Some said it’s to avoid repeating the corruption of the Catholics in power in the early centuries, others said it’s to avoid serving two Lords as political power will definitely involve financial benefits. What’s your view?
A. God’s original design for government was theocracy, with God ruling His people through judges. However, Israel rejected God and demanded a human king like all the nations:
• 1 Sam 8:7 The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.
When theocracy changed to monarchy, God retained prophets to represent Him to His people, and priests to represent His people to Him, which is the beginning of separation of His congregation, the OT counterpart to the NT church, and state.
From the birth of the Church at Pentecost to Constantine who tolerated Christianity with the Edict of Milan (313 AD), the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire and the Jews, but flourished. When Theodosius made Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire (380 AD), the Church was in partnership with the state, which introduced all kinds of errors and abuses. Church history demonstrated that the union of Church and State has been a bad experience overall.
As a result of persecution, some fled England and Europe to America in search of religious freedom. As monarchy gave way to democracy, separation of church and state was promoted to safeguard the Church from the state’s interference. Baptists believe in a free church in a free state, and this became one of their distinctives:
Ideally, the State’s role is to keep law and order so that citizens can live safely and securely, enabling the Church to carry out its mission:
• Rom 13:3-4 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. … for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
• 1 Pet 2:13-14 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
The State should not interfere with the beliefs and practices of the Church.
In turn, the Church in evangelizing and discipling believers produce law-abiding citizens who support the State:
• 1 Tim 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
• 1 Pet 2:17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, such ideal is seldom realized. The State had made use of the Church to control people, and the Church used the State’s power to enforce religion, which had polluted and weakened the Church.
Allow me to do a little speculation. Currently democracy is eroding in both faith and state. Plurality of religion is trending towards ecumenism and ultimately one world religion, while democratic governments are trending towards a new world order of one world government. At that time democracy will revert back to monarchy, not under kings but under the Antichrist. Then the Lord will return to overthrow the dark empire and revert monarchy to theocracy, re-establishing God’s original plan. Dreaming? Perhaps, but so far the union of Church and State had not given us hope of a bright future.