Separation of Church and State

Many Scriptures support the separation of church and state,1 and men of conscience like Roger Williams have seen the evil that results when they are not separate. There are profound spiritual reasons why the state must not tell the church how to conduct her affairs in any way. For the church to allow the state to rule over her in spiritual matters is nothing less than changing gods.2 It would be an irreparable breach of loyalty between the church and her Savior. Williams articulated the limits of civil authority as follows:

Magistrates [officials of the civil government] have no power of setting up the form of Church Government, electing Church officers, punishing with Church censures, but to see that the Church does her duty herein.3

Nor was the Church to get involved in the civil government, or meddle with the hearts of the people to turn them away from their rulers:

And on the other side, the Churches as Churches, (though as members of the Commonwealth they may have power4) have no power of erecting or altering forms  of civil government, electing of civil officers, inflicting Civil punishments (no not [even] on persons excommunicated) as by deposing Magistrates from their Civil Authority, or withdrawing the hearts of the people against them, to their laws, no more than to discharge wives, or children, or servants, from due obedience to their husbands, parents, or masters; or by taking up arms against their Magistrates, though he persecute them for conscience.5

The whole concept of wedding the church and the state, or even of the church functioning as the conscience of the state, was utterly repugnant to Williams. Doing so has invariably led to the church imposing its dogma on others, in the righteous certainty that it could force "the truth" on the unenlightened. But Williams understood more than this, he understood the fatal consequences to the church of her meddling with the affairs of the world:

When they (the Church) have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the Candlestick, etc., and made His Garden a wilderness as it is this day. And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and Paradise again, it must of necesity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world, and all that be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the World.6

The church was never intended to interfere with the lesser concerns of worldly government, but instead be consumed with the higher concerns of God’s Kingdom. This life of love was to be a light in which men could walk if they chose to.7 History bears out this wisdom — a history written in the blood shed by those who were convinced their doctrines were right, but who undermined and compromised the God-given functioning of civil government.8 This history is still being written today in the same ink. It was with the fervent desire to close this awful chapter of human history that the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States sought to erect the wall of separation of church and state.

  • 1. Acts 18:12-17 is the prime text, and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 is another. Acts 12:1-4 is a negative example, as is the Jews before Pilate, John 18,19.
  • 2. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
  • 3. Roger Williams, Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience (1644), page 248.
  • 4. That is, as private citizens like any other citizen. 
  • 5. Williams, Bloudy Tenent (Narragansett Club, Vol. III, 1867), p. 248,249.
  • 6. “Mr. Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered,” The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Volume 1, page 108 (1644) This is similar to Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase, "the wall of separation between church and state." 
  • 7. Isaiah 49:6; John 3:19-21 — Righteous men’s good deeds come from their obedience to the knowledge of good that God gave them, and for which they will be rewarded, John 5:28-29. 
  • 8. Acts 17:26-27

The Twelve Tribes is a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, composed of self-governing communities. We are disciples of the Son of God whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua. We follow the pattern of the early church in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, truly believing everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible, and sharing all things in common.

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