If any man hears my words, and believes not, I judge him not. (John 12:41)
That declaration spoken by our Master 2000 years ago established for all time how those who believe in Him should treat those who don’t believe. He made it clear that the judgment for unbelievers who rejected Him and His words would come “at the last day.”1 He also established a limit to the church’s authority by confirming that belief in and obedience to the gospel were confined to individual choice and were never to be imposed upon someone else by any means of force or coercion whatsoever.
When our Master taught and put into practice beliefs that were contrary to the traditions of the elders in Israel, He was brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Israel. The chief priests and scribes charged Him with proclaiming allegiance to a king other than Caesar. When Pilate found no fault with Him, they demanded His crucifixion with venomous rage. This pattern of violence and bloodshed has been the result every time a religious establishment has sought the power of the state to enforce adherence to its beliefs and practices.
When Constantine came to the throne in 313 AD, he issued the famous Edict of Milan. According to that edict, all men were granted the utmost freedom of worship:
Perceiving long ago that religious liberty ought not to be denied, but that it ought to be granted to the judgment and desire of each individual to perform his religious duties according to his own choice, we had given orders that every man, Christians as well as others, should preserve the faith of his own sect and religion.2
Later, after the empire was united under him, Constantine went on to say:
Let the followers of error enjoy the same peace and security with those who believe ... Whatever truth a man has received and been persuaded of, let him not smite his neighbor with it ... For it is one thing to voluntarily undertake to wrestle for immortality; it is another to constrain others to it by fear.3
These freedoms, however, were short lived. After Constantine’s death, his sons used against all who would not embrace the Christian religion the same instruments of oppression that Nero employed against Christianity. Their reaction against other religionselevatedand established Christianity as the state religion of the empire, and set in motion an unholy alliance between the church and the state. The adulterous relationship begun at this point has continued on down through history and marches prophetically toward the consummation of the age.4 Once Rome declared Christianity to be its state religion, the Roman church was instantly clothed with civil power and began to wage war against all those who disagreed in matters of conscience and belief.
The atrocities and corruption of the Roman Catholic church continued uninterrupted for many centuries before Martin Luther and others like him rose up in protest. Their reforms of the church, however, were severely limited. Martin Luther, for example, never severed his ties with the state; his example led many other Reformers to also be legally established with the civil government. Thus they all blindly committed the same error as the Catholics had before them. As history so tragically reveals, the leaders of the Reformation quickly joined bloodstained hands with their Catholic opponents in persecuting anyone who differed with their doctrines.
The Reformation may have begun as a struggle of men’s souls for the freedom to worship God as each saw fit (guided, in Martin Luther’s words, by “the Bible, and the Bible only"), but the Reformers soon proved that they desired freedom for their way of thinking only, which is no freedom at all. In fact, they added new bonds and chains to mankind, instead of breaking asunder the ones that already existed.
They did these things seemingly unaware of their grotesque imitation of the atrocities for which the Roman Church was justly infamous. John Calvin wrote, “Godly princes may lawfully issue edicts for compelling obstinate and rebellious persons to worship the true God and to maintain the unity of the faith.” But if maintaining unity was what mattered, then there would have been no reason for carrying out the Reformation, for the Catholics had been relentlessly and bloodily working to achieve complete agreement to her views for centuries. John Calvin, too, showed that his roots were sunk deep in Roman Catholic soil by employing the same means as they had to persuade the reluctant: torture and death. By having Michael Servetus burned at the stake for his beliefs. Calvin indelibly etched on history his contempt for the conscience of others.
Martin Luther, in his younger days, urged that the Christian law of love be applied to the Jews in an effort to win them (see The Legacy of Martin Luther). He also scorned the use of force to change anyone’s beliefs. His own words stated clearly why persecution should be repugnant to any man of good conscience, no matter how sure he was of the rightness of his beliefs.
The mass is a bad thing; God is opposed to it: it ought to be abolished; ... But let no one be torn from it by force. We must leave the matter in God’s hands ... And why so? Because I do not hold men’s hearts in my hand as the potter holds the clay. We have the right to speak but have not the right to act... Were I to employ force, what should I gain? Grimace, formality, aping, human ordinances, and hypocrisy ... But there would be no sincerity of heart, nor faith, nor charity. Where these three are wanting, all is wanting, and 1 would not give a straw for such a result.5
Turning radically from this gracious soul liberty he once championed, Luther wrote of the Anabaptists in 1530, just as He would later write of the Jews,
Since they are not only blasphemous, but also seditious men, let the sword exercise its rights over them, for this is the will of God.6
Other great Reformers like Zwingli in Switzerland and Melanchthon in Germany supported in word and writing the death sentence for all Anabaptists. The Reformation was drenched in blood, a fact well attested to in history, but curiously unacknowledged today fn England, in the days of the Pilgrims and Puritans, such persecution was so commonplace that men who desired freedom were compelled to risk everything, even fife itself, to come to America in the hopes of finding liberty. Although they fled from persecution, most did not renounce their ties with the churches of Europe: and so they fastened the same chains on men’s souls as they had escaped from. According to their belief they were God’s government on earth, thus claiming the right to tell men how, and even when. to seek Him. Fines, whippings, banishment, and even death awaited those who would not bow to such an unrighteous system.
But the God of Heaven did have men and women of conscience on the earth, and foremost among them in the early days of the colonies was Roger Williams. a man to whom the whole world is indebted. His uncompromising stand against the oppression of the Puritans and others in Massachusetts laid the foundation for the kind of government we have in America that protects the freedoms necessary for God to establish what He desires in these last days. Williams saw that there must be a restoration of the apostolic authority and life of the early church, outside the realm of state control, in order for God to have a people for whom His Son could return.7 He knew he was not the man to bring it about, and that it would be left to another generation in the future.8 Still, he devoted his life to establishing in Rhode Island a form of government the spirit of which would become a model for the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment to the Constitution. Williams saw that the religious persecution in Massachusetts differed little from what he had witnessed growing up in England, and he spoke out against it. (See “The Story of Roger Williams.”) The pattern was clear. In many colonies one denomination would gain recognition, obtaining a charter through the civil government, and begin to persecute other denominations that were not the recognized religion of the day. Thomas Jefferson gleaned from the writings of Williams the term “wall of separation,"9 which he used to make his very famous declaration in 1802, acknowledging that through the First Amendment:
... the whole American people ... declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.10
This same conflict concerning the relationship between the church and the state continued in some fashion or another throughout the colonies — except in Rhode Island. It was to just such a conflict that James Madison returned after graduation from college. His observations about it are summed up in a letter written to his college friend, Bradford in January of 1774:
... There are at this time in the adjacent country not less than five or six well-meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments, which, in the main, are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear, talk or think of anything relative to this matter, for I have squabbled and scolded, abused and ridiculed, so tong about it, to little purpose, that I am without common patience. So I must beg you to pity me, and pray for liberty of conscience to all.11
This conflict revealed to Madison that the real issue was greater than mere “toleration of religion” espoused by John Locke. He saw the issue as “free exercise” of religion, or “full and equal rights of conscience” for the individual.12 He understood that government should protect every man’s freedom of conscience, and that this was the limit of the government’s role in religious matters. What James Madison, one of the principle authors of the Constitution, saw from the perspective of civil government. Roger Williams understood spiritually, 100 years before him.13
One of the most profound things Roger Williams saw was that the newly-formed colonies needed a form of government which would secure and protect the rights of the people of God, whenever they might be raised up, so that they would be able to exist and grow and mature completely, free from the civil government’s control and. free from the imposition of any denomination as a state church. Those who talk about “the light and the glory” and angelic intervention in the establishment of this country must understand one thing: Roger Williams had the true angelic light. He alone in his day understood that God’s holy people would be raised up in another generation and that their future security needed to be ensured.
Angelic intervention is clearly evident in the way the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution came to be written. This amendment protects forever the right to worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience, unhindered by the state or any religious group. The writing of the Constitution took place in the midst of great struggle and turmoil. One of the main questions of the day concerned the degree of control the state should exercise over the practice of religion and the degree to which any particular denomination could be established as a state religion. These conflicts were fierce. Miraculously, the spirit of religious liberty established in Rhode Island’s charter, drafted and engineered by Roger Williams, was incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and the Federal Constitution.14
The tension that exists to constantly maintain a proper separation of the state’s sphere of authority and that of the church is the necessary climate for events to take place that will bring about the end of this age. The evil prince of this world15 would like nothing better than to destroy the protections of religious freedom, especially in this country, in order to eliminate the possibility of the Stone Kingdom being raised up in these days — the beginning of “the days of the ten kings.”16 Before the end of this age can come, and before the harlot (the false religious system of Christianity) can have the political ties she needs to ride in on the beast,17 the God of heaven must have civil governments on the earth that will allow the Stone Kingdom to develop. That kingdom must be a twelve-tribed spiritual nation, Israel. the church, a light and a demonstration to all the nations of the earth.18
In light of this understanding, what spirit is at work in Christians who say that it is a myth19 that the framers of the Constitution wanted a complete separation of church and state? They want to deny that the first Amendment was meant to prevent any religious group. Christian or otherwise, from becoming a controlling political force in the government. Certain Christian groups are seeking to tear down the wall of separation in order to ensure that the right moral principles of Christianity will affect the decisions of civil government. This mistake has been made repeatedly during the last 2000 years whenever men tried to establish the foundation of a government on the Ten Commandments, the New Testament, the Bible, or any religious dogma, instead of by the natural law.20
Rulers and men in government must be guided by the natural law21 that is in their conscience. In addition to this natural law, they ought to be guided not by legislated Christian principles, but by the “light to the nations.”22 This light is a life of love and unity that demonstrates the kingdom of God, a foretaste of life in the age to come.23 This life is to be separate from the nations, but at the same time a light to them. It is clear that there can be no light demonstrated to the nations apart from a life of love that is being perfected in unity This life must be raised up free of any compromise or connection with the government if it. is going to be the Stone Kingdom.24
In sharp contrast to this life of love, Christianity today has nothing to offer the rulers of the nations but Biblical principles. since their life is integrally tied up in the world system, in all its political. social and economic aspects. Christians want to make the world a better place to live, for they are not a people set apart and cannot be a demonstration to the world which they are one with. That’s why they resort to the same worldly tactics as any other interest group. Since they have no authority from God, they try to gain power in the same way political parties gain power. They actively campaign to elect Christians to political office, lobby for certain legislation, and make deals in order to gain power for their own survival.
This is precisely why governments are skeptical of religion. They have maintained the wall of separation to prevent any group from imposing its religious principles on the nation.
Christianity poses a certain kind of threat to government. That’s why there is tension between the two. Many Christians believe that this “tension” comes from the conflict of two spiritual kingdoms at war with one another — Christianity (light) vs. the world (darkness). In reality the tension comes from Christianity trying to usurp the authority of the state. When the beast eventually destroys the harlot, it will be because she has gained too much power and influence in the government.25
The current move to “Reclaim America for Christ” is the latest, most sophisticated attempt to rewrite American history in order to unite Christianity with the government. Religious leaders Dr. James Kennedy and Dr. James Dobson, Christian activists Gary Bauer and Beverley LaHaye, and politicians Daniel Quayle and Pat Robertson are but a few of a growing number on the bandwagon, using all the glitter of slick advertising and media attention to launch a broad-based campaign to firmly place themselves unwittingly on the back of the beast that will one day enslave the whole world.26
The spokesmen of this movement claim that America was established as a Christian nation and therefore the “separation of church and state” is a myth. They intend to make America the theocracy27 which, they claim, the early colonists were seeking. These Christians go to great lengths to prove the “myth of separation,” by saying:
That “wall” was originally introduced [by Jefferson] as, and understood to be, a one-directional wall protecting the church from the government. This was also Jefferson’s understanding...28
At the same time they credit Roger Williams as the source from which Jefferson got this concept that the intention of separation was to keep the state out of the affairs of the church but not to keep the church out of the affairs of the state. Williams, however. made it clear that the wall of separation must go both ways:
On the other side, the Churches as Churches, have no power (though as members of the Commonwealth they may have power) of erecting or altering formes of Civil Government, electing of Civill officers, inflicting Civill punishments ... as by deposing Magistrates from their Civill Authoritie...29
By calling for a return to no separation, these Christian activists cite numerous examples of leaders in the colonial era “never separating the struggle for freedom from Biblical principles ... For Samuel Adams there was no separation between political service and spiritual activities.”30 But for political service and spiritual activities to not be separate, they must be exercised in the realm of the “dictates of [each individual’s] conscience” and not as a affairs. legislated dictum that forces the beliefs and practices of a particular religion upon all citizens.
The Declaration of Independence establishes “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” as the standard by which civil government should function. Natural law is instinctive in every man’s conscience regardless of his religious beliefs. It is from natural law that the Founding Fathers agreed upon the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The language of the First Amendment is clearly written from the perspective of natural law and not from any particular religious belief. To illustrate this, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were worlds apart in their religious beliefs. but in terms of understanding the principles of American government, they were of the same general mind. This is because they had a somewhat accurate perspective of the difference between religious belief and natural law. Civil government must function from natural law, the law of conscience. The Christian church functions from Biblical principles.
The conflict occurs when the church tries to get the government to cross the line and begin to legislate Christian doctrine to all the people. This principle is embodied in John Locke’s view that religious strife stems from the tendency of both religious and governmental leaders to overstep their bounds and intermeddle in the other’s affairs:
I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other.31
The last 200 years of American history illustrates this tension as those on both sides of the wall grapple with where to draw the line between the legitimate sphere of authority of the state and the legitimate sphere of authority of the church. Where would we be as a nation without the foundation of the First Amendment that gives civil government the freedom to rule according to conscience for the good of all its citizens and gives individuals the freedom to believe and practice whatever their conscience dictates to them? Although the tension will continue until the end of the age, the wall is established in the foundation of the Constitution, as a standard for all nations, so that what the Bible predicts concerning the end times can come about.
In terms of the prophecy of Scripture concerning the last days, we can conclude these things: Roger Williams was right. He had the “angelic light and glory” to see the need for civil government patterned after the Rhode Island charter of 1663. Although virtually forgotten for over 100 years, this pattern emerged again when Isaac Backus, a Massachusetts Baptist apologist and historian, rediscovered Williams’ writings in 1773.32
The movement for religious freedom in the 1780s was part of a broad reaction against the dominant but uninspired religious cultures represented by the Congregationalists of New England and the Anglicans of the South. The call for religious freedom came mostly from members, like Isaac Backus, of the most fervent and evangelical denominations in the nation.33 These newer, more enthusiastic sects had the most to gain from Roger Williams’ view of civil government enabling them to break the monopoly of the old established churches in the colonies.
James Madison, with his generous vision of religious liberty, faithfully reflected the popular understanding that emerged in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in state constitutions as well.34 That Madison’s views prevailed further establishes the depth of understanding presented by Roger Williams and gets us to the real reason this country was established on the broad foundation of religious freedom, not just mere toleration by the state. That reason was for the sake of the Stone Kingdom, which Williams realized would emerge outside the structure of the Christian religion. This Stone Kingdom would need the protection of the civil government in order to be cut out of the mountain of the world in these last days.
Since the days of Constantine, the state and the Christian religion have been together, thereby disqualifying Christianity as the people who would represent the kingdom of God in the last days. To this day it continues to assert itself in the affairs of government. even into this latest venture — “Reclaiming America for Christ.” Christians are involved in every level of American life, in the guise of combating the liberal tendencies in society that try to remove any moral standards from government whatsoever. But by doing so, these Christians are seeking not merely to bring this country’s rulers back to a standard of conscience, but to establish a broad-based and intimate merger of the interests of the state and the doctrines of Christianity in general.
This is not the “light of the world” influencing the nations with the salt of the earth, because it has no life — only principles from the Bible. It is deadly. It will eventually require all groups to conform to its dogma or be classified as a “cult.” This phenomenon poses the greatest threat to religious liberty since the days of Roger Williams.
The stage is now set for the final drama of human history. As civil governments slip further. from the restraints of conscience and natural law, and begin to evidence a beastly nature, the fragmented segments of Christian religion are evolving into a kind of superficial unity. This unity will be just strong enough to allow Christianity to mount the state once more and ride into temporal power.
True to her nature, she will once again seek to suppress or exterminate all threats to her supposedly eternal security. But in these last days the age-old story of religious oppression will have a new twist. For in the ranks of the ostracized and persecuted will be a people, a kingdom which the God of heaven will set up. Despite all obstacles, it will never be destroyed. It will instead maintain a righteous standard, which will allow God to execute judgment, bringing to an end both the political and ecclesiastical powers of wickedness, and ushering in a new age of freedom.