By Editorial Staff
Published September 1, 1989
by Norman de Jong, Ph.D.
The subject of church-state relationships has once again become a live issue. Although discussions about Supreme Court decisions banning prayer and Bible reading from public schools are not the regular fare for dinner table conversation or dormitory discussion, the supposed separation of church and state is worthy of analysis.
Since January, 1982, the “separation” issue has again come to public attention as a result of a federal judge’s ruling in the case designated as McLean vs. the Arkansas Board of Education. After a nationally publicized trial, the court decided that Act 590, which required public school teachers to give “balanced treatment” to both creation and evolution, was unconstitutional. The law was ruled unconstitutional, Judge Overton declared, because it violated “the separation of church and state.”
In late 20th century America, the vast majority of persons have come to assume that church and state should be separated. Ever since 1947, when Justice Hugo Black wrote the majority opinion for the Everson case, the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” has become progressively ingrained into the fabric of American jurisprudence.
During the 1960s that notion successively convinced a majority of the Supreme Court to outlaw prayer and Bible reading in the public schools, as well as the posting of the Ten Commandments on classroom walls. Since those early decisions in the Engel and Abingdon cases, the courts of the United States have become extremely skittish about any kind of government which permits or even vaguely promotes religious activity.
In Kent vs. Commissioner of Education, the Massachusetts Court in 1980 ruled that prayers offered in the public schools, in which God was petitioned for the release of the hostages in Iran, were unconstitutional. Even though the court sympathized with the content of the prayers under attack, the judges ruled that these prayers failed their test of secular purpose because they were an appeal to the Deity.
Another case, known as Widmar vs. Vincent, has given a somewhat different twist to this whole church-state controversy. At issue were the regulations of the University of Missouri at Kansas City which prohibited religious worship or teaching in any of its buildings or on its grounds. To the delight of many Christian campus groups, the Supreme Court ruled against the University, rejecting their argument that the state had a “compelling interest in maintaining strict separation” from the church.
In some cities, even your home is not a safe place for prayer and Bible study groups.
- In 1980, Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles stated that, “a Bible study would not be a permissible use in a single family residential area – since this would be considered a church activity.
- In a town near Boston, the building commissioner notified a clergyman that inviting more than four people to his home for a Bible study was violation of the “Home Occupation” ordinance.
- In Atlanta, a zoning official stated that any kind of regular home Bible study which includes non-residents is illegal without use off a special permit.
- In Maryland, two residents were issued a citation for using their home for worship services without a use and occupancy permit.
If the the present trend continues, as it very well might, it is conceivable that by the end of this century the only place where it will be legal for people to pray and read the Bible will be in our church sanctuaries on Sunday morning.
The Separation Myth
The vast majority of Americans have been taught to believe that church and state ought to be separated, within the last three decades, largely through the very courts which were designed to protect our liberties. We have allowed the Supreme Court to become our national educator without serious challenge.
We perpetuate this assumption peculiar to the United States because we fail to know our nation’s history and we no longer ascribe to our words the clear meanings historically given them. If we no longer study history, we are as guilty as those men and women who sit on the bench and interpret the laws for us perpetuating the myths where intelligence and common sense ought to prevail.
According to the contemporary American myth, the relationship between church and state would look as follows:
When confronting such an image, we should ask for a definition of terms: “What do you mean by the church? What do you mean by the state?”
According to the dictionary, the word “church” means: “The collective body of Christians; any body of worshippers; the building in which worshippers gather.” All creeds and all confessions describe the “church” as the body of Christ, those people who are chosen of God, or the Bride of the Savior. The “church” always refers to people. Pastors, elders, deacons, musicians, ushers, and all church members help to make up the church. The church is a body composed of people.
The “state”, according to the dictionary, is a “political body; any body of people occupying a common territory. Books on political science support the idea that the state is identified as people who live in a specified territory and who are responsible to the same laws and government. The state is made up of people, just as people make up the church.
The church is not an institution consisting of archaic doctrines, stain glass windows and lifeless religious relics. The state is not a disembodied monster residing beneath a silver dome or crimped into a manila folder in some bureaucratic jungle. No, the church and the state, as Webster so clearly points out, is a collection of persons.
In reality the church cannot be separated from the state. This presumed wall of separation between church and state is a figment of someone’s imagination, a thought which remains a thought and cannot become an actuality. The two are related but not synonymous. People are a significant part of both.
In the above illustration, the church is within the state – a part of it, but not equal to it. The state includes all those who live in it, both those who are members of the church and those who are not. The church is within the state, but not identical to it. When considering this separation issue, we should also ask the question: “What about that wall of separation? Does such language appear in our Constitution or in any of our laws?”
Without going into an exhaustive historical analysis, let me also assert that it was not the founding father’s intention to attempt the impossible separation between church and state. The first amendment simply and clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
It should be noted clearly that Congress was thereby prevented from designating an established church; for that was to remain the prerogative of the separate states. In Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut, the established state church was the Congregational. In Virginia, it was the Episcopal. In a number of others it was more broadly specified to be the Protestant Christian Religion, with almost all the states specifying in their constitutions the religious requirements for holding office. In the Delaware state constitution, for example, it was stipulated that any person who aspired to state office would have to make the following oath:
“I, _____________ , do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”
In such a religious environment, Congress saw no difficulty in appropriating tax monies for the training of ministers, paying the salaries of missionaries to the Indians, or the publication of the first American Bibles. In the summer of 1787, during the very same time that the Constitution was being drafted, Congress set aside section 16 in every township for the support of avowedly Christian public schools. In addition, Congress also stipulated that section 29 in every township be set aside for the support of religion. Congressional leaders saw themselves not as secular politicians, but as moral and spiritual guides to the new nation.
When, then, was the “wall of separation” erected?
The “wall of separation” was not firmly put in place until 1947. In that year, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, instead of going back to the Constitution, dug out a phrase from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson on January 1, 1802. For Jefferson it was a campaign promise to a selected group of political supporters. For us it has become an intellectual nightmare and a seemingly immovable plank in American jurisprudence.
For those Christians who teach in public schools of our land, the Supreme Court has effectively accomplished what Congress is expressly prohibited from doing. From 9 AM to 3 PM, Monday through Friday, we are told to ignore and deny the God who made us. In our classrooms and on the school grounds we may not talk to Him and we may not read His only infallible guide for life and behavior.
The American Civil Liberties Union is pleased.
I wonder if God is?
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Foundations in Biblical Eschatology
By Jay Rogers, Larry Waugh, Rodney Stortz, Joseph Meiring. High quality paperback, 167 pages.
All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?
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“Give me liberty or give me death!”
Patrick Henry’s famous declaration not only helped launch the War for Independence, it also perfectly summarized the mindset that gave birth to, and sustained, the unprecedented experiment in Christian liberty that was America.
The freedom our Founders envisioned was not freedom from suffering, want, or hard work. Nor was it freedom to indulge every appetite or whim without restraint—that would merely be servitude to a different master. No, the Founders’ passion was to live free before God, unfettered by the chains of autocracy, shackles that slowly but inexorably bind men when the governments they fashion fail to recognize and uphold freedom’s singular, foundational truth: that all men are created in the image of God, and are thereby co-equally endowed with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This presentation is a similar call, not to one but many. By reintroducing the principles of freedom that gave birth to America, it is our prayer that Jesus, the true and only ruler over the nations, will once again be our acknowledged Sovereign, that we may again know and exult in the great truth that “where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Welcome to the Second American Revolution!
This DVD features “Liberty: The Model of Christian Liberty” along with “Dawn’s Early Light: A Brief History of America’s Christian Foundations.” Bonus features include a humorous but instructive collection of campaign ads and Eric Holmberg’s controversial YouTube challenge concerning Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.
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With “preaching to the lost” being such a basic foundation of Christianity, why do many in the church seem to be apathetic on this issue of preaching in highways and byways of towns and cities?
Is it biblical to stand in the public places of the world and proclaim the gospel, regardless if people want to hear it or not?
Does the Bible really call church pastors, leaders and evangelists to proclaim the gospel in the public square as part of obedience to the Great Commission, or is public preaching something that is outdated and not applicable for our day and age?
These any many other questions are answered in this documentary.
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Who is the Real Jesus?
Ever since the dawn of modern rationalism, skeptics have sought to use textual criticism, archeology and historical reconstructions to uncover the “historical Jesus” — a wise teacher who said many wonderful things, but fulfilled no prophecies, performed no miracles and certainly did not rise from the dead in triumph over sin.
Over the past 100 years, however, startling discoveries in biblical archeology and scholarship have all but vanquished the faulty assumptions of these doubting modernists. Regrettably, these discoveries have often been ignored by the skeptics as well as by the popular media. As a result, the liberal view still holds sway in universities and impacts the culture and even much of the church.
The Real Jesus explodes the myths of these critics and the movies, books and television programs that have popularized their views. Presented in ten parts — perfect for individual, family and classroom study — viewers will be challenged to go deeper in their knowledge of Christ in order to be able to defend their faith and present the truth to a skeptical modern world – that the Jesus of the Gospels is the Jesus of history — “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is the real Jesus.
Speakers include: George Grant, Ted Baehr, Stephen Mansfield, Raymond Ortlund, Phil Kayser, David Lutzweiler, Jay Grimstead, J.P. Holding, and Eric Holmberg.
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Running Time: 130 minutes
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God’s Law and Society powerfully presents a comprehensive worldview based upon the ethical system found in the Law of God.
Speakers include: R.J. Rushdoony, George Grant, Howard Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr., Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Jay Grimstead, Steven Schlissel, Andrew Sandlin, Eric Holmberg, and more!
Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions related to this volatile issue:
1. Are we under Law or under Grace?
2. Does the Old Testament Law apply today?
3. Can we legislate morality?
4. What are the biblical foundations of government?
5. Was America founded as a Christian nation?
6. What about the separation of Church and State?
7. Is neutrality a myth?
8. What about non-Christians and the Law of God?
9. Would there be “freedom” in a Christian republic?
10. What would a “Christian America” look like?
Perfect for group instruction as well as personal Bible study.
Ten parts, over four hours of instruction!
Running Time: 240 minutes
Watch over 60 on-line video interviews from God’s Law and Society.
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