Sunday, October 10, 2010

Biblical Theocracy and Past Abuses

Henry Van Dyke, ed., Groen Van Prinsterer's Lectures on Unbelief and Revolution, "Lecture III: Anti-Revolutionary Principles" 57-67:

4. One weighty and controversial point remains: the union of Church and State. It has many opponents, including Christians. I can best begin with the unadorned presentation of the grounds for it.

If a sovereign in all his acts is to be guided by the precepts of morality, this morality must find support in a religion, to whose faithful profession the sovereign grants protection and favours, in the interest of maintaining justice, virtue, and order. If a sovereign is God's lieutenant, he is obliged publicly to confess and worship Him, to aid others in the exercise of worship, and as far as his legitimate authority extends to apply the standards of God's law to all his deeds and ordinances. As Scripture says: "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling."14 As for the church, she is called to be the light, the salt, and the leaven of the world. The church ought not to seek martyrdom or humiliation. She should not withdraw if the state requests her co-operation. The church must endeavour to secure authority and influence for the Gospel, in order that the divine commandments be observed. These are the grounds for the union of Church and State.

Notice that it is not an option but an obligation. Objections based on fear of harm or despair of profit are therefore not to the point. What does it benefit the state? people ask; it has often paid too dearly for the support of the church. And why would the church need any state support? She flourishes under oppression. Worldly favours are a temptation for her. The Gospel is strong enough without human assistance. -- All these commonplaces are irrelevant the moment appears obligatory. The manner and the degree in which it is applied many run into obstacles in view of the requirements of toleration and the rights of conscience, but this may never lead to a denial of the principle.

And yet, as you know, its opponents are daily increasing. The church, they say, is sacred and the state is profane. The church is the community of God, the state is the world that lies in wickedness. What concord hath Christ with Belial?15 -- Don't think I am putting words in their mouths; you will find even stronger expressions in many a book and pamphlet, admonishing advocates of union to repent and inveighing against union as the Carthage that must be destroyed. Why, a zealous Christian in our own country has recently gone on record as saying that with the exception of ancient Israel all states are from the Devil.16 And Professor [Alexandre] Vinet, that gifted scholar and humble believer, is not afraid to assert, in his widely known book published a few years ago, that the confusion of ideas which have led to union can be attributed only to Satan.17

According to Vinet, union is at all times, in all circumstances, under any government, an abomination.

So it is to me -- in a revolutionary state. I loathe a union such as we have had in the Netherlands since 1795. Legally termed a separation, the present relation between church and state is such that factually the church is restricted in the enjoyment of her lawful rights, hindered in the exercise of her proper influence, placed under tutelage, and, breaking the reciprocal bond, is bound in fetters. From such slavery the church ought to wrest herself free. Indeed, with such a state the church should want to have no relation whatever.

But I reject Vinet's general condemnation. Vinet errs in his conception of the state and, accordingly, in his evaluation of its historic relation with the church. He begins by adopting the radical definition of the state as an aggregate of individuals by whose consent the concentrated masses of the people is governed, a "civil society" whose individual members "have made a common cause of whatever is their common concern."18 Then, to forestall having the government of such an omnipotent state, as a corollary, impose also a national religion, in violation of private conscience, he further defines the state as a "man minus his conscience," concerned only with material interests.19 Such a state, I grant, should have no relation with the church. But this is not the historic state of which I speak.

In addition, Vinet frequently succumbs to the temptation of imputing historical misapplications to the principle as such. Then oratory has free play, evoking the spectres of hypocrisy, self-interest, intolerance, fanaticism. But I hold no brief for the folly and wickedness of men. I defend only the principle and what necessarily follows from it.

Many claim, however, that past abuses followed from the very nature of this relationship. The sovereign will always make his supreme power his own ends. The financial tie will everywhere serve as a pretext for inspection and control. The clergy can be bought at any time by the tokens of honour and favour. Where the church is in union with the state, there independence in matters of faith cannot exist.

We readily admit that too often governments have used their power unjustly and have (not just in our days) used their position of paymaster of the clergy to obtain mastery over the church. We are aware that the clergy have not always remained immune to weapons of silver or of steel. Yet, temptations can be resisted; a state's attempts can meet effective opposition; nor will every sovereign want to dominate a church whose faith he shares. As Thomas Chalmers observes: "There might be an entire dependence on the state in things temporal, without even the shadow of a dependence upon it in things ecclesiastical. Although the church should receive its maintenance, and all its maintenance, from the civil power, it follows not that it therefore receives its theology from the same quarter; or that this theology should acquire thereby the slightest taint or infusion of secularity."20 Nor are regular payments of money the sole or principal tie. Payments may cease yet the union continue if the church's faith is but heeded in the drafting of laws and institutions. In short, abuses are possible but not necessary.

This is borne out by the union of church and state as it actually obtained in all nations prior to the Revolution. Here too Vinet, like many others among our Christian opponents today, is more at home in the flowery fields of philosophical speculation than in the arid deserts of historical research. On this point, do the annals of our fathers speak only of weakness, never of vigorous energy, only of neglect, never of vigilance in the performance of duty? In Calvin's Geneva, there was insistence on the independence of the church no less than than on the independence of the state. From the history of the Reformed Church we can summon many witnesses whose deeds are a glorious testimony to the possibility of clinging unshakably to the rights of the church against the arrogations of the temporal authorities.

I call your attention to Great Britain, where in recent years the Free Church of Scotland has sacrificed the benefits of union, however high she valued them, for the sake of preserving genuine independence. In the seventeenth century almost the whole of English history is taken up by the struggle of the courageous Puritans against the coercion of a caesaropapistic regime sympathetic to Roman Catholicism. After the Restoration of 1660 the believers in Scotland, because they wished to maintain presbyterian polity against the designs of an ungrateful and unscrupulous king, suffered bloody persecution for twenty years, ceasing only when William of Orange arrived to put an end to the coercive and arbitrary measures.
But it is time to close with a general remark.

My statement of last week fully holds for this evening's topics: never -- if we exclude the Sophists -- no never before the dawn of the Revolution have these basic maxims been subject to doubt. It has only been since then that historical development is exchanged for the Constitution factory, that the free action of the nation's organic parts is replaced by the lifeless whole of a centralized administration, that Divine right yields to the sovereignty of the People, and that the union of Church and State is abandoned in favour of political atheism.

14 [Psalm 2:10, 11.]
15 [Cf. I John 5:19; II Cor. 6:15.]
16 Pastor [H.P.] Scholte, in the periodical De Reformatie [vol. IV, no. 5 (1843), p. 249].
17 Vinet, Essai sur la manifestation des convictions religieuses et sur la separation de l'Eglise et de l'Etat, p. 22.
18 Ibid., p. 215.
19 Ibid., p. 256.
20 Chalmers, Works, XVII, 197.

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