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Faith and the State *

The usual dichotomy is “church and state” as if faith was the realm of the church and the state had nothing to do with faith. But this is not the case; the state is very much dependent on the faith of its people. They must believe that the state is a legitimate ruling authority or they will not obey, at least not from the heart, which is all-important. The faith can take many forms; it can be Christian, pagan or humanistic (faith in man) but it must be a faith that is generally believed.

The pagans of antiquity understood this better than we do today. The pagan state governed all of life, the religious as well as the civil. Anyone that disagreed with the state on legal or on religious matters was considered an outlaw and would be arrested, prosecuted and punished accordingly. Rome in the time of Christ was such a state. While Rome gave a great deal of latitude to its subjects in religious matters, it insisted that Caesar be acknowledged to be the infallible representative of whatever god one worshiped. So, for Rome, Caesar was lord and master of all things in this world and his word was law. In the eyes of Rome, the early Christians that refused to acknowledge Caesar as lord were outlaws. Whether this was considered a religious or a civil matter was immaterial; to say Christ was Lord made them outlaws.

No state can exist without an underlying theology. Law without a lawgiver, one that people recognize as authoritative, loses its power, and either a police state or anarchy results. During the persecution, the Roman state was fighting for its life just as much as the Christians were for theirs. The Christians obeyed Rome’s laws because Christ commanded them to do so (Rom. 13:1,2) but they insisted that Christ was Lord over Caesar and that He gave Caesar whatever power Caesar had. As the Christian faith grew and began to permeate the Empire, Roman law began to conform more and more to God’s law. The old Rome faded into oblivion. Its former pagan structure was gradually dissipated and replaced by one in which Christ was officially recognized as the Lord and ultimate lawgiver. The early Christians defeated Rome by undermining the old pagan forms of faith and replacing them with Christianity.

Church and State

Most of the early churches, Catholic and Protestant, held that all people were under both church and state. Universal church membership was seen as a means of securing a common faith and with it peace and tranquility in the nation. The view was that voluntary church membership would result in a shrinking church, a diverse faith and general anarchy everywhere. But to unite church and state meant the persecution of dissent. It led to coercion of the faithless along with the lawless and did not produce the desired result. To avoid sanctions, unbelievers gave lip service to the faith. This created a situation in which profession of faith became meaningless and one could not easily distinguish between false and true Christians. In this confused milieu, both church and state degraded more and more into self-serving entities typically controlled by the most shrewd and ruthless.

The Baptists were an exception; they believed in voluntary church membership based on profession of faith. This avoided the problem of needing to be a party to legal action against members and also retained a more visible distinction between believers and unbelievers. The problem with the Baptist approach, though, was that it meant a separation of church and state, which meant a separation of religion and state. This, of course, leads to a secular culture in which the life of the church and its faith is compromised; it is first tolerated, then persecuted and eventually eliminated.

Today’s churches, following the Baptist model chose to be separate from the state and therefore are now having to deal with an increasingly secular state. The Western states are now in the process of discarding their older Christian base and marginalizing the Christian faith. So we see that neither the universal nor the voluntary church formula has produced a lasting church-state relationship in which the faith could survive and prosper. Both approaches have led away from the true faith and toward a secular culture.


The separation of faith and law into church and state, whether as dependent or independent entities, does not result in a stable society. Because life is a unity, there cannot be two competing faiths as sources of law. Where two exist, one must eventually subsume the other. Church and state both require faith from the people but faith cannot be divided into contradictory elements. Any such division can only exist as a temporary condition. Christianity and humanism (or any other form of false faith) cannot exist side by side in a common law system. The two are invariably locked in a God-ordained perpetual struggle for dominion (Gen. 3:15). The world must end up entirely Christian or entirely devoid of Christianity.

If Christianity is to prevail in this struggle it must recognize that it cannot survive within a secular state. The Pilgrims understood this when they first left England and then Holland for the wilderness that was America. So also did the early church when it held firmly to the concept that Christ and not Caesar was Lord. This was not just a religious matter. It was a highly charged political statement that claimed Christ as Lord over the state.

Today’s churches have taught Christians that the state represents neutral territory and is not governed by Christ as Lord. But there is no such thing as neutral territory. There are only two forces in this world, the force for good and the force for evil. Where Christ is not Lord, there Satan reigns. The task set before all believers is to work to bring the nations under His rule and law (Matt. 28:18-20). The concept of a neutral state must be discarded as one of Satan’s lies.

* See R. J. Rushdoony, “Law and Society,” pages 110 – 117