church/state seperation

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by nonconformist, May 21, 2005.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I am going to be dramatic for a second:

    "In a society where the Christian church is strongly representative and republican (not the party), tyranny in the state is impossible. When King Charles Stuart I declared a war to extend his tyranny over church and state, that war was called 'the Episcopal War.' Likewise when the colonies of North America fought to preserve a Christian moral order against King George III, that war was called 'The Presbyterian Rebellion.' They knew what representative government was in church and state. They were willing to die for it. They knew that without representative government in church and state, you can't have true freedom.

    And so the state of Virginia bears this heritage in its state motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannus!"

    Joe Morecraft III
  2. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    That is interesting. Though church government is not representative in the same way politics is. Elders are not sent to Presbytery and GA to vote on your churches issues. They are sent to deliberate and come to a right choice on the matters before them as an assembly. So they may be representative in their "election" but not necessarily in function. Politicians are more issue oriented and held accountable in that way, though perhaps that was not the original intent for them either.
  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I know its not air-tight. I think that is why he was stressing that it was principally true, not necessarily denominationally (I didn't mention that earlier). Anyway, it came as the stirring conclusion to a powerful sermon. I can point to this sermon to changing my views on church polity.
  4. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian


    Just wondering, have you read some of the various anti-Erastian writings by members of the Westminster Assembly? I have in mind, for example, Aaron's Rod Blossoming by George Gillespie and The Due Right of Presbyteries by Samuel Rutherford. Also, I would commend The Church of Christ by James Bannerman and Discussions on Church Principles: Popish, Erastian and Presbyterian by William Cunningham (this latter has a great chapter defending the propriety of section 3 of the 23rd chapter of the 1646 Confession that we are discussing here).

    The Westminster Assembly and the Scottish Church in particular were at the forefront of the battle against Erastianism. There were Erastians in the Assembly, but the anti-Erastian party is what prevailed in the formulation of the 1646 Confession. Thus, the Westminster Standards -- as they were originally written -- were anti-Erastian. Rutherford and Gillespie certainly would not subscribe to pro-Erastian principles in the Confession of Faith.

    This is evident particularly in the 1647-1648 list of propositions prepared by Gillespie and Baillie "as a testimony against the errors of Erastianism, Independency, and what is falsely called liberty of conscience" (Cunningham, Discussions). Those propositions, published by the Church of Scotland, show very clearly how the Confession was understood in an anti-Erastian sense.

    To clarify for a moment, Erastianism is the view that the church is subordinate to the state, and that the state may intrude upon matters of faith in the church.

    There is nothing in the 1646 Confession to warrant the label of Erastianism or Erastian tendencies. Quite the contrary.

    The whole struggle against the Stuart kings is an illustration in church history of the principles of Presbyterian views of church-state relations in opposition to Erastianism and Popery. The Scottish Covenants -- bold as they were to affirm the duties of magistrates to confess Christ and to defend the church and enforce the moral law of God -- were anti-Erastian and thus I note that that last week was the anniversary of the burning of the Covenants in London by order of King Charles II (May 21, 1661). (I fully agree the Presbyterians made a huge mistake in crowning Charles II.) The call by Parliament to convene the Westminster Assembly -- consistent with the Confession's statement on synods and councils and the duties of magistrates -- was not a product of Erastianism but quite the contrary, the result of Presbyterian views of church-state relations in action. Hetherington's History of the Assembly of the Westminster Divines and Symington's Historical Sketch of the Westminster Assembly of Divines detail the Erastian controversy in the Assembly and how the anti-Erastian party won the day.

    The Scottish Covenanters -- in adherence to the 1646 Confession and Covenants -- laid down their lives before they would take Erastian vows acknowledging the king to be head of the Church. But they certainly understood the duties of magistrates to include first and foremost the confession that Christ is King and to protect the church and the state from blasphemy and heresy.

    Even after the Glorious Revolution, the Scottish Church -- in adherence to the 1646 Confession -- continued to battle the Erastian challenges that came from the British government. M'Crie's The Story of the Scottish Church details some of these continued challenges which came in the form of patronage, attempts by civil courts to meddle in affairs ecclesiastical, and so forth. The Great Disruption (the anniversary of which was also last week: May 18, 1843) is further proof of the protracted battle by the Scottish Church -- in adherence to the 1646 Confession -- against Erastianism. Attempts by the civil courts to intrude in matters ecclesiastical lead to the dis-establishment of the Free Presbyterian Church. This despite the principle maintained by Thomas Chalmers and others that the Establishment Principle was the Biblical and Presbyterian understanding of church-state relations. But they were willing to sacrifice establishment for the sake of not surrendering to Erastian principles.

    Thus, I conclude that there is nothing Erastian about the 1646 Confession. The 1789 revisions to the Confession are often portrayed as a necessary correction to Erastian principles of the Assembly, but this is not accurate. The justification for those changes was not properly speaking anti-Erastian but rather pro-Voluntary principles of church-state relations to conform to the US Constitution both of which were products of Philadelphia and "New Light" thinking about the church and the state. Dis-establishment for the sake of protecting the integrity of the church against Erastianism is commendable, in my view, but dis-establishment of the church as a principle to be sought is contrary to the Biblical and 1646 Confession's understanding of the two ordinances of God ruled by Christ and explicitly governed by Scripture, which are meant to work together in their separate and distinct but related spheres.
  5. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    As one who holds to the revision of the Westminster (1789) Confession, I am curious to see a defense of the original statements on church/state releationship. I have always viewed the confession of having erastian tendancies, but I admit that I have not studied the history of this controversy as much as I should have. Has this been discussed on the PB?

  6. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    This subject (the differences between the 1646 and 1789 Confessions with respect to the civil magistrate and the church) has been discussed often usually in the context of theocracy, theonomy, magistracy, the US Constitution, etc.

    As for a defense of the original Confession, hopefully my prior posts on this subject will serve that purpose, which was my intent.

    Cunningham and Bannerman are two excellent defenders of the original WCF, Chap. 23, sec. 3, as cited earlier. I would suggest starting with them for further study.

    Hope this helps!
  7. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I think this is discussed elsewhere but these pieces come to mind by Cunningham and M'Crie which are posted at the Naphtali Press website.
    I've always thought the charge of Erastianism strange, considering the work that killed that school of thought off essentially was written by George Gillespie, the prominent Scots commissioner to the Westminster Assembly.
  8. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I only brought in the Erastianism, not because the Confession teaches it, but because that is what ended up as the practice when their feet were held to the fire. The Scots defaulted to eratianism by bringing back Charles II, regardless of how eloquently they argued anti-erastianism. It was the same principle in bringing William over. Granted these are just observations from looking at the big picture. Perhaps they didn't see it that way in their time. Thank you for those references Andrew. I will certainly be studying them as I have the time. Currently trying to get through Symington.
  9. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    I like this quote. I credit Rutherford's Lex Rex and the whole Puritan/Presbyterian/Huguenot tradition (especially the Covenanters who contended for the crown perogatives of Christ over church and state) for the civil and ecclesiastical reformation that took place circa 1517 to 1776. "No bishop, no king!" "No king but Christ!"
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page