The American Declaration

mvdm

Puritan Board Junior
In these days of creeping tyranny, this new American Declaration seeks to recover the Reformed confession on the relationship of church and state:

 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
I appreciate that this document is seeking to protect the spiritual integrity and divine authority of Christ's Church. Also, the points made are well taken, being largely a detailing of WCF 23:3 and 30:1. Such applications have their place in pastoral theology, of course. I wonder, however, about the import of the document as a whole, being almost entirely a firm instruction to the state what she is not allowed to do to the Church. By way of contrast, WCF 20:4 also exhorts the Church to obey the divine ordinance of authority, both civil and ecclesiastical. Further, Jesus commands His Church to aspire to be the sons of God, by being peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). This task involves, in part, teaching the world a judicious balance of human authority -- not only its limits, but also its utility -- in a society prospering under providential oversight. One application of this is to explain the biblical relationship between Church and state, how each can support the other.
 

J.L. Allen

Puritan Board Sophomore
In these days of creeping tyranny, this new American Declaration seeks to recover the Reformed confession on the relationship of church and state:

I recognize a few names on there. I'll have to give this a good read-over later. Thank you for sharing.
 

therussellhome

Puritan Board Freshman
The declaration was well written but, like @CovenantWord said, it only part of the picture. There are allegiances owed to the divinely ordained civil authorities regardless of how much we disagree with them.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
I wonder, however, about the import of the document as a whole, being almost entirely a firm instruction to the state what she is not allowed to do to the Church.
Considering the historical context we find ourselves in, I see the document's stated narrow purpose as a strength, not a weakness. We don't need to extensively rehash the positive role of government when addressing its abuses. The ten amendments are negative in nature - they are limitations on what the federal government can do. And by way of the fourteenth amendment, most of these also apply to the states (the first certainly does). The first amendment also enjoys a higher level of scrutiny when cases are tried in our courts. What's alarming post-covid is the significant departure from established precedent in our land that protected enumerated rights such as religious liberties held by the people. On the flip end, we have examples of the state bending over backwards to protect non-enumerated rights such as the "right to contraceptives" by way of the ninth amendment protection of privacy. It then becomes incumbent on the people to rein in this abuse - and it will be a firm instruction to the state.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
By way of contrast, WCF 20:4 also exhorts the Church to obey the divine ordinance of authority, both civil and ecclesiastical.
Perhaps the English Civil War and what followed can shed light on the original intent of the puritan authors and we can see how the principle was put into practice. Even more, on the question of authority, in our constitutional republic one only need read the first three words to the Preamble of our Constitution to see where the ultimate authority rests.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
There are allegiances owed to the divinely ordained civil authorities regardless of how much we disagree with them.

From my observations, too many Christians think submission to the State is all but absolute. Romans 13, by itself, does not tell the whole story. Consider what Paul did when in Damascus when the lawful authorities ordered Paul arrested.

At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. (2 Corinthians 11:32-33)​

Paul's whole life was often one of disobedience to God's "ministers." A civil minister ceases to have authority in as far as he breaks with his lawful duties. Are we to submit to lawfully ordained ministers of the Gospel when they persist in teaching false doctrine? No. they lose their authority when they cease to teach the truth. This has been the standard teaching of the Reformed through the years. Even when it cost them their property, freedom, and even their lives.

I could say a lot more.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
No. they lose their authority when they cease to teach the truth.
Aye, but too often we have an individualistic free-for-all when it comes to defining truth in this country; the result, I fear, is anything but pleasing to the Lord.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
Since the probabilities that the "Declaration" will significantly influence those in civil power are reasonably slender, the effect of the document is to advise the Church on how to respond to an increasingly onerous relationship with the state. That advice is to build legal defenses against state encroachment. I suggest that this looks in the wrong direction, because: 1) The unchurched are not to be found within self-erected defensive walls. Does the world really need the Church any less now than formerly? 2) Since (In my humble opinion) most of the injuries the Church suffers at present are self-inflicted, how will enclosing ourselves unto ourselves offer hope of mitigating further damage? 3) Since most savvy worldlings realize they will not be able to altogether destroy the Church in the foreseeable (much as they might like to), they have launched a systematic campaign of marginalizing the Church, which, if anything, is even more effective at neutralizing Christian influence than destruction would have been. Do we really want to give them permission, in effect, to continue doing so, by intimating, "Basically what we want is to be left alone"? How does that differ from abandoning the good fight in spiritual warfare?
 

Anti-Babylon

Puritan Board Freshman
Aye, but too often we have an individualistic free-for-all when it comes to defining truth in this country; the result, I fear, is anything but pleasing to the Lord.

But who is "we", brother? If you mean the nation as a whole and all its citizens, you are - of course - correct and undeniably so.

But if you refer to orthodox Christians of the Reformed tradition, I do not find your statement convincing in the slightest and suspect that politicians and political parties are far more engaged in free-wheeling the definition of "truth" and far less pleasing to the Lord.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
Steven, have you read the declaration and its purpose, or did you misread it? Your points seem misplaced as the spirit of the declaration is contrary to what you are stating (it is not championing a retreat - if anything it is quite the opposite).
1) The unchurched are not to be found within self-erected defensive walls. Does the world really need the Church any less now than formerly?
This is exactly what the declaration is attempting to address. Current events of the past two years have shown, in many cases, state encrouchment to the effect that the saints were not able to assemble for word and sacrament, and the church as the church was not to able to evangelize the world by preaching the gospel.
2) Since (In my humble opinion) most of the injuries the Church suffers at present are self-inflicted, how will enclosing ourselves unto ourselves offer hope of mitigating further damage?
The church suffering self-inflicted wounds doesn't nullify the ability for her to inform the individuals as parts of - and - the institution as a whole of the religious liberties that are said to be protected to both yet are infringed. How is this declaration "enclosing ourselves"? It is literally stating the opposite.
3) Since most savvy worldlings realize they will not be able to altogether destroy the Church in the foreseeable (much as they might like to), they have launched a systematic campaign of marginalizing the Church, which, if anything, is even more effective at neutralizing Christian influence than destruction would have been. Do we really want to give them permission, in effect, to continue doing so, by intimating, "Basically what we want is to be left alone"? How does that differ from abandoning the good fight in spiritual warfare?
Again, how are you reading this as an abandonment of spiritual warfare and a retreat? It is the world by way of the state that is attempting to muzzle the church and the proclamation of the gospel.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
But who is "we", brother? If you mean the nation as a whole and all its citizens, you are - of course - correct and undeniably so.

But if you refer to orthodox Christians of the Reformed tradition, I do not find your statement convincing in the slightest and suspect that politicians and political parties are far more engaged in free-wheeling the definition of "truth" and far less pleasing to the Lord.
I do indeed refer to believers in the American church, and it's totally fine if you disagree. I realize such a statement will not be to everyone's taste.
 

Anti-Babylon

Puritan Board Freshman
I do indeed refer to believers in the American church, and it's totally fine if you disagree. I realize such a statement will not be to everyone's taste.

Forgive me; I do not intend to be obtuse but again, if you refer to all American churches claiming to be Christian, I would also tend to agree. But if you mean Biblical confessional churches - notwithstanding some theological differences - then I again don't see it.

But I am not one who would agree to disagree in the sense that a statement is either true or false and I am more than willing to accept that my view may be influenced by my immediate surroundings and I am perhaps not as in touch with the Reformed culture at large?

So, I am not willing at this time (nor any time I imagine) to chalk up an evaluation of your claim as to a degree of taste.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
Forgive me; I do not intend to be obtuse but again, if you refer to all American churches claiming to be Christian, I would also tend to agree. But if you mean Biblical confessional churches - notwithstanding some theological differences - then I again don't see it.

But I am not one who would agree to disagree in the sense that a statement is either true or false and I am more than willing to accept that my view may be influenced by my immediate surroundings and I am perhaps not as in touch with the Reformed culture at large?

So, I am not willing at this time (nor any time I imagine) to chalk up an evaluation of your claim as to a degree of taste.
Every opinion is ultimately a matter of right and wrong, so I see where you're coming from, that in one respect it's not a matter of taste. In another sense, however, we acknowledge our place as finite humans who because of our limitations come to different conclusions on issues. Some issues are seen as more vital. On others, we can agree to disagree not because we think truth is irrelevant but because at a certain point the contention risked is not profitable. I made a statement earlier and naturally I believe the statement to be right and any opposing statements to be wrong otherwise I would not have said it; but I don't feel a strong need to die on that hill at this particular moment.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
@Claudiu: Yes, I did read the "Declaration," and, at your challenge, I read it again. The statements therein, taken individually, are true, and well worthy of being made. As I mentioned earlier, they are in effect a detailing of one of the WCF doctrines. The syntax and organization of this document is exemplary, addressing an increasingly important issue in our society.

Nonetheless, I maintain that the import of this document is not as helpful as might be in our cultural context. Perhaps my disagreement is best supported by a summary: Citing jure divino (quite properly), the document exhorts the Church to fight the state in hopes that it: will not interfere in the spiritual matters of the Church, will not impose legal restrictions on the publication of Scriptures, will not censor preaching, will not interfere in the expression of doctrine, will not compel individual conscience, will not persecute the discipling of children, will not hinder ministers of the Gospel, will not interfere with gatherings for worship, will not be partial among denominations, and will not restrict religious liberty judicially. All good points, yes, but I draw your attention to the strongly negative tone of expression. The document does not seek to heal the relationship between Church and state; rather it seeks to distance the two from each other nearly entirely. There is no review of the obligations Church has to state (except to pray, mentioned as an afterthought). There is no offer to work together with the state, such as on the difficult problems that arise when the mandates of Church and state overlap and seemingly conflict. There is no historical review of the benefit to society of mutual cooperation.

Further, and perhaps even more seriously, “Declaration” strongly implies that the radical current breach in the relationship is entirely the fault of the state (except for a brief complaint about some churches willingly surrendering their liberties). As a practical negotiating matter, the civil authorities would almost certainly reject such a belligerent attitude out of hand, and I can’t say I would entirely blame them. Also, a significant portion of the blame for her loss of influence can be laid at the door of the churches themselves. This decline should be taken as an opportunity for self-reexamination and repentance, as the Lord intended the national decline to be for ancient Israel. At this point in the history of the American church, self-centered individualism and mandate-resisting antiauthorianism is a much more serious threat to the future of the Church than is civil oppression. The unbalanced tone of this document fosters those sins.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
The document does not seek to heal the relationship between Church and state; rather it seeks to distance the two from each other nearly entirely. There is no review of the obligations Church has to state (except to pray, mentioned as an afterthought). There is no offer to work together with the state, such as on the difficult problems that arise when the mandates of Church and state overlap and seemingly conflict. There is no historical review of the benefit to society of mutual cooperation.
Given the fact that the state in many lands has no desire whatsoever to perform its God-mandated obligations to the Church, that the state has made it impossible to be worked with because of their alienating and coercive belligerence, and that the state has made no attempts whatsoever to extend the hand of cooperation (except on the basis of utter submission to their wicked lusts), what would you suggest they have said in order to “heal the relationship between Church and state”?
 

Anti-Babylon

Puritan Board Freshman
@Claudiu: Yes, I did read the "Declaration," and, at your challenge, I read it again. The statements therein, taken individually, are true, and well worthy of being made. As I mentioned earlier, they are in effect a detailing of one of the WCF doctrines. The syntax and organization of this document is exemplary, addressing an increasingly important issue in our society.

Nonetheless, I maintain that the import of this document is not as helpful as might be in our cultural context. Perhaps my disagreement is best supported by a summary: Citing jure divino (quite properly), the document exhorts the Church to fight the state in hopes that it: will not interfere in the spiritual matters of the Church, will not impose legal restrictions on the publication of Scriptures, will not censor preaching, will not interfere in the expression of doctrine, will not compel individual conscience, will not persecute the discipling of children, will not hinder ministers of the Gospel, will not interfere with gatherings for worship, will not be partial among denominations, and will not restrict religious liberty judicially. All good points, yes, but I draw your attention to the strongly negative tone of expression. The document does not seek to heal the relationship between Church and state; rather it seeks to distance the two from each other nearly entirely. There is no review of the obligations Church has to state (except to pray, mentioned as an afterthought). There is no offer to work together with the state, such as on the difficult problems that arise when the mandates of Church and state overlap and seemingly conflict. There is no historical review of the benefit to society of mutual cooperation.

Further, and perhaps even more seriously, “Declaration” strongly implies that the radical current breach in the relationship is entirely the fault of the state (except for a brief complaint about some churches willingly surrendering their liberties). As a practical negotiating matter, the civil authorities would almost certainly reject such a belligerent attitude out of hand, and I can’t say I would entirely blame them. Also, a significant portion of the blame for her loss of influence can be laid at the door of the churches themselves. This decline should be taken as an opportunity for self-reexamination and repentance, as the Lord intended the national decline to be for ancient Israel. At this point in the history of the American church, self-centered individualism and mandate-resisting antiauthorianism is a much more serious threat to the future of the Church than is civil oppression. The unbalanced tone of this document fosters those sins.

I disagree with nearly every word written here.

Most would be amiable disagreement but the following quote coming from a leading church member is disturbing in the face of coming world events and how the enemy uses civil governments:

"self-centered individualism and mandate-resisting antiauthorianism is a much more serious threat to the future of the Church than is civil oppression."

I would be terrified if I would momentarily forget the sovereignty of God.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
I disagree with nearly every word written here.

Most would be amiable disagreement but the following quote coming from a leading church member is disturbing in the face of coming world events and how the enemy uses civil governments:

"self-centered individualism and mandate-resisting antiauthorianism is a much more serious threat to the future of the Church than is civil oppression."

I would be terrified if I would momentarily forget the sovereignty of God.
@CovenantWord does have a point. Civil oppression is inflicted on the church from without and history shows again and again how God protects and flourishes his church in such settings.

The two things he mentioned, however, are sins that are very much alive in the church itself and cannot fail to dishonor God or impair the credibility of the Church's witness. In a very real way, our sins are a graver threat than the worst the world can muster against us.
 

Anti-Babylon

Puritan Board Freshman
@CovenantWord does have a point. Civil oppression is inflicted on the church from without and history shows again and again how God protects and flourishes his church in such settings.

The two things he mentioned, however, are sins that are very much alive in the church itself and cannot fail to dishonor God or impair the credibility of the Church's witness. In a very real way, our sins are a graver threat than the worst the world can muster against us.
The scope of this document needs to be narrowed as to the role of the state and its authority over the Church. It is entirely appropriate to give a list of negatives of what the state is not permitted to do as that verifies the state's authority in all areas that do not fall under the specific statements.

This is not sinful nor leading to sin in and of itself.

Now there IS sin in the Church no doubt.

Self-centered individualism has infiltrated doctrine and churches all over this nation, no argument there.

But these churches are actually the MOST likely to be those who will turn apostate under persecution (if they are not already apostate). That is also learned from history.

I am confident of God's providence in the coming days and all days. I do fear for those who give to government that which is God's.
 

Miss Marple

Puritan Board Junior
The notion that the church, in this declaration, is being belligerent or not being sorry enough for its failings sadly reminds me of an abusive marriage. Touchy subject, I know, I don't wish to derail. However, having seen enough of them, it's like the criticism of the uppity wife who is calling out serious prolonged abuse from her hubs and is told that yes well that is an issue but how bad are you?

It's a denial of who is being the predator in this situation; it's blame shifting; it's gaslighting; - the problem here is that the civil government in, largely, the western world, it seriously and unrepentantly exceeding its authority in forbidding churches to assemble, sing, evangelize, etc. The church is not the aggressor here.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
The notion that the church, in this declaration, is being belligerent or not being sorry enough for its failings sadly reminds me of an abusive marriage. Touchy subject, I know, I don't wish to derail. However, having seen enough of them, it's like the criticism of the uppity wife who is calling out serious prolonged abuse from her hubs and is told that yes well that is an issue but how bad are you?

It's a denial of who is being the predator in this situation; it's blame shifting; it's gaslighting; - the problem here is that the civil government in, largely, the western world, it seriously and unrepentantly exceeding its authority in forbidding churches to assemble, sing, evangelize, etc. The church is not the aggressor here.
The flaw in this analogy is that the church's husband is not the world.
 

Miss Marple

Puritan Board Junior
The flaw in this analogy is that the church's husband is not the world.
Right, the analogy is imperfect.

But the civil government has some legitimate authority, which is being very much exceeded. Much like a husband has legitimate authority but not to, say, forbid his wife to attend church as an example.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
Right, the analogy is imperfect.

But the civil government has some legitimate authority, which is being very much exceeded. Much like a husband has legitimate authority but not to, say, forbid his wife to attend church as an example.
Yes, but the church is called to go above and beyond to obey the world up to that point of disobeying God. And many Christians in this country interpret "God-ordained limits on government" in a way conveniently identical to what they do and don't want to do, broadening the scope of what's essential far beyond all reason.

Also, nobody here is gaslighting the church. The church needs to be called to repentance even as the world closes in. This call to repentance is in fact its only hope because it is only by acknowledging its shortcomings and coming before God contritely that the church will have real hope of protection from coming abuses.

The church is, at least here, hopelessly divided and very often focused on the wrong things and the fact that the world is coming after it only makes the need to call for repentance more urgent.

If you want an analogy that I consider more accurate, here's one: an abused wife has a brother three doors down in law enforcement. Her husband is on the way home and she's fuming that he has no right to tell her how to cook chicken. I would say "Woman, get your head out of the clouds, call your brother now or go straight to his house!" No one is gaslighting her. The situation lends itself to great urgency and to strong exhortation of one in peril.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Sophomore
Yes, but the church is called to go above and beyond to obey the world up to that point of disobeying God. And many Christians in this country interpret "God-ordained limits on government" in a way conveniently identical to what they do and don't want to do, broadening the scope of what's essential far beyond all reason
"Obey the world" is not correct. It would be to obey governing authorities, not the world. However, "up to the point of disobeying God" would not be accurate either. It is when they are giving lawful commands (as the Bible defines lawful and good) within their sphere of authority. If people are playing fast and loose with that, that would also not be correct. However, even with your definition, that would be open to interpretation.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
Yes, but the church is called to go above and beyond to obey the world up to that point of disobeying God.
This is not the confessional position. As a brother above noted, we are never called to obey the world. We are called to obey the civil magistrate, and that only insofar as they issue lawful commands, which does not only mean "anything not sin." It also includes the limit to such commands to those matters that are within their jurisdiction. Just as a pastor has no authority to command me what brand of car to buy, being outside his sphere of authority, the civil magistrate has no authority to tell me (contra Todd Friel) to wear pinwheels on my head in order to shop at the grocery store. Such is not a command to disobey God, yet it is nonetheless unlawful.

And many Christians in this country interpret "God-ordained limits on government" in a way conveniently identical to what they do and don't want to do, broadening the scope of what's essential far beyond all reason.
How do you know you’re not interpreting "God-ordained limits on civil government" in a way conveniently to what you want other people to do and not do? This assertion is pure speculation on your part. I also don’t understand why "God-ordained limits on civil government" is in scare quotes, as if it is mythical. Perhaps I am misinterpreting.
 
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Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
"Obey the world" is not correct. It would be to obey governing authorities, not the world. However, "up to the point of disobeying God" would not be accurate either. It is when they are giving lawful commands (as the Bible defines lawful and good) within their sphere of authority. If people are playing fast and loose with that, that would also not be correct. However, even with your definition, that would be open to interpretation.
I should have said "obey the governing authorities", yes. Thank you for the correction.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
Given the fact that the state in many lands has no desire whatsoever to perform its God-mandated obligations to the Church, that the state has made it impossible to be worked with because of their alienating and coercive belligerence, and that the state has made no attempts whatsoever to extend the hand of cooperation (except on the basis of utter submission to their wicked lusts), what would you suggest they have said in order to “heal the relationship between Church and state”?
I appreciate your challenge, because it is more difficult, as well as more edifying, to make positive suggestions rather than to simply criticize.
The "Preamble" of the OP document informs the reader that it intends to be a template for the Church to declare her demands to the civil government. This proposed "Declaration" thus invites the reader to agree with the claim that the constitutional liberties of the Church suffer radical erosion in the U.S. at present and that the best hope of their being restored is to organize a widely supported, blunt demand of an apparently recalcitrant civil government.
I suggest, rather, that it is the proper function of the Church to encourage, educate, advise, and warn the civil government, whenever and wherever possible, and to whatever extent it is not possible, to pray to the King of kings that it would become so. Further, it is the obligation of the Church to exercise loyalty to the state, to obey her within the bounds of the moral law, and to pray for her, both individually and collectively.
Accordingly, I would say, in answer to your challenge, that a better hope of effectiveness, peaceableness, and edification would be to reframe the document as a humble petition, and to incorporate statements therein representing consenting awareness of the function and obligation of the Church toward the state outlined above.
 
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