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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Separation of Church and State

A weekly history column in our newspaper this morning is titled Separation of church, state radical concept. The author goes to to say:
"On Thomas Jefferson's tombstone, at his insistence, are listed his three proudest accomplishments: Founding the University of Virginia, authoring the Declaration of Independence and authoring the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom. The latter document was passed by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786.
This statue expressed Jefferson's conviction, born out of his Deist beliefs, that although God created the universe, God is not actively involved in human affairs. Rather God has given man the capacity for reason, including freedom of conscience in all religious matters, and therefor any attempt to limit, restrict or shape an individual's religious beliefs--or lack thereof--is wrong. As such, there should be no government-supported religion in America, nor should any citizen be compelled to attend a particular church, or any church. Finally, the government should never compel a citizen to pay taxes to support a church. In other words, Americans are to worship as they please, or not worship if it doesn't please them, and are free to decide for themselves whether to give a church any financial support.
Jefferson's statute, which called for the complete separation of church and state, was a radical break from the prevailing attitude about religion's role in public affairs."
The writer of this article (like many others) credits Thomas Jefferson with conceiving the idea of separation of church and state. Although Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase "separation of church and state," it was not a new concept at all.
Church and state had been combined since ancient times. The Jewish high priest was the head of both the church and the government. Early Roman emperors held the state's highest religious office and were deified. Early Christians were martyred by the thousands for refusing to bow to the Roman emperor.
The combination of church and state continued into the Middle Ages in Europe. The religion of the people was determined by the religion of their leader. During the Reformation a person could go to bed a Catholic and wake up obligated to be Lutheran or Reformed due to a change in leadership.
The Anabaptists church was born in 1525. The Anabpatists returned to the beliefs of the Early Christians and also died by the thousands for their faith. Separation of church and state was part of the distinctive Anabaptist doctrine of nonresistance. This belief was based on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and other Scriptures which teach that Christians are in the world but not of it. This is often referred to as "the two-kingdom concept."
The State has been ordained to maintain law and order by the use of force. The Christian is not to resist evil but to respond with love. This prevents the Christian from suing, being in the military, or holding public office. The duty of the Christian is to pray for leaders, pay taxes, and obey the laws (unless they conflict with God's higher law), but he is not to be involved in the government of this world.
The Anabaptists refused to serve in the military or baptize their babies in the state church, whether it was Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed. The Anabpatist belief in the separation of church and state was a radical idea in the Middle Ages.
In the 1650s, a nonconformist group in England led by George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends commonly known as Quakers. They embraced the nonresistant beliefs of the Anabaptists. In 1682 the Quaker William Penn drew up a Frame of Government which guaranteed freedom of religion in his new state of Pennsylvania. He called this a "Holy Experiment" to prove that church and state can exist independent of one another.
The concept of separation of church and state was around long before Thomas Jefferson authored his Statue for Religious Freedom. The difference is that the Anabaptists based their beliefs on Biblical principles and Jefferson's were in defense of his humanistic thinking and "right" NOT to believe the Bible. Thomas Jefferson's ideas may be the basis of the ACLU but the idea of separation of church and state is a Biblical principle revived by the Anabaptists in 1525.

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