The question of the relationship between the Church and the State remains a perennial problem for the Christian. Four hundred years ago at the time of the Reformation the principle in England was that of one State, one Church, so that every Englishman was regarded as a member both of the State and of the Church. One thing that history has taught us is that everybody cannot be forced into the same ecclesiastical mould and that between fellow-Christians there must be room for conscientious differences of judgment and practice where forms of worship are concerned. Failure to recognize this on the part of the authorities in England led to the hazardous sailing of the Pilgrim Fathers for the New World in the search of that freedom. Subsequently, as toleration gained ground, the Free Churches came into being—free, that is, or independent of official connection with the State-while the Church of England continues to this day to maintain its historic bonds with this Protestant realm of England.
The Rev. Edward Rogers, a Methodist minister, writing in the January issue of The London Quarterly and Holborn Review on the subject of “Christians and the Modern State,” speaks of industrialization, urbanization, centralization and secularization as the four distinctive features of the modern State, and asserts that the Christian, “simply because he is a Christian, confronts the State in two inseparably related ways,” as one who, “whatever the social or political order, … must seek to live by faith and love. The political order,” he says, “may be corrupt or cruel, the economic order unjust and the moral code of society debased. Nevertheless, he will be generous and just, truthful and honest, kind and forbearing.”
We are reminded that political liberty is “a rare and precious thing, hardly won and easily lost” and that it “demands and depends upon men and women of integrity and charity, ready to acknowledge that they are their brother’s keepers.” It is, in fact, the believing Christian who is “the preserver of sound values in a society that would otherwise decay.” Mr. Rogers points to loneliness and a slackening of the social ties that strengthen life as resulting from living in the modern State. These deficiencies, it is true, are made good by church life, which offers “fellowship and shared responsibilities.” Saying this, however, he makes the following very salutary comment on what has come to be known as the social gospel: “What went wrong with the ‘social gospel’ in the generation immediately past was that it put ‘social’ first, and a diluted gospel second. Men and women of noble intention strove to implement the Sermon on the Mount while pushing into the background the Cross and the Resurrection—and found that their fine phrases and benevolent exhortations splashed ineffectively on the rocks of sin.”
Who will not agree with his conclusion that the doctrine of the sovereignty of God is “a doctrine desperately needed to check the blasphemous and destructive doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of the State”; for the State “is the servant of God, not the master of men?”
The dualistic doctrine that the care of the State extends only to the body and the care of the Church only to the soul is described as “entirely unchristian” in an article on “Church and State” in the January–March number of The Church Quarterly Review by C. H. Glasson, who, appropriately enough, is a lay member of the Church of England and also a civil servant. He affirms that the Church “will continue to assert that it is different in kind from other voluntary organizations,” and that it “will not even consent to reserve its gospel for its members, as Freemasons do the oddities they indulge in.”
Regarding the function of the Church of England as the “established” church of the realm, Mr. Glasson is of the opinion that its disestablishment would weaken both itself and also the Free Churches. He imagines that there are few Christians who would be glad to see the sovereign profess no religion or the proceedings of Parliament open without a prayer—with the exception of the Roman Church, which, he pointedly observes, is “the one nonconformist body which might have cause for satisfaction.”
In a consideration of the politics of the Church of Rome. He draws our attention to the fact that in the Roman Missal there are prayers whose design is the undoing of the work of the Reformation; that in it the English are spoken of as having been “the dowry of the blessed virgin Mary and subjects of Peter,” and that among the Bidding Prayers for Good Friday there is the distinctly political note, under the heading “For the Emperor,” explaining that this prayer is “omitted, the Holy Roman Empire being vacant.”
Mr. Glasson warns—that the Roman Church is far from having abandoned its political objectives. “In this country [England],” he says, “it plays the role of a minority, biding its time. If it were as strong in England as our Church now is, the State would be forced to define more or less regularly its relationship to it. The State would, ultimately, have not merely to define relationships with its own subjects in their church but with a foreign power.” And that, he adds, is “from the national point of view, the most significant difference between the Roman Church and our own.” Past history shows that English Roman Catholics have been relieved of their duty of loyalty under papal direction. But we are rightly admonished that these are political issues which by no means belong only to the dead past. Evidence of this is provided by citing the well known Roman Catholic writer and apologist Jacques Maritain, who “can still defend the old thesis of the Elizabethan Jesuits that excommunication of a Prince by Rome relieves the subject of all duty of obedience, and that a Pope is indeed a temporal sovereign because if he were not he could not avoid being a subject.”
The political aims and ambitions of the Roman Catholic Church are no less total and arrogant than are those of Communism. The Church-State connection in England is designed to ensure, amongst other things, a Protestant succession to the throne and security from a relapse into a state of subjection to the absolute tyranny of a foreign potentate claiming unrestricted authority over the souls and bodies of men. These ends are thoroughly desirable, but it must always be remembered that the only effective safeguard against the domination of darkness, whether civil or ecclesiastical or both, is the promotion of that vital evangelical religion whereby men’s hearts and minds are enlightened and liberated by obedience to the Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.
This review of live spiritual and moral issues debated in the secular and religious press of the day is prepared successively for CHRISTIANITY TODAY by four evangelical scholars: Professor William Mueller of the United States, Professor G. C. Berkouwer of the Netherlands, Professor John H. Gerstner of the United States and Rev. Phillip Hughes of England.
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