Church & State

What is the church?

The church consists of all those who profess allegiance to Jesus Christ.


What is the state?

The state is the term used to refer to all those who have charge of administering the country in which they reside; i.e. what we typically call a “government”.


What is the precise point at issue in this article?

The question is how the church and state are to relate to each other since they both claim to hold authority over us. Bavinck writes:

The moment a government makes its appearance, a certain distinction and split between civilian and religious life automatically makes its appearance as well. Alongside the civil rulers we see priests in public life. Given this dual situation, the possibility of a clash is always there. The boundaries between the two are drawn differently in every nation, and the bonds between them are variously made. Bavinck, Dogmatics, 4.391.


What right do either of these have to claim authority?

The Bible clearly teaches that all authority is in God. “…there is no authority except that which is from God.” writes Paul. (Rom 13:1) The Bible teaches us, however, that God has delegated authority to both church and state.


Where does the Bible teach that God has delegated authority to the state?

In Romans 13, Paul points to the current government and says that they were established by God Himself.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (Rom 13:1)

Jesus also instructed His disciples to pay taxes to Caesar (Mt 22:21).


Where does the Bible teach that God has delegated authority to the church?

Some of the very last words Jesus spoke to His disciples were:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:18-20)

Here Jesus takes of His own authority and delegates it to His disciples such that they are now commissioned to make disciples, baptize, and teach all men to obey God’s commands. In another place, Jesus commissions His disciples to carry on the same mission which He had been given from His Father. To empower them for this mission, He caused the Holy Spirit to enter them. The disciples are then authorized to forgive sin or to not forgive sin.

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:21-23)



What is the function of government?

Paul says that the government carries the sword in order to be a terror to those who do evil. He further hints at the proper function of the state in his first letter to Timothy:

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority—so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. (1Tim 2:1, 2)

Here Paul tells Timothy to pray for governing leaders of all kinds that they might succeed in making a society where everyone is free to live in peace and tranquility.


What is unique about the power of the state?

The unique characteristic of state or government power is that it has the right of force. In other words, governments have the right to force people to do what they do not want to do even to the point of taking someone’s life. No other institution or individual in society has this right.


How do you know that only the state has this right?

Because Paul teaches that the state has the power of the sword.

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Rom 13:3-4)


Does the sword here imply that the government also has the right of capital punishment?

It does. The sword was a weapon to kill, and the Roman authorities used it to behead people. Philippi writes:

In classical usage, μάχαιρα signifies spear and sword. Accordingly we may here think either of the spear which the emperors (and their praefecti pretorio as well) usually carried as the insignia of the jus vitae et necis [right of life and death] belonging to them, or of the sword which the Roman magistrates either bore or had carried before them in solemn processions as a symbol of their power over life and death. The prevailing NT usage is decisive for the latter meaning. This better suits the context in the present passage, which treats not of the imperial power in particular, but of the governing power in general. … But this passage certainly contains a dictum probans [proof] for the position that even the NT, instead of abolishing, expressly ratifies the right of governors to inflict the penalty of death; for while the sword stands here as a symbol of government, punitive authority in general, it describes that authority precisely in its uttermost expression as jus gladii [right of the sword] in the proper sense of the word. It is therefore perfectly absurd, when the apostle applies to the culminating form of the punitive authority of rulers an expression whose historically and juridically fixed signification cannot for a moment be called in question, to wish to assert that he denied to authority the right of exercising that which the sword properly symbolizes; cf. Matt. 26:52; Rev. 13:10; and respecting the actual exercise of the jus gladii, Acts 12:2.   source



What can be said about the power of the church?

The clearest expression of this is what Jesus said to Pilate:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36)


Why is Jesus’ answer here so important?

First, it teaches us that Jesus has a kingdom and that He is a king. Second, that His kingdom has its origin from no earthly source. Jesus’ kingdom originates from heaven as John the Baptizer said about Him: “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.”

Hengstenberg makes the comment: “Jesus is not speaking of the nature of His kingdom, but simply and alone of its origin.” source  This is incorrect.  The truth is that the origin of Jesus’ kingdom radically changes what it is. This is Jesus’ point. The Jews’ accusation is so absurd because Jesus’ kingdom is so completely different than Pilate’s understanding of a kingdom. Because of this difference, Jesus’ kingdom represents no threat to Pilate’s.


This fits with what Jesus says next about His followers taking up arms in His defense.

Yes, for sure; see John 18:36 above. There was no need for Jesus’ followers to fight because Jesus’ kingdom has no borders and does not lay claim to any particular territory. The citizens in Jesus’ kingdom do not stop being Roman citizens. They are subject to the governing authorities and do not resist the Roman government. Jesus’ kingdom is not marked by earthly pomp and splendor that might be seen as a rival to any other kingdom. It is not advanced by armies or laws. It’s focus is not so much on man’s outward behavior as on the inward state of the heart.


Was it not in this same context that Jesus rebuked Peter for drawing his sword and wounding Malchus?

Yes, in this same chapter, Peter did exactly what we would expect someone to do if they were defending an earthly kingdom. Since this is completely out of character with Jesus’ kingdom, He rebukes Peter and tells him to put his sword away. (John 18:10)


Is there a positive statement in this passage regarding Jesus’ kingdom?

There is. In the next verse, a confused Pilate asks Are you even a king then!? cf Westcott   To which Jesus identifies His mission as testifying to the truth. Again, we see how unearthly Jesus’ kingdom is. Jesus has no interest in territory or a court but rather in bringing a message of truth and calling men to embrace it.

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37)

Barnes writes:

By this he showed what was the nature of his kingdom. It was not to assert power; not to collect armies; not to subdue nations in battle. It was simply to present truth to men, and to exercise dominion only by the truth. Hence the only power put forth in restraining the wicked, in convincing the sinner, in converting the heart, in guiding and leading his people, and in sanctifying them, is that which is produced by applying truth to the mind. Men are not forced or compelled to be Christians. They are made to see that they are sinners, that God is merciful, that they need a Redeemer, and that the Lord Jesus is fitted to their case, and yield themselves then wholly to his reign. This is all the power ever used in the kingdom of Christ, and no men in his church have a right to use any other.   source


What other Scripture speaks to this issue?

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the weeds.

Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while everyone was asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and slipped away.  When the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.

The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“An enemy did this,” he replied.

So the servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”

“No,” he said, “if you pull the weeds now, you might uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24-30)


How is this parable relevant to this issue?

It teaches us that Jesus does not allow the use of force and coercion in the administration of His church. Jesus forbids the leadership of the church (or state) from ever even making the attempt to try and find hypocrites in the church and to root them out. Again, the use of force contradicts the nature of Christ’s kingdom. The state may use the sword to punish evildoers (Romans 13:3, 4) but never to advance the kingdom of Christ.


Why did Jesus refuse to help the man in Luke 12?

In this situation, someone in the crowd yelled out to Jesus and asked for help in dividing up an inheritance.

But Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed Me judge or executor between you?” And He said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourselves against every form of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:14-15)

Jesus responds to this request by making it an issue of jurisdiction. We might say that dividing up an estate is no part of Jesus’ mandate or mission. Sadler writes:

Commentators notice that the Lord’s answer exactly corresponds to that given to Moses by one of the two Israelites he was desirous to reconcile (Exodus 2:14): “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?” “Then Moses was by anticipation assuming his office as the ruler of a temporal kingdom, but this Christ refuses, because His kingdom was not of this world. I cannot but think that in this case the Lord disclaims, on behalf of His ministers, all temporal rule, such as that of the Bishop of Rome over the States of the Church, the prince Bishops of Germany, and such offices of temporal sovereignty as occupy the time and energies of His ministers with secular business. Still it may often be the duty of the office-bearers of His Church to arbitrate in cases where they clearly see their way to the establishment of peace in families or societies.   source

Olshausen similarly:

The narrative which follows is peculiar to Luke, which presents some one from among the crowd as requesting Jesus to support him in a lawsuit. This little episode is instructive as showing the way in which Jesus conducted himself in affairs pertaining to the external relations of political and civil life. He wholly refrained from such interference, and confined his labors entirely to the sphere of moral and spiritual truth. From this, no doubt, arose an entire reformation of all political and civil relations, produced by his labors, but at first he left the externals unassailed, seeking only to establish the new life within. An important hint for all who are called to the work of the ministry! Interference with exterior relations characterizes sectarian effort, which has to do not with men’s hearts but with dominion over them and their money. source


What does God teach Israel in Zechariah 4:6?

Here God encourages His servant Zerubbabel by showing him that the progress of the kingdom of God was not dependent on Zerubbabel’s power or skill but on the work of the Spirit of Yahweh.

Then he answered and said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)


How does Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 10:4 pertain to this issue?

Here we have Paul teaching us the same lesson as was in Zechariah before. Progress in the kingdom of God does not come by human methods, programs, or efforts. It comes when Spirit of God changes the hearts of men and women and brings them into union with Christ.

For though we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We tear down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2Cor 10:4-5)

Notice here that it is divine power δυνατὰ τῷ Θεῷ which demolishes the strongholds of Satan’s kingdom, not human effort or legislation.


What do we learn from Paul’s teaching on the armor of God?

Paul writes:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness arrayed, and with your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Paul teaches that the great opponent of the kingdom of God is not anything “flesh and blood” but the rulers, authorities, the powers of this world’s darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. In other words, the great antithesis between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness is entirely spiritual and invisible.


What does Paul mean here by “rulers, authorities, powers of this world’s darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”?

Each of these terms is referring to some aspect of the evil spirits who are constantly warring against the kingdom of God. “The signification of the terms here used, the context, and the analogy of Scripture, render it certain that the reference is to evil spirits.” source


What does Paul teach us in Romans 13?

This passage is the most clear and direct teaching on this subject to be found in the Bible. Paul writes:

Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor. (Rom 13:1-7)

  1. All authority is in God.
  2. All earthly authority is delegated from God.
  3. Those who resist the existing governing authorities resist the God who gave them that authority.
  4. Rulers have the sword which means they are the one institution in society that has the right to force someone to do what they do not want or choose to do.
  5. The proper function of a ruler is to protect and advance the good of those they rule.
  6. God expects us to pay our taxes even to governments that are evil.


May a person refuse to pay his taxes if he knows the government which is collecting them is evil?

No, note that Paul is here teaching people to pay their taxes to the Roman government which was one of the greatest systems of organized crime in history.


What do these verses teach us about Christ’s kingdom?

That the kingdom of God which Jesus inaugurated (Mark 1:15) is not an earthly kingdom. It is not brought about by any earthly means, it does not consist in any earthly territory, its future hopes are not centered on any earthly prize or reward. It is instead the bringing of truth to people’s minds and an attempt to persuade people to give their assent to it.


Why would we need to know the nature of Christ’s kingdom in an article on the relation of church to state?

Because the church is the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God. The two are almost the same thing, and most of what is said about the kingdom of God can also be said about the church. Schaff writes: “The history of the church is the rise and progress of the kingdom of heaven upon earth, for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.”  source


Are there any examples of Christians disobeying the government’s orders?

Yes, in Acts 4, Peter and John clearly state the principle of civil disobedience.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God. For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

The following verses make clear that the apostles were fully prepared to continue their preaching ministry regardless of what the authorities commanded. Their prayer was “Lord, consider their threats, and enable Your servants to speak Your word with complete boldness…” (Acts 4:29) Later Peter and the other apostles tell the authorities, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)



Should the church compel people to believe in Christ, repent of their sin, and to live in accord with the ten commands?

No, the kingdom of God is advanced by proclaiming the truth and calling people to embrace it (John 18:37), not by means of the sword (Romans 13:4).


Did not Jesus command His followers to compel people to enter the kingdom in Luke 14?

In the parable of the banquet, the master tells his servants to “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” (Luke 14:23) The meaning of the word “compel” (see here) is the point at issue. From the teachings of Jesus which we considered previously, we must find it difficult to believe that these verses are going to contradict all this. The usage of this word, however, shows that it does not always mean compulsion by physical force.


How is the word “compel” used in other contexts?

Consider the following verses: (each place where this word is used is boldfaced)

  1. Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. (Matt 14:22; Mark 6:45)
  2. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. (Act 26:11)
  3. “But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation. (Act 28:19)
  4. I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. (2Co 12:11)
  5. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. (Gal 2:3)
  6. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how [is it that] you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (Gal 2:14)
  7. Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Gal 6:12)

In this list, only #2 involves the use of physical force. All the rest involve the use of persuasion, and this is how we are to understand Jesus’ mandate to compel people to enter the kingdom.


Should the state compel people to believe in Christ, repent of their sin, and to live in accord with the ten commands?

Certainly not and for the same reason. The kingdom of God is advanced by proclaiming the truth (John 18:37). Since the state carries the sword, it should do nothing to advance the cause of the kingdom of God except to ensure that there is a free society in which it can flourish. Locke writes:

In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgement that they have framed of things.  source


Are there not many examples in the Old Testament of the government enforcing obedience to the laws of God?

Yes, the Mosaic law required execution for the following sins: murder, adultery, unchastity, sodomy, bestiality, homosexuality, rape, incest, incorrigibility in children (Ex. 21:15–17; Deut. 21:20–21), Sabbath breaking, kidnapping, apostasy, witchcraft, sorcery, false prophecy, and blasphemy. The list is Bahnsen’s as quoted in Grudem, Christian Ethics, 226.


Why should not modern society be built on these same principles?

First, because the teaching of Jesus forbids the advancement of His kingdom by physical force. Only truth and a persuasion to it are permitted.

Second, because the authority of the Mosaic law came to an end with the coming of Christ and the new covenant.


Where does the Bible teach that the the authority of the Mosaic law came to an end with the coming of Christ?

First, the end of the old covenant and the bringing in of the new is one of the leading themes of the entire book of Hebrews. We find the prophets often speaking of a new age and of a new covenant which will bring an end to the first covenant. The clearest such passage is in Jeremiah where he says that the days are coming when Yahweh will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This covenant will not be like the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. (Jeremiah 31:31) In Hebrews 8, we have God’s infallible commentary on Jeremiah’s prophecy. Here, this new covenant is explicitly tied to Jesus’ ministry (Hebrews 8:6), and the Sinai covenant (or the old covenant) is said to be obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). Jesus also says that in His death (or blood), the new covenant will be established. (Luke 22:20) Owen says this about the word “old” in Hebrews 8:13:

“Old” is significative of that which is to have an end, and which draws towards its end. Everything that can wax old hath an end; and that which doth so, draws towards that end. So the psalmist affirming that the heavens themselves shall perish, adds, as a proof thereof, “They shall wax old as a garment;” and then none can doubt but they must have an end, as unto their substance or their use.   source p176

And again:

All the glorious institutions of the law were at best but as stars in the firmament of the church, and therefore were all to disappear at the rising of the Sun of Righteousness.    source p177


Previously, you mentioned the principle of civil disobedience. When may Christians choose to disobey the governing authorities?

Only when the authorities command us to choose something sinful. When the command of the civil rulers requires us to break one of God’s commands, then we are duty bound to disobey as the apostles did who insisted that they must obey God rather than men.



What are the different positions taken historically on this issue?

Four different theories can be seen in history.

  1. First, is the government that bans all religion.
  2. Second, is the government that has nothing to do with religion but simply ensures that all its citizens are free to exercise whatever religion they choose. There is a complete separation between church and state.
  3. Third, is the government which establishes one particular kind of religion and enforces adherence to it.  In some cases, the state establishes one religion but allows other religions to exist.
  4. Fourth, is when the church is the state and the state is the church. There is no appreciable difference between them.


What examples do we see of the first?

The efforts of some communist states would be examples of the first. The government banishes any and all religious expressions. The anti-religious efforts of the USSR in the pre-WW2 era are examples of this; see here and here. The Roman empire also at times forbade the exercise of any religion but devotion to the emperor.


What examples do we see of the second?

Ever since John Locke and the US Constitution, this has been the theory which more countries are adopting. The first amendment of the US Constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


What examples are there of the third?

This was the relation of church and state throughout almost all of history before the enlightenment. The state established the church it understood to be the true religion and required adherence to it. This is the theory of the Westminster Assembly, the Synod of Dordt, and the original Episcopalians. Some countries continue to have a state church but adherence to it is no longer enforced such as was the case in England and the Netherlands.


What examples are there of the fourth?

The nation of Israel in the Old Testament came close to this. Also those Islamic societies where Sharia law is in force would count as countries where the distinction between church and state has been almost entirely erased. We also anticipate that the new heaven and new earth will have no such separation.


What was Calvin’s position on this point?

Calvin believed that the magistrate had the responsibility to enforce both tables of the law.

The duty of magistrates, its nature, as described by the word of God, and the things in which it consists, I will here indicate in passing. That it extends to both tables of the law, did Scripture not teach, we might learn from profane writers; for no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship.  source


What position was taken by the Synod of Dordt?

This synod approved the language of article 36 of the Belgic Confession. This article states:

Of Magistrates:

We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, hath appointed kings, princes, and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose he hath invested the magistracy with the sword, for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. And their office is, not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the civil state, but also that they protect the sacred ministry, and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of antichrist may be thus destroyed, and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must, therefore, countenance the preaching of the word of the gospel every where, that God may be honored and worshiped by every one, as he commands in his Word.

Moreover, it is the bounden duty of every one, of what state, quality, or condition soever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to pay tribute, to show due honor and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers, that God may rule and guide them in all their ways, and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

Wherefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce a community of goods, and confound that decency and good order which God hath established among men. source

In 1896, the synod of the Reformed churches received an objection to this article especially the language of removing all idolatry and false worship and destroying the kingdom of the antichrist. In 1905, the synod voted to strike these words out of the confession; see supplement 37 on page 398 here.


What was the teaching of the Westminster Assembly?

This assembly adopted the Establishment position especially in paragraph 3.

Chapter 23 – Of the Civil Magistrate

1. God, the Supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good, and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil-doers.

2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called thereunto; in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth, so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasion.

3. The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

4. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute and other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake. Infidelity or difference in religion doth not make void the magistrate’s just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted much less hath the Pope any power or jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and least of all to deprive them of their dominions or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretense whatsoever.

When the Presbyterian church adopted this Confession in 1729, this clause was modified. In 1789, it and the corresponding passages in the Larger Catechism were completely rewritten. These changes can be seen here.


What position was taken by the Episcopalians?

Article 37 of the Thirty-Nine articles originally read (1571):

The Queen’s [King’s] Majesty hath the chief power in this realm of England and other of her [his] dominions, unto whom the chief government of all estates of this realm, whether they be ecclesiastical or civil, in all causes doth appertain, and it is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign jurisdiction.

This was amended in 1801:

The power of the civil magistrate extendeth to all men, as well clergy as laity, in all things temporal; but hath no authority in things purely spiritual. And we hold it to be the duty of all men who are professors of the gospel, to pay respectful obedience to the civil authority, regularly and legitimately constituted.  source





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