Religion and the State

R.J. Rushdoony


R.J. Rushdoony: 00:00 In our second session this evening, our subject is religion and the state. Problems are often insoluble because they are formulated in the wrong way. If you do not state a mathematical equation properly, you will not be able to solve it. For example, one of the problems that is never solved is the question of free will. On every college campus and in all kinds of circles, there are debates and arguments about the free will of man. Well, the argument is absurd, because free will is discussed in absolute terms, but only God has absolute freedom. And man has only a creaturely freedom.

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:00 Man is not a first cause, but a secondary cause at best. We are not free to be born when we choose, to have the kind of aptitudes we’d like, or to have, as William Blake the poet said, “Oh why was I born with another face?” He wanted one better than he had been born with. We don’t have choice in those areas. Our free will, it cannot be discussed in absolute terms. But the problem becomes an absurd one because it is always discussed in absolute terms. Now, this is true when we discuss church and state problems. There are references to the tensions between church and state, but too often the term “church and state” disguises the problem.

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:57 For example, John F. Wilson, in his book Church and State in American History, said, and I quote, “When defined in this fashion it is apparent that in one respect, the phrase ‘church and state’ is unfortunate, because its connotations are excessively connolistic. It suggests that there is one spiritual authority structure confronting a single temporal authority structure. There have been periods in western history when such a model would have been a plausible description of the existing pattern, and certainly useful for purposes of analysis. In fact, the colonial period of our history exhibits attempts to realize classical kinds of relationships between a single spiritual authority structure and a single temporal authority structure, the colonial state. But our colonial period also illustrates how different sorts of ingredients in American society, such as ethnic diversity and evangelical suffragism, worked to out mode classical church-state patterns.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:18 In other words, we no longer have a single state as against a single church. In the middle ages it was the holy Roman Empire or the king of France or of England versus the Catholic church. We no longer have that single confrontation. As a result, the problem is dramatically different, so that we can no longer think in terms of the traditional church and state confrontation.

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:58 In the United States, for example, we have had three different periods with very differing kinds of church and state situations. First, in the colonial period we had a policy of establishment for the church so that to a degree, there was a single colonial government and a single church in most colonies. Not all. However, the picture was not entirely that simple because behind that single colonial civil government there was the crown. And behind the single church establishment in some of the colonies there was the problem of the Church of England and its claims from England.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:54 Then second, you have the disestablishment of the church in the early constitutional era and the establishment of Christianity instead. In other words, instead of a church being officially recognized and supported by the state or local government, instead what we had was the recognition of Christianity as the common law religion of the various states. Many of the states had requirements of a belief in the Trinity or in scripture in their constitution as a prerequisite for citizenship. Christianity as a religion, as a faith, not Christianity as a church, was established in the colonies, in the states.

R.J. Rushdoony: 05:56 Then from approximately 1860 to the present, we have seen the progressive supposed neutrality of the state with religious liberty for all. And this position has been very much hailed as the brave answer to the world’s problems. The neutrality of the state and religious liberty for all. However, this is to ask for or to posit an impossibility, because it is impossible for any civil government to have law that is religiously neutral. Laws represent a moral standard, which is established on a theological or religious standard. For a state to be religiously neutral is to have no law at all. Every political system is an establishment of religion.

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:03 It presupposes religion. So with this supposed neutrality, what we have had is the progressive and quiet establishment of humanism. Especially since 1952, this has proceeded at a rapid pace. Moreover, we have some serious problems as we discussed the church and state’s seen, and that first, unlike the medieval civil orders, the modern state is less and less concerned with establishing a Christian social order, and the church has walked out on the problem. Most churches are not interested in a Christian social order. All they want to do is to build up their local congregation and their denomination.

R.J. Rushdoony: 08:04 In the medieval era, the holy Roman Emperors or the kings and the pope fought frequently on the church and state issue, but both, with their own ideas, sought to establish a Christian social order. The argument was who should prevail, who should have priority in that social order. Then second, less and less in this country and in Europe and elsewhere is there a single church anywhere to claim the right of establishment, for the establishment of a church does still exist as in Europe. There is less and less tax support, or none, and only control.

R.J. Rushdoony: 08:59 Then third, today we do not find any agreement on either the part of the church or the state that a Christian social order is the necessary one, and that’s a tremendously important fact. As a matter of fact, the state has no desire today, no civil government anywhere, to have a Christian social order. It is strongly resentful of any such claim by any group of Christians. So that the state is going off in one direction, quietly establishing a humanistic society, and the church over here is still imagining that the state is neutral.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:55 Then, fourth, we must say that religious liberty has been replaced by religious toleration. Now, religious liberty is an important fact, and here in this country, Christians fought for it. Men like Isaac Bacchus made a major contribution towards that end. Religious freedom is the freedom of the believer and the church from state control and jurisdiction. In religious liberty, the state cannot interfere in the sphere of the church. It cannot control the church. In religious toleration, what we have instead is the state says, “We have the right to control you, but we will tolerate you within degrees if you meet our specifications.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:05 Religious liberty in the United States is now dead. What the Supreme Court is saying over and over again, and we have to overturn this, we cannot accept it, is simply “We will tolerate you if you meet our specifications.” A major Baptist seminary was told by the Supreme Court recently it could not require that all employees be Christians and hold to the particular faith upheld by that seminary. They would have to have atheist employees. They could only have a religious test for their seminary professors. What is to prevent the state a few years from now saying, “You cannot have a religious test for your professors”? Because what the Supreme Court has said is that if the state establishes a policy, the church and the seminary must accept it. This is not religious liberty. It is merely religious toleration on the state terms.

R.J. Rushdoony: 12:20 So, in toleration, the state says, “You have the right to exist, but only on our terms.” The Soviet Union has religious toleration. It tolerates a limited number of churches as show places. That’s not religious freedom. It is toleration, very limited toleration, but it is precisely this shift we are seeing in this country and one after another all over the world, from religious liberty to religious toleration.

R.J. Rushdoony: 13:01 Religious toleration places all the power in the hands of the state. Moreover, what the federal constitution did was to ban the federal government from interfering with the free exercise of religion and with the state’s establishments. The 14th amendment gave it the right to ban any state establishment. So to talk about the church and state problem in historic terms is to dismiss the issue. What then is the basic problem? The church is a religious institution. So, too, is civil government. The state of California is a religious institution, but not a Christian one.

R.J. Rushdoony: 13:59 The University of California and the University of Virginia are religious institutions, but not Christian ones. Every state is a law order. Every law is an act of morality. Every form of morality is a form of theological order. So the church is not the only religious institution. And throughout history, usually civil government has been the major religious institution. The problem today is that the civil governments have progressively disestablished Christianity as the foundation of their law to establish humanism. The public schools are religious. They are a religious establishment, and this has been admitted by attorney generals.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:56 So we have a systematic anti-Christianity today, and we have the theological decline within the churches to accentuate that problem. All over the world, humanism has become the established religion of one civil government after another, and also in this country. Christianity is progressively excluded from the state, from the schools, and in some instances, even from the church. And churches, by bowing down to this kind of thing, become less and less relevant. One of the things that is encouraging now is that there is a persecution underway. There is a persecution because there is a rival, because Christians are again saying, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and in terms of that, making a stand.

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:08 And because they are becoming relevant, hostility is aroused. Thus, the battle lines are being drawn. The great area of struggle in our generation is going to be between the church and state in terms of those new lineups that I have described. As a result, it is very important for us to develop a theology of the state, and this is why we shall give a great deal of time in the meetings ahead to understanding first the theological, historical framework of this struggle, and then the biblical premises in terms of which we, as Christians, need to stand.

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:05 This is a day of battle. We have seen in the past few years Christians taken to jail, ministers, God-fearing, Christ-believing ministers, and the press has been silent. As, of course, the press in the Soviet Union is silent. You and I know more about the persecutions and the slave labor camps in the Soviet Union than any citizen of the Soviet Union does. Do you think the Soviet Union advertises to its people how evil it is? In the same way, our civil government today does not advertise its evil. And so we do not see the picture across country, but it is a day of battle.

R.J. Rushdoony: 18:04 And if God be for us, who can be against us? And God will be for us if we stand firmly and unequivocally in terms of his holy and infallible word. In terms of the crown rights of Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, our Savior. Are there any questions now? Yes?

Speaker 2: 18:38 Yes, you mentioned that the churches today are not interested in establishing a Christian social order. What … and they’re not taking appropriate action. What specific kinds of actions should we be seeking from the churches that we’re not seeing?

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:03 That’s a good question and a big one. It’s one I’ve dealt with in both volumes of Institutes of Biblical Law. It means we have a different view of civil government, a different view of welfare, a different view of education. In one area after another, we take government away from the state and put it in the hands of believers. In other words, very briefly, government today is a word that we apply to the state. But this is not the way people once talked in this country. They never meant the state capitol or Washington DC when they said “government.” They said “civil government” when they meant the state. Government, to them, as I’ve pointed out more than once, to some of you, me, meant first the self-government of the Christian man, the basic government.

R.J. Rushdoony: 20:05 It meant then the family. It meant also the church. It meant the school. It meant your job, which governs you. It meant the society in which you live, and finally, one form of government among many, civil government. And many, many Christians, most in fact, once held that most of the government had to be in the hands of the people through their giving. We regard the Amish today as rather odd because they never go to the state for anything. They take care of their own. The sick, the elderly, the mentally disturbed, they take care of all of them. But do you know that was once commonplace to all church groups, all Christian groups? That was not once the distinctive mark of the Amish. What separated the Amish was their theology, their particular doctrines. Now something that was once common to all Christians is practiced only by a few small groups.

R.J. Rushdoony: 21:37 Yes?

Speaker 3: 21:38 Some action there then would be, first of all, to uphold and teach this theology?

R.J. Rushdoony: 21:46 Yes.

Speaker 3: 21:49 Is there any action other than proclamation?

R.J. Rushdoony: 21:54 Yes. First we need to teach. We need to help teaching groups, such as [inaudible 00:22:06]. Then we need to set up in our own circles groups, through the deacons fund for example, that will minister to the needs within the group, organize the congregation to minister to the shut-ins, to the elderly. Now, a very simple thing to do is to provide transportation to the meetings, and others to help them, those who don’t have it, or shopping during the week. Those who are shut-ins, to go and help them. Those who are without work, to set up funds to enable them to work. Do some jobs for someone within the group or for the church. At one time, all the needs were taken care of this way. What’s happening is various congregations are doing this. Now, the Bible also tells us, “If your brother is in need, give him an interest-free loan.” Some churches are setting up loan funds to do exactly that. You see, there are a number of ways when we take the Bible seriously whereby we can be a government.

R.J. Rushdoony: 23:25 Yes?

Speaker 4: 23:26 You make a comment on the scripture reasons why or why not we should pay all our tithe to the church, and then they would dispense it to the poor and to the musicians and the others and so forth, rather than exerting these tithes ourself to the poor and these different areas.

R.J. Rushdoony: 23:47 Yes, this is quite a matter of debate, and many call it storehouse tithing. You’re supposed to bring all your tithes to the storehouse, and that’s the church. Well, not even in the Bible is that the case. When Malachi says, “Bring your tithes to the storehouse,” the meant a literal storehouse, because in those days the tithes were paid, in most cases, by the country folk, by the farmers, with bushel baskets of grain, with lambs and calves and cows and that sort of thing. So there would be corrals and storehouses where these were taken to be sold or to be sent to the person whom they were to be given, as the person directed.

R.J. Rushdoony: 24:47 Now, the church is not the administrator of the tithe. You and I are. The tithe is the Lord’s, not the church’s. And we have to administer it. Every time the church has laid down the law, this has been done before many times, the tithes have to be paid only to the church, your local church. What happens? They get a monopoly on the tithe and they become corrupt. They’ve got an assured income. During the middle ages, as long as Christians, when they became disgusted at what was happening at the local parish church, could go and help some other preacher, a lay brother or a new order of monks. A revival took place through those independent groups.

R.J. Rushdoony: 25:50 But when it was stipulated that the tithe had to go to the parish church, not to these people, then the only thing that could reform the church was an expulsion, the Reformation. And Protestants have not learned by that. Periodically they’ve tried to say, “You can’t give to these groups.” In fact, there’s a lot of that kind of talk today, and you can read articles about the evil of going to para-church organizations. In other words, the term “para-church,” as though somehow these are illegitimate, are groups that are not churches but are Christian agencies. Sometimes missionary groups that are independent or, say, a rescue mission in the slums. You can’t give to those. You have to take your tithe to the church. Well, that does not help the church. It corrupts it.

R.J. Rushdoony: 27:02 Yes?

Speaker 5: 27:02 Sorry, so are you saying that [inaudible 00:27:07] is not any more obligated to give to his local church than, say, to the radio ministry, to some radio ministry or to a Christian school?

R.J. Rushdoony: 27:18 You give where you are fed and where you feel the Lord is being served faithfully. If your local church is doing that and serving the Lord faithfully, yes. Give to them. Now, actually, if you want to follow the Levitical premise here very closely, the tithe went to the Levites, who had an educational ministry. Deuteronomy 33:10 makes it clear they were the instructors of Israel. And of that, they gave a tenth of the tithe to the priests. So the Old Testament church got one percent of your income, a tenth of a tenth.

R.J. Rushdoony: 28:05 Well, a little more of that went so we could say two tenths, because the music was provided through, for, through the Levites, and the Levites had the care of the sanctuary. But the rest of it went for a variety of other things, to instruct Israel. So in the Bible, the tithe is not the monopoly of the church.

Speaker 5: 28:31 I’ve always felt that obligation to give to the church, I think most Christians, especially with [inaudible 00:28:39], first give a tenth to the local congregation, and then anything they have left over, if they want to give to Christian radios or organizations or whatever, they would give to them.

R.J. Rushdoony: 28:49 My experience is that if the local church is doing its job, the people are ready to give all of their tithe to it and more. If it is not, nothing you say is going to keep them from giving it to these other groups. The sad fact today is that church members, by and large, give less than three percent of their income to the Lord’s work in any form. That’s shameful. That indicates that something is wrong. The number of tithers are very few. It is interesting that the seventh day Adventists give, I think, close to twice as much as their nearest rival. Those in second place, I believe, are Presbyterians, and others come very far behind.

R.J. Rushdoony: 30:00 Any other questions? Yes?

Speaker 6: 30:04 What would be a first [inaudible 00:30:06] say, verses like you were just commenting on, taking one tenth and giving a portion to maybe the Levites in your church, and then a portion to maybe some musicians, and then taking the rest and giving it to somebody who’s needy, this or that, versus having a portion set aside and their …

R.J. Rushdoony: 30:28 Well, if you will look up the verses and … in Institutes of Biblical Law I list them, but just for the time being, I think in Numbers 18:21-28. I believe speaks of the tithe being given to Levi. Yes. “And then to the priests,” verse 26, “a tenth part of the tithe.”

Speaker 6: 31:49 In other words, it says a part of a single tithe or a tithe of three tithes. Do you know what I mean?

R.J. Rushdoony: 31:54 Of the first tithe.

Speaker 6: 31:57 Okay.

R.J. Rushdoony: 31:57 Yes. Now that’s mandatory. That much has to go to the priests or to the local church. Now, you can give much more if you choose. You are the administrator of the tithe, and it belongs to the Lord, not to the church nor to any group. And where you feel the Lord is being served faithfully, there you get … yes?

Speaker 7: 32:26 [inaudible 00:32:26] it’s interesting, there was a fellow on our church board who was quite adamant about not wanting to tithe to the church. And my suggestion to him was that where his tithe goes, there is his allegiance. And if his allegiance, if his tithe didn’t go to the church, then maybe he was on the wrong board. So, like you say, if the agency or agencies whom you are tithing hold your allegiance and hold your respect and are doing the job, then these are the agencies where you should be giving your money.

R.J. Rushdoony: 33:08 Yes.

Speaker 7: 33:10 Therefore, a church leader, I would suspect he wants to give a large portion of his tithe away from the church, otherwise he shouldn’t be on the board of the church.

R.J. Rushdoony: 33:19 Yes, or else he has an obligation to state what it is the church should do to be worthy of more. And say, “I’m working towards this. Will you work with me? And this is what I’m ready to give if this church is more faithful.” But just to sit there and do nothing, that is very wrong.

R.J. Rushdoony: 33:44 Any other questions or comments?

Speaker 8: 33:54 On the whiff of establishment of religion from the state and its current [inaudible 00:33:55] and where the tax exemptions for religious institutions as a right or a privilege, what do you think is the most telling argument to use when trying to say people that we’re not receiving a subsidy at the church or [inaudible 00:34:08]?

R.J. Rushdoony: 34:09 It is not a subsidy because it was never imagined that way and no one ever dreamed that it was that until the last few years, the IRS and others have taken that position. It’s a novel position. Moreover, the reason for the tax exemption goes back to the early church question of Lordship. The early church refused to become a licensed or a listed religion in the Roman Empire because its position was Caesar’s not lord over Christ. Christ is Lord over Caesar. And for that reason, the early church fought the issue of licenser or control, and it saw itself as free because it was the kingdom of Christ. It called itself a parochia, from which we have the word parish and parochial, which means strangers, to form [inaudible 00:35:12], ambassadors with extra territorial rights.

R.J. Rushdoony: 35:16 Now, you’re familiar with the centuries-old idea of the right of sanctuary in a church, and how serious it is to violate the sanctuary. The civil government has no right to cross over into the church to make an arrest, and over the centuries a man who sought sanctuary in a church could say, “I’m innocent, and I want you to stand with me for this and that reason.” And the church authorities reviewed the situation and either granted him sanctuary and said, “We will defend you. You are unjustly accused,” or they handed him over. But the state could not cross the boundary. And it was regarded as a fearful offense when two or three or four knights of Henry II violated the sanctuary to kill Thomas Becket. It caused no end of havoc for Henry’s realm. He had to make public penance for it.

R.J. Rushdoony: 36:27 So the freedom of the church rests in the fact that it’s like a foreign embassy, and it is not a subsidy to Britain that its embassy in Washington DC is a foreign enclave. The British law prevails there. And American officers cannot invade it. It’s a parochia, and this is what the church is. We are ambassadors of Christ. The church is an embassy, a parochia.

R.J. Rushdoony: 37:10 Yes?

Speaker 9: 37:11 [inaudible 00:37:11], how do you … what’s the basis for law in the country?

R.J. Rushdoony: 37:20 The basis for it in law in this country is that from the very beginning, the freedom of the church was recognized, that the state made no attempt to control it, the whole idea is new. It dates from 1952 approximately and the IRS has developed this doctrine. It’s a novelty in American history, total novelty. It was totally hands on. They never interfered with anything connected with the church.

R.J. Rushdoony: 37:59 Yes?

Speaker 10: 38:01 [inaudible 00:38:01] the argument that the use of tax exemption and then they start all kinds of businesses and going to all kinds of [inaudible 00:38:08] and that’s why most of the people that feel they should do away with tax exemption. But the answer wasn’t to do away with tax exemptions but to correct these other …

R.J. Rushdoony: 38:18 You can today be ordained as a minister, priest, or rabbi for a few dollars by an organization that calls itself a church, and it just sells ordinations. And then you take it and declare your house to be a church and your income to be church income. As I pointed out before, we have a racket there. Why doesn’t the federal government and the IRS go after these people? Why does it go after Christians? Legitimate churches, and persecute them under the excuse of, “Well, we have to tighten the laws because there’s a lot of racketeering going on here.” Then go after the racketeers. Leave the legitimate churches alone. No, they are tolerating these groups because it gives them a good excuse to pass laws against us.

R.J. Rushdoony: 39:22 Yes?

Speaker 11: 39:30 When you say that the civil government has no authority within the church, even if a civil crime is committed within a church, that is that the civil government has no authority there?

R.J. Rushdoony: 39:42 Yes. This has been the historic position. In other words, I’ve referred to the quarrel between Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry II. The thing that started the quarrel was a priest who was accused of raping a girl. One of the king’s friends seized the priest to have him tried and then promptly had him executed without a trial. Now, the whole position that Thomas Becket took was, if this man is guilty or if he’s charged with an offense, turn him over to the church, and we will try and sentence him. The church then had the power. But Henry II was trying to claim power not only over the clergy, but over the church itself. The church properties, the investiture of bishops. In other words, control over the church. So that was the issue.

R.J. Rushdoony: 41:05 At one time, family law was entirely in the hands of the church. As a matter of fact, in some of the back country in the south, there are still groups of Baptistic quality who refuse to have anything to do with the civil marriages. The church performs the ceremony without a state license and the church grants the divorce. They’re very strict. And they exercise a full authority over the family, couples and so on, that is quite tight and rigid. Now, they do this without any interference from the state because they still have a great deal of authority over their members.

R.J. Rushdoony: 42:05 Now, this was once common to all the churches. In Europe, the state entered into marriage because it wanted to destroy the power of the church. In this country, we have civil marriages for a different reason in that they are seeking to get away from the idea of marriage as a sacrament, so they made it both civil and religious. The civil contract and the religious ceremony.

R.J. Rushdoony: 42:45 Well, our time is up. Let us bow our heads in prayer.

R.J. Rushdoony: 42:51 Oh Lord our God, bless us in the things of thy kingdom and give us a victory over the powers of darkness and statism. Dismiss us now with thy blessing. Give us traveling mercies no our homeward way, a blessed night’s rest, and joy always in thy service. In Jesus’ name, amen.