The Biblical principle of separation of Church and State is found in 2 Chronicles:
16 “But when he [king Uzziah the head of the civil affairs] had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the LORD his God by entering the sanctuary of the LORD’S Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. 17 Azariah [the head of spiritual affairs] the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the LORD, all brave men.” – 2 Chronicles 26:16-17
As civil ruler over the kingdom, Uzziah decided that he would also take unto himself the function of a priest, but that was the duty strictly reserved by God for His priests. Uzziah, by trying to perform the responsibilities of both Church and State and seeking to become the head in each, had thus crossed the line drawn by God Himself.
Significantly, it had been acceptable for Uzziah to honor God in his kingdom, and it had been acceptable for Uzziah to enter the temple to worship God. But when Uzziah attempted to violate the jurisdictional separation between State and Church—when he sought to be in charge of both the civil and religious arenas at the same time—God provided a dramatic precedent as a message of warning to all future generations. He was struck with leprosy!
The purpose of separating the State from the Church was to prevent the State from meddling with, interfering against, or controlling the religious expressions or doctrines of the Church. Throughout history, it had always been the civil authorities (the State) that took over the religious authorities (the Church), not vice versa. It was therefore the State that had to be limited.
This philosophy of keeping the State from exerting control over public religious practices and expressions was planted deeply into American thinking and even enshrined in the First Amendment, which states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the Free Exercise thereof.
The first part of the Amendment is called the “Establishment Clause,” and the later part, the “Free Exercise Clause.” Both clauses were pointed at the State, not the Church. The Establishment Clause prohibited the State from enforcing religious conformity, and the Free Exercise Clause ensured that the State would protect (rather than suppress, as it currently does) citizens’ rights of conscience and religious expression. This was the meaning of “separation of Church and State” with which Thomas Jefferson was intimately familiar, and it was this interpretation that he repeatedly reaffirmed in his writing and practices, not the modern perversion of it.
The Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson in 1801 congratulating him on being the first Anti-Federalist President to be elected. The Anti-Federalists advocated clear limits on the centralization of government powers. They also expressed in the same letter great concern that the First Amendment was not sufficiently clear about protecting the free exercise of religious expression.
In the context of the letter he wrote back to the Baptists using the phrase, “thus building a wall of separation between Church and State” was a phrase only to affirm the historical understanding that government has not the authority to stop, inhibit, or regulate public religious expressions.
Throughout his presidency, Jefferson called for days of prayer, introduced religious bills in the state legislature, signed numerous federal acts promoting religious groups and activities, and facilitated official churches in the US Capitol, Treasury Building, War Office, and Navy Yard. Were Jefferson alive today, he would undoubtedly be one of the loudest voices against a secularized public square.
The separation doctrine was NEVER used to secularize the public square but quite the contrary: it existed to protect rather than remove voluntary public religious practices.
As affirmed by early Quaker leader, Will Wood:
“The separation of Church and State does not mean the exclusion of God, righteousness, morality, from the State.”
An Action To Take: Meet personally with your Pastor to clarify for you his understanding of the 1st Amendment. Explain to him the two clauses: Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Then encourage him to explain these to his congregation.
For His Glory,