Separation is Unbiblical - Is Church/State Separation Contrary to the Bible?

Church/State Separation isn't Banned in the Bible & It Wouldn't Matter Anyway

Myth:
The "separation of church and state" is unbiblical and should be stopped.

 

Response:
Most arguments against church/state separation are secular — philosophical, political, historical, etc. Sometimes, though, opponents of church/state separation use theological and religious arguments. The purposing of making such an argument appears to be to convince people to reject the notion of separation on religious grounds — if it is not biblical, then it is not Christian, and if it is not Christian, then it is not something which a Christian should accept.

 

What the Bible Says About Church/State Separation

The Bible is rarely unequivocal and clear on issues, but there are examples which can be used to demonstrate that early Christians did not think it proper that the state be used to enforce religious beliefs — or at least when it comes to other people's religious beliefs.

Here are two:

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. They said, "This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law." Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters."

And he dismissed them from the tribunal. Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things. (Acts 18:12-17)

About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. (Acts 12:1-4)

In the first example, the representative of the state (Gallio, proconsul of Achaia) is shown in a good light because he refuses to use his state office to enforce the religious doctrines of the Jews. The Jews, in turn, are shown in a bad light because they are infuriated that their religious rules won't be enforced by the state — thus they take matters into their own hands and simply attack Paul right there. Unfortunately, Gallio becomes less sympathetic for not moving to intervene.

There is a strong parallel here between that passage and some events which happen in America. It has occurred more than once that members of a minority faith (sometimes Christian) have asked the government to stop promoting or supporting the religious beliefs of the majority (always Christians), only to then be attacked — often physically — for daring such a protest. I wonder, however, if those particular Christians are familiar with the above passage from Acts?

The second passage presents a mirror image of this scenario: the power of the state is used to promote one religious vision and repress another. Herod attacks the members of the early Christian Church, having them arrested and even killed. Herod certainly isn't shown as being a good person for this, and the Jews who are pleased at the elimination of their competition and of those who are spreading "heresies" also don't appear as sympathetic characters.

To argue that there is neither biblical nor Christian precedent for separating church from state requires ignoring important aspects of the history of the early Christian community. It may be that these same early Christians would have been happy to use the power of the state to repress others; however, there are not many Christians today who would be willing to admit to such a position themselves.

 

Who Cares What the Bible Says?

We can ignore all of the above, though, and point out that even suggesting that what the Bible says about church/state separation isn't a valid argument because it assumes the truth of the argument in question, namely that separation isn't valid. Biblical pronouncements about church/state separation only matter if the Bible has any sort of authority over the state or if the state has any sort of authority to use or privilege the Bible when it comes to policy decisions.

Both of these can only be true in a society where there is no separation of church and state.

Thus anyone who argues that the government must reject church/state separation because the Bible doesn't permit it are making a circular argument: the state must reject church/state separation because of what the Bible says and the what the Bible says matters because we shouldn't separate church and state. There's a reason why circular arguments are logical fallacies: they aren't valid arguments which lead to valid conclusions that we should believe.