the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
When the Continental Congress declared the 13 colonies independent of Great Britain in 1776, one of the first actions on the part of the various states was to write constitutions. Two qualities stand out in most of the original state constitutions. First of all, most of the states required any man who aspired to public office to confess the Christian faith. For instance, the Delaware constitution of 1776 required, “Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall ...subscribe the following declaration, to wit: 'I, A B. do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.'”
The North Carolina constitution of 1776 declared that, “no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Christian religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.”
Pennsylvania required elected officials to “make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: 'I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.'”
A second quality common to some of the early state constitutions is a prohibition against clergy holding public office. North Carolina's constitution provides an excellent example, declaring that “no clergyman, or preacher of the gospels of any denomination, shall be capable of being a member of either the Senate, House of Commons, or Council of State, while he continues in the exercise of the pastoral function.”
Although Tennessee was not one of the original 13 states, it's fundamental law required a confession of faith on the part of civil officials and also declared that “no minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either house of the legislature.”
These requirements reflect a sound understanding of kingdom political theory. Although the modern mind recoils at the thought of requiring civil officials to embrace the Christian religion it would be the norm in a consistently Christian society. After all, complete authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). When Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world he meant that his power was derived from another place. He certainly did not say that his kingdom was not for this world. It most definitely is. Thus, civil officials are ministers of God required to bring their arena of activity under the authority of King Jesus (Romans 13:1-7).
At the same time, church leaders must restrict their governing activities to the institution of the church. Our founding fathers (the men who wrote the original state constitutions) understood that the separation of church and state simply meant each institution is beholden to God for their arena of activity not for the sphere of influence given to any other institution. Therefore, civil leaders are required to govern their sphere of responsibility according to the law of God just as church leaders are required to oversee their arena of activity in accordance with God's word.
Next week: back to the future?