Separation of Religion and State—Part 1

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The First Great Commandment

    The separation of religion and the State is one of the most important questions that any people can ever be called upon to consider, as the union of religion and the State has caused more misery than any other thing in history.

    The separation of religion and the State is one of the two greatest and most important questions that stand before the people of  “the United States of America” and the world today.  It is true that not everybody thinks so; nevertheless it is so, not only upon general principles, but also because of the daily aspiration and positive practice of the great mass of professed Christians of all sorts throughout the whole country.  Yet the complete separation of religion and the State is Christian.  It is not a mere sentiment or side issue of Christianity; it is one of the fundamental principles and chief characteristics of Christianity.

    The Bible, not merely the New Testament, but the whole book, is the Book of Christianity.  The New Testament is not a revelation new and distinct from the Old; it is the culmination of the revelation begun in the Old Testament.

    The Old Testament and the New are one book—one consistent, harmonious revelation of God through Jesus Christ; because Jesus Christ is the revelation of God before the world was made, when the world was made, and through all the history of the world from beginning to end.  (See John 1:3; Revelation 22:12)

    The first chapter of Genesis is Christian as certainly as is the first chapter of John.  The book of Genesis is Christian as really as is the book of Revelation or any other book in the Bible.  We repeat, therefore, that the whole Bible is the Book of Christianity, the Book of the Christian religion, the revelation of God through Jesus Christ.  

    And the separation of religion and the State is one of the great thoughts of this great Book.  It is one of the leading principles of that Book which for man is the source of all sound principle.

    Many people think that the two or three expressions of Christ as recorded in the New Testament are all that the Bible contains on the subject of the separation of Church and State; and many others are disposed even to argue against these passages, and to modify them by other passages from the Old Testament.  But separation of religion and the State is one of the original thoughts of the Bible, and reaches from the beginning to the end of the Book; and neither the Book nor this subject can be fairly understood in reference to this matter till this is clearly defined in the mind.  We purpose to give a series of studies of the Bible on this subject from beginning to end.  

    Being one of the great thoughts of the Bible, one of the great thoughts of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, this subject is of vital importance to men everywhere in their relations to God, and not merely in their relations to the State.  It is a principle that is involved in the daily experience of the Christian in his relation to God, and not merely an abstract question that man can stand, as it were, apart from and view simply as a speculative question of the relations between religion and the State.

    The ways of God are right.  His word is the only certain light, the only sure truth.  The principles which He has announced are the only safe principles for the guidance of men.  We hope, and shall seriously endeavor, to make each study so plain that every reader can easily see and readily grasp the truth of it.  We shall begin at the beginning.

    “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.  This is the first commandment.  

    “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  There is none other commandment greater than these.”

    “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

    These two commandments exist in the very nature, and circumstances of existence, of any two intelligent creatures in the universe.  They existed thus in the existence of the first two intelligent creatures that ever had a place in the universe.

    When the first intelligence was created and there was no creature but himself, as he owed to his Creator his existence, as he owed to God all that he was or could be, heart, soul, might, mind and strength; if devolved upon him to render to God the tribute of all this, and to love God with all his heart, and all his soul, and all his mind, and all his strength.  And this is the first of all the commandments.  It is first in the very nature and existence of the first, and of every other intelligent creature.  

    But the second of these would have no place if there were but one intelligent creature in the universe; for then he would have no neighbor.  But when the second one was created, the first of all the commandments was first with him equally with the other one; and now the second great commandment exists in the very nature and existence of these two intelligent creatures, as certainly as the first great commandment existed in the nature and existence of the first one.

    Each of the two created intelligences owes to the Lord all that he is or has, and all that he could ever rightly have.  Neither of them has anything that is self-derived.  Each owes all to God.  There is between them no ground of preference.  And this because of the honor which each owes to God; because to each, God is all in all.  Therefore the second great commandment exists as certainly as the first; and it exists in the nature and circumstance of the very existence of intelligent creatures.  Consequently, “There is none other commandment greater than these.”  These two commandments, then, exist in the nature of cherubim, seraphim, angels and men.  As soon as the man was created, the first of all the commandments was there, even though there had been no other creature in the universe.  And as soon as the woman was created, these two great commandments were there.  And there was none other commandment greater than these.  

    Now, if these two great commandments had been observed by man on the earth, that is, had man never sinned, there always would have been perfect and supreme religion; and there never could have been a State.  God would always have been by every one recognized as the only Ruler, His law as the only law, His authority as the only authority.  There would have been government, but only the government of God.  There would have been society, but only the society of saints.  But there would have been, and could have been, no State.

    Therefore it is certain that the observance of these two first of all the commandments, at any time and everywhere, means the absolute separation of religion and the State, in all who observe them.  And thus the principle of separation of religion and the State inheres in the very existence of intelligent creatures.

    But man did sin.  And having sinned, having departed from God, mankind did not love God with all the heart nor their neighbor as themselves.  Christianity was introduced to bring man back to the position, and the original relations, which he lost.  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” And Christ hath suffered for us, “the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

    It being, then, the one great purpose of Christianity to restore man to his original condition and relation to God, its purpose is to restore him to the condition in which he can love God with all the heart, with all the soul, with all the mind, and with all the strength; and his neighbor as himself.  It is to restore him to obedience to these two first of all the commandments.  It is to restore him to perfect and supreme religion.

    We have seen that such a condition maintained from the beginning would have been the absolute separation of religion and State; because, then, there never could have been any State.  And now as the one great purpose of Christianity is to restore man completely to that condition, it follows with perfect conclusiveness that Christianity in its very essence, from the beginning to the end, and everywhere, demands the absolute separation of religion and the State in all who profess it.

    And it must not be forgotten that the complete separation of religion and the State in those who profess religion, can be maintained only by these persons themselves being separated from the State.  For it is so plain as to be indisputable that if the professor of religion is himself a part of the State, then in him there is at once a union of religion and the State.

by Alonzo T. Jones

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