The Church and the State
March 14th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHURCH AND THE STATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-14-76 10:50 a.m.
Once again it is our highest joy to welcome you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Struggle for Religious Liberty, or The Church and the State.
In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 51. And in that chapter 51, the first two verses are a call by the prophet to look back to the heritage of God’s people. The reading of the Word is: “Look to the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you” [Isaiah 51:1-2].
When you follow through the Word of the Lord, you will find repeated a hearkening back to the gracious hand and providences of God as He guided the people through the centuries. And when we do that today, we are following a pattern that we find almost on every page of Holy Writ.
In keeping with this centennial year and in keeping with this text, with this admonition to look to our forefathers whence we came [Isaiah 51:1-2], who gave us birth, who laid the foundations of our faith and of our nation—in keeping with that, I have prepared four sermons. The one last Sunday was entitled The Christian Martyr; the one today, The Struggle for Religious Liberty, or The Church and the State; the one next Sunday, Freedom Forever; and the fourth one, Communism and Christianity. The greatest foe the Christian faith has ever faced is the one with whom we are in a death struggle today; this message The Struggle for Religious Liberty, The Church and the State.
Why should it ever have been that there had been an amalgamation, a joining, a congruency of the church and the state? The answer is very plain, very clear. There is hardly a drive in human life like that of religion. We even use it in our common nomenclature referring to a religious fervor, or a religious consecration, or a religious zeal. As a student observer said, “Mankind is incurably religious.”
Now that was seen by the politicians, by the kings and emperors and rulers of these ancient days past. So they sought to use religion as a source of cementing their kingdoms and their empires together. A wag, a sarcastic unbeliever, said in the days of the ancient Roman Empire: to the people all gods were true; to the philosophers all gods were equally false; and to the politicians all gods are equally useful. You find that especially in the days of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire sought to seal all of its many diversified provinces and religious groups together in one great adoration of the Roman Caesar. Emperor worship became a tool in the hands of the empire. All the people were to have at least one common religion, and by law, by coercion, even unto persecution, the Roman Empire leaders demanded that all bow down before the Roman Caesar’s image and place a little pinch of incense on the flame that burned before it.
That was why the persecution of the Christians; of all things, it is unlike the Roman Empire that was most gracious and lenient as it handled the matters of its provinces, conquered territories. Why the Roman Empire should have persecuted the Christians is an astonishing thing! The Roman Empire was happy to receive all the gods of all the provinces and place them in their great Pantheon, the most beautifully preserved building of antiquity in the Eternal City today; to place all of those gods in the Roman Pantheon. But when the God, the deity Jesus was preached, they welcomed Him as another god and the Christians said, “No! You will not place Jesus by the side of a Jupiter, or an Apollo, or a Neptune, or a Venus, or an Adonis, or an Isis, or an Osiris. There is one God and there is one Mediator, the Lord Jesus [1 Timothy 2:5]. And we know God through Christ” [John 1:18]. And because the Christian refused to bow before the image of the Caesar, the Christian was persecuted in the Roman Empire.
Now as the days passed Constantine, in the early 300s Constantine became a convert to the Christian faith. So whereas in the centuries before, religion had been a tool of the state in its pagan and heathen aspects, now the state used a new religion and a new faith, namely, the Christian faith, and the church became a tool and a pawn of the state. And the church used the state to coerce those to follow its own pattern of worship and approach to God. The result was calamitous and corrupting in the extreme.
There was hardly anything more disdainful to the sight of God than to see simony in the church. You’d sell a bishopric, or you’d sell a cardinal’s hat, or maybe the man that had the most influence and the most wealth would be used to further the choice of the head of the church. And inwardly, the church became corrupt as it became affluent and became identified with the power of the state.
For example, in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, our Lord says the kingdom of heaven is like a seed that planted becomes a great tree; and in its branches, every dirty and filthy bird comes to roost [Matthew 13:31-32]. Then in the next verse He says the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until all of it was corrupted [Matthew 13:33]. That’s what happened to the Christian faith when Constantine became converted, and the Christian faith became the state church, and the state faith, and the state religion. It was a great tool for the empire to force everybody by threat of death to become a member of the state church. It bound in power the rulership of the empire together.
Now as the days and as the centuries passed, there arose witnesses in every generation men who preached the gospel of the Son of God and who loved the Holy Scriptures; who denounced such an unholy union as the church and the state, and for the state to use the church, and the church to use the state to further their own purposes. And the throngs, not by the thousands but by the millions, who laid down their lives in those religious persecutions is known to every schoolboy, as you read the dark story of the pages of Christian history.
And as the days passed, there arose a people who especially and particularly began to drive for and to preach the cause of religious liberty, and religious freedom, and the separation of the church and the state. One of those was named Felix Manz. When I was in Zurich one time, I asked to be taken down where the Lamont River flows by the council house. And I said, “Let me stand here just for a moment.” And I relived the days of Felix Manz. He was the son of the canon of the cathedral. He was brilliantly and wonderfully educated. But reading the Bible, he became a convert to the faith that we embrace in this dear church. And because of his eloquent preaching out in the forest, out in the field, in his mother’s home, he was arrested and condemned to death by drowning. He liked water, they said, let’s give him lots of water. So they carried him through the streets of the city of Zurich, bound in chains and in ignominy. His mother walked by his side, brushing his tears away and exhorting her son to be faithful unto death. And in that place where I wanted to stand, watching the waters of the Lamont River pour out of the Zurich Lake by the side of the council house, in that place they drowned Felix Manz for his faith, paid for it with his life.
On the twenty-eighth day of March in 1928, there was a group of people who belonged to our communion who gathered in a square in Vienna. They were celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of the burning of Balthazar Hubmaier at the stake. He was a man who preached out of the Hebrew text and out of the Greek text the gospel of the truth and liberty of the Son of God and the separation of the church and the state. He won thousands and thousands every year, baptizing his converts in Bavaria. He was betrayed, arrested, and burned at the stake in Vienna. And three days later, his wife was bound and drowned in the Danube River. And when I was in Vienna, I said, “Would you take me to the place where Balthazar Hubmaier was burned at the stake?” And I stood there in memory of that great martyr of God.
And then I said, “Would you take me to the place where in the Danube River they cast down his wife and drowned her because of her faithfulness to the Word of God and to her preacher husband?” And I stood there in silent remembrance of that godly woman who laid down her life for the faith.
In England, there were two little dissenting separatist congregations. One of them had as its pastor Reverend John Smyth; S-m-y-t-h. And the other had in its congregation a godly layman like these men here, by the name of William Brewster. The king of England said, “They will conform to the state church or I will harry them out of the land.” And the two little flocks fled to the Netherlands, to Holland. There in Holland it was decided that William Brewster’s little congregation should go to the New World, and they crossed the stormy Atlantic and landed in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. And we know that little congregation as our Pilgrim Fathers. The other little flock, presided over by Pastor John Smyth, became Baptist and they were all baptized there in Holland. And among those who were baptized was Thomas Helwys who after John Smyth died was asked to be pastor of the little Baptist church.
The little congregation that numbered about one hundred fifty in the Netherlands decided that it was not right for them to stay in Holland just to avoid persecution from the crown in England. So that little Baptist congregation went across the sea and returned to England. They returned in 1611. And in 1612, Thomas Helwys, the pastor of the little congregation, wrote to the British monarch, and these are his words. I wish you could see it. In the spelling that he used:
Heare o king (H-e-a-r-e)—Heare o king, and dispise not ye counsell of ye poore, and let their complaints come before thee.
The king is a mortall man, & not God therefore hath no power over ye immortall soules of his subjects, to make lawes & ordinances for them, and to set spiritual Lords over them. If the king have authority to make spirituall Lords and Lawes, then he is an immortall God, and not a mortall man.
O King, be not seduced by deceivers thus to sin so against God, whome thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poore subjects …
God save ye King,
From Spittlefield—where they lived—neare London.
That was the first time in the history of the British monarchy that a man had ever dared address a king with words like that. The pastor Thomas Helwys was seized and cast in a dungeon, and he died there after years of imprisonment in the year of 1616.
But the great truth that the preacher preached found lodgement and conversion in the heart of a young man by the name of Roger Williams. And Roger Williams came to America and found in the colonies a state church. There was a state church in Massachusetts. There was a state church in Plymouth plantation and colony. There was a state church in New Amsterdam, now New York. There was a state church in Virginia and in the other colonies. And this man, Roger Williams, who was a convert of Thomas Helwys, that little dissenting congregation who returned to England because they did not want to escape the persecution of the state church—Roger Williams fled, as being banished and an outcast, from the colonies of New England, and founded the first state with the first free church in the history of the world. The state, he called Rhode Island, and its capital was Providence. And the basis of its great charter was this: that any man, anywhere, could call upon God in any way that he pleased without molestation, or arrest, or persecution.
The greatest contribution that democracy of America has ever made to the world is that of a free church, in a free state. We have come now to this present time in the life of America. And what of our beloved country? And what of its religious background and the foundation upon which it has been built? I do not speak now of the thousands and the uncounted thousands that are laying down their lives because of their Christian faith in the other nations of the world: in the Levant, like in Lebanon; in the Orient, like in China; in Europe, like the nations of Eastern Europe and Russia; like Africa, as in the Sudan. I do not mention—I do not speak now of the tragedies that are overwhelming our Christian brethren and our Christian faith in so many of the nations of the world. Little by little, the free world is being taken over by totalitarian rulers. I do not speak of them. I speak rather of America. What is it now and what of the future of a free church in a free state in America?
There are things on the horizon that I see developing that brings stark terror to my heart, both for the faith and for the future of our glorious country. Number one is this: secularism is an enemy of God and of the faith. Wherever it raises its ugly head, it spells defeat and disaster for the people of God. And secularism is being increasingly sponsored by the government of the United States. I see it on every hand. I see it in every department and compartment of our modern American life. For example, in our schools system and in our universities, there is more and more and more presented not the moral spiritual values of the Christian faith, but the values of the world apart from God and apart from the Christian faith. These are taught in our schools and in our universities. For example, in how many textbooks do you find the hypothesis, the ridiculous theory of evolution taught, not as a hypothesis, not as a theory, but as a supposed demonstrable scientific fact? And there was never anything more wrong, or more prejudiced, or more biased in human life than that—that this whole universe just happened to be, that it created itself, and that all of life and finally the man who stands in the image of God is nothing but the achievement of the blind processes of adventitious circumstance, and happenstance, and evolution.
How such a ridiculous thing could ever be received by a man of education is beyond my understanding except for this: the only alternative would be to say God did it, that we were created in the image of God [Genesis 1:26-27], and that the hand of God created this glorious and vast universe [Genesis 1:1-25]. But rather than accept that, they accept the ridiculous unbelievable hypothesis that all of this just happened to be, and that the man was evolved up and up and up from a piece of protoplasm through all of the animal world that we see around us, and finally we came to be as we are now. That is sheer hypothesis with no substantiating historical, or archaeological, or scientific fact; yet because the alternative is God, our school systems teach evolution as a demonstrable scientific fact.
Now there is a concomitant and corollary that always follows it: when you teach children that they are animals, they will act like it. And we’re beginning to reap that kind of a harvest in American secular life. For you see, when they attack the great moral, spiritual foundations of the home, and of the man and his wife, and of the children, and when they take away those great foundational rights and wrongs that are revealed to us in the Word of God, we are reaping an increasing harvest of dissolution, of divorce, of disaster, of judgment.
And this is furthered by the state. We are taxed to support such teaching to our children. These things bring consternation to my heart. Once again, I see on the horizon an increasing disposition on the part of our government to tax our churches.
A reporter called me on the telephone and said, “Why is it that you so object to the thought of our churches being taxed by the government?”
And I replied, “For two reasons: number one, the power to tax is the power to destroy.” And you’re seeing that in some of the great countries of Western Europe where the taxing power of the government is beginning to wipe out and to destroy the great middle class, which is the foundation for democracy. And because the middle class is being destroyed by taxes in these Western countries of Europe, you’re finding them increasingly turning toward those socialistic experiments that lead inevitably to the rise of a powerful communist party. I read this very week one of the most astute observers of political development in the world saying that within a year, one of the great countries of Western Europe will fall into the hands of the communists. More and more and more, you’re seeing that, and you’re beginning to see it in America.
And the second reason why I dread the power of the United States government and of all of its provincial governments to tax our churches is this; most of our churches are poor, poor, poor. “Ye poore,” as they say in that letter to the king of England, “Ye poore subjects.” Most of our churches are very, very poor. And you will have one inevitable result of the taxation of the churches: you will destroy, and forever, the outreach of the congregation, for they will have no money for missions, and they will have no money for the evangelization of the lost. They will have to take their money and give it to the government to exist. And any church first must exist. And when the churches are taxed, what money they can use to evangelize the world, they will have to take and give to the government in order to exist. It is a frightful prospect, and one that is increasing in pressure and rising in acceptance from one side of our nation to the other. The power to tax is the power to destroy. And the first thing that will be destroyed is the outreach of the church in its evangelization of the lost of the world.
Why are you so concerned about this thing of church and state in America? I have a third great concern, and that lies in our children. The child used to belong to the father and the mother, and the child used to be reared in the home, and the child used to have its training and its education in the hands of the father and the mother. No longer, no longer. More and more and more and more, the state is entering into the life of that child, and into the life of the father and that mother in that home. And more and more and more, the training of the child is being taken out of the hands of the father and mother and is being placed in the hands of the state and of the government—and recently, of the courts. This is a sadness that is unbelievable in free American life. The life of a child, God gave to the home. The life of the child belongs to the father and the mother, and the training of that child lies in the godliness of these parents.
What we’re doing is, we’re tearing up our homes. As Judge Claude Williams said to me this week, “Pastor, for some time now, we regularly grant more divorces in the courts in Dallas than we issue marriage licenses.” What comes of a people like that? What comes of a nation like that? What comes of a city like that? What comes of a culture and a civilization like that? You know what comes: inevitable destruction, and decay, and debauchery, and all of the tragedies that overwhelm a people who forget God.
More and more do I see the arm of the state entering into the lives of our children. They are choosing what the children are taught. They are choosing where they will be taught. They are choosing where they will be sent to school. And increasingly, the child is taken out of the hands of the father and the mother and being placed in the hands of the state.
Mel Carter, who is the principal of our Christian academy, said to me, “Pastor, there are at least a dozen bills that are before the legislature now that strike terror to my heart when I think of our Christian school, of our Christian academy, and training these children in the love and nurture and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. These things bring terror to my heart.”
I don’t know what the end will be, just this: that the state, more and more and more and more, tells the father and the mother that the child does not belong to you, it belongs to us. And they choose its education, and they choose its way, and they choose its training, and they choose how and where it will be done. Ah, our fathers, our forefathers laid down their lives for freedom from the state—the oppressive laws of a persecuting government! And we’re falling back into things worse today. “Look unto the rock whence you are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence you are digged” [Isaiah 51:1].
Grant me just one other moment. The terror that comes to my heart in America as I see what is developing on the modern political scene, I have a terror in my heart that public media will gradually push out, neglect, and refuse to countenance the evangelization of our people. The Christian faith will be shunted out. There are great cities in America, great cities in America where there is not one religious program on television. Not one. Hours and hours and hours of the secular, of the Hollywood, of the amusement, of a thousand other things, but no word about God, and no word about the faith, and no word about the Lord.
O God! Shall we live to see the day when religion is looked upon as a piece of antique inheritance? It was something that our forefathers were greatly concerned about, exercised about. It was something that I read in history books that our forefathers died for. But today, it is passé. It is bland. It is not to be mentioned in public media. Ah, Lord, how we need a rebirth, a revival, a renascence, a resurrection of the great hope and faith and commitment that guided our fathers in days past, who laid down their lives for what we enjoy today, a free church in a free state, the blessing that we receive from God’s gracious hands through them. Lord, Lord, help us to keep it, to hold it high, and to pass it undiminished, glowing like the flame of God into the hands of our children! To that end do we dedicate ourselves as the people of God and as a congregation of the Lord.
May I press upon your heart now the appeal of Christ? Ah, what blessedness does He bring into the heart, into the home, into the city, into the nation, into the life! Any man is a better man for loving God. Any home is a better home for inviting Christ as the Guest. And someday, in the hour of our great need, how preciously wonderful to have God in Christ as our Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5], our Intercessor [Hebrews 7:25], our Savior! [John 3:16].
I held a memorial service yesterday, how sweet to stand up and repeat the Psalm the saint loved the best: “The Lord is my shepherd” [Psalm 23:1]. I have a memorial service in the morning for one of God’s great saints here in the church. When finally life is done and the task is ended, all that we have left is what God is able to do for us; our inheritance, our home in heaven [1 Peter 1:4], the world that is yet to come. Ah, my brother, don’t say no to God. Open your heart heavenward and Christ-ward. It is a blessing beyond any that money or treasure could ever buy.
Do it now. Wherever you are, listening to television or listening on radio, bow your head and say, “God, you can have me. I give my life in repentance and in faith to Thee. Bless me, take me.” And in the great throng in this congregation this morning, down one of these stairways, “Here I am, pastor, I’ve made the decision in my heart and here I come.” “Down one of these aisles,” I give you my hand, I’ve given my heart to God” [Romans 10:8-13]. As the Lord shall press the appeal, answer with your life, do it now. Come now. Make it now. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.