Church And State In The American Colonies Before The Revolution -- By: William Thomson Hanzsche
BSac 81:325 (Jan 1925) p. 23
Church And State In The American Colonies Before The Revolution
The little band of men that left Scrooby for Holland, in order that they might escape the persecutions in England and worship God as they saw fit, ^had no desire to become assimilated by a foreign country, and consequently did all in their power to retain their English customs. The news from Virginia in the New World gave them the opportunity they sought, and after many unsuccessful attempts they finally succeeded in seizing the opportunity through the organization of “The Plymouth Company.” Without any charter but their own lofty aims, without any regal right but the right of conscience, without any aid but unwavering faith in God, they sailed to America to establish a new home. They emigrated, not as a band of heterogeneous refugees, but as a Church already constituted. Just before reaching the shores of their new home they made a covenant together creating themselves into a “civil body politic.” No one was compelled to sign this, yet everyone was bound by it. On December 11, 1620, they landed and began life under their new civil covenant, a sort of a church-club idea which tended toward separation of Church and State. It has been often truly pointed out that in the series of articles embodied in the agreement with the “Plymouth Company” and consequently agreed upon by the Separatists, there is one article which practically acquiesces to state control of the Church. “We judge it lawful,” reads this article, “for His majesty to appoint bishops, civil overseers to oversee the churches.” Even if we assume the most critical viewpoint in examining this article, we must, nevertheless, recognize that it is not so much an exposition of faith, as a condition of agreement—a concession necessary to be made. The Separatists believed in a congregational, not a national Church. It is indeed true that
BSac 81:325 (Jan 1925) p. 24
the principle of complete separation may have been fully recognized by this same body of men while they were being persecuted in England, but the principle was then too novel a thing to be held to tenaciously, and consequently, it was not one of the fundamental principles put in practice in America. The Separatists thought it well to allow the state to control civilly only and to permit religious toleration. Should there be an occasion for state interference in ecclesiastical affairs, for example, to guarantee the proper maintenance of ministers, it was a perfectly lawful thing, according to their ideas, for the state to interfere and exert its full authority. When they first established themselves in Plymouth their church had no direct connection with the state, and was dependent on the state for nothing but protection. They never followed the ...
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