The New Testament Doctrine of the State -- By: Ronald B. Mayers

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 12:4 (Fall 1969)
Article: The New Testament Doctrine of the State
Author: Ronald B. Mayers


The New Testament Doctrine of the State

Ronald B. Mayers, M.A.*

*Mr. Mayers is a candidate for the Ph.D. degree at Syracuse University and faculty member of the Grand Rapids Baptist College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I. Introduction and Relevant Background

The problem of the interrelationship between church and state has concerned Christian thinkers since the beginning of the Christian era. Today it is one of the most crucial issues of contemporary Christian thought on both the international and national levels. On the international level looms not only the paralyzing fear of atomic extinction, but an even greater danger from the erosion of the political institutions and ideals that have characterized the Western democratic societies. While on the more directly national level, recent Supreme Court decisions concerning prayer in the public schools has brought the Church-State relationship to the forefront of public interest and political dialogue.

As we approach the New Testament literature to assist in some manner in the delineation of a Christian political and social philosophy, we must be careful not to become guilty of finding a one-to-one correspondence between the holy text and our present situation. We must not see only one possible Christian form of the state, for there is no structure totally good or bad a priori - only the situation decides.1 We must not only recognize but accept the fact of a wide sociological distance between ourselves and the sacred writers. Despite this great gap in the prevailing life styles and political structures of the first and twentieth centuries, the basic concepts and foundational principles concerning the relationship of Christ and Caesar are as relevant today as when they were first written. In reality the issue of church and state lies near the center of Christian theology. The very mention of Pontius Pilate in the Apostles Creed is a continuing reminder of this fact. If we were to translate the superscription on the cross we would find that Jesus was executed as a Roman criminal while simultaneously, from the Now Testament perspective, being in some manner a means of atonement and reconciliation.2

The state may be looked at in various ways. Brunner distinguishes three elements in every state:

1) the realization of community, in accordance with the divine creative purpose;

2) a disciplinary order, which creates a kind of community by forcible means, and forms the necessary basis and the harsh framework of civilized life;

3) and an illegitimate, unjust, ...

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