Editorial: Reflecting On Our Christian Responsibility To The State -- By: Stephen J. Wellum

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 11:4 (Winter 2007)
Article: Editorial: Reflecting On Our Christian Responsibility To The State
Author: Stephen J. Wellum


Editorial: Reflecting On Our Christian Responsibility To The State

Stephen J. Wellum

Stephen J. Wellum is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Wellum received his Ph.D. degree in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has also taught theology at the Associated Canadian Theological Schools and Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seminary in Canada. He has contributed to several publications and a collection of essays on theology and worldview issues.

The issue of the relationship between the church and state is an ancient one that the church has wrestled with since its very inception. Our Lord clearly taught the principle that the two realms are to be separated (see Matt 22:21), but the exact line of demarcation has been greatly disputed throughout the history of the church. Before Christianity became the favored and then official religion of the Roman Empire, believers followed Paul’s instruction to be subject to the governing authorities (see Rom 13:1), except when that subjection conflicted with explicitly understood commands of God or the preaching of the gospel (see Acts 5:29). But by the end of the fourth century, a new arrangement existed between the church and state that required the need for closer definition of the relationships between them, which differed greatly depending upon whether the church took root in the East or West.

In the West, due to a variety of influences, the view of the two “powers” or “swords” developed, namely that God has established the power or sword of the church and the state. During the Middle Ages, this view was generally accepted, namely, the concept of a single society with two aspects, each with its own responsibilities, authority, and power, but the question of supremacy remained undefined. As a result, there was constant friction between the two over these precise areas. During the Reformation, Martin Luther sharply distinguished the temporal from the spiritual, but then considered many ecclesiastical functions, such as administration, as nonessentials thus providing the basis for most Lutheran States to develop a territorial system in which the political rulers supervised various church affairs. John Calvin, on the other hand, tried to argue for a clearer distinction between the spheres of church and state, but, at the end of the day, he still believed that it was the duty of the state to protect the church by maintaining peace and following biblical guidelines in civil affairs.

However, in the Anabaptist-Baptist tradition, we most clearly discover a more consistent separation of church and sta...

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