I was listening to an interview with Ken Starr on his new book Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty. I have not read the book, but I did agree with Starr’s assessment that most Americans lack a basic knowledge of the First Amendment. Most likely Mr. Starr does not deal with the First Amendment and its relationship with civil government in terms of biblical law. To supplement Starr’s book and that of many other similar attempts to understand the biblical approach to church-state relationships, I’ve put together a short series titled “THE BIBLE, THE CONSTITUTION, AND THE JURISDICTIONAL SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE.”
For a more comprehensive study of this topic, I suggest my books _God and Government _and Restoring the Foundation of Civilization available at AmericanVision.org. There is a great deal of confusion since the phrase “separation of church and state” is purposefully used as a substitute for the actual words of the First Amendment. The words “separation,” “church,” and “state” do not appear in the Constitution.
Also, many people, Christians included, believe the Bible merged Church and State. This is not the case. The Bible describes a jurisdictional separation of Church and State that does not mean separating God from civil government. As we will see, our nation’s founding documents agree with this assessment.
According to a survey, while only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment — freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances — more than half can name at least two members of The Simpsons cartoon family.
“It also showed that people misidentified First Amendment rights. About one in five people thought the right to own a pet was protected, and 38 percent said they believed the right against self-incrimination contained in the Fifth Amendment was a First Amendment right, the survey found.”
A person who owns a piece of property has legitimate jurisdiction over it, but he does not have jurisdiction over someone else’s property. A property owner can only “speak the law” (juris = law + diction = speak) within the boundary lines of his own property. In this way a property owner’s jurisdiction is legally limited. He cannot encroach on the property of others because his jurisdiction does not extend beyond what he owns. Permission must be secured from the original property owner to use his property. To use someone’s property without the owner’s permission is a violation of the eighth commandment: “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15). Elsewhere we read: “‘Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark’” (Deut. 27:17). It’s no more legitimate when civil officials do it (1 Kings 21; Hosea 5:10).
The concept of jurisdictional boundaries and limitations is not new to our time. God established property and moral boundaries when He instructed Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). From beginning to end the law is a code of boundary limitations. The law tells us what is permissible and what is not as it applies to individuals in self-government, parents and children in family government, elders, deacons, and members in church government, and citizens and elected officials and their agents in civil government, and every other area of life.
What’s true of individuals and their relationship to the law is especially true of civil governments, since the State has the power of the sword (Rom. 13:4). Does the fact that the State has the sword lessen the legitimate restrictions on personal and property rights? Possession of deadly force does not overturn legitimate jurisdictional rights. If the boundary markers of civil government are not expressly set forth, then it’s possible and likely that the civil sphere of government will be used to trample the boundary markers (jurisdictions) of individuals, families, churches, businesses, lesser magistrates, and nations for personal and national aggrandizement. The story of Ahab and his desire to get Naboth’s vineyard by hook or by crook is an obvious example (1 Kings 21).
Our founders understood these principles. That’s why the form of civil government they developed was decentralized and specifically designed to limit political power. As Thomas Jefferson stated in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1789, “In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Russell Kirk (1918–1994) confirms Jefferson’s sentiment:
The constitutions of the American commonwealth are intended—and have successfully operated—to restrain political power: to prevent any person or clique or party from dominating permanently the government of the country.
* * * * *
It is one of the great premises of American political theory that all just authority comes from the people, under God: not from a monarch or a governing class, but from the innumerable individuals who make up the public. The people delegate to government only so much power as they think is prudent for government to exercise; they reserve to themselves all the powers and rights that are not expressly granted to the federal or state or local governments. Government is the creation of the people, not their master. Thus the American political system, first of all, is a system of limited, delegated powers, entrusted to political officers and representatives and leaders for certain well-defined public purposes. Only through the recognition of this theory of popular sovereignty, and only through this explicit delegation of powers, the founders of the American Republic believed, could the American nation keep clear of tyranny or anarchy. The theory and the system have succeeded: America never has endured a dictator or tolerated violent social disorder.
State governments and their courts have jurisdictional authority to “speak the law” to those who reside within the boundaries of their respective states. Their jurisdictional freedom is no different from that of the federal government. That’s why each state has its own constitution, courts, and elected officials. An elected official in one state has no jurisdictional authority in or over another state.
In the same way, the Federal government’s jurisdiction is limited by the Constitution, although such limitations are not always acknowledged by the courts, the President, or Congress. These delegated agencies often test the limits of their specified boundary markers. Voters will often use the power of civil government to overstep its constitutionally set jurisdictional limits when they believe they can use the power of the State for a particular benefit. They will elect representatives and senators who will “bring home the bacon” to their congressional district and state at the expense of other states. Where are the Federal dollars coming from to pay for these projects? They are collected from individuals from throughout the United States in the form of taxes and fees, sent to Washington, and then redistributed back to the states. This type of political dealing violates the jurisdictional limitations outlined in the Constitution.
Powers not specified (enumerated) in the Constitution are retained by the individual states or the people generally. These Federal jurisdictional limitations are described in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution:
Ninth: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Tenth: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
What’s true of the taxing power of civil government and its jurisdictional limitations is equally true of civil government’s relationship with religion, including church government and its courts, preaching, and the administration of the Sacraments. The Bible extends jurisdictional and boundary limitations to church and state without ever suggesting that the church and state have different sources of authority for their spheres.