History of the Theory of the Relationship of Church and State (Waldron)

Pastor Sam Waldron

[Note: The diagrams are my own interpretation of Waldron’s lectures]

Pastor Samuel E. Waldron, Ph.D. – Dean Resident Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary has made 6 lectures available on the Relationship of Church and State. Here is an attempted summary of his lectures:

Early Church Developments

Magistrates Bound by Scripture.
Justin Martyr, Irenaes, and Tertullian rightly held that the civil magistrate must rule righteously or they will be personally punished eternally.

Whatsoever they do to the subversion of justice, in these things they shall also perish. For the just judgment of God equally comes upon all and is in no wise defective.

Civil Government established Post-Fall.
In response to those who believed the state was demonic, Irenaeus taught that it was instituted by God.

For since man, by departing from God, reached such a pitch of fury as even to look upon his brother as his enemy, and engaged without fear in every kind of restless conduct, and murder, and avarice; God imposed upon mankind the fear of man, as they did not acknowledge the fear of God, in order that, being subjected to the authority of men, and kept under restraint by their laws, they might attain to some degree of justice, and exercise mutual forbearance through dread of the sword suspended full in their view…

Waldron notes “In this amazing statement Irenaeus distinguishes the nature of the state very clearly. It’s not demonic, but neither on the other hand is it creational or redemptive in origin. It’s rather a divine institution occasioned by the fall with specific and limited objectives.”

Rulers appointed by God.
Irenaeus “We respect in the emperor the ordinance of God” and “Caesar is more ours than yours.”

Religious Liberty.
Tertullian: “You think that others too, are gods, whom we know to be devils. However, it is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature that every man should worship according to his own convictions.”

Distinction between religious and temporal authority.
Luke 20:25. Neither is subservient or subject to the other, therefore they were both limited.

Medieval Church Developments

The clear distinction in church and state among the early church is abandoned when Constantine became the first “Christian” emperor.

Sacral Society.
Church and state are one. Who is supreme? Who rules over the other?

Dualistic Perspective.
Pope and king are distinct, which causes tension for a sacral society.


Gives supreme power in both the church and the state to the priests (Pope). To be an emperor is beneath papal dignity because he is supreme over the emperor. The universal church contains both the secular/royal authority and the authority of the Pope (sacral assumption) because he represents him to whom the whole earth and its dominion, the earth and all that is on it, belongs. The Pope is lord and master of all things because his office commands him to show justice to sinners and to punish their sins. Thus he becomes, by reason of his spiritual power judge over rulers and lord of the world, bishop and emperor in a single person – the one who wears the crown as well as the meiter.1

This claim is astounding enough by itself. But we must remember that it’s context was a society which was not acustomed to differentiating between church and state. Repeatedly statements are made medieval literature which simply equate Western European society with the church.

We are not to be surprised at this theocratic view of society. It is, as Tierny has commented, the most common and original viewpoint in the history of human thought. The entire history of the world was sacral before the coming of Christianity. The surprising viewpoint is not the uniting of church and state, a sacral society. The surprising viewpoint in the history of the world is the idea of the separation of church and state.


High Medieval Period 1000-1300 A.D.
To whatever degree our present culture reflects the biblical ideal of the separation of church and state, this is due to the defeat of both royal theocracy and papal hierocracy in this period. The seeds of this defeat were sown by the pervasive influence the words of Jesus had exercised on Western Europe “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” Matt 22:21.

Reformation Period


1520, “Christian Nobility of the German Nation” rejects Papal suzerainty. Argues that if they are the vicar of Christ, then it is of Christ crucified, not glorified.
But Luther continued to assume the sacral assumptions of medieval society. He assumes the church is one great body of Christ that has in it both church and state. Which is supreme? Luther subjected the church to the German nobility, arguing that the nobility should assume Jesus’ position of driving the money changers out of the temple.

Inasmuch as the temporal power has become a member of the Christian body it is a spiritual estate even though it’s work is physical. (Luther)

Luther placed a strong emphasis on the civil government as the father of society (paternalistic). It was derived from creation.

Two offices (secular/spiritual governments). 
Not the same thing as the separation of church and state.
His resolution of Matt 5:39 & Romans 13. Matt 5 = church & individual Christians (spiritual kingdom). Romans 13 = civil ruler (physical kingdom).
[For more, see here]


On Civl Government

  • Taught that civil authority was limited by rejecting medieval hierarchy.
    • Calvin stood against church absolutism of the papacy and the rising state absolutism of the European monarchies. Thus took the historic step of coordinating church and state by limiting the authority of each over the other. Thus he coordinated them instead of subordinating them – that is, sphere sovereignty rather than sphere subsidarity in the mold of medieval catholicism.
      • Against state absolutism: fought with Genevan order over control of the Lord’s Table. Calvin drew the boundary lines between church and state clearly and sharply, but he drew them differently than we do. Thus rejected Luther’s view (comments on Amos 7:10-13).
      • Against church absolutism: Institutes 4.8.1 “The power of the therefore church is not to be depreciated yet it must be circumscribed by certain limits that it may not be extended in every direction according to the caprice of men.
      • For limitation of church and state: Institutes 3.19.15 “To prevent anyone from falling into this error, let us therefore consider in the first place that man is under two kinds of government, one spiritual by which the conscience is formed to piety in the service of God and the other political by which a man is instructed in the duties of humanity and civility, which are to be observed in an intercourse with mankind. They are generally and not improperly denominated the spiritual and the temporal jurisdiction, indicating that the former species of government pertains to the life of the soul and that the latter relates to the concerns of the present state, not only to the provision of food and clothing, but to the enactment of laws to regulate a man’s life among his neighbors by the rules of holiness, integrity, and sobriety. For the former has its seat in the interior of the mind whilst the latter only directs the external conduct. One may be termed a spiritual kingdom and the other a political one. But these two, as we have distinguished them, always require to be considered separately; and while the one is under discussion, the mind must be abstracted from all consideration of the other. For man contains, as it were, two worlds, capable of being governed by various rulers and various laws.
  • Church & state united
    • Two interdependent entities each receiving its authority from God, but the state is never secular, nor is it separated from the church in the modern sense.
    • His use of the soul and body analogy is stock image of medieval scholasticism for the relation of church and state and marks the medieval character of his thought and his assumption of the medieval synthesis of society.
      • “But he who knows how to distinguish between the body and the soul will find no difficulty…
        • applied this medieval analogy for a very non-medieval purpose
    • Assumed corpus christianum (society is body of Christianity): insistence that it is the business of the state to enforce conformity to the true religion

[For an alternative interpretation of Calvin’s two kingdoms, see the commentary at the end of this article]

Calvin vs Calvinism: Just Revolution

Calvinism adopted the social contract theory (represented by Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex, 1644).

Rutherford argues that the power of government rests in the people who may choose to appoint one or more to rule over the nation. Although God ordains all rulers in his providence it nevertheless lies with the people to elect or make the king. On this basis, Rutherford then asserts that the basis between king and people is one of covenant. According to the law of nature, the people cannot give away their rights absolutely and unconditionally the safety of the people is the supreme rule and this is why they appointed king. The practical implication is clear: what the people give, the people can take away.

“If I give my sword to my fellow to defend me from a murderer, if he shall fall to murder me with my own sword, I may, if I have the strength, take my sword back from him. If the ruler breaks his covenant, he forfeits his rights and may be deposed.” (Rutherford)

Although this would usually be the task of inferior rulers, Rutherford does not limit it to them.

Since rulers are God’s ministers appointed through men, they must rule according to God’s will for the benefit of the people. When they fail to do so, they may and must be resisted by disobedience, protest, flight, and in the end, force. If the rulers persist in such failure so that their whole rule becomes a tyranny, they may be deposed either by inferior magistrates or by the people if they have the necessary strength.

Calvin rejected the social contract theory.

  1. Political righteousness is not the condition of legitimacy for any political entity. Civil authorities are to retain our subjection, if not our obedience, whether or not it is, in our estimation, measuring up to our standards of political righteousness. Christianity, then, never permits terrorism or revolution in the proper sense of those terms.
    1. Political force and resistance to tyranny may only be used by civil authorities charged to protect our freedom as a people. Theologies of liberation which do not recognize the peculiar providential legitimation of any existing government would meet Calvin’s unalloyed rejection.
  2. All kings and civil magistrates are subject to God and His Word as the norm for their official duties. Never, however, did he infer from this the doctrine of just revolution. Always he rejected any and all theories of just revolution. The position which thinks of the doctrine of just revolution as unqualifiedly reformed must ignore Calvin to do so. The logic that deduces just revolution from the sovereignty of God’s Word must find Calvin illogical.

We may not equate American government with ideal biblical forms.

Two distinct movement are allied in modern democracy. The Calvinistic teaching of limited government and the humanistic teaching of the social contract theory. When revolutionary theory and limited government are made the pillars of modern democracy, it is impossible to give a simple answer to the question “Was Calvin the founder of modern democracy?” For while Calvin was arguably the one who gave Western civilization the gift of limited government, he opposed with his whole might the revolutionary tendencies of the social contract theory.

Summary of Christian Viewpoints of Church and State

  1. Erastianism/Saceral Papism. Hierachal system with God delegating to the state and the state then having authority over the church
    1. “Saceral Papism” in the Byzantine Empire where the Emperor appointed the patriarch of Constantinople
    2. “Erastianism” after Thomas Erastus, follower of Zwingli
    3. Practiced in Luther’s Germany and Henry VIII of England
  2. Papalism. Hierarchal system with God delegating to the church and in some sense the church is the overlord of the state.
    1. Church absolutism
  3. Dualism. State was not the creature of God. It was inherently evil (Anabaptist)
  4. Presbyterianism (Calvin). Union of church and state. Not Erastian. Church and state were co-ordinate spheres under God. Neither derived it’s authority from the other. Yet church and state insolubly connected and given certain responsibilities together. (Original WCF Ch. 24). Constantinian view that church and state must be united in any given state was assumed and maintained. Thus this system rejected the separation of church and state and taught instead the union of church and state.

Free Churchism (Separation of Church and State)

Refined Presbyterianism: co-ordinate spheres, but separated, not united.

Savoy (Independent/Congregational) 24.3 promoted denominational (Christian) liberty.


2nd LBCF 24.3 is deleted, thus promoting religious (non-Christian) liberty of conscience.

The silence of the Second London Baptist Confession on the issue of the magistrate’s duty with regard to religion is a very loud silence indeed. Since the SLBC is most directly an edited version of the Savoy, it is very significant the baptist framers decided to entirely ignore the parallel statement not only in the WCF but even in the Savoy. The reason, it seems to me, is plain: the baptists certainly would have rejected the way in which the Westminster infringed the religious freedom of the individual and intruded the power of the state into the church. In these ways, no doubt, they appreciated the extension of religious freedom to various denominations of orthodox Christians found in the Savoy. Yet the failure of the baptists to include this statement in their own confession and the silence of the SLBC with regard to the power of the civil magistrate in regards to religion seems clearly to indicate that the baptists felt that even the Savoy did not go far enough in the direction of affirming the separation of church and state and religious freedom.

Perhaps it also indicates the difficulty that was felt in exactly stating the role of the state with regard to religion. The two major concerns of baptists and their confessions were here to be carefully balanced. You can see these concerns both in the Second London and in the First London Confession, both in the preface and paragraphs 48-50 in the First London Baptist. On the one hand, the baptists wanted to make clear they were not anabaptists holding that the state was evil, thus they had to make clear that the state had an important role to play in society in which Christians might play a part, and also in which Christians had to submit. On the other hand, it was crucial to make clear they rejected the infringement of religious freedom and intrusion of authority the state embodied in the original Westminster Confession.

Separation of God and State

Humanism went further and tried to separate God and state, not merely church and state. They felt that the idea of the state was independent of God and that God and religion should be relegated to the private sphere of life.



[Important] There is debate over the proper interpretation of Calvin’s use of the two kingdoms. Waldron stated that Calvin modified Luther’s medieval two kingdom view of body and soul to argue for limitations on both church and state. However, it appears that a better way to understand Calvin is that he agreed with Luther’s two kingdom view, placing both the church (as ecclesiastical institution) and the state within the temporal/external kingdom.


This makes more sense of Calvin’s retention of the sacral assumptions of corpus christianum. Thus “the concept of sphere sovereignty is a sociological concept that is consistent with but different from the two kingdoms doctrine.” (Tuininga) Calvin still challenged the medieval hierarchy, but he did not use the two kingdoms doctrine to do so. Peter Escalante summarizes

The corpus christianorum, which Kuyper called “the organic church,” is the visibility of the mystical body, the invisible church, that it is a multitude, and it underlies, in a Christian commonwealth, all callings and offices alike. Since the essence of this temporal multitude is revealed most eminently in the act of assembled worship, that act is especially called “church,” but really the multitude is already the church wherever it is and whatever it’s doing, and thus “church” in this sense, the corpus christianorum, underlies both State and ministerium, and all the callings and forms of civil society too. Therefore there is one church-commonwealth, whose two directive and preeminently representative offices are Magistracy and Ministerium.


Calvin limited the sphere of the state in Geneva by arguing that the ecclesiastical office was ministerial in that it proclaimed the Word (spiritual/inward kingdom). Excommunication was first and foremost a proclamation of the gospel, and thus it was in the jurisdiction of the visible church, not the state, though both are part of the temporal kingdom. To fully understand just how intertwined these institutions were, see here.

Calvin very decidedly wishes to restrict excommunication to the ministers of the Church, but he says that it is actually not an external act of force, but rather an aspect of proclaiming the Word.[41]  It is precisely its non-coercive character which makes it unfit for the civil magistrate’s jurisdiction… Regarding Matthew 16:19, Calvin says that the keys are “the office of teaching.”[43]  He also says that “binding and loosing” is nothing other than proclaiming the gospel


But this coordination of the spheres remained in tension, with church and state constantly fighting for control, so long as the sacral assumption continued. And thus the final separation of church and state was accomplished by the baptists when they abandoned the sacral assumption in favor of the concept of a church of “visible saints” gathered out of the world. They were therefore able to identify the visible church more closely with the invisible church by placing it in the spiritual kingdom. This had to do with much more than who is baptized. It had to do with the very nature of the church. It started with Calvin’s attempt to guard the Lord’s Table from profanation, continued further with the Puritans’ battle to exercise church discipline, resulting in the Separatist movement’s concept of the gathered church able to exercise it’s own discipline. This then developed into a gathered assembly of those professing saving, not simply historical faith. This logically entailed the baptist position. Lord willing, I will explain this progress soon in a detailed summary of Edmund S. Morgan’s Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea. As Littlejohn explains:

Even better was the idea that the church, conceived in terms of the ordained clergy, could autonomously govern its own affairs—a concept derived not only from Beza, but even more so from the paradigm of the “stranger churches,” which many English Protestants had experienced during their exile under Bloody Mary. Such an independent body, moreover, could ensure a much purer and more disciplined membership than the “mixed multitude” of the national Protestant churches—in short, the visible church could approximate the invisible.

Taken together, these concepts—a detailed Scriptural blueprint for the church, Presbyterian ministers as the authorized interpreters of the same, and the ideal of a pure and disciplined body of “visible saints”—provided the building blocks for a new mutation of the two-kingdoms doctrine. In England, this received its fullest expression in the works of Thomas Cartwright and Walter Travers in the 1570s and 1580s, although Andrew Melville was simultaneously advancing a similar paradigm in Scotland, where it would leave a lasting stamp. For these men, as for VanDrunen, the two kingdoms represent two external manifestations of God’s rule—the one through ministers and their disciplinary regime; the other through magistrates and their disciplinary regime. Each presided over a distinct society with distinct ends, and strictly defined responsibilities.

The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed—Pt. 3: From Calvin to Hooker

In sum, the separation of church and state was not accomplished until the medieval assumption of all of society as the body of Christ was rejected in favor of a church called out of the world.

To fully understand Calvin’s view of the two kingdoms, I highly recommend slogging through this material (exercise extra diligence as the men writing for the Calvinist International are associated with the Federal Vision. I do not endorse their opinions, merely their historical analysis):

  1. Innocent III: Vicar of Christ Or Lord of the World? p. 80 

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