This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
Contemporary readers tend to look to the Old Testament to connect church and state. The New Testament has little to say and we’re left to derive our view from Biblical principles. We do this regularly, though obviously it’s better to have explicit statements–which is why people turn to the Old Testament where the church/state connection is much more clearly established.
So we must see whether the Old Testament may be appealed to here. Does Israel’s church and state = our church and state? If the institutional church we have existed in the Old Testament and if Israel’s government was like our government, then we should say “yes” and the Old Testament is fair game. if not, then direct parallels with the Old Testament fail. Yes the invisible church existed in the Old Testament, but the Old Testament “congregation” is not the same as the invisible church. The “church” in this sense seems to have been a small number both inside and outside the congregation of Old Testament Israel. Likewise the invisible church is not the church we attend on a Sunday–that institution has only been around a few centuries. Moreover we gather “under the ministry of the Word and the sacraments.” Such things in Israel were done privately and without official officers administering them. (241-242) Officials in Israel were at the temple, not managing circumcision and Passover. Likewise their priests were born, not elected. Our church is more influence by synagogues than the Old Testament temple/assembly model. Yet even these aren’t really the same.
So there’s no real parallel between the church as an institution and Old Testament Israel. The church starts after Pentecost and is cleanly severed from national institutions. Likewise we reject connections between Old Testament Israel and modern governments.
Even Israel doesn’t really have special government, given 1 Samuel 8:20. Even so, what they had was Divinely instituted. None of our governments are. Those who would turn us to the Old Testament don’t really mean it anyway–they’re not in favor of stoning, for example.
Yes, there are general principles at work in the Old Testament church and state, but we learn them from the New Testament. So we must reject the claims of going back to the Old Testament, even when from theologians we otherwise admire.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO