Saturday, 16 February 2008

Should the Church of England be Disestablished?

I came across a thoughtful post from Exiled Preacher on this question.

Some extracts ...

... the idea of an established Church is alien to the New Testament. Under the old covenant there was no distinction between the religious and civil aspects of Israel's life. The nation was a theocracy - God's chosen nation, living under the terms of his covenant.

But all that changed under the new covenant. Now the people of God are gathered from all nations. The Church may be a theocracy under the lordship of Christ, but she is distinct from the State. The State has been ordained by God to restrain evil and preserve peace and order in society (Romans 13:1-7). But the Church has been called to carry out her Great Commission to preach the gospel and make disciples for Christ from all peoples. The State may use force to subdue law breakers and protect its citizens. The Church's only weapon is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.

There is no sense in the New Testament that the Church should aspire to a position of establishment. Obviously, that kind of thing would have been impossible under Nero. But the apostles don't so much as hint that a State established Church would be in any way desirable. All they asked was that the State tolerated the existence and activities of the Church (see Paul in Acts).

The apostles would certainly have been outraged at the thought that the State could appoint Church leaders. But the Church/State distinction found so clearly in the New Testament was gradually eroded away from Constantine onwards ...

... Some would like to see the Church of England disestablished for secular reasons. They resent the intrusion of Christianity into public life. But that is certainly not my motivation. Christ's lordship is not limited to the Church. He is Lord of all. Christians should [act] as salt and light to influence the direction of their country. We can do that by scrutinising legislation, writing to [MPs], lobbying Government ministers and so on. It would be a good thing if more genuine believers entered politics to bring Christian values to bear upon the public square.

The fact that the Constitution of the USA forbids the establishment of a Church, does not mean that Christianity has no voice in public life over there. In fact it is a strange paradox that in England, with its officially established Church, Christianity is often banished to the sidelines. ...