Bannerman on the Church vs. the State

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The recent publication of James Bannerman's The Church of Christ has been a boon to Christians simply because of the great value of his material on this important topic.  But given the prospect of increasing conflicts between the federal government and Christians, Christ's people need to think clearly and courageously about our respective duties to Christ versus Caesar.  For instance, Bannerman begins his book by emphasizing that the Church is a divine and not a human institution, "owing its origin not to man, but to Christ" (p. 19).  As such, the Church does not owe "its form and existence to those regulations which the State may enact in regard to it" (p. 24).  This means that the Church may often find itself at odds with civil authorities: "as it existed at first independently of the favour of the State, and in the face of its hostility, so it may continue to exist without any external connection or support" (pp. 24-25).  Bannerman notes that the Church and State differ in origin, in their objectives, and in their means.  Both the Church and the State answer to Christ as universal sovereign, but neither answers directly to the other.

 Even these general thoughts argue for the importance of clear thinking among Christians on matters of Church and State, as well as the value of reading this biblically lucid book.  As Bannerman saw it, the incursion of the State into the affairs of the Church was a hallmark of tyranny.  He shows that Christians will often have to resist state tyranny, denying to the civil authorities the right to dictate the Church's doctrine or practice.  Bannerman reminds Presbyterians that if any tradition holds dear the principle of Christ's sole sovereignty over his Church it is ours.  Both the Westminster Puritans and the Scots Covenanters resisted the attempts of kings to tyrannize the church, even at the cost of their blood.  As Christians in America contemplate the legal consequences of recent Supreme Court decisions and the likely strategies of those seeking to paganize our nation, now is the time for us to know where the line of civil disobedience lies and to count the cost of following Jesus as our King.

Posted June 30, 2015 @ 8:00 AM by Rick Phillips

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