What is the view of the relationship between religion and
by Kendra Hotz
views of the relationship between church and state have evolved
over time in response to dramatic changes in the political order.
We can identify three such changes. The first occurred when the
Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and the religion changed
from being an illegal and persecuted sect to being the official
religion of state. The second dramatic shift happened in the West
when the collapse of the Roman Empire led to the loss of a strong,
centralized government and the emergence of feudalism in its place.
The third dramatic change came with the emergence of modern democratic
the Christianized Roman Empire, Christians tended to operate with
a theocratic view of the relationship between church and state.
Theocracy means that the law of the state is an expression of the
law of God. Eastern Orthodox
Christians, for instance, would have insisted that the Emperor was
the vicar of God on earth, responsible for ordering society according
to the divine will. Matters of the political order
and matters of spiritual concern were often fused.
medieval Europe, especially after the collapse of the Roman Empire
there, the pope often took on strong political leadership. On Christmas
day in the year 800, the pope crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman
Emperor. This act implied that political power flowed from the pope
to political authorities. The move also inflamed the rivalry between
East and West because there was already a Roman Emperor reigning
in the East, and just as there can be only one God, Eastern Christians
insisted, so there can only be one emperor, one vicar of God on
the time of the Protestant Reformations, independent nation states
had begun to develop in Europe, and the possibility of a unified,
theocratic empire had long faded. The emerging Protestant movements
often depended upon the protection of heads of state who wished
to establish power independent of the papacy. Luther’s reformation
in Germany, for instance, depended heavily on the support of the
developed a theory of the relationship between church and state
that is often described as the “two kingdoms” model.
His model drew heavily on a theory articulated centuries earlier
by Augustine, who had argued that God had established “two
cities,” an earthly city and a heavenly city. The
earthly city is the realm of politics and civil concerns. The heavenly
city is the true home of Christians who travel through the earthly
city only as pilgrims.
two cities would co-exist throughout history until at last God established
an everlasting kingdom on earth that vanquished the earthly city.
The question of how Christians should relate to the earthly city
they travel through as pilgrims remained open to debate. Luther
proposed that Christians may inhabit both realms simultaneously.
God has provided the political order so that human sinfulness will
not be given free reign. The civil order restrains our worst sinful
impulses. Christians may participate in the state insofar as advancing
its causes does not conflict with their Christian obligations.
group, known as the Radical Reformers, shared the two kingdoms model
with Luther but disagreed with his view that Christians may legitimately
participate in matters of state. According to the Radical Reformers,
Christians are called out of the worldly kingdom and should not
participate in its affairs. A citizen of the Kingdom of God must
renounce citizenship in worldly kingdoms and the conflicting loyalties
that go with it. Christians should not swear oaths, serve in the
military, or hold political office. Christians should not serve
as judges or magistrates or exercise any kind of political power.
Christians may attempt to influence the state by serving as witnesses
to Christ’s call to non-violence, but they may not become
internally enmeshed in its structures and institutions.
Calvin, a second generation Protestant Reformer, offered a different
way of thinking about the relationship between church and state.
Calvin argued that the state existed not simply to restrain evil,
but also to promote social welfare and righteousness.
Accordingly, governments ought to provide not only police and military
forces, but also agencies that promote health, education, and the
arts. He rejected the idea that there are two separate kingdoms
and instead insisted that both the church and the state exist to
serve God’s purposes.
sixteenth century Geneva this model took on a theocratic form, but
later Calvinists have advanced models of the state in which the
state exists to serve the good without becoming an arm of the church.
On the Calvinist model, political office is a vocation, a calling.
As such, Christians who are called to serve in government posts
may do so in order to pursue policies that restrain evil and promote
©2006 Kendra Hotz
G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis
Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz
is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor
(with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping
the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections
(2006) and coauthor of Transforming
Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.