The True Meaning of Separation of Church and State
Four months after the Declaration of Independence was presented to the fledgling country, Hanover Presbytery in Virginia presented a memorial on October 24, 1776 on the subject of the free exercise of religion.
On the one hand, there was stated in the memorial the realization that “the gospel does not need any such civil aid.” These Presbyterian teaching and ruling elders recognized that the Savior declared that His kingdom was not of this world, and therefore renounced “all dependence upon state power.” Our Lord’s weapons, this mother of all southern presbyteries, stated, “are spiritual and were only designed to have influence on the judgment and heart of man.” Biblical Christianity will continue to prevail and flourish in the greatest purity by its own native excellence and under the all-disposing providence of God, as it was the case in the days of the apostles.
Then, they humbly petitioned their civil counterparts by saying, “we ask no ecclesiastical establishments for ourselves, nor can we approve of them when granted to others.” In other words, let there be no state or national church in this new republic, such was the case in England, and for that matter, in Virginia up to this time, where Anglicanism was the religion of the state. ”Let all laws,” they said in their appeal to the General Assembly as it met for the first time, “which countenance religious domination be speedily repealed, that all of every religious sect may be protected in the full exercise of their several modes of worship.” Every church then “will be left to stand or fall according to merit, which can never be the case so long as any one denomination is established in preference to others.”
This was the full meaning of the separation of church and state in the early days of our country. These early Presbyterians did not desire that Presbyterianism be the religion of the new land. But neither did they desire that any other denomination have the priority in America. Let there be a separation of church and state.
Words to live by: In our day and age, this separation of church and state has been misinterpreted to mean the separation of God and state. So there is a constant effort to erase any mention of the God of the Bible from our local, state, and national arenas of life. From the removal of the Ten Commandments in monuments to the hindrance of placing cradles of the baby Jesus at Christmas time on courtyards to religious jewelry like crosses being forbidden by workers — all this is being done supposedly on the basis of the separation of church and state. Christians must be vocal in denouncing such opposition and correcting the misinterpreting of the slogan in the minds and hearts of America. Let us not be silent in this. We must be more theologically correct than politically correct.