Ursinus On The Difference Between Church And State


The chief differences between the church and the state are the following:

1. The state is a society which is bound by certain civil laws for the maintenance of external propriety and order, according to each table of the Decalogue. The church consists of those who embrace the gospel, and observe the sacraments according to divine appointment, and is governed by the Spirit and word of God, requiring both internal and external obedience.

2. In the church there are always some holy and godly persons, which is not always true of the state.

3. There are many and different states which are distinguished from each other by locality, time and laws; neither can he who is a citizen of one state, be a citizen of another also, or of all others; nor is there any one universal state of which all others are parts. The church, however, has been, is, and ever will be, one through out all periods, and among all nations. It is for this reason called Catholic, having many parts.

4. The head of the church is one, and in heaven, which head is Christ. The different states have many kings and rulers, and these upon earth.

5. The state has magisterial authority and power to make laws, to which it becomes us to yield obedience for conscience sake. The church is restricted and tied down to the word of God, and has no power to make new articles of faith. It may, indeed, establish “rules of order and propriety, but without binding the conscience; and that not with magisterial authority, but with consent.

6. The state is armed with power to inflict punishment upon obstinate offenders, and to preserve it laws with the sword. The church has merely the sword of the word, which consists in the denunciation of the wrath of God against those who are disobedient. One and the same person, as the prophets and priests of old, may sometimes act both in a civil and ecclesiastical capacity. Hence they ought to be carefully distinguished.

Zacharius Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharius Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, 3rd American Edition. Trans. G. W. Williard (Cincinnati: T. P. Bucher ,1851), 291–92 9 (HT: Chris Smith).


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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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