Sub-Christian Nationalism? (Part 20)

Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the Statement appears most clearly in its final article, “On ‘Neutrality’ and the Separation of Church and State.”

WE AFFIRM that the Church and the state each possess their own sphere of influence. For example, church officials ought not to write or enforce civil laws in their capacity as church officials, and civil officials ought not to administer church ordinances or dictate doctrine in their capacity as civil officials, even while both spheres are under the absolute authority of Christ.

WE DENY that the separation of authority between the Church and the State means there must be a separation of God and the state. We further deny that there can ever be a separation between religion and state, as everyone possesses views about ultimate reality, purpose, and cause, which inform their morality and preferred policies. We deny the idea that a nation’s laws do not impose morality and religion.

Scripture: Matthew 12:30.

The framers of the Statement have confused theology and politics. Further, they seem seriously confused about the constitution (not the document but the customs and practice) of the United States and the meaning of Matthew 12:30.

Though I have mostly ignored their appeals to Scripture, this case is too egregious to ignore, and the abuse of Holy Scripture by the framers of the Statement illustrates the absence of scriptural evidence for their position.

Matthew 12:30 says, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who gathers not with me, scatters.”1 Their invocation of this passage is evidence that they have confused the spiritual question with the political. They seem to assume that the spiritual is the political, and then invoke this verse in support.2 In context, Matthew 12 begins by showing that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1–14). The point is that the Yahweh who instituted the Sabbath in creation and at Sinai is here, incarnate, and demonstrating the true intent of the Sabbath. That is why he plucked grain on the Sabbath and healed the man with the withered hand. The Pharisees had made a complete mess of the Sabbath. They took the creational and biblical doctrine of the Sabbath as an opportunity to assert their control over the lives of the intertestamental Jewish church.

Next, in Matthew 12:15–21, Matthew shows that Jesus is the Servant of Isaiah 42:1–3. Then our Lord demonstrated the power of the kingdom of God by delivering a man from a demon (Matt 12:22–32). It is in this context that Christ declared that whoever is not with him is against him. The allegiance for which he was calling in Matthew 12:30 had to do with recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit. The context is the Holy Spiritual kingdom, not the political kingdom. Jesus did not invoke Caesar. He did not need the help of the magistrate to deliver the man from the demon or heal the man with the withered hand. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and his Word is powerful and effective. He speaks reality into existence. What he says happens. His Spirit works through his Word. These things are utterly distinct from the magistrate.

Remarkably, the framers of the Statement chose to cite John 18:36 once in the document, under article IX on Spheres of Authority—but they do not address it here. For the sake of accuracy and understanding, let us consider John 18:36 in its context (vv. 33–40):

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Unlike Matthew 12, the context here touches directly the issues raised by the Statement. Pilate wants to know if Jesus of Nazareth has come to establish a rival political government. That is the import of the question, “Are you the King of the Jews”? Jesus’ reply is that yes, he is the King of the Jews (and the Gentiles, for that matter), but he adds that it is not in the way Pilate was thinking.

Some of those pagan Romans who knew about Christianity did worry that it posed a political risk to Roman political control of Judea. They need not have worried. Jesus says to Pilate that his kingdom is not the sort of kingdom about which Pilate or Caesar needed to worry. Christ’s kingdom is not temporal. His citizens have a twofold citizenship. Their polity is “in heaven” (Phil 3:20). This is the force of Jesus’ statement, “My kingdom is not of this world.” We may be sure what he intended to say since he explained it. Were it political, were it temporal, his servants would be taking up the sword and engaging in revolution but his kingdom is not that sort of kingdom and therefore his servants are not fighting. As revolutionary as Christian truth is, Christians are not socio-political revolutionaries. Jesus told Pilate (and us) why he came: “to bear witness to the truth.” Pilate understood, to some degree, what Jesus meant. That is why he decided Jesus was no political threat. Pilate was a cynic and a hack, but he was not an idiot.

The framers, however, are not as astute as Pilate, and they do not seem to understand our Lord’s words well at all. Thus, they port into Matthew 12:30, which is about the spiritual antithesis, their political antithesis. The effect of citing Matthew 12:30 in this article is to suggest a sort of political Manichaeism: one is either with Christian Nationalism or one is opposed to Christ.

Well, judging by the words of Jesus (and his apostles), read in their context, we need not indulge in political Manichaeism. We need only to distinguish between the spiritual antithesis and the political community. It is true that Christians interpret the significance of the world radically differently from the way pagans do, but this did not mean to Christ or to his apostles that we cannot live cheek-by-jowl with them. We may and we must. We see the world very differently than our unbelieving neighbors, but we live in the same world. We live in the same political community and under the same laws, provided that those laws do not contradict the moral law of God (Acts 5:29).

Formally, I agree with the affirmation of article XX. Church and state do possess their own spheres of authority (not mere influence). The institutional church does not legislate secular, civil laws, and the state does not legislate ecclesiastical laws. Both spheres are under the authority of Christ; but, as to the substantial issues, there is a genuine difference. As I have explained elsewhere, the pre-theocratic Christians understood the distinction between the two spheres.3 Justin Martyr said explicitly that Christians obey the secular Roman laws more faithfully than the Romans do.4 The laws we refused to obey, often at the cost of our lives, were the Roman religious laws. Recently, in this very space, I published a series on this, at the heart of which was an explanation of how Calvin distinguished between the two spheres.5 We have always recognized the spiritual distinction between belief and unbelief, but we have not translated that into the sort of political Manichaeism proposed by the Statement. For Calvin, Christ is Lord over both spheres, but he administers them very differently—so much so that Calvin could say, “There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority.”6

This brings us to this article’s denials and the bogeyman of “neutrality.” As Caspar Olevianus explained in 1576, “It is certain that there are two spiritual kingdoms, even in this world: the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. Every person necessarily belongs to one or the other here in this life.”7 So, there is no spiritual neutrality. As a matter of politics, however, there is and must be a kind of neutrality.

The American experiment holds that those who have genuine, deeply held, theological and religious differences can nevertheless coexist and even flourish in a commonwealth as long as we do not ask the state to pick religious winners and losers. Thus, the framers of the Declaration of Independence—among whom there were serious theological disagreements (e.g., Jefferson was a deist and Witherspoon was a devout Presbyterian)—were able to frame a secular political system under God (“. . .endowed by their Creator”), where they were intentionally vague about the referent of the word God (Jefferson and Witherspoon understood the significance of “Creator” quite differently) and expected the state to remain neutral in that debate.

Christians believe that there is no spiritual neutrality, even as American Christians have always held that we want the magistrate to remain religiously neutral. American citizens are allowed to think of God as they will, and the state has nothing to say about it. The state may not legislate (either in the legislature or by policy) for or against Christian theism or Jeffersonian deism or even atheism.

Thus, there not only can be a separation of religion and state, there must be if America is to continue as founded. One of the great evils of the late modern period is that neo-pagans of various sorts seek to use the levers of state power to impose their religion on the rest of us (e.g., their sexual ideology, their environmental ideology, their pantheism, etc.). The answer to the pagans of our day is not to fight theocratic fire with theocratic fire but to insist that we be Americans.

It is a fact that everyone operates on the basis of convictions about “ultimate reality, purpose, and cause” (art. XX), but it does not follow that therefore the state cannot be religiously neutral. When the Statement says, “We deny the idea that a nation’s laws do not impose morality and religion,” they are right and wrong. We Americans have agreed to live together according to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” These laws are observable by rational persons. To be sure, there seem to be a good number of irrational people making irrational laws and policies; but the American system assumes the existence of basic rationality, the universality of sense experience (e.g., that we all experience red in a sufficiently similar way as to be able to regulate traffic), and the universality of human political experience. There is plenty of experience to suggest that those who deny there is such a thing as nature, natural laws, or universal sense experience do not live according to their creed. They stop at the same red stop signs as do Christian theists, and that is because they perceive red the same way theists do. Christians and agnostics can argue the epistemological issues (how we know what we know), but so long as the agnostics and atheists stop at red lights and red stop signs, for the purposes of secular government, that is all that really matters. As Calvin explained in Institutes 3.15.19, secular government is only concerned to regulate external behavior.

The morality that Americans have agreed to codify is that morality which can be demonstrated from nature. It is demonstrable from nature (e.g., reason) that murder is a violation of the social contract. The state has an inherent interest in the preservation of life. If we were allowed to murder each other with impunity, soon there would be no citizens left to compose a state. Evidently, deists and Christians can agree that all humans are created equal before the law (not that we are guaranteed equal outcomes or “equity”). As I argued in the previous installment, there is a strong argument from natural law against abortion and there are equally strong arguments from natural law against same-sex marriage. It is no accident that it was only after the onset of radical postmodern nominalism that the Supreme Court was about to cobble together a fictive basis (consent and affection) for same-sex marriage. What the court did in Obergefell (as in Roe and Doe) was to legislate from the bench beyond laws grounded in nature and reflected in the Constitution. Nature provides no warrant for same-sex marriage. Human procreation, in which the state has a natural interest, requires two sexes. The formula on which the court relied in Obergefell, as was indicated in some of the dissents, will eventually license even greater abominations until the silliness of the decision is evident to even the dullest of American citizens.

Every person has ultimate convictions, but Americans are not asking the state to adjudicate ultimate questions. We ask the magistrate to adjudicate proximate questions. The Statement ignores this distinction. Consider the basketball referee. What do we ask the referee to decide? Who touched the ball last before it went out of bounds. That is a matter of sense experience. We ask the umpire to call balls and strikes. These are proximate questions. The genius of the American system is that we found a way to exclude the magistrate from ultimate questions. By denying the distinction between ultimate and proximate, the framers of the Statement have taken away with the left hand what they gave with the right, that is, the distinction between spheres.

Ultimately, natural law is not spiritually neutral.8 Natural law is God’s law. Natural law testifies to the God who is, the God who spoke into nothing and made all that is (Gen 1:1). It is one thing to affirm, as we must, the antithesis between belief and unbelief as a theological and spiritual matter, and another to bootstrap that distinction to the secular political order to turn a secular government—a referee—into a theocracy.


  1. “ὁ μὴ ὢν μετʼ ἐμοῦ κατʼ ἐμοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ μὴ συνάγων μετʼ ἐμοῦ σκορπίζει” (NA 28). My translation.
  2. Formally, the Christian Nationalists seem to be arguing like the Marxists, for whom everything is political.
  3. See R. Scott Clark, “Another Way To Respond To Satanists And Other Pagans (Part 1).”
  4. See R. Scott Clark, “Another Way To Respond To Satanists And Other Pagans (Part 2).
  5. See R. Scott Clark, “Distinguishing Spheres Affirms Christ’s Lordship Over All Things (Part 3).”
  6. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. F. L. Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.19.15.
  7. Caspar Olevianus, An Exposition of the ApostlesCreed, trans. Lyle D. Bierma, Classic Reformed Theology series, ed. R. Scott Clark (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009), 9.
  8. See R. Scott Clark, “Natural is Not Neutral.”

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  1. All well and good, but I still have some questions.

    What is Christian nationalism? Does it mean that only WASP descendants will be full citizens? Count me out. Does it mean that the civil magistrate should recognize he is subject to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and must one day give account? Count me in.

    Yes, our ultimate citizenship is in Heaven. But we are called to be stewards, salt, and light in this world in all spheres in the meantime. Jesus said that all authority in Heaven and on earth is his. This means that we are in very grave danger if we excuse the civil ruler from honoring Christ and his word.

    Further, in these less-United States, we are fast approaching the point where the radical separationists (in US Constitutional law) will leave us Christians nothing but our prayer closets, and think themselves generous, all while believing in their hearts of hearts that “the personal is political”. I pray that God will not enter into such a judgment with His servants, but I fear that we may have no Benedict Option (our cultured despisers are less and less willing for us to take it as an alternative to a complete prostration before their Ba’alim), but must turn to the Sea Beggar and 1638 Covenanter options.

    And I am far from happy or expectant in saying this.

  2. Little has been written about the coming clash between Catholic Christian nationalists and Protestant Christian nationalists. Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Kevin Roberts of the Heritage Foundation are right-wing extremists Catholics. The Supreme Court ia controlled by right-wing extremists Catholics. On the Protestant side are Stephen Wolfe and TheoBros, and scores of Baptists, Pentecostals, and New Apostolic Reformation types.

    People focus on government in separation of church and state and ignore a major reason the Founders established separation of church and state: to avoid the religious wars of Europe.

    • A conflict between Protestant and Catholic Christian nationalists is certainly possible. However, my read is that enough of the Protestants came to their views via D. James Kennedy, Schaeffer and Kuyper, and enough of the Catholics have absorbed the “Christian Democratic” ideals of Europe which are rooted in a Catholic version of Kuyper’s views on cooperation between Protestants and Catholics in the civil realm, that outright conflict beyond the level of routine theological disagreement seems unlikely.

      At the level of the laity, cooperation in the pro-life movement goes back two generations now and it would be hard for theologians to get the average Catholic traditionalist or evangelical Protestant upset enough about their respective doctrines to break longstanding ties of cooperation.

      Yes, I read some of the hard-right “Catholic integralists,” some of whom argue medieval concepts such as monarchy being superior to republics. That wing of Catholic traditionalism is resurrecting an older Catholic debate that predates the Christian Democratic ideals; we had it in our own Anglo-American tradition with English monarchs four centuries ago arguing “no bishops, no king.” I don’t see that group as having any serious influence in the United States, though it is a real issue in Europe where monarchialism is a component of some types of traditionalism and actively advocated by some Christian conservatives.

      My view is that spending very much time around the modern European nobility is a good way for conservative Christians to see why republics are superior to hereditary aristocracies of any form, whether traditional monarchies of Europe or other forms of rule based on something other than selection by merit with (at minimum) popular consent.

      • Schaeffer and Kuyper were not christian nationalist, so I’m confused how people who appreciated their work ended up as Christian nationalists.


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