The experiment of greatest moment now in progress here is not popular government at all, but this, The mutual independence of Church and State. We have dissolved a partnership which for fifteen hundred years the world held sacred.
—William Reed Huntington, 1870*
On 20 June 1775, James Madison published his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments. The popular Christian leaders of his day and the predominantly Christian population must have been in a fog. It went largely unchallenged. Swayed by Madison’s persuasive rhetoric against an Establishment of Religion, they seemed oblivious to the LORD’s previously created Establishment of Religion in Israel; an establishment replete with tax support for its Levitical Priests. Granted, there was no legislated penalty for non-payment of this tax, save the national calamity that would overtake Israel through the ministry’s neglect; nevertheless, there was a blatant contradiction between Madison’s argument and Scripture. The LORD established both Government and the Church; and demonstrated no intention of splitting the two with an imagined “wall of separation.”
Madison’s “Remonstrance” was arguing against a specific piece of legislation proposed by Patrick Henry, “A Bill for Establishing A Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion.” The preamble to Henry’s Bill describes its purpose:
“Whereas the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society; which cannot be effected without a competent provision for learned teachers, who may be thereby enabled to devote their time and attention to the duty of instructing such citizens, as from their circumstances and want of education, cannot otherwise attain such knowledge; and it is judged that such provision may be made by the Legislature, without counteracting the liberal principle heretofore adopted and intended to be preserved by abolishing all distinctions of preeminence amongst the different societies or communities of Christians;”
Henry was an avid proponent of both Church and State, and was fully aware of the God-designed distinctiveness of each. Likewise, he was aware of how they mutually benefited each other. Understandably, he was alarmed by the novel political philosophy being pushed by Jefferson with help from Madison and others. Patrick Henry recognized the threat. Nonetheless, Madison’s Remonstrance won the day, and he was able to persuade the Virginia Legislature to pass Jefferson’s religious freedom act. Both Madison’s Remonstrance and Jefferson’s Act would prove highly effective toward separating church and state in the minds of their countrymen.
An immediate effect of Jefferson’s wall of separation rationale was to begin separating ministers of the Christian Religion from public support, casting them instead into the free market environment where the economic pressure to satisfy the customer would soon begin compromising the preaching of the Word of God. There would be an obvious change in the message, as Ann Douglas would later note in her book, The Feminization of American Culture: “The principle of competitive capitalism places a premium on novelty in ecclesiastical as in business affairs.” Gradually, our nation would begin to evidence the detrimental effect of a compromised prophetic ministry. The same penalty that plagued Israel for neglect of her ministers would likewise plague us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Jefferson’s wall of separation concept became a barrier separating our country from the God-ordained blessing of Christian government. Progressively, it seeped into the minds of Americans and removed the Christian moral basis for government restraint; it removed the flip-side basis for government support of the Church. Jefferson’s wall effectively silenced a prophetic ministry holding government accountable to God, as preachers began to align their ministry according to its secular-religious divide. Jefferson’s wall is a wall that needs to come down.
Lord help us tear down Jefferson’s wall.
* Quoted in Undermined Establishment by Robert T. Handy