A Tale of Two Governments: Church Discipline, The Courts, And the Separation of Church and State by Robert J. Renaud & Lael D. Weinberger
The separation of church and state is often a widely misunderstood and misapplied idea by media, the news, and people in the pews. In their new book, A Tale of Two Governments, law graduates Robert J. Renaud and Lael D. Weinberger bring clarity to the issues revolving church and state and focus directly on church discipline. In the introduction, the authors bring to the page the clear conception of separation of church and state by writing, “Separation of church and state, at its most basic, simply means that the church and state are separate and distinct institutions” (13). This teaching is not the excision of God from the realm of civil government nor is it the state mandating a particular religious faith but identification that separate institutions have different goals and purposes. Taking cues from history, theology and practical judicial guidance, Renaud and Weinberger make a strong case for the legitimacy of church and state being separated. The subsequent chapters in the book relate to three areas of study: theology and history of church and state, law of church today, and right discipline in the church today.
The dearth of material on the development of church/state relations provided by the authors was helpful in understanding the issue not as an American one, but as a global phenomenon. Taking one of their cues from Michael McConnell, a distinguished legal scholar, they write, “…when a state is forced to recognize that the church possesses legitimate and distinct authorities, totalitarianism is thwarted” (19). Looking to the work of Kuyper to bolster their argument, Renaud and Weinberger see the mutually limiting effect of the two institutions, State and Church. The King of the Church is not the head of the State and the Head of the State in one sense is not the King of the Church. Why is totalitarianism then thwarted? Because, in effect, the boundaries that inherently reside in each institution provide a safeguard against the other institutions stepping over their boundaries and wielding unwavering power. For the church, this is a key reminder that the State is not to muddy its hands in issues of a moral or religious stance in the confines of the God ordained church order of government.
In chapter7 the authors delineate key points regarding who is protected by the rule of church autonomy. What was most helpful here was the distinction between court cases involving doctrine, moral living, excommunication and property issues. In one case regarding a breakdown of a marriage and a pastor, “the Texas Supreme court wrote, “The right of a church to decide for itself whom it may admit into fellowship or who shall be expelled or excluded from its fold cannot be questioned by the courts, when no civil or property rights are involved” (87). The church draws up its own governing church discipline routines drawn from Matthew 18, and therefore, should not be told how to govern its parishioners. The difference here is between cases regarding doctrine, ethics and other matters pertaining to church teaching and those cases related to property rights, including civil issues. While this does give the church protection from the state’s intervention into church matters, it also protects the church from itself, in seeking to prosecute matters that are of property matters.
This book provides wonderful resources in helping people understand church discipline and the role state/church in matters of judicial affairs. Drawing from the rich historical resources of the church, from Augustine to Calvin, Bucer to the Pilgrims, this book is a great wealth of information. More than that, this book provides valuable wisdom for the church in relationship to judicial procedures.
I heartily recommend this book and hope it give readers great encouragement regarding these issues.
Thanks to Robert J. Renaud and Dunrobin Publishing for the review copy in exchange for review.