Church and State in Scripture


In a conversation with a friend about the translation of the 8th Ishraq (discussed here), I realised that he thought the whole question of the Bahai teachings on church and state hinged in some way on doubtful matters: on the translation of the Ishraqat, on whether the words “the consummate union and blending of church and state” had interpolated into a report of Abdu’l-Baha’s words, (See the entry ‘A consummate union’), and such like.

Nothing could be further from the truth: the separation of Church and State does not depend on a single verse of Bahai scripture, it is one of the core principles of the Faith, stated in various terms by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. It is often included (as ‘non-interference in politics’) in the various lists of the 10 or 12 essential Bahai principles. But the separation of Church and State is not just a Bahai teaching, it is solidly rooted in the Abrahamic tradition, from the days of Kings and Prophets to today. In the New Testament we find Christ saying:

Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s. (Luke 20:25)

The Christian teaching also does not rest on a single verse. When Christ is tempted, the second temptation is worldly power (Luke 4:5). At his trial, Christ declares “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). In the Epistle to the Romans we read “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God..” (13:1) The letter to Titus (3:1) and the first letter to Peter counsel obedience to magistrates and governors.

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