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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Religious. By a religious establishment is generally understood such an intimate connection between religion and civil government as is supposed to secure the best interests and great end of both. this article, like many others, has afforded matter of considerable dispute. In order that the reader may judge for himself, we shall take a view of both sides of the question. The partisans for religious establishments observe, that they have prevailed universally in every age and nation. The ancient patriarchs formed no extensive or permanent associations but such as arose from the relationships of nature. Every father governed his own family, and their offspring submitted to his jurisdiction. He presided in their education and discipline, in their religious worship, and in their general government. His knowledge and experience handed down to them their laws and their customs, both civil and religious; and his authority enforced them. The offices of prophet, priest, and king, were thus united in the same patriarch, Genesis 18:19 . Genesis 17:21 : Genesis 14:18 . The Jews enjoyed a religious establishment dictated and ordained by God.

In turning our attention to the heathen nations we shall find the same incorporation of religious with civil government, Genesis 47:22 . 2 Kings 17:27; 2 Kings 17:29 . Every one who is at all acquainted with the history of Greece and Rome, knows that religion was altogether blended with the policy of the state. The Koran may be considered as the religious creed and civil code of all the Mahometan tribes. Among the Celtes, or the original inhabitants of Europe, the druids were both their priests and their judges, and their judgment was final. Among the Hindoos, the priests and sovereigns are of different tribes or casts, but the priests are superior in rank; and in China, the emperor is sovereign pontiff, and presides in all public acts of religion. Again; it is said, that, although there is no form of church government absolutely prescribed in the New Testament, yet from the associating law, on which the Gospel lays so much stress, by the respect for civil government it so earnestly enjoins, and by the practice which followed, and finally prevailed, Christians cannot be said to disapprove, but to favour religious establishments.

Religious establishments, also, it is observed, and founded in the nature of man, and interwoven with all the constituent principles of human society: the knowledge and profession of Christianity cannot be upheld without a clergy; a clergy cannot be supported without a legal provision; and a legal provision for the clergy cannot be constituted without the preference of one sect of Christians to the rest. An established church is most likely to maintain clerical respectability and usefulness, by holding out a suitable encouragement to young men to devote themselves early to the service of the church; and likewise enables them to obtain such knowledge as shall qualify them for the important work. They who reason on the contrary side observe, that the patriarchs sustaining civil as well as religious offices, is no proof at all that religion was incorporated with the civil government, in the sense above referred to; nor is there the least hint of it in the sacred Scriptures. That the case of the Jews can never be considered in point, as they were under a theocracy, and a ceremonial dispensation that was to pass away, and consequently not designed to be a model for Christian nations. That whatever was the practice of heathens in this respect, this forms no argument in favour of that system which is the very opposite to paganism.

The church of Christ is of a spiritual nature, and ought not, yea cannot, in fact, be incorporated with the state without sustaining material injury. In the three first and purest ages of Christianity, the church was a stranger to any alliance with temporal powers; and, so far from needing their aid, religion never flourished so much as while they were combined to suppress it. As to the support which Christianity, when united to civil government yields to the peace and good order of society, it is observed, that this benefit will be derived from it, at least, in as great a degree without an establishment as with it. Religion, if it have any power, operates on the conscience of men; and, resting solely on the belief of invisible realities, it can derive no weight or solemnity from human sanctions. Human establishments, it is said, have been, and are, productive of the greatest evils; for in this case it is requisite to give the preference to some particular system; and as the magistrate is no better judge of religion than others, the chances are as great of his lending his sanction to the false as the true. The thousands that have been persecuted and suffered in consequence of establishments, will always form an argument against them. Under establishments also, it is said, corruption cannot be avoided.

Emolument must be attached to the national church, which may be a strong inducement to its ministers to defend it, be it ever so remote from the truth. Thus, also, error becomes permanent; and that set of opinions which happens to prevail when the establishment is formed, continues, in spite of superior light and improvement, to be handed down, without alteration, from age to age. Hence the disagreement between the public creed of the church and the private sentiments of its ministers. As to the provision made for the clergy, this may be done without an establishment, as matter of fact shows in hundreds of instances. Dissenting ministers, or those who do not hold in establishments, it is observed are not without means of obtaining knowledge; but, on the contrary, many of them are equal to their brethren in the establishment for erudition and sound learning. It is not to be dissembled neither, that among those who, in general, cannot agree with human establishments, there are as pious and as useful members of society as others. Finally, though all Christians should pay respect to civil magistrates as such, and all magistrates ought to encourage the church, yet no civil magistrates have any power to establish any particular form of religion, binding upon the consciences of the subject; nor are magistrates even represented in scripture as officers or rulers of the church. Should the reader be desirous of prosecuting this subject farther, he may consult Wurburton's Alliance between Church and State; Christie's Essay on Establishments; Paley's Mor. Php 5: 2). 100: 10; Bishop Law's Theory of religion; Watts's Civil Power in things sacred, third volume of his works; Hall's Liberty of the Press, sec. 5; Mrs. H. More's Hints on forming the Character of a young Princess, vol. 2: p. 350; but especially Ranken and Graham's pieces on the subject; the former for, and the latter against establishments.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Establishments'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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