Erastian View?

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by Pilgrim Pastor, Apr 16, 2013.

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  1. Pilgrim Pastor

    Pilgrim Pastor Puritan Board Freshman

    I was on the website of the RPCGA tonight & read this on that site: "(we) reject the modern day Erastian teaching of Church Incorporation."

    Can someone tell me what that means?
  2. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Basically it means that RPCGA churches are not incorporated as 501whatevers with the civil government as most churches are.
  3. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    One would have to redefine "Erastianism" to make it apply to nothing more than the external relationship by which the church and its patrimony is identified by the government. Only where the external relationship concedes to the government the right to require terms and conditions of office-bearers would "Erastianism" be an appropriate title. But then, "Reformed Presbyterians" have tended to work within very narrow views of the relationship between Church and State.
  4. Pilgrim Pastor

    Pilgrim Pastor Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks. I wasn't sure what they meant by incorporation; their status with the state or with one another.
  5. John Lanier

    John Lanier Puritan Board Junior

    I wish more churches and denominations adopted this view on incorporation.
  6. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    The notion of Erastus was that ecclesiastical government is vested in the civil magistrate, and that the final excommunication can only be done by an act of civil power.

    However, the generic notion of Erastianism (as many use the term) is any arrangement in which the civil power takes unwarranted jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical power.

    Incorporation, in American Law, means that a thing is created by the legislature of a particular state, and can be terminated by the same. It also means that whatever entity is thus created is therefore under the "law of the creator." In the instance of incorporation, a "church" would be created by the state, governed by the state, and subject to its requirements. Whether or not that is Erastianism in the most narrow sense is a matter for debate, but certainly it is in the broader acceptation of the term.

  7. John Lanier

    John Lanier Puritan Board Junior

    Also, to be consistent, those who hold the unincorporated view should not take tax deductions from money donated to the church. :2cents:
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2013
  8. Pilgrim Pastor

    Pilgrim Pastor Puritan Board Freshman

    Very interesting. I've long had a sort of uneasiness about incorporation but this is the first instance where I have seen that uneasiness articulated by a denomination, albeit a very small one, and given a place within a theological framework. I wrote to the RPCGA and received this back from the moderator of one of their presbyteries:

    "Although there are different understandings and applications of the Erastian principle, it is essentially summed up in larger than Biblical role of the civil magistrate in things pertaining to the Church. At its most extreme form, the officers of the state are by virtue of their state capacities officers in the Church, and possess the power of the keys.

    In our day, we deny the right of the state to create churches via incorporation. Our laws do not require incorporation as a 501C3 in order to receive tax-deductible donations. The tax code is written such that churches, by virtue of being churches are non-profit and therefore contributions to them are tax-deductible.

    Incorporation as a part of a Church's constitution represents, to our thinking, the accession of a constitutive authority regarding churches to the federal government that it does not have.

    Our BCO gives a little more detail on this matter. See B2:2 inclusive, B10:12

    I hope this answers your question. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me."
  9. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    It is not Erastianism in any sense of the term. On the definition you have provided you would have to blacken the name of the Church of Scotland with Erastianism in even its best days. To the contrary, the most vehement of anti-Erastian divines accepted the power of civil government concerning the outward state of the church. As stated in the 111 Propositions of George Gillespie, "the power politic or civil is occupied about the outward man, and civil or earthly things, -- about war, peace, conservation of justice, and good order in the commonwealth; also about the outward business or external things of the church, which are indeed necessary to the church, or profitable, as touching the outward man, yet not properly and purely spiritual, for they do not reach unto the soul, but only to the external state and condition of the ministers and members of the church." The same principle is explained and defended in Aaron's Rod Blossoming, pp. 121-124.

    One must distinguish between Establishmentarianism and Erastianism. It is simply bad historical theology to conflate the two.
  10. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I can understand disagreement on whether incorporation as the US practices it today contains any elements that could be considered Erastian or not, but since the RPCGA is an Establishmentarian denomination (confessing the original 1647 WCF), it can hardly be said to conflate Establishmentarianism and Erastianism.
  11. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    One might expect an establishmentarian to know the difference, but if the quotation included in the OP is the judgment of the denomination then it would appear the denomination has already decided that church incorporation is Erastian by default, and therefore fails to make the distinction.
  12. louis_jp

    louis_jp Puritan Board Freshman

    Could you explain what that actually means? It seems to me that every church, regardless of whether or not it is incorporated, is subject to the laws of the state. Your building has to comply with the state building code, for example, and you are prohibited from engaging in any activities deemed by the state to be illegal, just as anyone else would be. And while the state may create and regulate the corporate form, that is incidental to the church as a church.
  13. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor


    In American law, the state creates the corporation, and the corporation is its creature:

    City of New York v. Bryan (1909) 130 App. Div. 658, 115 N.Y. Supp. 551

    Corporate status is not "obeying the law," it is a voluntary measure to be created by the state.
  14. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    Rev. Winzer, are you stating that the Church of Scotland was a creature of the state?

  15. louis_jp

    louis_jp Puritan Board Freshman

    Adam, that is talking about the corporate form, not the church itself. One has to distinguish between the two. Our church was not incorporated, then it was, then it wasn't again. The state created and then destroyed the corporation, but the church itself existed before and after all of that without any essential change.
  16. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I always interpreted the statement as a reference to incorporation specifically as it is practiced in the US today with all the baggage that comes with that (e.g., the prohibition of an incorporated church endorsing a political candidate and the idea that the state creates the corporation). I may be wrong in my interpretation, and if so, it would not be the first time I would have to disagree with my denomination on something. But it seems to me as of now that there are valid reasons to avoid incorporation as the US currently practices it, with the understanding that it entails more control over the church than is properly establishmentarian and thus some might call it "Erastian" in perhaps an admittedly loose sense of the word.
  17. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    No, not at all. Legal identity for taxation purposes, holding property, etc., is an ordinance of man, and the church has valid reasons for submitting to the ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, 1 Peter 2:13.

    Alexander Nisbet: "Hence learn, [1.] The Lord is graciously pleased to call for respect at the hands of His people, toward those who carry no respect to Him, that thereby he may either gain such to his obedience or heap coals of fire upon their heads: for He is here calling for submission and obedience unto heathen magistrates at the hands of His people, Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man. [2.] Although civil magistracy be a divine ordinance in regard it is of God’s appointment, Prov. 8:15, yet it is here called a human ordinance in regard it is mainly exercised about human affairs, and for the good of human society as such, in regard the particular terms thereof are left to be determined by men, as was touched upon in the Exposition, and in some cases may be altered by them. In all which respects it differs from that spiritual government which Christ has established in His house, this being wholly about spiritual affairs, 2 Cor. 10:8, the particular form thereof determined by Jesus Christ in His Word, and never to be altered in any place of the world, Eph. 4:11,12,13; for civil government for the fore-mentioned respects, as also to difference it from the ecclesiastic, is here called an ordinance of man. [3.] Not only private Christians, but also the public ministers of Christ and all ranks of professors of His Name are bound to give submission and obedience in things lawful, to lawful magistrates, though they prove enemies to religion, under whose dominion God’s providence has cast their lot..."
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2013
  18. Pilgrim Pastor

    Pilgrim Pastor Puritan Board Freshman

    This is fascinating & I'm vey glad I brought it up! I would like submit this question within the context if this discussion:

    When I first entered full time pastoral ministry I had a couple who wanted to marry ask me if I would marry them apart from any state legal matters. He had past debt (that he considered unfair taxation from when he lived in MA) that he wanted to keep her separate from. They were both believers & didn't want to merely cohabitants.

    I ask the advice of some colleagues about doing a "Covenant Wedding" purely religious ceremony with no marriage license. Of 5 pastors asked 4 strongly advised I not do it while 1 said go ahead. My question was "why do I need state permission to marry two Christians who are both single, committed, but merely prefer to keep the state out of their business? Who gives authority & validity to the marriage? God, through His Church or men through legal entities?"

    Are they not two separate issues? Is their not a very similar thought running at the heart of this matter?
  19. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    This new question really has nothing to do with the RPCGA's position on incorporation, in my opinion. We are not as a denomination opposed to the civil government recognizing marriages. How else can adultery be punished or custody disputes settled? In any case, this merits its own thread.

    Again, the RPCGA is an Establishmentarian denomination, so even if you disagree with the statement about incorporation, nevertheless the position does not proceed from any desire to keep the civil government from establishing the true religion and being nursing fathers to the Church. My church prays for those things every Lord's Day.
  20. Pilgrim Pastor

    Pilgrim Pastor Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't mean in the context of the RPCGA; just in the context of the civil magistrate / church autonomy discussion. Nevermind. :p
  21. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I didn't mean to pour water on your question. I was just trying to avoid potential confusion between the RPCGA's position on church incorporation and views which hold marriage to be a "church thing", which we do not hold. It is certainly a fair question, but I do think you'd get more helpful responses if you gave it its own thread. Just my unsolicited opinion. :)
  22. Pilgrim Pastor

    Pilgrim Pastor Puritan Board Freshman

    No worries. I'm easy. I actually thought I ought to do exactly that too... Blessings!
  23. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    The prohibition on partisan political activity derives from the tax law, and applies equally to incorporated and unincorporated bodies that wish the tax advantages. It has nothing to do with state laws on incorporation.
  24. markkoller

    markkoller Puritan Board Freshman

    It is interesting that the Federal Government recognizes the status of churches whether they are incorporated or non-incorporated. This makes me think the incorporation issue is not so much about "creating" the church as it is with simple legal identity. In other words, it is not for the purposes of ecclesiastical identity since the state does not have the authority to grant those things. While I do see the whole incorporation thingy as suspicious, I don't think its particularly Erastian, nor do I think it is proper to pass judgment upon those churches that have chosen to become incorporated. Overall, the whole relationship between the church and state is messed up in this country anyway.

    It would seem to me that those who are truly Establishmentarian would have no problem with incorporation, but thats just me. Besides, I know that most churches who refuse to incorporate will still register with the government in some way when they file for a tax ID number. If it was all about not needing the Government to give authority in these matters, why register at all?
  25. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Agreed. And extending it further, a church may incorporate for the state law protection against liability imputed to individual members without applying to the IRS for 501(c)(3) status. The state has no authority to control the corporate entity’s internal operations unless those operation violate some law (like using the façade of a church to manufacture illegal drugs).

    And there is nothing about corporate law that stops an incorporated (or unincorporated) church from holding political rallies or preaching for or against particular political candidates. If you do that, you simply become a non tax exempt organization and need to report income and account for expenditures.

    In other words, incorporating is neutral with regard to what a church can do, but it does provide protection to individual members should a visitor slip and fall on church – owned property.

    (Edited to add: of course, if you are claiming to operate a non-profit corporation under state law and you instead are operating something else, like a for-profit business, you ought to expect the state to do something along the lines of dissolving your corporation and penalizing you, but that would be for lying).
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2013
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