The Establishment Principle is that biblical principle which states that God is sovereign over secular and ecclesiastical affairs, and that He has established a relationship between these two sovereign spheres in which the state and the church are to acknowledge each other as divinely-appointed institutions, to mutually support and encourage each other, but not to interfere in each other’s God-given province. Instead of earthly rulers resisting Christ and His church, they should be supporting it (Psalm 2).
This church-state relationship has had a rocky history in world affairs. The balance of power between each sphere has swayed backwards and forwards over the centuries. In England the current relationship is Erastian (the state having ultimate authority), while in Scotland the correct balance, developed during the 16th-century Reformation and 17th-century Covenanting period, has been altered in recent centuries by the 1843 Disruption and the growth of the Voluntary Principle (the current American model) in which the church and state are considered to be so separate that the modern ungodly mantra “religion and politics don’t mix” prevails.
The Establishment Principle anticipated Abraham Kuyper’s ‘sphere sovereignty’ and political corporatism in its modern form. The 16th-century Reformation broke the all-prevailing Roman Catholic papal control of life in Europe, the 17th-century English civil war broke royal power over the life of the nation in favour of the more balanced royal rule through parliament and the 19th-century Scottish Disruption (with its effect on worldwide Presbyterianism) broke political control on the lives on ordinary people and began the modern civil rights movement, but without the bloodshed of more secular attempts to secure civil rights.
Since the 19th century, the concept of ‘established churches’ in Scotland and England has been modified and broadened. The new concept manifests itself in various extra-ecclesiastical appointments such as school chaplains and religious representatives on local authority education committees, who now include personnel from more than the Church of Scotland and the Church of England. Prayers in the Westminster Parliament and Time for Reflection in the Scottish Parliament are further remnants and reminders of the Establishment Principle.
However in recent decades a new form of ‘establishment’ is growing up in Britain. The national churches in Scotland and England are in decline and being challenged by the multifaith agenda in the name of multiculturalism. Thus Time for Reflection is multicultural and whereas atheists do not consider themselves to be religious, their representatives in the National Secular Society are pressing to be included in these ‘slots’ devoted to religious reflection. Secular religion is on the march.
School children will be subjected to the politically correct theology of the increasingly secularised establishment and school chaplains will peddle it. Hospital chaplaincies are slowly asserting their authority over other forms of Christianity, and the London Olympics 2012 had a multifaith team of chaplains on hand, while the Christian Lord’s Day was brushed aside for the London Olympics with a swipe of the Chancellor of Exchequer George Osborne’s hand. He followed this through in 2015 to the detriment of shop-workers and the spiritual good of the nation.
Just as important, we have no guarantee that the Christian constitution of Scotland will be safeguarded if Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. Such is the aggressive antichristian fervour in Scotland at present that a divisive independence Referendum is likely to be followed by a similarly divisive attempt to give Scotland a multifaith, multicultural or even a secular constitution. This shows the extent to which the Establishment Principle has been eroded, as Christian principles have been leached away from public life by those who do not know how to protect them far less to promote them.
Christians should take note of this new religious establishment being developed as the new “state religion” for our country. It is another form of Erastianism, promoted by the Erastian arrangement in England and the dogmatism of those Westminster politicians who do not understand the Establishment Principle – but it is an establishment of secular religion.
Some Christians have given up on the Establishment Principle. The Lord has not, and it is one of the main biblical principles to be recovered in the biblical Millennium and which will ensure that the Gospel continues to flourish throughout the world, to the salvation of multitudes.
30 Mar 2012: London 2012: How did the Olympics handle religion? Problems with religion at the Olympics.
24 Apr 2014: Nick Clegg wants to disestablish the Church of England. Although many commentators treated the deputy prime minister as a bit of a joke, the fact is that he has been an influential wrecker. Prior to the General Election he forced David Cameron’s hand to declare support for redefining marriage to include homosexual couples, and now he wants to unravel the Christian constitution of England and of the United Kingdom. If Christians do not act soon, it will be a hard uphill task to salvage what is being lost and squandered in the dumbing down of British society. If we organise now while we can, it will be faster and easier to recover the situation.