Densic: Render onto whom?Written by Robert Densic | | email@example.com
In the late 1800s, Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper of the Netherlands posited an organizational hierarchy now known as “Sphere Sovereignty.” Kuyper argued that every “sphere” of life (family, government, church, labor, art, individual, community, etc.) held the mark of the Creator in design and intent, and as such, each sphere should operate within their own sovereign rules and parameters. What that means in modern times is often subject to debate; however, Kuyper’s work and his sources are well worth study.
Perhaps the greatest known and most misunderstood source of sphere sovereignty may be found in a letter written in 1802 by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. In this early time of our nation, the breadth and scope of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights was untested, and unknown. The DBA and Jefferson exchange multiple letters on the subject of what it meant to have the freedom of religion. Jefferson noted, “… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Jefferson was indicating the sovereignty of God over matters of religion and faith. His attempts to assuage the fears of the religious associations were based on the social contracts as proposed in the 1600s by English philosopher and physician John Locke. Locke recognized a realm of authority for civil government, and drew a clear separation between that and the sphere of authority of “individual conscience.” In short, the state should have no authority on matters of religion as the realm of social conscience is to be determined between God and Man alone. The sphere of religion is not to be ruled by civil authority.
This concept stood in stark contrast not to the application of religion to matters of state but to the authority of state over matters of religion. From the Puritans, to the Pilgrims, individuals sought the sacred rights of conscience, traveling from land to land to find a home where they may practice religion as they chose, free from the dictates of lords and kings serving dual roles of heads of state and church. James Madison even noted the theory of sphere sovereignty would not only serve to provide religious freedom, it would strengthen both spheres. “We are teaching the world the great truth that governments do better without kings and nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of government.”
Perhaps our greatest lesson comes from history’s greatest teacher. This man taught often in the presence of the religious leaders of the time. He taught of obedience to God, and the sovereignty of God over all of the social spheres of life. His teachings were controversial. His teachings divided families, overthrew empires and cost him a painful death. The religious leaders were in fear of losing their control over the sphere of religion. As they often did, they crossed the line, attempting to use the civil authority to do what they could not do under their own.
“Teacher, is it right to pay taxes?” they asked.
The teacher replied, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me a coin used for the tax. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
“Then render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Render unto God what belongs to God.” He answered.
This lesson rings true from the teachings of Jesus Christ, through the studies of Locke, to the guarantee of freedoms within our Constitution. Our challenge is not only to remain true to the meanings and purpose of sphere sovereignty, but to recognize the sovereignty of God. No Caesar, or king, no state or country may long stand without this basic truth. As Benjamin Franklin warned his fellow founding fathers, “We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the house they labour in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
As we continue to build monuments to ourselves and our egos, and push God out of all of our spheres, we would do well to remember these words.