The context of Church-State Relations

This section sets the context for testing the hypotheses. Historically, church-state relationships have been a recurring and significant source of political controversy in European states.

The outcomes of these controversies may be viewed in terms of the following taxonomy: the Erastian model, in which the state has assumed responsibility for the direction of the church; the liberal model, in which the state is secular and neutral in its relationships with the church(es) found in its society; the theocratic model, in which the church has achieved supremacy in religious and secular affairs; the spheres model, in which the church prevails in some spheres and the state in other spheres of society; and the anti-church model, in which the state stands in opposition to the church and seeks to curtail or eliminate religion.

The Erastian model. On this model, the state seeks to organize the church as a department of the state. This model is commonly associated with the Protestant German states of the Reformation.

Get quality help now
Marrie pro writer
Verified writer

Proficient in: Church

5 (204)

“ She followed all my directions. It was really easy to contact her and respond very fast as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

The Erastian model confronts the problem of internal religious change, perhaps expressed in controversies over liturgy or doctrinal controversies. From the regulatory perspective, two broad responses to internal change may be taken by the Erastian state. First, the state may simply tolerate a good deal of doctrinal variation within the church viewed as a common religious house.

Second, the state may seek to play the role of arbiter or imprimatur in determining the correctness of certain positions in theological disputes. Both positions run the risk of reduced credibility for both the church and the state.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Check writers' offers

You won’t be charged yet!

The liberal model. The liberal model argues for neutrality of the state in the affairs of churches. It conceives the state as one in which there is no privileged relationship between the state and any particular church. Although the liberal model has its origins in European thought, it may be argued that it has rarely been found in European countries.

Few European regimes have adopted neutrality as the basis for church-state regulation. The United States is often judged to be a better example than European nations of the application of the liberal tradition to church-state relations. [14] The United States also is a nation with one of the highest rates of church attendance on either side of the North Atlantic. Does the fact that the American state constructs church-state relations as a wall of separation contribute to the apparently greater American public willingness to attend church and to attach importance to religion?

Roger Finke has argued that the deregulation of churches in the United States has promoted religious individualism; that is, for an American church to survive it must attract communicants in the open market by responding to the individual’s understanding of religion as one of personal conversion. [15] The theocratic model. Here the church assumes or is given a sphere of influence that embraces both religious and secular spheres. As with the state in the Erastian model, the church is supreme and so the question of the state’s defining boundaries does not arise.

The church’s autonomy in determining public policy is not confined to its membership but embraces the broader community in which the church is located. This model may exist in regions within a state but certainly is not characteristic of nations in Europe today. The best example of a European theocracy in the last century was the Papal states in what is now modern Italy. The spheres model. This model can best be described by saying what it is not. It is not the liberal tradition or the Erastian or the theocratic.

Rather, it may be described as the situation in which the society is understood as made up of competing or perhaps complementary spheres. Conflicts between the Holy Roman Emperors and religious hierarchies often reflected this battle over spheres of autonomy. Variations of this model are found in a remarkably wide range of European nations today. These range from nations that profess to be of a certain church, to others that are critical of a specific church.

Samuel Krislov argues that the determination of boundaries between church and state is enormously difficult in any system that seeks to recognize separate spheres of responsibility between a church and a state. [16] It is probably useful to conceptualize the spheres model as a continuum. At one end are the Roman Catholic Churches in Ireland and in today’s Poland, where the sphere of church influence is quite large and embraces many areas of public policy making. At the other end of the continuum are Scandinavian churches which have narrowly-defined spheres of influence in public policy making.

The anti-church model. This final model is one in which the state is deeply critical if not in outright opposition to the church. The former regimes of Eastern Europe reflected an oppositional tradition as historically did the nineteenth and early twentieth century regimes in Mexico and in France which often sought to disestablish or to curtail church life severely. Examples of opposition include expulsion of religious orders, seizure of church resources, and prohibition of many church-sponsored activities.

Cite this page

The context of Church-State Relations. (2017, May 12). Retrieved from

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment