Posted on Dec 10, 2012
I just took a good look through A Tale of Two Governments: Church Discipline, The Courts, and the Separation of Church and State, by Robert J. Renaud and Lael D. Weinberger. It’s a bit off my turf, but I enjoyed it, and I expect there are some readers who might want to know about it.
Written by two lawyers, the book is nicely focused on the specific question of who makes decisions for churches, the state or the church, especially with respect to church discipline, under U.S. law. The answer remains essentially as it has been since the beginning: churches have the right to conduct their own business, substantially without interference from the civil government.
About half the book is devoted to the history of the “two governments” approach as far back as Augustine. I’m more a student of history than of law, and I found this “tale” to be informative and quite fascinating. Pastors, church administrators, and church-based counselors may find the section on “How To Keep Your Church Out of Court” to be equally as interesting, or at least more practically important. The advice here reminds me of common-sense guidance I followed for Human Resource law when I was an HR director: Don’t make it up as you go, clear membership requirements, clear doctrinal basis for action, documentation, and again, common sense (biblically informed).
But I’m not a lawyer. This is off my turf, as I’ve already said. That’s just a quick summary of their advice, and not something you should or would want to count on as sufficient for your own decision-making. If you have any questions, it appears to me this book would be a good place to start.