John Locke drafted a constitution for the Carolinas in 1669, entitled, “The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina.” His draft was never ratified, but here are some provisions relating to “churches” which may be of some interest, in light of the resurgence of scholarship involving the liberty of the church:
Ninety-seven. But since the natives of that place, who will be concerned in our plantation, are utterly strangers to Christianity, whose idolatry, ignorance, or mistake gives us no right to expel or use them ill; and those who remove from other parts to plant there will unavoidably be of different opinions concerning matters of religion, the liberty whereof they will expect to have allowed them, and it will not be reasonable for us, on this account, to keep them out, that civil peace may be maintained amidst diversity of opinions, and our agreement and compact with all men may be duly and faithfully observed; the violation whereof, upon what presence soever, cannot be without great offence to Almighty God, and great scandal to the true religion which we profess; and also that Jews, heathens, and other dissenters from the purity of Christian religion may not be scared and kept at a distance from it, but, by having an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the truth and reasonableness of its doctrines, and the peaceableness and inoffensiveness of its professors, may, by good usage and persuasion, and all those convincing methods of gentleness and meekness, suitable to the rules and design of the gospel, be won ever to embrace and unfeignedly receive the truth; therefore, any seven or more persons agreeing in any religion, shall constitute a church or profession, to which they shall give some name, to distinguish it from others.
One hundred. In the terms of communion of every church or profession, these following shall be three; without which no agreement or assembly of men, upon presence of religion, shall be accounted a church or profession within these rules:
1st. “That there is a God.”
II. “That God is publicly to be worshipped.”
III. “That it is lawful and the duty of every man, being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to truth; and that every church or profession shall, in their terms of communion, set down the external way whereby they witness a truth as in the presence of God, whether it be by laying hands on or kissing the bible, as in the Church of England, or by holding up the hand, or any other sensible way.”
Some thoughts on the language about “churches” and what constitutes them:
1. Locke seems to want to be generous for, among other reasons (some religious), the strategic reason of conversion. He recognizes that the many “strangers” to Christianity will expect religious liberty, and maintenance of civic peace demands that they have it, but “by good usage and persuasion” these people are hopefully to be converted. All of this is familiar from the Letter Concerning Toleration, but what really interested me was the final line of section 97: “therefore, any seven or more persons agreeing in any religion, shall constitute a church or profession, to which they shall give some name, to distinguish it from others.” Notice Locke’s emphasis on, to use a legal term, numerosity! What constitutes a “church” is in part a numerical characteristic. You cannot be a “church” under Locke’s constitution with less than seven members. This numerical feature highlights the sociality of an ecclesial structure. And we continue to struggle with it today (compare, e.g., Psychic Sophie and related controversies).
2. But there are also substantive characteristics that must be satisfied. Belief in God, of course, but notice the public quality of the other two elements! You cannot be a church unless you worship God “publicly.” And there must be official rules for that public worship–the church must promulgate rules which “set down the external way” in which church members will witness the truth as they apprehend it. The emphasis on these external, public, ritualistic functions of churches–and therefore, in part, on the public functions that they serve, the ‘civil religion’ function–is perhaps not quite so common today but it is still present.