BILL KNOTT:  Congratulations on your recent book publication by the Oxford University Press on the religious roots of religious freedom in America.  How did this opportunity to write for the Oxford Press come about?
NICHOLAS MILLER: Well, Andrews University sponsored me to do a PhD in the history of religious liberty, and I was able to spend time at the University of Notre Dame researching and writing about the Protestant influences on the American First Amendment.  This dissertation received an award from the University, which encouraged me to seek a publisher for it.  Happily, Oxford was willing to pick it up.
BK: What is the basic argument of your book?

NM: It attempts to show that ideas about the separation of church and state are not based entirely or even primarily on Enlightenment thought that was skeptical towards religion.  Rather, notions of separating the civil magistrate from religious matters came directly out of certain theological ideas at the heart of the Protestant reformation.
BK: What ideas were these?
NM: Ideas surrounding Luther’s notion of the priesthood of all believers, that all Christians, whether herdsman, traders, or scholars had the right and duty of not only praying directly to God through Christ, but also of studying and interpreting the Bible for themselves.  This commitment was often expressed in the phrase “the right of private judgment in matters of Biblical interpretation,” or sometimes, more broadly, “in matters of religion.”  
BK:  How did this lead to notions of the separation of church and state?
NM:  Well, people soon came to realize that if a prince, magistrate, or legislature passed religious laws, they first had to interpret the Bible to do so, and then apply that interpretation to other Christians. This process interfered with the basic right of private interpretation held by each believer.  Certain Protestant thinkers argued that while Protestants had left the Catholic Church because they rejected the Pope as the final Biblical authority, that in supporting religious laws they created literally dozens of popes.  Each civil ruler and each government became a kind of “pope” in authoritatively interpreting and applying the Bible.
BK:  But many Protestant leaders, including Calvin, and the Anglican Church, as well as the American Puritans, did believe in enforcing religious laws.  Who were the Protestants who held the views you are describing?
NM:  What I am describing was a minority, dissenting Protestant position for many years.  Martin Luther expressed this separationist view early on in his work.  He later moved away from that view, but not before it was picked up by the Anabaptists, eventually including Simon Mennos in the Netherlands.  Later, English dissenters came to Holland and made contact with Anabaptists—and subsequently adopted their views on both adult baptism and the separation of church and state. These English Baptists returned to England, and in turn affected other important thinkers, including Roger Williams, John Milton, and John Locke.  The writings of these men were very influential in the American colonies, and their ideas were implemented by men such as William Penn, John Witherspoon, and James Madison.  
BK: Where did you get the basic idea for your dissertation?
NM:  It came to me a number of years ago when I was reading the chapter on the “Protest of the Princes” in Ellen White’s The Great Controversy.  There, she detailed what she considered to be the theological foundations of religious liberty that lay at the core of Protestantism, and indeed from which the name “Protestant” came.  The view that Protestantism and religious liberty are connected has taken a real beating over the last century, and has been considered largely discredited.  I wanted to take a careful and close look at the historical record to see if I could find meaningful historical support for her claim.  I think I have done so, and I am very pleased that a major Catholic university and a major academic publisher agrees with the historical validity of the argument!
BK:  Do you see your book as having additional importance for Adventists?
NM: I think that the priesthood of believers concept is directly connected to the doctrine of the Sanctuary.  As Adventists, when the Sanctuary doctrine is mentioned, we tend to think of 1844 and the Day of Atonement.  But in reality, the Sanctuary involves the whole spectrum of Christ’s high-priestly ministry.  In my view, Luther’s view of the priesthood of all believers came from his understanding of our direct access to Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. Many think that Romans was Luther’s primary inspiration, but in the months leading up to the writing of his 95 Theses, he was actually lecturing on the book of Hebrews.  The view of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary found in Hebrews undoubtedly helped him to reject indulgences, penance, and priestly intercession and scriptural authority.
BK: So perhaps the Sanctuary doctrine, broadly understood, has important roots in many Protestant churches?
NM: Indeed.  An argument can be made that the Protestant doctrine most influential on Western systems of governance and democracy is that of the Sanctuary and the priesthood of believers.  Perhaps if we understood more fully the importance that the Sanctuary doctrine has played in Protestantism generally, we would have better success sharing our particular insights into the Day of Atonement and 1844.  In any event, our shared heritage of religious liberty is a good place to begin discussions on these topics.

Click here to read "Religious Freedom in America."


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