A Christian state is a country that recognizes a form of Christianity as its official religion and often has a state church (also called an established church), which is a Christian denomination that supports the government and is supported by the government.
Historically, the nations of Armenia, Aksum, Georgia, as well as the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire declared themselves as Christian states.
Today, several nations officially identify themselves as Christian states or have state churches, including Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark (incl. Greenland), Dominican Republic, El Salvador, England, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vatican City, and Zambia. A Christian state stands in contrast to a secular state, an atheist state, or another religious state, such as a Jewish state, or an Islamic state.
By 301 AD, the Kingdom of Armenia became the first state to declare Christianity as its official religion following the conversion of the Royal House of the Arsacids in Armenia. The Armenian Apostolic Church is the world’s oldest national church. Later, in AD 380, three Roman emperors issued the Edict of Thessalonica (Cunctos populos), making the Roman Empire a Christian state, and establishing Nicene Christianity, in the form of its State Church, as its official religion.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th century, the “Byzantine Empire” under the emperor Justinian (reigned 527-565), became the world’s predominant Christian state, based on Roman law, Greek culture, and the Greek language.” In this Christian state, in which nearly all of its subjects upheld faith in Jesus, an “enormous amount of artistic talent was poured into the construction of churches, church ceremonies, and church decoration”. John Binns describes this era, writing that:
A new stage in the history of the Church began when not just localised communities but nations became Christian. The stage is associated with the conversion of Constantine and the beginnings of a Christian Empire, but the Byzantine Emperor was not the first ruler to lead his people into Christianity, thus setting up the first Christian state. That honour traditionally goes to the church of Armenia.
As a Christian state, Armenia “embraced Christianity as the religion of the King, the nobles, and the people”. In AD 326, according to official tradition of the Georgian Orthodox Church, following the conversion of Mirian and Nana, the country of Georgia became a Christian state, the Emperor Constantine the Great sending clerics for baptising people. In the 4th century AD, in the Kingdom of Aksum, after Ezana’s conversion to the faith, this empire also became a Christian state.
In the Middle Ages, efforts were made in order to establish a Pan-Christianity state by uniting the countries within Christendom. Christian nationalism played a role in this era in which Christians felt the impulse to also recover those territories in which Christianity historically flourished, such as the Holy Land and North Africa.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Although it enforces neither an official nor a state faith, it gives Roman Catholicism a preferential status.
The Federal Government supports the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion.— Section II of Constitution of Argentina
The constitution of Costa Rica states that “The Roman Catholic and Apostolic Religion is the religion of the State”. As such, Catholic Christian holy days are recognized by the government and “public schools provide religious education”, although parents are able to opt-out their children if they choose to do so.
As early as the 11th century AD, “Denmark was considered to be a Christian state”, with the Church of Denmark, a member of the Lutheran World Federation, being the state church. Prof. Wasif Shadid, of Leiden University, writes that:
The Lutheran established church is a department of the state. Church affairs are governed by a central government ministry, while clergy are government employees. The registration of births, deaths and marriages falls under this ministry of church affairs, and normally speaking the local Lutheran pastor is also the official registrar.
82.1% of the population of Denmark are members of the Lutheran Church of Denmark, which is “officially headed by the queen of Denmark”. Furthermore, clergy “in the Church of Denmark are civil servants employed by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs” and the “economic base of the Church of Denmark is state-collected church taxes combined with a direct state subsidiary (12%), which symbolically covers the expenses of the Church of Denmark to run the civil registration and the burial system for all citizens.”
Barbara Yorke writes that the “Carolingian Renaissance heightened appreciation within England of the role of king and church in a Christian state.” As such,
Since the 1701 Act of Establishment, England’s official state church has been the Church of England, the monarch being its supreme governor and ‘defender of the faith’. She, together with Parliament, has a say in appointing bishops, twenty-six of whom have ex officio seats in the House of Lords. In characteristically British fashion, where the state is representative of civil society, it was Parliament that determined, in the Act of Establishment, that the monarch had to be Anglican.
Christian religious education is taught to children in primary and secondary schools in the United Kingdom. English schools have a legal requirement for a daily act of collective worship “of a broadly Christian character” that is widely flouted.
The Church of the Faroe Islands is the state church of Faroe Islands.
Georgia is one of the oldest Christian states. Article 8 of Georgian Constitution and the Concordat of 2002 grants the Georgian Orthodox Church special privileges, which include legal immunity to the Patriarch of Georgia. The Orthodox Church is the most trusted institution in the country and its head, Patriarch Ilia II, the most trusted person.
Greece is a Christian state, with the Greek Orthodox Church playing “a dominant role in the life of the country”.
Being an autonomous constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark, the Church of Denmark is the established church of Greenland through the Constitution of Denmark:
The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the Established Church of Denmark, and, as such, it shall be supported by the State.— Section IV of Constitution of Denmark
This applies to all of the Kingdom of Denmark, except for the Faroe Islands, as the Church of the Faroe Islands became independent in 2007.
The preamble to the Hungarian Constitution of 2011 describes Hungary as “part of Christian Europe” and acknowledges “the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood”, while Article VII provides that “the State shall cooperate with the Churches for community goals”. However, the constitution also guarantees freedom of religion and separation of church and state.
Around AD 1000, Iceland became a Christian state. The Encyclopedia of Protestantism states that:
The majority of Icelanders are members of the state church. Almost all children are baptized as Lutheran and more than 90 percent are subsequently confirmed. The church conducts 75 percent of all marriages and 99 percent of all funerals. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland is a member of the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches.
All public schools have mandatory education in Christianity, although an exemption may be considered by the Minister of Education.
Liechtenstein’s constitution designates the Catholic Church as being the state Church of that country. In public schools, per article 16 of the Constitution of Liechtenstein, religious education is given by Church authorities.
Section Two of the Constitution of Malta specifies the state’s religion as being the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion. It holds that the “authorities of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church have the duty to teach which principles are right and which are wrong” and that “religious teaching of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith shall be provided in all State schools as part of compulsory education”.
Article 9 of the Constitution of Monaco describes “La religion catholique, apostolique et romaine [the catholic, apostolic and Roman religion]” as the religion of the state.
Cole Durham and Tore Sam Lindholm, writing in 2013, stated that “For a period of one thousand years Norway has been a kingdom with a Christian state church” and that a decree went out in 1739 ordering that “Elementary schooling for all Norwegian children became mandatory, so that all Norwegians should be able to read the Bible and the Lutheran Catechism firsthand.” The modern Constitution of Norway stipulates that “The Church of Norway, an Evangelical-Lutheran church, will remain the Established Church of Norway and will as such be supported by the State.” As such, the “Norwegian constitution decrees that Lutheranism is the official religion of the State and that the King is the supreme temporal head of the Church.” The administration of the Church “is shared between the Ministry for Church, Education and Research centrally and municipal authorities locally”, and the Church of Norway “depends on state and local taxes”. The Church of Norway is responsible for the “maintenance of church buildings and cemeteries”. John T. Flint writes that “Over 90 percent of the population are married by state church clergymen, have their children baptized and confirmed, and finally are buried with a church service.”
Samoa became a Christian state in 2017. Article 1 of the Samoan Constitution states that “Samoa is a Christian nation founded of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
Tonga became a Christian state under George Tupou I in the 19th century, with the Free Wesleyan Church, a member of the World Methodist Council, being established as the country’s state Church. Under the rule of George Tupou I, there was established a “rigorous constitutional clause regulating observation of the Sabbath”.
The Church of Tuvalu, a Reformed Church in the Congregationalist tradition, is the state church of Tuvalu and was established as such in 1991. The Constitution of Tuvalu identifies Tuvalu as “an independent State based on Christian principles”.
Vatican City is a Christian state, in which the “Pope is ex officio simultaneously leader of the Roman Catholic Church as well as Head of State and Head of the Government of the State of the Vatican City; he also possesses (de jure) absolute authority over the legislative, executive and judicial branches.”
Jeroen Temperman, a professor of international law at Erasmus University Rotterdam writes that:
Zambia is officially a Christian state as well, though the legal ramifications clearly do not compare to the latter state. The Preamble of the Constitution of Zambia establishes Zambia as a Christian state without specifying “Christian” denominationally. It simply proclaims: “We, the people of Zambia…declare the Republic a Christian nation…” As far as state practice is concerned, it may be pointed out that the Government maintains relations with the Zambian Council of Churches and requires Christianity to be taught in the public school curriculum.
After “Zambia declared itself a Christian nation in 1991”, “the nation’s vice president urged citizens to ‘have a Christian orientation in all fields, at all levels’.”
Established Churches and former state Churches
|Anhalt||Evangelical State Church of Anhalt||united Protestant||1918, during the German Revolution|
|Armenia||Armenian Apostolic Church||Oriental Orthodox||1921|
|Austria||Catholic Church||Catholic||1918, under the Federal Constitutional Law|
|Baden||Catholic Church and the United Evangelical Protestant State Church of Baden||Catholic and united Protestant||1918, during the German Revolution|
|Bavaria||Catholic Church||Catholic||1918, during the German Revolution|
|Bolivia||Catholic Church||Catholic||2009, under the Constitution of Bolivia|
|Brazil||Roman Catholic Church||Catholic||1890|
|Brunswick||Evangelical Lutheran State Church in Brunswick||Lutheran||1918, during the German Revolution|
|Bulgaria||Bulgarian Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||1946|
|Connecticut Colony||Congregational Church||Reformed||1818, under the Constitution of Connecticut|
|Cyprus||Cypriot Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||1977 with the death of the Ethnarch Makarios III|
|Czechoslovakia||Catholic Church||Catholic||1920, under the Czechoslovak Constitution|
|Denmark||Church of Denmark||Lutheran||Current|
|East Florida||Church of England||Anglican||1783|
|England||Church of England||Anglican||Current|
|Ethiopia||Ethiopian Orthodox Church||Oriental Orthodox||1974, after the formation of the Derg|
|Faroe Islands||Church of the Faroe Islands||Lutheran||Current; elevated from a diocese of the Church of Denmark in 2007 (the two remain in close cooperation)|
|Finland||Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland||Lutheran||1869; however the organisation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is regulated by the Constitution of Finland and Church Act of 1993. The state also carries out taxing for the funding of the church on its members.|
|Finnish Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||1917|
|France||Catholic Church||Catholic||1905, under the law on the Separation of the Churches and the State|
|Georgia||Georgian Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||1921|
|Greece||Greek Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||The Church of Greece is recognized by the Greek Constitution as the “prevailing religion” in Greece. However, this provision does not give official status to the Church of Greece, while all other religions are recognized as equal and may be practiced freely.|
|Greenland||Church of Denmark||Lutheran||Current; under discussion to be elevated from The Diocese of Greenland in the Church of Denmark to a state church for Greenland, along‐the‐lines the Faroese Church took in 2007|
|Hawaii||Church of Hawaii||Anglican||1893, after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom|
|Hesse||Evangelical Church in Hesse||united Protestant||1918, during the German Revolution|
|Hungary||Roman Catholic Church||Catholic||1946|
|Iceland||Lutheran Evangelical Church||Lutheran||Current|
|Kingdom of Ireland||Church of Ireland||Anglican||1871|
|Republic of Ireland||Catholic Church||Catholic||1973|
|Lippe||Church of Lippe||Reformed||1918|
|Lübeck||Evangelical Lutheran Church in the State of Lübeck||Lutheran||1918|
|North Macedonia||Macedonian Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||1921|
|Mecklenburg-Schwerin||Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Mecklenburg-Schwerin||Lutheran||1918|
|Mecklenburg-Strelitz||Mecklenburg-Strelitz State Church||Lutheran||1918|
|Mexico||Catholic Church||Catholic||1857, under the Federal Constitution (reestablished between 1864 and 1867)|
|Netherlands||Dutch Reformed Church||Reformed||1795|
|New Brunswick||Church of England||Anglican||1850|
|Norway||Church of Norway||Lutheran||2017|
|Nova Scotia||Church of England||Anglican||1850|
|Oldenburg||Evangelical Lutheran Church of Oldenburg||Lutheran||1918|
|Portugal||Catholic Church||Catholic||1910, 1976 (reestablished between 1933 and 1974)|
|Prince Edward Island||Church of England||Anglican||1850|
|Province of Georgia, British America||Church of England||Anglican||1789|
|Province of Maryland||Church of England||Anglican||1776|
|Province of Massachusetts Bay||Congregational Church||Reformed||1834|
|Province of New Hampshire||Church of England||Anglican||1877|
|Province of North Carolina||Church of England||Anglican||1776|
|Province of South Carolina||Church of England||Anglican||1790|
pre 1866 provinces
|Evangelical State Church of Prussia’s older Provinces with nine ecclesiastical provinces||united Protestant||1918|
Province of Hanover
|Evangelical Reformed State Church of the Province of Hanover||Reformed||1918|
Province of Hanover
|Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Hanover||Lutheran||1918|
Province of Hesse-Nassau (partially)
|Evangelical State Church of Frankfurt upon Main||united Protestant||1918|
Province of Hesse-Nassau (partially)
|Evangelical Church of Electoral Hesse||united Protestant||1918|
Province of Hesse-Nassau (partially)
|Evangelical State Church in Nassau||united Protestant||1918|
Prov. of Schleswig-Holstein
|Evangelical Lutheran Church of Schleswig-Holstein||Lutheran||1918|
|Quebec||Catholic Church||Catholic||1960, after the Quiet Revolution|
|Romania||Romanian Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||1947|
|Russia||Russian Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||1917, after the Russian Revolution|
|Thuringia||church bodies in principalities which merged in Thuringia in 1920||Lutheran||1918|
|Saxony||Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Saxony||Lutheran||1918|
|Schaumburg-Lippe||Evangelical State Church of Schaumburg-Lippe||Lutheran||1918|
|Scotland||Church of Scotland||Presbyterian||State control disclaimed since 1638. Formally recognised as not an established church in 1921|
|Serbia||Serbian Orthodox Church||Eastern Orthodox||1920|
|Sweden||Church of Sweden||Lutheran||2000|
|Switzerland||separate Cantonal Churches («Landeskirchen»)||Zwinglianism & Calvinism or Catholic||during the 20th century|
|Tuvalu||Church of Tuvalu||Reformed||Current|
|United Province of Canada||Church of England||Anglican||1854|
|Uruguay||Catholic Church||Catholic||1918 (into effect in 1919)|
|Virginia||Church of England||Anglican||1786|
|Waldeck||Evangelical State Church of Waldeck and Pyrmont||united Protestant||1918|
|Wales||Church of England||Anglican||1920|
|West Florida||Church of England||Anglican||1783|
|Württemberg||Evangelical State Church in Württemberg||Lutheran||1918|
A number of countries have a national church which is not Established (as the official religion of the nation), but is nonetheless recognised under civil law as being the country’s acknowledged religious denomination. Whilst these are not Christian states, the official Christian national church is likely to have certain residual state functions in relation to state occasions and ceremonial. Examples include Scotland (Church of Scotland) and Sweden (Church of Sweden). A national church typically has a monopoly on official state recognition, although unusually Finland has two national churches (the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Finnish Orthodox Church), both recognised under civil law as joint official churches of the nation.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia