Tag Archives: separation of church and state

PODCAST: Fight the Powers – What the Bible Says About the Relationship Between Demonic and Political Power

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Download:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170920-FightthePowers.mp3

Notes:

In a recent podcast which I titled “Make Christianity Weak Again,” I talked about the approaches which the church in the United States has used in interacting with the political realm. The place where I landed is that the church should look at the state with suspicion, view its relationship to it as an uneasy one, and not seek to consolidate political power but to emphasize its spiritual power.

In this podcast, I want to give the biblical theory behind my practical application. Why should the church not seek to align itself with the state?
Continue reading PODCAST: Fight the Powers – What the Bible Says About the Relationship Between Demonic and Political Power

PODCAST: Cantus Firmus At the Movies Ep. 4 – The Mission (w/ Keith Giles)

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In this episode we talked about the 1986 film The Mission, and particularly dissected its themes of love, forgiveness, violence, and the corrupting entanglement of church and state. Audio can be downloaded below or found on iTunes if you search “Cantus Firmus.”

Keith Giles was my special guest and can be found at www.KeithGiles.com. His new book, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb can be purchased on Amazon. Audio can be downloaded below or found on iTunes by searching “Cantus Firmus.”

Audio:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170527-CFATM-Ep4-TheMission(wKeithGiles).mp3

Music:
“Octagon Pt 2” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

Michael Sattler: Radical Christian

Though Protestants have in more recent years come around to the principle of separation of church and state, this was not so in the beginning. While petitioning for the freedom to challenge the church and follow scripture as their consciences dictated, they simultaneously believed that it was the duty of the state to inflict punishment upon those they saw as heretics. John Calvin supported the execution of the unitarian Michael Servetus, Ulrich Zwingli saw to it that Balthasar Hubmaier was tortured for his view of believer’s baptism, and Martin Luther will forever be connected to his advocacy of religiously motivated state violence towards Jews and those who took part in the Peasants’ Revolt. In this milieu it was the so-called “radical reformers”–the Anabaptists—alone who, after taking a close look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, made this idea central to their Christian belief and practice; and it was Michael Sattler who helped to codify this belief into an Anabaptist confession of faith.

John Howard Yoder gives the basic outline of Michael Sattler’s life up to this pivotal event:
“Michael Sattler was born sometime around 1490 at Staufen in the Breisgau. He entered the Benedictine Monastery of St. Peter’s, northeast of Freiburg, where he became — or was likely to become — prior. In the 1520s he came , by way of Lutheran and Zwinglian ideas, to forsake the monastery and to marry, and by March, 1525, had become a member of the Anabaptist movement which had just begun at Zürich two months before” (Yoder).

This summary accounts for all that is known of Sattler’s life save for the last two years in which he bursts onto the scene of history (though Snyder, one of Sattler’s biographers, views even this basic outline to be rather conjectural at a number of points). It was in these last two years that Sattler became “the most significant of the first-generation leaders of Anabaptism” (Yoder).

This significance is due in large part to his central role in framing the Schleitheim Articles, the aforementioned Anabaptist confession of faith which would cost him his life and underline the importance of the doctrine which he viewed as central to the Christian faith. The articles, which included confessions on Anabaptist principles such as believer’s baptism and oaths, also spoke very clearly on the distinct roles of church and state, noting that Jesus and the Apostles seemed to forbid those tools of violence which magistrates viewed as essential to executing their duties:
“the rule of the government is according to the flesh, that of the Christians according to the Spirit. Their houses and dwelling remain in this world, that of the Christians is in heaven. Their citizenship is in this world, that of the Christians is in heaven. The weapons of their battle and warfare are carnal and only against the flesh, but the weapons of Christians are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The worldly are armed with steel and iron, but Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and with the Word of God” (Schleitheim).

Shortly after the confession was unanimously endorsed by a meeting of Swiss Anabaptists, Sattler, along with his wife Margaretha and other Anabaptists, was arrested for his alleged heresy. Snyder summarizes his fate briskly:
“The trial lasted two days, at the end of which Michael Sattler and his codefendants were found guilty. Sattler was sentenced to have his tongue cut off, to have his body torn seven times with glowing tongs, and finally to be burned to death. This verdict was carried out on May 20, 1527” (Snyder).

The Martyrs Mirror, a 17th century collection of the stories of martyrs (particularly Anabaptists), gives a more dramatic account. It begins with Sattler answering the charges against him with boldness. After being accused of taking the side of the enemies of the faith by not being willing to take up arms against the Turks, Sattler responded:
“If the Turks should come, we ought not to resist them; for it is written: Thou shalt not kill. We must not defend ourselves against the Turks and others of our persecutors, but are to beseech God with earnest prayer to repel and resist them. But that I said, that if warring were right, I would rather take the field against the so-called Christians, who persecute, apprehend and kill pious Christians, than against the Turks,was for this reason: The Turk is a true Turk, knows nothing of the Christian faith; and is a Turk after the flesh; but you, who would be Christians, and who make your boast of Christ, persecute the pious witnesses of Christ, and are Turks after the spirit” (Martyr’s Mirror).

As can be imagined, this response did not lead to his immediate acquittal. The town clerk, in attendance at the trial, responded to Sattler, “You desperate villain and archheretic, I tell you if there were no hangman here, I would hang you myself, and think that I had done God service” (Martyr’s Mirror). He seemed to be speaking for the judges as well. The sentence they passed read:
“In the case of the Governor of his Imperial Majesty versus Michael Sattler, judgment is passed, that Michael Sattler shall be delivered to ‘the executioner, who shall lead him to the place of execution, and cut out his tongue; then throw him upon a wagon, and there tear his body twice with red hot tongs; and after he has been brought without the gate, he shall be pinched five times in the same manner” (Martyr’s Mirror).

The men who were with him were later executed by the sword and the women, including his wife, were drowned. His chief crime was believing that Christ’s Kingdom was not of this earth, and that because it is not His disciples do not fight. In an age where Christians are exceedingly obsessed with gaining and maintaining power to protect our social interests, and where various religious radicals use violence to terrorize civilians and governments, Sattler’s approach stands out. It seeks to conquer not by violence or threats of violence, but by refusing to compromise on the non-violent, non-retaliatory faith that Christ once for all delivered unto the saints.

 

References

Martyr’s Mirror. Retrieved June 11, 2016, from
http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/martyrs057.htm

Schleitheim Confession. Retrieved June 12, 2016, from
http://www.anabaptistwiki.org/mediawiki/index.php/Schleitheim_Confession_(source)

Snyder, C. A. (1984). The life and thought of Michael Sattler. Kindle edition.

Yoder, J. H., & Sattler, M. (1973). The legacy of Michael Sattler. Kindle edition.

Coercion in Faith – Infant Baptism, Theocracy, and Divine Determinism

From the time that Christianity became the official state religion of Rome (under Theodosius I in 391) until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the church was almost universally united in its acceptance that coercion must be connected with faith. One group in particular resisted this trend– the Anabaptists. Their view of freedom in faith separated them from the majority of Protestants (the Magisterial Reformation) as well as Roman Catholics and caused them to be viewed with suspicion by both groups.

An event took place in January 21, 1525 that we would think of as commonplace today, but it was perhaps the most revolutionary event during the Protestant Reformation. This was when two followers of the Magisterial Reformer Ulrich Zwingli chose to baptize one another. Roger Olson explains:
While that may not seem a particularly courageous thing to do now, at the time it was. Refusing infants baptism and rebaptizing persons was illegal because it was considered both heretical and seditious. These Brethren, as they called themselves, had all experienced life-changing conversions and after careful study of the New Testament had come to believe that infant baptism is not true baptism because it precedes repentance and faith. Zwingli had refused their efforts to abolish it and the Zurich city council had threatened them with punishment if they acted on their beliefs” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, Kindle Edition).

If baptism seemingly came after repentance in the New Testament, why were the actions of these Anabaptists (a compound word meaning “to baptize again”) considered so dangerous to the church and to the state? Put simply, this doctrine undermined the broader church’s insistence upon coercion in faith.

Divine Coercion

In Roman Catholic thinking, infant baptism achieved two important goals:
1. It removed the stain of original sin, thus saving, without their will or even awareness, the souls of the infants who were baptized.
2. It made the church into the cement which held society together.

Both of these goals imply that a true conversion of the person is not the central concern when administering the sacrament of baptism. Indeed, the individual was believed to be saved by the actions of others (God and the Church) on his behalf apart from his own will or actions. Later, when this individual was capable of making a choice to reject or affirm the grace given at baptism, it was the coercive force of society, backed by its laws and threat of punishment, that was expected to keep him focused upon following Christ.

In defense of the Roman Catholic position here, it at the very least allowed that the individual could, after the age of accountability, make a grace-enabled choice to continue with Christ, or else to fall away. However, the major view of the Magisterial Reformers was that God not only enabled sinners to come to Him, but that this enabling coerced the sinner into salvation and was withheld from those whom God determined not to save. The Magisterial Reformers, in contrast to the so-called Radical Reformers (the Anabaptists) such as Balthasar Hubmaier, still maintained the need for infant baptism:
“Hubmaier likened infant baptism to an inn hanging out a sign announcing its fine wine before the growing season. It is presumptuous. Of course, Luther and Zwingli both defended infant baptism on the ground that faith is a gift of God and not a contingent, free decision. Their monergistic views of salvation form at least part of their foundations for the practice” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, Kindle Edition).

An important concession to make here is that since these Reformers believed that only those whom God chose would be saved, not everyone baptized would necessarily be saved, since not all who were baptized were necessarily God’s elect. However, the Magisterial Reformer Martin Luther and his followers, oddly, taught that infants could respond in faith to God’s effectual calling, so that their faith at the time of baptism saved them (see here). John Calvin, in his Institutes, also argued against the Anabaptist position, claiming that withholding baptism for infants was unchristian:
“Paul comprehends the whole Church when he says that it was cleansed by the washing of water. In like manner, from his expression in another place, that by baptism we are ingrafted into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 7:13), we infer, that infants, whom he enumerates among his members, are to be baptised, in order that they may not be dissevered from his body” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4, 16, 22).

For both Roman Catholics and the Magisterial Reformers, teaching against infant baptism was dangerous as it was believed to undermine God’s sovereignty and (for the Roman Catholics especially) called into question the state of the unbaptized infant. In stark contrast, the Anabaptists taught that baptism followed repentance and thus they baptized converted adults at the risk of their own lives.

State Coercion

This last point leads us into the second type of coercion that the Roman Catholic Church and Magisterial Reformers supported– that of the state.

The position of the Anabaptists was well explicated by Balthasar Hubmaier:
“Hubmaier wrote that ‘the inquisitors are the greatest heretics of all, because counter to the teaching and example of Jesus they condemn heretics to fire. . . . For Christ did not come to slaughter, kill, burn, but so that those who live should live yet more abundantly.’ He urged especially religious authorities to use only the weapon of God’s Word against those they perceive as heretics and to hope and pray for their repentance rather than kill them” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, Kindle Edition).

Those who sought to connect church and state (the Roman Catholics and Magisterial Reformers) held a very different view. The great Catholic thinker Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica gave perhaps the most eloquent defense for violence against heretics that could be rationalized:
“I reply that, with regard to heretics, two considerations are to be kept in mind: (1) on their side, (2) on the side of the Church. (1) There is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be shut off from the world by death. For it is a much more serious matter to corrupt faith, through which comes the soul’s life, than to forge money, through which temporal life is supported… If he be found still stubborn, the Church gives up hope of his conversion and takes thought for the safety of others, by separating him from the Church by sentence of excommunication; and, further, leaves him to the secular court, to be exterminated from the world by death” (quoted from Bettenson & Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, p.141)

Likewise, the Protestant reformer Zwingli consented to the capital punishment of those he viewed as heretics (despite the fact that he was afforded the luxury to speak against the Roman Catholic Church), as did John Calvin (most famously in the execution of Michael Servetus). Though Luther acknowledged that a heretic should not be molested for holding his views in secret, he believed that the heretic who shared his views deserved the punishment of the magistrate. Though he felt that using the sword against heretics was cruel, he felt that “it is crueler that they condemn the ministry of the Word and have no well-grounded doctrine and suppress the true and in this way seek to subvert the civil order” (quoted from Bainton, Here I Stand, p. 376).

Even apart from the question of whether heretics should receive the death penalty, the status quo view of the church at the time was that the state’s job was to uphold the church and use the force that the church could not, though was necessary to ensure a Christian state. In Reformation circles, this has often been referred to as theonomy. The Anabaptists stood out from their culture and saw such an arrangement as leading to an insincere, merely cultural Christianity that Jesus would spit out of His mouth.

Freedom in Christ

In this article, I have set up a contrast between freedom and coercion. Though they were imperfect, the Orthodox Anabaptist Christians give a fair representation of what free Christianity looks like, and they managed to apply this concern for free individual conversion across the board:
1. Though grace is necessary for repentance and conversion, God does not force anyone to convert. He gives the individual the freedom to accept or reject Him, which comes from a grace-enabled will.
2.  As a result, baptism, a sacrament that represents being reborn into Christ, should only be given after the individual actually is reborn into Christ, which happens during conversion.
3. Since true faith can only come from someone who freely chooses to trust in God, there can be no coercion in faith on the part of the state. This also requires a relationship between church and state that is not so entangled as to compromise freedom of faith or freedom of expression (let alone preaching). Heresy must be silenced by a thoughtful expression of  true Christian faith and good conduct, not by threats of violence.

As one can see, this arrangement is consistent. Underlying all of these concerns is the belief that God wants true converts who choose Him freely. To remove these values is to posit a faith which is based on coercion and is thus no true faith. To  hold to some of these values but not others is to hold to inconsistency. The Christian who believes that God desires true repentance while demanding that the state use force to make society look ostensibly Christian, for instance, is holding to incoherence.

“Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:15-17, ESV).

Gay Marriage, Traditionalism, and the Fight for Political Power

 

Today the U.S. Supreme Court finds itself the focus of media attention as it deliberates on the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban (Proposition 8). In a show of solidarity, many of my friends who support gay marriage changed their Facebook profile pictures to a pink equal sign over a red background– a symbol promoted by gay activist group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that stands for equality– the implication being that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples creates a system of inequality. As someone who doesn’t find either side’s arguments on this issue convincing, it’s difficult to know how to respond to the advocacy of friends who both support gay marriage as well as those who denounce it.

On one hand, it seems heartless to take a stance on an issue that results in emotional hardship for human beings that God loves. To not be able to visit a loved one in the hospital or be able to share your material goods with them because the law doesn’t think your relationship is valid carries with it an apparent implication that you’re a second class citizen. More than that, the cold characterizations of, and unloving attitudes shown toward, homosexuals by many conservative Christians puts Christ to an open shame. If Christians are to see homosexual behavior as a sin or an aberration, why is it also necessary to caricature homosexuals and elevate homosexual behavior to the status of a super-sin that calls down the wrath of God more than the sins they find themselves engaging in– whether private sins of dishonesty or infidelity, or political sins of militarism or nationalism? Going further, why is this sin the one that should almost single-handedly define the political platform of Christ’s followers in the West?

On the other hand, to speak of “marriage equality” consistently is to say that government should also provide benefits to polygamists, those in committed incestuous relationships, etc. If we are to redefine marriage as to exclude gender distinctions, why then must we hold onto old-fashioned concepts like monogamy? If a man is born desiring multiple women, why should our traditional morality keep him from satisfying his desires with the endorsement of our government? In other words, how many lifestyles must we force government to approve of before we can speak of true equality?

What I see in this debate is two groups vying for control. One group will not be satisfied if the other group gets their way. If the gay rights movement wins, it will win by forcing the government to view their relationships as morally equivalent to heterosexual relationships– a government which represents a people which is evenly divided on whether or not this is actually the case. In other words, it will win by forcing its values onto the people, using the political and legal force of government to back its view of morality.

If the conservative (mainly Christian-identifying) side wins, it will also win by forcing its own morality onto the people– a people which, once again, is evenly divided on this issue.

To get government on your side is to have the force of government behind you, with the ultimate goal of enforcing your position and keeping down those whom you disagree with. For Christians who are for a traditional, government-defined view of marriage, this truth is particularly disheartening. It is tantamount to saying that the faith of the suffering Jesus Christ– who loved all sinners and announced to His executioner that His servants would not fight because His kingdom is not of this world– has been reduced to a grab for political power. The gospel is no longer the good news of the saving, forgiving Messiah, but the conquering force of an earthly kingdom– a force which does not love sinners and show them compassion and respect, but subjugates them to a second class role.

What makes this debate all the more frustrating is that we could promote equality without the government forcing anyone’s values on anyone else. By simply not issuing marriage licenses and allowing for domestic partnerships (which need not even be romantic in nature, but merely legal contracts), the benefits of marriage could be given to both heterosexual and homosexual couples without either side using government as a tool for the subjugation of groups that they disagree with. Unfortunately, this true equality– one that doesn’t force private morality onto society but respects the rights of all citizens to live freely– isn’t good enough for either side.

That being said, I am not nearly as worried as some of my Christian conservative friends are about the way this ruling might come down. If government sides against Christian tradition, what then? We will simply have to acknowledge what has been true all along– the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of this world. Instead of trying to demonstrate God’s power through political force, Christians should follow the example of Christ who treated all humans equally– as sinners that God loves– regardless of what law or custom said about them.

Hopefully at that point, when we finally lose our grasp of the civil authority, our history of hatred and misrepresentation will not come back to bite us and force on us the second class citizenship we have tried to force on others.

Useful resources also coming from this perspective:

http://www.redletterchristians.org/a-possible-compromise-on-the-gay-marriage/?doing_wp_cron=1364594865.2462620735168457031250

http://www.bastiatinstitute.org/2011/08/04/government-should-get-out-of-the-marriage-business/