Archive for the ‘separation of church and state’ Tag

Anabaptist Foundations   3 comments

We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men.

Charles H. Spurgeon (New Park Street Pulpit, Vol 7, Page 225)

My spiritual antecedents were Alpine anabapists, similar to the Brethren, Amish or Mennonites. Spurgeon pretty much explains it, but William Cathcart makes the bold statement that all Christians in the 1st Century could rightly be called baptists (little b intended). So it’s not too surprising that when the catholic (little c intended) church was co-opted by the Roman Empire in the 4th century, that some Christians drifted to the edges and just didn’t participate in the Roman Catholic Church. They chose not to join the “catholic” (meaning universal) ecclesiastical system because they recognized a lack of adherence to early Christian standards. These “protestants” pop up in Roman Catholic history from time to time as heretics who refused to baptist babies.The Waldenses, Wyclifites, Hussites, and Brothers of the Common Life are examples. The Roman Catholic Church had plenty to say about them, none of it good.

Couldn’t these people get with the program? Society had decided that it needed a record of every man, woman and child in the Holy Roman Empire and the most convenient way for government to manage that was through the Church. Baptize your babies or we will destroy you as heretics!

Anabaptists were persecuted by the Romans, the Protestants and even the radical Anabaptists. They were also the original anarchists. They were loosely organized and focused on spiritual rather than civil reformation. They existed quietly for the most part, taking no part in government because they didn’t believe any human ought to have authority to control the consciences of others. That included government and any sort of ecclesiastical body beyond the local church or individual Christians meeting together for discourse.

We are not, contrary to popularly-taught history, descended from the radical Anabaptists that formed during the Reformation. Radical Anabaptism actually more resembled a cult than Christianity. Zwingli sought to create a reformation of the churches that would please the nobles. Thomas Munzer advocated for popular insurrection. The Alpine anabaptists rejected that. They insisted that the Church of Christ must first be a congregation of believers with hearts of faith, spiritual insight, obedient wills and real religious experience. They rejected compromise with the world and the reduction of Christian standards to the level of nominal, secular membership. They wanted a church consisting of only the faithful.

How that played out in practice could be seen in their baptismal rites. Infants could not exercise faith, so anabaptists rejected infant baptism as an empty legalistic ritual. The only practices worthy of the Christian church were those directly related to personal faith.

Although there is some evidence that suggests anabaptists existed at least since the 10th century Waldenses, history records that in 1523, Grebel baptized Blaurock as part of a community of brethren that began to grow distinctly away from the main Zwinglian Reformation. This community appears never to have been part of the Zwinglian organization. They grew up separately … or existed already, quietly, in deeping with their belief in not taking part of secular government. The Lutherans called them “rebaptizers” (ana – baptists), though the Alpine believers actually rejected that name because they didn’t see themselves as baptizing again. They believed that dunking infants in water could not rightfully be called “baptism” since there was no personal faith involved on the part of the recipient. They had a very strong Biblical basis for this. Adult baptism as a sign of fellowship in the pure church of Christ was the one and only baptism — not a second baptism at all. But the name stuck all the same.

These early anabaptists had some clear doctrines:

  1. The church should be entirely modeled on the New Testament, copying the apostolic pattern.
  2. The visible Church is composed only of believers, separated from the unbelieving
  3. This state of purity in the church was to be preserved by a rigorous use of discipline
  4. The Church must be completely severed from all entangling alliances with the State
  5. All Christians have the same functional rights and authority as the clergy.
  6. The Gospel is a “new law” to be followed literally and obeyed.
  7. Christians are to conduct their lives by the authority of conscience.

The first three and the 5th principles are discoverable in the Bible; in fact, it is virtually impossible to come away from an honest reading of the New Testament without those four principles principles.

The 4th principle stemmed from a history severe persecution by the State on behalf of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anabaptist organizations. They felt there must be no kind of government compulsion in spiritual matters. The churches would live, grow and enlarge their fellowship through faith and experience. The churches could influence the character of those who form the State, but its authority is an indirect influence of the conscience. In the sphere of religion, the State has no authority. Conscience is absolutely free.

The 6th principle explains the historic refusal of Amish and Mennonite to take oaths, participate in wars or take human life. The 7th principle speaks to our relationship with God Himself. The conscience is an inner sanctuary where the voice of the living God is heard. If the laws of the secular government do not ask me to violate the laws of God, good, but when they do … more on that later.

Those early anabaptists were persecuted and died for what they saw as eternal truth and everlasting righteousness.

Could we be that serious about our faith today, Church?

Christians in the 21st Century   3 comments

Jesus told Christians to be “in the world, but not of it” and historically, Biblical Christians have exemplified that command. In the 1st century, that caused the Jews to want to kill Christians for disobeying their laws. Rome killed many Christians for refusing to fall in line with neighbors. As the centuries wore on, Christians walked (sometimes singing) into arenas around the Empire to be torn to pieces by wild animals for the entertainment of others. Some people think Christians gave that up when Rome recognized Christianity and then when the Roman Catholic Church became the defacto ruler of the European continent. That’s not exactly true. From time to time, the Roman Catholic Church would rule this or that group “heretics” for refusing to follow the edicts of the “Church”. Some of these groups may well have been heretics as the Bible describes heresy, but many others were simply Bible believing Christians who refused to disobey God in order to obey the Holy Roman Empire.

Today, Christians live in tension between the demands of the world in which they live and the demands of Christian discipleship. I want to examine the point at which obedience to God and obedience to government clash. I hope to offer a method of dealing with the conflict.

In the United States we take it as a matter of course that a good citizen is one who calls the government to account for its actions … unless we agree with those actions and then the person is a terrorist, right?

Christians have been taught that we are to obey the government and that doing so, shows respect for God. When Becky Akers and I were doing our series, we showed that the most relied upon Biblical passage for this (Romans 8) has been misinterpreted for many centuries. That misinterpretation probably grew out of the unholy alliance of church and state that was the Holy Roman Empire, but it also served every denomination that sought to entangle church and state — the Anglican/Episcopalian, the Methodist, the Presbyterian, the Lutheran … all have a history of this.

Notice that I left out one of the largest pan-denominations in the United States — the Baptists. Historically, Baptists come out of the anabaptist tradition and anabaptists have a long history of preaching separation of church and state. That might surprise some people who see men like Mike Huckabee running for president. I don’t really know Huckabee and don’t support him for president, although I doubt seriously that he could do a worse job than the current occupant of the Oval Office or his presumptive successor. That’s not my point in this discussion at all. My point is “What is the role of the Biblical Christian in the 21st Century.”

For me, that starts with examining my spiritual roots and then moves onto what should Christians be doing about our government — if anything — in these trying times. And along the way, we’re going to have some visits from Becky Akers once more.

Yes, because I think anarchists have a lot to teach us Christians about our role in the world. Why? Because anarchism owes some of its existence to anabaptists.

You didn’t know that?

Not-So Holy Roman Empire   1 comment

I’m not sure we can truly appreciate how the world worked in the Medieval era because we here in the United States are so used to the concept of self-governance and separation of church and state.

The Roman Empire had provided unity of most of western Europe. With the inclusion of Christianity as the exclusive religion of the Empire, it could dictate to the daily behaviors of European peasants. When the Empire went away, it became unsafe to travel the roads, cities became disease-ridden (because sewers want maintenance) and trade became very difficult beyond a few miles from any village. People craved the sense of unity that the Roman Empire had engendered and the concept of hierarchial political organization that called for one ultimate head over all existing states.

The Holy Roman Empire was an attempt to reacquire those ideals. It never completely worked. France and England, for example, never acknowledged any  real subordination to the emperor, although they recognized a vague supremacy in him. The German kings, once elected by the German princes, considered themselves entitled to become Roman emperor as soon as they could arrange the coronation, which was supposed to be done at the hands of the Pope. Whoever the ruler was, he considered the imperial title to establish his right to control Italy and Burgundy as well as Germany because of their potential source of power, wealth and prestige. The Empire’s vast size and diversity of population were serious obstacles to effective rule and good government.

Thus, the Roman Catholic Church was essential in solidifying secular control. Churchmen crowned the emperors, so actually sustained the Empire, considering it to be the Church’s secular arm, sharing responsibility for the welfare and spread of Roman Christianity and duty-bound to protect the Papacy. That’s how it worked in principle. However, the partnership seldom worked smoothly as one side of the other would try to dominate the other. There were frequent fluctuations in power and changes in the prevailing political and theological theories that various rulers and churchmen adopted.

From AD 962 to 1250, the Empire was dominated by strong emperors of the Saxon, Franconian, and Hohenstaufen dynasties, who were powerful enough to depose Popes they though to be unsatisfactory. They generally governed through existing officials such as counts and bishops rather than creating a direct administrative system. This made the Roman Catholic Church central to the needs of the state because the Church recorded births, coming of age (confirmation), marriages, and deaths. If a ruler needed a list of who was living in a particular area, say for an effective military levee, he had only to ask the Church for that information. As everyone who wanted to get into heaven was required to submit to Church dogmas like infant baptism and marriage rites, the peasants lined up for a virtual census, unaware that they were being tracked by the medieval equivalent of the NSA.

By cleverly entangling church with government, the Holy Roman Empire left people with little recourse. Romans 13 said Christians must obey. That the government sometimes asked you to do immoral things had been a good reason for early Christians to say “no”, but when the government was also the Church ….

Believers were between a rock and a hard place and every way they turned, there was no choice in the matter … unless they knew the Bible. Ah, yes, but so few did.

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