A Brief History of Church/State Relations Part 3

Getting Medieval: The Reformation Falls Short (1517-1600)

The theme of the Reformation can be summarized in five Latin statements: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone be the Glory). These concepts were not new to the Reformation; throughout history they had been upheld by various small and persecuted sects, whom we will discuss in the next section, the Reformation merely represents the popularization and widespread acceptance of these beliefs as Biblical Truth.

The turning point for this movement was October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. In only a matter of weeks his Ninety-five Theses were translated, re-printed, and sent throughout Europe. They were not as radical as we might assume them to be; they do not oppose the Pope or the Catholic church at any point, but rather they protest the abusive use of indulgences, nevertheless this represents the soteriological (the doctrine of salvation) turning point in institutionalized church history. The Reformers propagated and contended for salvation through faith alone by grace alone; this stands in stark contrast to the meritorious works-based soteriology propagated by the Catholic church. The Reformers also returned the church to the Biblical understanding of God as God; namely a return to the view of God as the supreme, absolute, Sovereign, ruler, creator, owner, sustainer of the entire universe.

While the reformation is a watershed event in the churches return to a Biblical Soteriology and Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), the reformation represents a failure in terms of reforming ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). It is clear that over the course of the Reformation the ecclesiology of the reformers underwent a drastic change. It is clear that early in the Reformation Luther and even Zwingli, who died in battle, advocated a strict separation between church and state; this stood in contrast the sacramental Catholic system where the functions of the church and the state were indistinguishable. This conviction was abandoned over the course of the Reformation, whether this was due to cowardice, Biblical conviction, or sheer pragmatism I am unsure; however it is clear that after this shift in thinking Protestantism became just a violent and vicious as the Catholic church, which it had opposed. It is at this point that the Separatists, as they are generically known, broke their ties to the Reformers and began to build a new church, one distinctively separate from the state. It is important to note that it is the Reformers, who broke their ties to the Separatists, and not vice versa. In light of the Reformers, the role of the Separatist is often understated, if not neglected, and it is to their massively important story that we now turn.

Reformation Underground: The Neo-Donatists

The Separatists were not products of the Reformation but its predecessors and its successors, insomuch as I am concerned they were the Reformation. The Separatists did not merely precede the Reformation; they preceded it by more than a century. At the time of the Reformation they were not known as Separatists, they actually had many names, most of which were terms of derision given to them by their persecutors. Below is a brief explanation of two of these names followed by a brief explanation of their role in history.

The first is Donatism. Donatism dates back to the Donatist Rebellion of the fourth century. The Donatist Rebellion was a reaction against Constantinianism and the new Sacralism of the Catholic Church. In contrast to the all-inclusive Constantinian state-church, the Donatists understood the church to be composed of only the saved. Eventually Rome dispatched troops and the Donatist Rebellion was crushed, however, their influence was not undone. It is because of their strong belief in the church as separate from the state that the Separatists were called Donatists, or Neo-Donatists.

The second is Anabaptism. As the title denotes they advocated a new baptism/rebaptism, or more specifically believer’s baptism. This is because they considered the forced baptism of he Catholic church invalid. In understand this one must know that in the name of “Christendom” baptisms were forced. In 1525, the Council at Zurich required parents to baptize their children, within a week of birth, lest they be banished. Four years later the Diet of Speier commanded that every individual guilty of Anabaptism, regardless of age or sex, be put to death. It is reported that forced baptism occurred until 1863.
While numerous other names could be given and explained these two adequately, demonstrate the Separatists’ understanding of the church as both separate from the state and separate from society. This at a time when the church and state were indistinguishable and society was inseparable from the state-church that ruled over it.

While much concerning the Separatists is unknown, due to their persecution by both Catholic and Reformers, they are great heroes of the faith. They were by nature a missional people they drew no line of distinction between missionary and pastor. They also drew no line of distinction between “home missions” and “foreign missions.” The concept of “home missions” can only exist within Christendom, a sacral society. They, however, understood themselves to be sojourners and foreigners, with Heaven as their only home, thus leaving only foreign missions. They were also mighty in the scriptures, so mighty that prior to being burned at the stake they would be gagged lest they proclaim the Gospel from the flames and so draw men and women after themselves.

It is to the Separatists that “American Protestants” owe believers baptism, separation of church and state, and voluntary church membership. Understanding the Separatists should shed much light upon what is meant by the First Amendment, namely a safeguard against Sacralism.

The Emerging American Sacralism: The First Amendment

With the aforementioned understanding of the Separatists and the First Amendment as a safeguard against Sacralism, we must guard ourselves against two things Christian Sacralism and Secular Sacralism. We live at a time when the fundamental dividing line between American political is not even political, it is ideological, it is doctrinal, and in all honesty, it is theological. It as turned from a debate over policy to a debate over God.

First and foremost, we must guard against Christian Sacralism, against a church-controlled state. The greatest threat to the Gospel is not the state-controlled church of Secular Sacralism but the church-controlled state of Christian Sacralism. This is true for several reasons. First, Christian Sacralism kills the church. Within Christian Sacralism, church membership is mandatory and as such, no concept of the redeemed body of Christ can exist. Second, Christian Sacralism kills missions. Missions cannot exist within the all-inclusive state-church of Christian Sacralism. Third, Christian Sacralism kills the Gospel. The state-enforced morality of Christian Sacralism is by nature legalistic and stands directly opposed to the Gospel. Moreover, within Christian Sacralism the Gospel is no longer a message proclaimed but a norm to be enforced, the Gospel once persecuted becomes a means of persecution. Much of Evangelical political activism exemplifies Christian Sacralism as Evangelicals seek to force “Christian” norms upon American society.

Secondly, we must guard against Secular Sacralism, against a state-controlled church. Before continuing, it is critical to define what Secular Sacralism is and is not. Secular Sacralism is not simply a secular government. A Secular Sacralism is a form of government, which enforces secularism. The American trend towards state-sanctioned ecumenism is an example of Secular Sacralism. What distinguishes Secular Sacralism from that which is merely secular is the difference between something enforced and something normalized. The normalization of abortion and homosexuality are not the marks of Secular Sacralism but the marks of that which is simply secular, however, the forced abortion of all children with birth defects is a mark of Secular Sacralism.

A Brief History of Church/State Relations Part 2

Once Upon a Time: The Church is Born (30-100 AD)

The early church had a very practical understanding of a composite society, this is inherent within the Gospel message, because there will always be those who stumble over the cross and those who glory in it. The following excerpt from The Epistle of Diognetus (ca 100 AD) illustrates this quite well:

“Christians are not distinct from the rest of men in country or language or customs. . . . They inhabit their own fatherland, but as sojourners; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is to them a fatherland and every fatherland a foreign country . . . . They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven.”

It is quite interesting that they were able to live as ordinary citizens in spite of the persecution, which the church endured; they did not cease to proclaim the Gospel nor did they engage in crusades to have Christ replace the god’s of Rome. The persecution was so extensive that none of the apostles saw the close of the century. Herod Agrippa killed James, the brother of John, in 44. Philip was crucified in 54. Peter was crucified in 67. John was the only apostle to escape a violent death and he likely died in 98. Andrew was crucified. Thomas was speared to death in the East. Bartholomew was crucified in India. Matthew was killed in Ethiopia in 60. James, the son of Alphaeus, was stoned. Simon was crucified in Britain in 74. Jude, commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified in 72. Matthias was stoned and crucified in Jerusalem.

Things began to change and the church slowly became disenchanted with inhabiting their fatherland as sojourners.

Losing Our Identity: The Apologists Contend for Themselves (100-200 AD)

In between the period of the Apostles, described above, and overlapping the period of the Apologists, is a period generally known as the Apostolic Fathers. They are considered to have been alive during the time of the Apostles and many were supposedly disciples of the apostles themselves. Their writings are primarily epistles and sermons written to edify the church. It is important to understand these general characteristics because they lived through the same persecutions as the Apologists and yet their responses stand in stark contrast to one another.

The Apologetic Fathers lived around 100-200 AD; however, the persecution that set the stage for their apologies began far earlier in history. Major persecution of the church began with Nero, in 54, and continued unimpeded until Constantine in 300. What makes the writings of the Apologists so different is that they did not write to edify the church, they wrote to defend the church. This sounds great; however, this is, in my opinion, one of the saddest points in church history. Because they did not write to defend church doctrine, they did not write out of evangelistic zeal, they did not write out of a passion for the glory of God, they selfishly wrote to secure the safe existence of the church. They no longer viewed themselves as sojourners in a foreign land whose primary citizenship was in heaven, but as men and women whose primary citizenship was in Rome. They failed to “fight the good fight of the faith” and fought for themselves instead. Little did they know that in the coming century an emperor would come to power and wage war not against them but on their behalf.

A Tale of Two Swords: Constantinianism

Constantine was co-emperor of Rome, with Licinius, from 311-324. In 312, at the battle of Milvian Bridge he claimed to have a vision of a cross, over which was phrase “By this sign conquer.” He was victorious and subsequently proceeded to issue numerous edicts and grants favoring Christians. The effects of this are seen even to this day, the Rx symbol present a most pharmacies is an abbreviated form of the Greek word for Christ and was emblazoned on the shields of Constantine’s army. This marks a massive turning point in church history; no longer was the church persecuted by the state, now it possessed the power to persecute through the state.

The church justified its new political rule by allegorically interpreting one verse of scripture. “And they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough’” (Luke 22:38). From Constantine on the church has wielded both the sword of the spirit and the sword of steel with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, as the result.

If you wish to fully understand the horrors, which this brought about then I would recommend reading the Malleus Maleficarum (translated: Witch Hammer or Hammer of Witches). This is the standard handbook on the prosecution of witches/heretics. Originally published in Germany in 1487 it has been used by both Protestants and Catholics. The third section details the horrific methods by which confessions are to be extracted.

Constantine set numerous precedents whose influence throughout history cannot be imagined; in fact, much of American law and legal tradition can be traced back, through English law, directly to Constantine. It is because of this that we would do well to understand our history lest we continue to repeat its mistakes.

There are positive effects, though I do not consider them as such, of this new state church. The rights of women were elevated, incest was forbidden, divorce was made difficult, adultery became a punishable offense, as did infanticide, the grip of slavery was lessened, and the gladiatorial shows were partially abolished. I do not consider the results positive because they are the result of a new Sacralism, and this contradicts the very nature of the Gospel. Among the negative effects are the secularization and paganization of the church, the development of idols and icons, the synchronism of the church and Roman civil government, the persecution of heretics, and the secularization of the church led to monasticism. Membership in the church was no longer voluntary; as citizens of Rome you were citizens in the kingdom of God, there was no distinction between the two. This view of the kingdom of God had been proliferated to the degree that when Rome began to fall most thought the tribulation was at hand.

The next fifteen-thousand years of church history can very much be summarized by the church persecuting through the state; everything from the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the Salem witch trials builds on the foundation Constantine laid. By the grace of God, this movement is not without its defectors and those who rebelled against it, which will be presented in my next post.

A Brief History of Church/State Relations Part 1

The Old Testament: A Sacramental System

In order to have a Biblical perspective on politics one must first understand the two political systems, or more specifically societal paradigms, presented in Scripture. Each of these systems are easily defined and has unique characteristics that differentiate it from the other. The first of these is the Sacramental System; beginning at the fall (Genesis 3:7) and ending as the temple veil was torn (Matthew 27:51).

A Sacral Society is a monolithic society centered around one unanimously embraced religion. The fundamental driving force behind a sacral is the idea that societal harmony requires religious unanimity; it assumes that religious diversity always results in social discord and within a sacral society, it does. The key to understanding Sacral Societies is realizing that there is no distinction between church and state, the two are synonyms, and can be used interchangeably because they refer to the same institution.

There are numerous distinctives of a Sacral Society. First, within a Sacramental System, the church and the state represent a singular institution, this is commonly known as a theocracy. Second, a Sacral Society has only one religion, the state religion. Third, a Sacramental System is physical in focus; religious form outweighs spiritual essence. Because the state cannot judge the heart motives of an individual, outward compliance is the mark of a true believer, and subsequently a true citizen; the state must create and regulate standardized religious forms. Fourth, because Sacral Societies are theocratic and the mark of true citizenship is outward religious conformity they employ coercion to maintain religious harmony.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of what a Sacral Society looks like.
Israel was a Sacramental Society; as a theocracy, they were by definition Sacral. Even Israel’s enemies were Sacral Societies, whether it be Egypt and their god’s, Dagon of the Philistines, Baal-zebub of Ekron, or any of the god’s of the nations surrounding Israel they were all societies united in and by the worship of their god(s). The law given to Israel maintained civil and spiritual unity; there were no distinctions between the two, which is why those who broke spiritual unity were stoned. The nations that opposed Israel also opposed Israel’s God and likewise the nations that opposed Israel’s God opposed Israel, there is no separating of the two in Sacral Society. This is precisely why the Jews, including the Disciples, could not conceive of a Messiah that did not rule an earthly Kingdom (Acts 1:6).

The New Testament: A Composite System

The second of these is the Composite System; beginning at the tearing of the temple veil (Matthew 27:51). A Composite Society is just that, a compound differentiated society, one could even consider this Democracy, where individuals of differing religious orientations can peacefully coexists within a single society. This is a society where individuals can maintain loyalty to a secular political entity while maintaining their religious orientation; a society where one can “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21).” The key to understanding Composite Societies is realizing that there is a clear distinction between church and state; they represent two distinct separate institutions that do not overlap in any way.

There are several distinctives of a Composite Society. First, within a Composite System, the church and state represent two distinctly separate institutions. Second, a Composite Society is religiously diverse. Third, a Composite System is spiritual in focus, since there is no state religion there are no standardized religious forms. Fourth, because the church and state are two separate institutions individuals can maintain loyalties to both institutions and ones religion becomes a mater of free choice. It is implied in the previous sentence that the state neither aids nor hinders any religion.

The New Testament paints a clear picture of what a Composite society should look like. God makes it clear that He establishes all human governments from Hitler to the Romans that killed Christ and He commands us to submit ourselves to these authorities (Romans 13:1; Acts 4:26-28; Colossians 1:16). He even establishes Governments that oppose Him, and His servants, to the point that we are to be encouraged that neither rulers nor powers can separate us from the Love of God in Christ our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Even at this we do not war with these earthly powers (Ephesians 6:12). Paul even claimed citizenship to Rome, the same Rome that killed Christ (Acts 22:25). Paul understood that the Kingdom of God and the empire of Rome were not in opposition to the point that he could claim citizenship to both. While in Athens Paul noted that they worshipped many gods, even noting an alter inscribed “to the unknown god.” The Apostles recognize that the Sacramental System had ended and the surrounding word did as well, societal harmony was no longer dependant upon religious unanimity.

It is also important to note that the New Testament is completely devoid of prescribed worship forms, as found in the Old Testament. The main word describing Old Testament worship (proskuneo in the Greek Old Testament) mainly occurs in the Gospels and in Revelation, and at that it is in reference to falling down and worshipping Christ. It is also used once in Paul’s letters and that in reference to an unbeliever viewing the literal presence and power of God through the entire congregation prophesying. The gathered church and their actions are never referred to as worship in the New Testament. New Testament worship is no longer bound to strict, location oriented, external, government-enforced forms of worship; we are free to worship in spirit and in truth.


Why is this important? I defined the above categories at length because it is imperative that we understand and recognize their characteristics, as the repercussions of their influence has had a profound impact on human history and will play a large role in shaping human history. All this will become clear in my next post, which will be far less in-depth and hopefully far more enlightening.

**I owe much of my understanding and clarity of thought, on this subject, to The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Dissent and Nonconformity Series) by Leonard Verduin, on which I will post a book review in the coming weeks.

The Coming End of Religious Freedom in America

This week the LA Times published a review of an upcoming documentary entitled, Jesus Camp (the article is available here). The film documents “Kids on Fire,” a summer camp in North Dakota. The film focuses on three children Rachael, Levi, and Tory. I may take the time to see the film to learn what perverted distortion of Biblical discipleship is being presented as the status quo among evangelicals, as this documentary will likely play a large role of forming, or confirming, the public’s opinion of Evangelicism.

More important than the documentary itself is the following comment quoted by the reviewer: “I kept saying to myself, ‘OK, these are the Christian version of the Madrassas (those Islamic religious instructional schools in Pakistan and elsewhere, often financed by Saudi oil money) … so both sides are pretty much equally sick.” More and more individuals are comparing Evangelicism to radical Islam; what makes this comparison so important is the clarity with which it pinpoints the root issue. The root issue is that the problem with radical Islam has nothing to do with its violent tendencies but rather its intolerance of other viewpoints, a characteristic shared with Evangelicism.

If this does not serve as a siren to break the silence before the coming storm I am unsure what will. Earlier this month Stephen Green was arrested in Great Brittan for handing out tracts addressing homosexuality (some articles are available here and here). Just last week German parents who home school their children were being imprisoned. I am not going to make prophetic predictions concerning when we will begin seeing laws condemning the Gospel as hate speech or against following Christ[1] on the ballot here in America, although I think it will be soon.
Honestly, if God uses such persecution to shock the dead American Church to life, to rid the church of nominal Christians, and drive the Church out of comfort and complacency and into the nations; then I look forward to it.
[1] I say following Christ instead of Christianity because I see a vast difference between the two; furthermore, I am trying to eliminate the term “Christian” from my vocabulary and replacing it with “follower of Christ.” I am doing this for several reasons. First, Christianity is an institutionalized religion, Christ did not come to establish an institution He came to establish His Church. Secondly, the world, especially America, is rife with self-professing Christians, very few of which truly follow Christ. The fulfillment of the Great Commission is not found in individuals from every race and tongue and tribe affirming a catechism or creed; but by individuals from every race and tongue and tribe submitting themselves, in obedience, to everything Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). In closing, I will leave you with a quote. “During the time of Christ, we would be known as followers of the way or followers of Christ and the surrounding culture would insult us by calling us ‘Christians.’ But now we call ourselves Christians and the surrounding world calls us hypocrites.” -Erwin Raphael McManus

Rosie O’Donnell Speaks Out Part Two

While Rosie is seriously mistaken in her analysis, I think evangelicalism is largely to blame for her misunderstanding. The unbridled push towards greater evangelical political activism has lead to the misunderstanding that its aim is creating a quasi theocracy. An idea that many, if not most, evangelicals would embrace, depending on their eschatology and ecclesiology.

This misunderstanding has proliferated to the point that the primary dividing line between political parties is moralistic. With presidential, among other elections, looming just around the corner we must exercise due diligence in both how and why we vote. We must also be clear in explaining these convictions to others, lest others confuse the actions of the United States with the actions of Christ.

I see Rosie’s understanding of the situation as representative of the culture at large. I also think her understanding of the situation is representative of the international community as well; most internationals tend to view America as a “Christian nation.” While viewing a nation as “Christian” may be distinct from a “Christian Theocracy,” it is very easy to conceive of the US as a “Theocratic Democracy,” where Christ rules through the passions of the masses.

I think it is time that American Evangelicals embrace the fact that America is not a Christian nation; that we would stop reducing the Gospel to a moralistic message enforceable by legislation, that we would cease to belittle God by reducing Him to a political party, and that we would cease misrepresenting the name of Christ for the sake of political gain.

I think it is time that American Evangelicals realize that the gospel is not advanced on the back of public favor, that self-righteous legalism and enforced morality glorifies self and not God, that God is not a Republican, nor is He a Democrat, as He transcends all worldly institutions, that we have become Pharisaic in our quest for a political Messiah, and that failure to realize these things blasphemes the living God.

18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Corinthians 1:18-31