Church and state re-visited

Discussion in '2004 Archive' started by Matt Black, Jan 19, 2004.

  1. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    Partly inspired by a comment on the ACLU thread in the News forum re the US, and also references to the Constitution Party....

    The initial aim of the American Founding Fathers, as I understand it, with regard to the concept of the separation of Church and State, was to ensure that no one church in the nascent US would be Established or dominant. This has two implications or 'legs' to it - first it was designed to ensure that the church(es) in the US would not be controlled by the government (contrast the situation in the UK where we still do this day have the Church of England whose top positions are politically controlled); secondly, I believe it was designed to prevent a theocracy from developing.

    Now, I think probably all posters here would laud the first aim, but I have noticed that many seem to deplore the second 'leg' of the 'No Establishment' clause. This I find at odds with the world-view of our Baptist and Anabaptist spiritual forebears: they would have utterly rejected the concept of a 'Christian nation', 'One Nation under God', or 'Christendom', call it what you will. They saw themselves, just as the NT churches did, as a community gathered from their 'nations' and no more tried to "convert the laws" of the countries they were in than the early Christians tried to make Rome a 'Christian Empire'. I suggest that this whole notion of a 'Christian nation' has more to do with the concept of 'Christendom' found it the Magisterial Reformation or even in pre-Reformation times than it does with historic Baptist teaching which would have been very much opposed to the idea.

    Discuss!

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  2. Dr. Bob

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    A nation that abandons its christian moral foundation will, however, flounder.

    England comes as an example of the HEIGHT of evangelical fervor 200 years ago to the DEPTH of need today.

    When Christians pull out their salt-and-light influence from government, the downgrade is the only path ahead.
     
  3. Matt Black

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    But there is a world of difference between being a 'nation of Christians' (which I would applaud) and a 'Christian nation'(which I am not so sure about). 'Christian nation', to me, smacks too much of the pre-Reformation and Magisterial Reformation concept of 'Christendom' - the idea that to be English is to be Anglican, to become a citizen means being 'baptised' as a newborn 'into' a church and Christian Commonwealth, and the idea of compulsion - the flawed notion that by, for example, criminalising homosexual behavior and extra-marital sex, that will somehow make our citizens 'better people', when the truth is that only repentance and faith in Jesus Christ on the part of individuals can do that. Our forebears and the NT churches would have found this an alien idea.

    Now, please don't hear what I'm not saying - I'm not saying that Christians should not be politically activist; quite the contrary - we should be salt and light in every facet of public life. BUT, this should not extend to our imposing our beliefs and practices on unbelievers otherwise we return to the England of the late 16th and 17th centuries (particularly after 1662) when attendance at church was ocmpulsory and absence punishable.

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  4. pawn raider

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  5. Charlesga

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    Great post, Matt. Changing a person's behavior (or forcing them to change a behavior) in no way brings them closer nor the country closer to nation of Christians. People must be given the freedom to make choices, good or bad. It is our job as the church to tell others about the saving grace of Jesus, not the job of the government to force a code of morality or one particular religion on the people.
     
  6. rsr

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    Matt, thank you for upholding the Baptist tradition, which has been obscured by too many Christian Reconstructionists.

    The great divide between Baptist and Anabaptists has been specifically in the relationship of the believer to the state. The classic Anabaptist position (as exemplified on this thread and others) is that Christians should have nothing whatever to do with civil government.

    This has not been a Baptist position, which is instead "a free church in a free state." The Baptists were among the most ardent supporters of the English Revolution (until they understood what the Presbyterians really had in mind.) Likewise, the Baptists in America were predominately behind the American Revolution (or Rebellion against the King :D ) and fought (as exemplified by John Leland) for the First Amendment.

    The problem, as C.S. Lewis suggested, is when Christians begin to think that one political party's platform is the equivalent of the Voice of God. Dangerous.
     
  7. Artimaeus

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    I still prefer that to the flawed notion that by, for example decriminalising homosexual behavior and extra-marital sex, that will somehow make our citizens 'better people'

    I still prefer that to their imposing their beliefs and practices on believers
     
  8. Matt Black

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    Who says they are imposing their beliefs and practices? Granted,if they are, that should be resisted, but I have not heard any reports of, for example, Christians being made to perform homosexual acts by Gay Rights activists.

    Agreed with rsr re the 1640s in England. The Baptists and other 'Independents' viewed the Civil War initially as a mixed blessing, and looked upon the proposed 'Covenant' between the Parliamentarians and the Scots with much suspicion given that it in theory was designed to impose Presbyterianism as the Established Church in England. Fortunately for them, many MPs viewed the prospect in the same way (they would not have broached the idea had they not needed Scottish military support)and the terms of reference of the Westminster Commission were so vague as to be practically meaningless (the 'Covenant' itself merely promised to reform the Church of England "according to the Word of God" - much 'wiggle room' there!); fortunately also, most people were too busy fighting each other to bother persecuting the Baptists and , as a result, they and other Radicals flourished, both during the Civil Wars and after under Cromwell's religiously tolerant rule to such an extent that the Independents ended up controlling the New Model Army and thence the country.

    Yours in Christ

    Matt

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  9. Artimaeus

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    You did. When you said that "...this should not extend to our imposing our beliefs and practices on unbelievers" in a previous post. If saying something is wrong is imposing our beliefs on them then saying it is right is imposing their beliefs on us. It is a precarious balance between responibility and lawlessness. I prefer the moral to keep that balance than the immoral. The midpoint of ammorality is unacceptable as well.
     
  10. Matt Black

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    By 'imposition', I mean by legal sanction. Lovingly telling a gay man that his lifestyle is wrong is very different from locking him up for it.

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  11. Artimaeus

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    Yes, Matt but the point is that you must legally sanction one side or the other. It is either right or it is wrong. Legally the law will either say it is okay or it will say that it isn't. It is often stated that "you can't legislate morality" but, the truth is that all legislation is deciding right and wrong. The law isn't neutral. I prefer it to reflect my thinking :D
     
  12. Matt Black

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    But if we are to follow the traditional Baptist distinctive of liberty of conscience, we must accept that those who are not saved will come to very different conclusions than us as to what is permissible and that they must be free to act on those conclusions. Whilst it is an OT given that the Law of Israel in also the Law of the LORD, that concept is nowhere found in the NT - I would challenge you to find in the NT or in the historic Baptist confessions such as 1644 and 1689 any idea that Christians should seek to impose their morals through the legislative process. Now, that is not to say that Christians should not get involved in the democratic process - they should - but it should be on an open basis ie: voters vote for a Christian candidate, knowing he or she is a Christian and that he or she will have a particular manifesto and legislative program that will reflect that; if that candidate is then elected, he or she ahs a clear democratic mandate from the electorate to legislate according to Christian morality - not beause the legislation is 'Christian' per se, but because it is the will of the electorate.

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  13. Artimaeus

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    "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." --John Jay

    The Baptist Church nor any other Church should not be inflicting its muscle on the government but individual Christians can and should be and they should be doing so as practising Christians outwardly and openly promoting Christian positions without fear of being embroiled in the church/state debate.

    I"m getting confused...are we disagreeing or just phrasing things differently? :confused: :D
     
  14. Matt Black

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    Probably the latter - Winnie's reference to "Two nations divided by a common language" and all that :D . I think that as long as we are clear that Christian candidates for public office are open about their beliefs and what they will do if elected and the electorate vote for that manifesto, then I'm all for their beliefs being translated into public policy.

    What I'm aiming for is a candid debate on this issue and also the recognition that it is highly likely that in any society/ nation, revivals notwithstanding, Christians will be in a minority ("many are called, few chosen", "choose ye the narrow way" etc)and that therefore it is unlikely, unless Christians exert influence beyond their numbers (as was the case until last century, although whether that was the result of real influence or the lingering residue of the concept of 'Christendom' is a moot point) that the laws of a democratic nation will be 'Christian' as we understand this; and that therefore we should not be surpried or shocked at that fact. (We should still be scandalised by it and seek to change it according to the demoratic norms of the country concerned ;) )

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     

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