Can we learn from history? Yes we can if we will hear its voice. History has shown us a few things concerning the Church that should be of interest to us. Let’s look at a little history of the Church and of America.
The Church Plus Law
The Reformation is of relative lateness as concerning history and although there have been noteworthy previous efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church before 1517 it is Martin Luther who is acknowledged to have initiated the Reformation with his work, The Ninety-Five Theses, nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany.
Hundreds of years before the Reformation the Catholic Church ruled alone in the world of Christian religion, and in the issues of state. The church and the state were united; the Catholic Church was the national church of all Christian nations. Within this institutional church there was no room for opposition, and especially during the time the Catholics were countering the Protestant Reformation. Within the Catholic Church the best and the brightest minds resided and these intellectuals were of the opinion that persecution was Biblical and right. Once the Protestant movement officially began they too agreed that church and state should be united and that persecution of dissenters should continue. History records that the Protestant power brokers exercised their authority with severe consequences for nonconformists. The torch, and the sword, along with drowning and confiscation of property fill the pages of history, and in this respect the Protestants were no different than their predecessors. This is recorded history; there is no denying the facts. Could anyone justify these actions today in America? No, no one could. But this causes me to ask, why didn’t these individuals discover in the Gospel what we understand today concerning the separation of church and state and the persecution of those who oppose our message? It may be argued that these people were products of their time and culture and that this was the norm. Barbarism was the norm, and they are excused? Preposterous! If that were the case then why, going all the way back to the primitive church, a poor, despised, and persecuted people, who were comparatively ignorant regarding intellectual things and worldly wisdom, understood clearly that these things were wrong and un-Christian?
Why were these Christians singled out by the Protestant and Catholic Church and persecuted? The Albigenses and Waldenses, for several centuries before the Reformation and the Anabaptists in the day of Calvin and Luther, protested against the non-Christian spirit of institutionalism which promoted persecution and church/state alliance as anti-Christian and devilish. These same Christians, who held to the Biblical non-resistant teaching of Jesus, boldly declared these policies to be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Gospel and insisted that the Church should be separated from the state and stop persecution.
What They Discovered Later
Today the institutional “Reformed” Church has come around. Now the popular opinion has changed and the Church, which once persecuted and killed the nonconforming radical reformers, are now of the same opinion. Popular Christianity now supports separation of Church and state (although that opinion is beginning to slip with dominionism, aka Kingdom-Dominion, or ‘Restoration’ theology gaining strength). Again, the question is; how come it took these powerful and educated men so long to discover what those poor, despised, and persecuted Christians have always known? The Bible speaks of the “Spirit of truth and knowledge;” then why didn’t this spirit of truth show these learned men what those ignorant men knew? Didn’t Christ promise to lead His followers into all truth? Did His promise fail to reach the Reformers? Or, could the answer be that these intelligent men were deprived of the truth through their pride, intellect, and presumptuous spirit? Is it possible that Divine truth remains hidden until the natural light of man’s reason makes it visible? No, of course that is not the answer; the intelligence of men was the problem. These men chose to live under the rule of law rather than grace and trust and were consequently blinded to the truth.
Christian America Founded Under Law
Paul said in Romans 13,
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
At the time of the founding of America the sentiment of the leaders, and by default the people, was to resist the government of Great Britain, which at that time was the “power” referred to in Romans 13. Every message from nearly every preacher during that period was a message to resist the “power.” The pulpits in America had turned this vice of resisting the “power” into a virtue. Today those same preachers are held in high esteem although they twisted Scripture and taught men to do likewise, in not only resisting, but in overthrowing this God ordained authority. At this point it should be stressed that there is a curse of damnation associated with the breaking of this command. I doubt that any of the revered pastors of olden days dared to preach a sermon on Romans 13 during this time in our history. Here again the light of the Gospel is missing.
The continuing independence of America even depends on Christian people denying Christ’s injunction, given through Paul, to resist the powers ordained by God. That “right” written into the Declaration of Independence, i.e. the law, encourages Christians to revolt if, in their estimation, the government fails to accomplish its purpose. The document, presumably written by men of Christian persuasion, is ignorant of the same light of which the Reformers were ignorant. How can this be? Can Christians be a part of something that is in direct opposition to the clear commands of Scripture, and therefore God? But, what if the power has become corrupt some may ask? It doesn’t matter. If we say we believe Scripture then we are not given that option. Christians cannot resist the government in any way without resisting God who has ordained it; and to resist God is very serious business. If this command is given to Christians, then they cannot take part in any way to resist or influence government. The Gospel therefore does not recognize any “rights” of Christians to revolt or to vote, for those things only exist under the law; if it does it sets itself against God. As far as un-believers go, they are left just where they were, under the law and control of sword wielding men enforcing an eye-for-an-eye form of justice.
The Example of the Jews
Like the Jews who refused to trust and have faith in God, and who were repeatedly damned for their unbelief, so too can a professed Christian expect condemnation for giving lip service of faith and liberty in God while openly trusting in man for his deliverance via government perks of legislature, military, courts of justice, rights to bear arms, and self-defense, and whatever else the government provides to save its citizens from harm and injustice. To – presume – the blessings of God while prostituting one’s self to the ways-and-means of the world is, in the words of Scripture, the same as rebellion and witchcraft (1st Samuel 15:23) . This idea is found throughout the Bible and is closely connected to conceit and the pride of superiority.
I Love Definitions
presumptuous – A person who is presumptuous shows little respect for others by doing things they have no right to do (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)
presumption – 1. the act of presuming; specif., a. an overstepping of proper bounds; forwardness; effrontery b. the taking of something for granted (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)
Given the great gulf separating God and man in realms of knowledge, wisdom, foresight, purity, holiness, and virtue, how can a true believer possibly presume to overlook, adjust, alter, or ignore God’s Word? What kind of attitude is required to walk in some other way than the path that God in His infinite wisdom has directed and illuminated? An attitude of legalism would be the correct answer here.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Presumption, rebellion, and witchcraft all have the curse of condemnation attached to them.
But . . . . . . ?
It will not due to say that the law spoken of was the Mosaic Law. The law is the law; the Law of Moses was the outward expression of that, which was written on the tablets of every man’s heart, and it is “law,” outward or inward, that demands justice from the un-converted heart, and demands the state to provide it, and which will condemn him on the Day of Judgment. The law that is written on our hearts has no other purpose than the Law of Moses, which is to lead us to faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ means the end of all law for believers and the exhibition of that trust through a separation from all aspects of government and political involvement. If we retain a link to the world and its promises of deliverance and salvation we, in effect, deny Christ and His ability to save us.
As Christians we cannot act like King Saul (read 1 Samuel 9 to 1 Samuel 10:25) who claimed to be a trusting follower of Jehovah God, yet when the enemy lifted its head he took matters into his own hands and turned his back on God, earning for his reward, condemnation. Just as the multitude of Jews were anxious to follow Saul in his rebellion against God, so the Church today is anxious to follow the popular message from the American pulpit that Christians need to be involved in government and take matters into their own hands. Should we expect any different results than the example shown to us in the life of the Hebrew nation?
All of this was understood perfectly by the primitive Church. The intellect of man has sought to refine God’s word, where no refining is needed or wanted, and then impose those refinements on men as the truth. The result of this refinement is to place man squarely back under the law and its curse. The liberty we have through Christ was not understood by the Reformers or the founders of America. Christians today are under the spell that man can provide his own peace and liberty through political action; but it is a lie that is reinforced from the pulpit, and is no different from what King Saul’s rejection of God.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has a lot to say about obedience. In the story of the Ten Commandments, we see how important the concept of obedience is to God. Deuteronomy 11:26–28 sums it up like this: “Obey and you will be blessed. Disobey and you will be cursed.”
In the New Testament, we learn through the example of Jesus Christ that believers are called to a life of obedience.
But Samuel replied to Saul, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22–23)