Church and State: Hostiles?
In continuing the protracted(apologies for the delay) series on the validity of being a Baptist and Reformed, we have come to the objection made by Laurence Justice concerning the doctrine of church and state. I do think we generally agree that these are two different realms with two different responsibilities before God. I must disagree with his reasoning behind why this cancels the term Reformed for Baptists. Unfortunately, some of the language used is unhelpful and, once again, historically selective. Let’s deal with each case separately, beginning with the Consantinian argument.
Constantine: Destroyer of Christianity
I don’t know much of history behind Constantine and his role behind calling for unity in the church of the time. Was it for the solidification of his own power as Emperor of Rome? Was it in order to pursue a unified church for the good of the church? It seems to be that both of these are potentially true. Unity is never a bad thing as long as it is unity of the truth of Scripture. Constantine called for an ecumenical council of the Church to lay these disputes to rest. We know this council to be the one that produced the Nicene Creed defending the nature of Christ as fully divine, and defending the Triune nature of the Godhead against Arius and his error that Christ was divine but of a different substance from the Father. This is good that Constantine used his power to call for unity of the Church for it produced the first of the Orthodox Ecumenical Creeds that most of the Christian world to this day holds to. On the other hand, in regards to infant baptism, it appears to be that Constantine used his power to impose 4th century paedobaptist doctrine upon the whole Church. There were a group of people who disagreed with this doctrine(and rightly so). They were persecuted and executed for dissenting with the church and state which were married under Constantine. Was infant baptism the only reason for persecution? Their persecution was certainly related to baptism, but it had less to do with infant baptism than re-baptism. The Donatist controversy was over bishops who had recanted the faith. If a person was baptized(even as an infant) by a bishop who had “fallen away,” then their baptism was invalid. So it placed value on the one baptizing. One’s moral excellence is what gave baptism validity in the sight of the Donatist. The “fall of the Church” is not due to the moral purity of the Church, but due to what the Church believes concerning the Gospel. This sets up the next bit of unhelpful and historically selective language.
Killing Donatists: The Spigot Opened to the River of Blood
This is the same language used by Baptist perpetuists who see church purity in accordance with correct baptism. In other words, those who practiced infant baptism corrupted the church and those who baptized adults kept the church pure. This contains within it the belief that one’s doctrine and practice must be 100% pure in order to be a pure church. The Second London Baptist Confession says that the purest churches are subject to error. What makes up the Kingdom of God is those who believe in Christ and profess His name. One’s practices evidence what one believes concerning the Gospel and a Church that practices credobaptism and not padeobaptism is a more pure church, but it doesn’t mean that God’s people are not among the paedobaptist churches. They are true churches. Their practice needs reforming. We must leave this idea that only moral excellence is what constitutes Christ’s church. We must look for the Church among those who have believed on His name and have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of the Beloved Son.
Reformers: Successors to Constantinan Persecution
Did Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, etc. continue with this persecution to the Anabaptists aka Neo-Donatists? Was it the refusal of the Anabaptists to accept the baptism of children what led to their death? Perhaps that was part of it. Many of the Anabaptists did not seek to adhere to any of the laws of the civil magistrate. They believed it was an evil thing that existed and to take part in it was to take part in the works of the evil one. So the Reformers, who saw a closer relation of Church and State, persecuted them not primarily for their rebaptizing of their children, but mainly due to their rebellion against the state in matters of civil disobedience. After all, it was the Munster Anabaptists who took over the city and began a war. They became the face of Anabaptism. I know they were not indicative of the whole of Anabaptism, but they certainly were an example of how rebellion against the state ought not be allowed insofar as it consists of common, civil affairs. The mistake the Reformers made was a similar one to Constantine: that Church and State can coordinate the affairs of humans together.
Baptists: Two Kingdom Theologians
Amen to the first half of Dr. Justice’s final paragraph! The civil magistrate’s duty is not in the sphere of religion or worship. The Church’s duty is not in the sphere of ordering the common affairs of humanity. Baptists believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church and State. So did Augustine, Luther and the rest of the Reformers. Baptists have a separation of the two into a common kingdom and a heavenly kingdom. Here is where I end my applause of the paragraph. The two kingdoms aren’t antagonistic to each other. They have different roles and functions. At times, the state is a friend to the Church when it allows Her to follow Her conscience when it comes to worship. The Church is a friend to the state when it doesn’t impose religious worship on society. The State has a duty to call the church to fidelity insofar as the Church cannot murder, teach kids to be disobedient to parents, commit adultery, steal, covet, or lie. The Church has a duty to call the State to fidelity by calling it to preserve human life, promote marital fidelity, protect private property, etc. Neither can impose its rulings on the other, they can only call each other to righteousness and faithfulness. They aren’t “basically antagonistic” to one another. They can be antagonistic to one another when they infringe upon their proper roles to which God has set them up to carry out. But they are both called by God to carry out their respective roles in relation to each other. It is perfectly acceptable for the Christian to exercise the use of the sword. We are called by the Apostle Paul to obey and submit to those who are set over us, including the emperor Nero who wields the sword for peace.
That’s the last ramblings of this fellow. Now off to put my 5 month old down for a nap.