Before Calvin

What would happen if critics of 2k had to think about the relationship between the church and magistrates before emperors got religion (and who knows if they grasped Christianity for the right reasons)?

In the current issue of New Horizons, David VanDrunen explains where 2k reflection on the state starts — not in 1536 but in 33.

The apostolic church lived under civil magistrates who did not confess Christ and sometimes persecuted people who did. Yet New Testament texts such as Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Peter 2:13–17 taught that God had ordained civil magistrates and that believers ought to honor and submit to them.

Following the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the early fourth century, the status of Christians in society changed. The contemporary church historian Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, described the Roman Empire under Constantine as the fulfillment of Old Testament texts prophesying that war would cease and the wicked would be cut off: Constantine was realizing Christ’s kingdom on earth. Shortly thereafter, Augustine (354–430) provided a much more modest view. In his City of God, Augustine described Christians as sojourners, on a pilgrimage in this world toward the heavenly city. He acknowledged that Christians should participate in their political communities, but he taught that all earthly rulers and empires are provisional, not to be confused with Christians’ eschatological hope.

In the fifth century, the “Christendom” model emerged. As described by Pope Gelasius I, there are “two powers” that exercise authority under God in this world: the emperor has authority over “temporal affairs” for the sake of “public order,” and the priest controls the sacraments and “spiritual activities,” toward the goal of “eternal life.” Priest and emperor should submit to one another in their proper spheres.

This model was helpful in important respects. It affirmed that civil governments are legitimate, ordained by God. It also taught that their jurisdiction is limited and subject to God’s authority.

But notice the problems:

First, it essentially wed the church to the state in a confessionally unified Christian society. The New Testament, however, never suggests that Christians should expect or seek such a society.

Second, the state was expected to enforce the church’s claims about doctrine and worship by punishing dissenters with the sword. This reality sat uncomfortably beside New Testament teaching that Christ’s gospel and kingdom do not advance by the weapons of this world. Many who sought to reform the church—such as John Hus in the fifteenth century—would meet untimely ends as victims of this church-state alliance.

So long as a Protestant city council supports our guy, John Calvin, we forget about the problems of a religious magistrate? It’s our civil government.

And so long as that Cadillac CTS that only gets 13.8 mpg is a comfortable ride to church, we forget about the price of gas or limits on fossil fuels? It’s our gas guzzler.

11 thoughts on “Before Calvin

  1. The Roman 13:1-7 passage reflects Jesus’ reasoning in Mark 12:14-17 where Jesus is asked if it is legal to pay a pole-tax to Caesar. Jesus asks whose image and inscription is on the coin. When the answer is “Caesar’s. ” He reply’s with the line: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”


  2. I guess before Calvin can be referred to as BC. If so, I will calculate our current AC year. But the above provides a filtered and opportunistic attempt to confirm 2KT. For when it comes to the government, only the NT is considered to be Scriptural and only parts of that. Missing is John the Baptist’s criticisms of Herod as well as James’s criticisms of the rich. But before that are the OT prophets who not only spoke prophetically to the nations under the covenant, which were Israel and Judah, who were separated sometime after birth; they also spoke prophetically to some of the surrounding nations. And they challenged those nations on a number of social justice issues. Of course, the only comeback to the examples of the OT prophets is to claim that the requirement that nations practice justice has been done away with with advent of the NT while at the same time requiring individuals to follow the Ten Commandments, especially the one pertaining to the Sabbath.

    Is it really the NT that has done away with the requirement that nations practice justice or is because of either tribalism or the love of wealth?

    BTW, we might want to note what Augustine said about those kingdoms that do not practice justice. According to him, they are nothing more than pirates and a gang of thieves.


  3. D.G.,
    And that is why we can act as Good Samaritans and why we can speak prophetically to society and the state.

    Of course if we believe that we can withdraw from the world into our own little corner, then all we have said is that what follows the fact that His kingdom is not of this world is that the greatest love is self love.


  4. D.G.,
    You more cryptic responses that are play for you are nothing more than a sign of disrespect, a kind of passive-aggressive acting out. If only you would pay as much attention to what Paul said in Galatians 5 as you do to the Reformed confessions, perhaps you would respond differently. Do you understand why I sometimes bring up the time when Jesus challenged the Pharisees on their use of corban and how they substituted traditions for God’s Word?


  5. Clark Kent is also superman, but they are not responsible for each other.

    William Tyndale—“When More proves that the saints be in heaven in glory with Christ already, saying, “If God be their God, they be in heaven, for he is not the God of the dead;” there he steals away Christ’s argument, wherewith he proves the resurrection: that Abraham and all saints should rise again, and not that souls were now living in hell or in purgatory or in heaven; which doctrine was not yet in the world. With that doctrine More takets away the resurrection quite, and makes Christ’s argument of none effect.”

    Martin Luther–” For just as one who falls asleep and reaches morning unexpectedly when he awakes, without knowing what has happened to him we shall suddenly rise on the last day without knowing how we have come into death and through death. I shall sleep, until He comes and knocks on the little grave and says, “Doctor Martin, get up! Then I shall rise in a moment, and be with him forever.’ ”

    proto–War is like a massive subsidy for the wealthy in this country. Scores of companies and industries benefit from the death and destruction war brings. They and their shareholders have done very well over the past decade. The American soldiers are serving these corporations and the political parasites who lust for power, and yet these people at the top are the least interested in the welfare of these pawns. Sadly, many in the military are people from depressed areas looking for a way out. I live in Rust Belt Appalachia and the recruiters are very active in this area. There are hordes of kids whose only future is either in drugs and petty crime, a minimum wage job, or the military. They’re not heroes. In many cases, they’re dupes.
    But our army isn’t evil and destructive, like that of other countries. We help people and do good things.


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