Thursday, 8 November 2012

Separation of Church and State (1)

In my last post, I stated that the Amish like to keep Church and State separate, which is why many do not vote. What does this actually mean? Is it even possible to be totally separate from the State?

It was not too long after the forming of the Church that Church and State became unified. In the beginning, the Church was persecuted by the State. Despite suffering severe persecution, punishments and cruel deaths inflicted on them, the Church grew. By the year 313, the Emperor of Rome allowed Christianity some latitude and toleration. In 380, the Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity to be the only religion to be allowed in the whole of the Roman Empire. Not only was it the only religion, everyone within the state had to be a ‘Christian’. Naturally, not all of them had actual faith, but they bore the label ‘Christian’. The Roman Empire had become a Christian state. Theodosius set up one Bishop as the Bishop of Constantinople, saying that Constantinople was the new Rome, and gave him power and authority over all the churches in the Empire. The Bishop was second only to the Emperor. In addition, Constantine determined, together with a council of Bishops, what the true faith consisted of and defined ‘orthodoxy’ in Christian faith and practice. Thus was born the unification of Church and State.

This conjoining of state and church pertained until the Middle Ages. There was one form of religion – the Catholic form, dictated by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), in consultation with the Emperor. Over time, the ‘orthodox’ faith strayed from the Biblical faith and many abuses were introduced, whereby the State, through the Church maintained absolute authority over the congregations. The Bible became a forbidden book. Not only could many of the ordinary people not read, the Church kept the Bible in Latin. Only the priests were able to read it and only they were allowed to explain it. The ordinary people had no idea what it actually said; it was only ever read to them in Latin. Such were the penalties for not obeying what the priests told them the Bible said, the people did not question their interpretations.

The Reformation changed all that.

Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, read the Bible and realised that much of what the Church was then teaching was in fact far from what the Bible actually said. The rest, as they say, is history.

But the Church was still joined to the state at the hip. In Britain, the Catholic Church was replaced by the Church of England. Instead of it being headed by the Pope, it was headed by the King. In Europe, the story was much the same. Each State or country had its own rulers who gave his blessing to one or other of the factions that had grown up, whether Protestant or Catholic. If your leader supported Lutheranism, then woe betide those who were Calvinist or Catholic. Hence the struggles in Britain between Catholic and Protestant kings and queens, with Queen Mary beheading all the Protestants she could find and King Henry doing likewise with the Catholics. The result was the mass exodus of Puritans and other Protestants to the New World (America) in search of religious freedom.

Amongst the reformers in Europe was a group of radicals who were different. These were the Anabaptists. Once they were able to read the Bible in their own language, they realised that the early church and the state were separate entities. They discovered that the church was never meant to be ‘owned’ or influenced by the State. They took a stand against state interference in matters of church and faith, which earned them severe persecution and torture. (Read ‘The Martyrs’ Mirror’ for contemporary accounts of the persecutions suffered by the Anabaptists in Europe: Again, this led to the Anabaptists fleeing from their homelands, mainly Germany and Switzerland, for the New World and religious toleration. When they arrived in Pennsylvania, they were met by the Puritan, William Penn, who granted them land and freedom to worship according to their conscience. Those refugees were Amish and Mennonite.

The Biblical Basis for Separation

The Amish believe that the Bible teaches ‘two kingdom’ theology – there is the Kingdom of God and then there is everything else. In the Bible, the ‘everything else’ is often described as ‘the world’. This phrase can refer to world systems and governments, the natural world, the non-Christian world and anything pertaining to this world that is not specifically spiritual. Thus, cinema could be described as ‘of this world’ because it is something that has grown up through the inventions of individuals to entertain people on this earth (i.e. in the world). Calling something ‘worldly’ does not necessarily mean it is bad or forbidden to Christians. Food is also ‘of the world’, but Christians would be hard pressed to do without it. The easiest definition of the distinction would perhaps be to say that the ‘Kingdom of God’ represents the spiritual world; while the ‘kingdom of this world’ represents the physical world, whether natural or otherwise.

Jesus was quite clear about the distinction. In John 18v36, He said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence.’

In John 17, the chapter that is known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus for His disciples, he stated, ‘They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world’ (John 17 v14).

The Apostles, as they penned their letters to the various churches following Jesus’s death and resurrection, continued the theme. Paul urged the Roman church, ‘Do not be conformed to this world’ (Romans 12v2) and quoted God’s words from the Old Testament to the church at Corinth, ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 6v17).

The Apostle Peter, writing to the Jewish Christians who had fled Jerusalem because of persecution, told them that although they were apparently homeless (i.e. they could no longer live in their homeland), they were members of God’s Kingdom: ‘But you are a…holy nation’ (1 Peter 2v9). And the writer to the Hebrew Christians, in similar circumstances to those to whom Peter was writing, told them they were ‘Strangers and pilgrims on  the earth; now they desire a better, that is a heavenly, country’ (Hebrews 11v13&16).

Christians are Ambassadors

As Christians, the Amish therefore look for a better country, a country that is not of this world. They belong to a heavenly kingdom, even though they are living in an earthly kingdom. What does this mean in practice? First of all, it means their first allegiance is to their King, who is God. It does not mean they refuse to obey the laws of the land in which they are living, but if those laws conflicted with the laws of the Kingdom, they would choose to obey God rather than men (Acts 5v29). In the Middle Ages, they did not believe the state had the right to dictate how the church behaved and conducted its affairs. This did not make them popular. It is the reason they were persecuted so severely and the reason why their lifestyle is as it is.

Because Christians are not removed from this world as soon as they profess faith, they are left with the situation where they live in one kingdom, but pledge allegiance to another. This concept however is not new. In 2 Corinthians 5v20, Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians and says, ‘Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ’. An ambassador is a term most of us are familiar with. It means a person from, for example, England, is sent by the British government to live in France, in order to represent his home country. In the same way, Paul (and the Amish) believe that a Christian is a member of the heavenly kingdom, but is living in an earthly country, where he or she represents the Kingdom of God to those around them. While an ambassador to France must live much as the French do, he does not get involved with the running of France, or get entangled with the affairs of the French people.

The Amish see their role in the same way.

To be continued….

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