Easter in Whitby

To many nowadays Whitby is possibly better known as the place Dracula fictionally landed in England than for its very real part in the Christian past. Yet in 664CE it was the centre of a major controversy which was decided at a conference which has come to be known as the “Synod of Whitby”.

It’s fairly simple to state the basics – by 664, the Church based in Rome was following one way to calculate the date of Easter, and the “Celtic Church”, derived from the missionary efforts of Irish monks and in turn back to the efforts of Romano-British missionaries like Patrick (who was originally from what we now call Wales), was using a different system….

In Britain, where some of the Saxon kingdoms had been converted to Christianity by the Roman mission led by Augustine in Kent, and others by Celtic missions, things reached a head in Northumbria. There a royal marriage saw a king and queen from different traditions, King Oswiu following the Ionan or Celtic tradition, Queen Eanfled following the Roman. The Easter date could vary by about a month, from late March to late April; so awkwardly one half of the court might be celebrating Easter Sunday and the Resurrection of Jesus, and approaching Pentecost/Whitsunday, while the other half was still engaged in the ritual mourning of the pre-Easter fast of Lent. There were also by the way a few other minor Roman v Ionan differences including the form of monkish/priestly tonsures.

Seemingly for some time a Northumbrian counsellor, Aidan, kept things running reasonably smoothly despite the awkwardness, but after his death hotter heads forced the issues and the public disputation of the Synod became inevitable.

I’ve seen the issues of the Synod dealt with in many different ways – but one of the clear points is that both sides saw it as – well, an issue of heresy, as Janina Ramirez explained recently in her BBC series “Saints and Sinners”. In effect, Easter was so important, and thus how you did it so important, that if you were celebrating on different dates the Church was not united – and in that case, one side must be orthodox, and the other heretical….

At this point people often go into argument about which side were the heretics, and of course Protestants will often want to side with the Celts against the Romans and their ‘Catholicism’. I really don’t find that interesting or helpful. Yes, the Synod came down on the side of Rome – but I kind of want to say “So what?” Yes, the Western Churches now celebrate the date by the Roman definition – again, “So what?” Modern thought also tends to say that in a sense it’s “So what?” – so long as we agree over a broad enough area. The question nobody seems to ask is “Does the date matter at all?”

As far as I can discover before the early 300s, insofar as Christians celebrated Easter at all, they didn’t have a specifically Christian date. They celebrated it, apparently, on the date of the Jewish Passover, or to celebrate the ‘first day’ Resurrection, on the Sunday afterwards. And actually I suspect that they didn’t celebrate quite that formally anyway – just that the annual Jewish event would cause the Christians to specially remember the Passover aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice, a sacrifice and subsequent resurrection which they commemorated frequently in the ‘Communion’ service anyway.

The date and the calculation process was decided by the Council of Nicaea in 325, related to the Spring equinox. This was because the Imperial Church needed regular ‘nationally agreed’ holydays/festivals in a way that the early church didn’t because it wasn’t a state religion. I understand the calculations also included a way to actually avoid the Jewish Passover date. Which looks to me a bit perverse….

By the time of Whitby, the break-up of the Roman Empire into East and West under pressure of barbarian invasions, and the spread of Christianity outside the empire, particularly the Celtic areas, and just generally the lack of communication and so on compared to today, meant that only three centuries down the line there was already a variation in the dating. Whence the Whitby problem….

BUT….

As I said, before 325 the Church wasn’t too bothered about the exact date of Easter. And there’s a reason for that, found in Paul’s letter to the Church at Colossae.

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Col 2:16-17 (NIV)

Paul is dealing with people in the early church who were insisting on precise observance of the Jewish Law. And they would ‘judge/condemn’ those who weren’t fussy about the observances. And Paul simply says “That kind of thing isn’t important. All the Old Testament rules, ‘kosher’ dietary rules, rules for festivals and so on, were there to prepare in various ways for Jesus’ coming, not intended to carry on after he came. The new ‘kingdom’ of Messiah Jesus would be worldwide, not limited to one ethnic group; and the kingdom is not to be hindered by perpetuating the old rules and imposing them on the new believers in Jesus. Those rules ‘foreshadowed’ Jesus, helped people when he came to understand what he had done; but they were now no more needed as everyday rules than the scaffolding in needed when a building is completed.

Not even the Sabbath, please note. I’ll likely come back to that in another blog soon, in relation to ‘Sunday Observance’. But fussy Easter observance, no. The connection to the Jewish Passover suffices to help give context for Jesus’ sacrificial death as a ‘Passover Lamb’; some new calculation of the date that divorces Easter from Passover was just not needed. On top of which, far from being a major heresy, clearly the disagreement about Easter was a disagreement about something very much man-made centuries after Jesus. And much of the inconvenience that caused the Whitby synod was even more man-made rather than divinely prescribed stuff, like the fasting for the forty days of Lent. Christianity doesn’t need such artificial ritual celebrations – our fasts should be more purposeful as part of special prayer or personal discipline.

And the need for that man-made festival was, if anything, itself part of the bigger heresy of having a ‘Christian’ state in the first place – for more details on that, see the rest of this blog and future posts where I hope to fill some of the gaps in what I’ve already written….

But quick summary – in Jesus’ “kingdom not of this world” things like days and dates are unimportant. Easter needn’t be celebrated annually at all, and so it doesn’t matter if there’s disagreement about the anniversary. Indeed remembering it as Passover connected with the Jewish festival is probably more real than having a special Christian date. One reality here is that effectively we celebrate Easter at every ‘Communion’ meal when we use bread and wine to remember Jesus’ broken body and shed blood.

And don’t get me started on Christmas…!

Footnote – the full text from Colossians 2, to show how vehement Paul was about it….

16 Let no one, then, judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a feast, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of the coming things, and the body is of the Christ; 18 let no one beguile you of your prize, delighting in humble-mindedness and in worship of the messengers (‘angels’ SL), intruding into the things he hath not seen, being vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh, 19 and not holding the head, from which all the body–through the joints and bands gathering supply, and being knit together–may increase with the increase of God. 20 If, then, ye did die with the Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances? 21 –thou mayest not touch, nor taste, nor handle– 22 which are all for destruction with the using, after the commands and teachings of men, 23 which are, indeed, having a matter of wisdom in will-worship, and humble-mindedness, and neglecting of body–not in any honour, unto a satisfying of the flesh.

Col 2:16-23 (YLT)

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About Gay Marriage

Why, you might ask, have gay people insisted on ‘marriage’ rather than ‘civil partnership’? Is the word itself really so important, so long as you’ve got equivalent rights? There is a quirk of our constitution, because England has an established church, which makes the issue significant.

Back to basics; people make all kinds of legal arrangements for both their personal and their business lives. In some cases these arrangements are so common that for convenience the law provides what might be called ‘templates’ of these, standardising them, bringing them under common legal procedures. Partnerships are an example in commerce, adoption in personal affairs. In some cases these arrangements may be considered so beneficial to society in general, beyond those directly involved, that they come with tax breaks, next-of-kin rights and other benefits. Marriage is one such example.

In religious states like Muslim countries with their Shari’a law, the marriage laws will reflect the beliefs of the religion in question – though they may allow some latitude to foreigners’ marriages. In the countries of ‘Christendom’ the marriage laws have generally reflected the teachings of the Christian Church, though most Western states have long allowed secular (‘registry office’) marriages, divorce, and other features not quite according to Christianity. Until comparatively recently it was pretty much taken for granted that marriage was between a man and a woman, especially since homosexuality, being a sin, was illegal anyway in such ‘Christian’ states. Now that homosexuality is legal, and indeed many other sexual practices between consenting adults have been decriminalised, things have changed and the formerly persecuted gay community now seeks to be as equal as possible – or at least a very vocal segment of it does.

If you were designing from scratch a plural society which respects many different beliefs and unbeliefs, you would I think include a ‘civil partnership’ which in a way would not need a sexual implication, a deal for companionship and shared life which might be very flexible. It need not, for example, be ‘monogamous’, given the number of religions which accept polygamy, though if tax breaks and the like were involved it might not be unlimited in terms of the number of such partnerships one person could form. The various religions existing in the state could use the ‘civil partnerships’ as a legal foundation for religious marriages but would also have internal disciplines for their members in the matter (as sporting bodies have their own internal rules for various things).

Unfortunately in the UK we aren’t designing an ideal pluralistic system from scratch. Indeed although in so many ways we do act like a pluralistic democracy, we are still technically a Christian country with an established Church. Technically the Church of England is still the legal norm and everyone else, including other forms of Christianity, are only ‘tolerated’ in an impliedly ‘second-class’ way. Anglican marriage is still significantly privileged in small ways.

If you are a gay person seeking equality, this is basically unacceptable. A church which is technically part of and deeply entangled with the state refuses to treat the gay community as equal; this is not just “there are some people around who disagree with us”; this is effectively continued discrimination against the gay community in and by the state itself. For now we have ‘same-sex marriage’ equally for all – except still the state church is allowed to refuse it – indeed has been positively banned by law from doing it, as has the connected but disestablished ‘Church in Wales’! I think it unlikely that this compromise will endure. I think in the end one of two things must happen; either the ‘Church of England’ will have to accept gay marriage, to keep their established privilege but not be discriminatory, or they will have to accept being disestablished. And they may face similar arguments in other areas as well.

Churches which are not established, and have no special privileged position in the state would be a different matter; it would be reasonable for them to disagree with homosexuality and choose not to do same-sex marriages for their own members – interestingly they might nevertheless use the neutral civil partnership for non-sexual relationships….

The tragedy of this is that the present bitter controversy need never have happened, at any rate as a dispute between an established church and the gay community. Christianity was never intended to be established, as I’ve been saying elsewhere in this blog, and so should never have been involved as it was in the criminalisation and effective persecution of gay people. Ideally, Christianity should have remained a voluntary religion, of those who humanly speaking choose to join the church; and they would not be seeking to rule society at large, so everyone else would be free to do – well, not quite whatever they liked, but whatever the state and/or its alternate state religion might allow. I’m not saying the situation would be friction-free; but the whole dynamics would be very different.

As it is, the imposition of Christian behaviour on everybody in a ‘Christian’ country has created all kinds of problems. These included persecution of other religions and of variant forms of Christianity; and legal intervention in all kinds of sexual issues, of which homosexuality is pretty much the last one outstanding – the others beyond that being things like paedophilia and rape which are unlikely ever to have wide social acceptance…. This inappropriate imposition beyond Christian ranks has also created all kinds of attitude problems.

Put bluntly, the only way there can be a resolution is for Christians to abandon the notion of ‘Christian states’ which seek to impose Christian morality on all citizens, and return to the New Testament notion of being an independent voluntary organisation within the earthly state. Only then will we be able to work out a ‘modus vivendi’ with people whose morality in this matter we disagree with. As I say above, this makes the Church of England’s position untenable one way or the other; they must sacrifice either Christian sexual morality or their favoured position and influence in the state – they cannot continue to uphold both.

The Starting Point

Anabaptists and their Christendom opponents agree, of course, that being a Christian is very important.  It is, after all, no less than your choice whether you are going to live according to the ultimate truth of God’s world as it is – particularly the bit about it being God’s world – or whether you are going to choose, as far as is possible, to live against and in opposition to that ultimate reality.  The choice against God, as John 3; 19-21 points out, is a choice of terrible darkness.  It is far more important than a choice to join the Scouts, a football club, a chess club or a model railway club.

However, and here Anabaptism arguably takes a different view, it is very much part of the message itself that this choice is to be voluntary, a choice ‘in spirit and truth’.  In the context of this choice, the kind of coercive power and influence the state can exercise is wildly inappropriate, as are the kind of temptations and blandishments the state can offer.  Indeed, even when the state is not being exceedingly uncharitably coercive, its involvement can confuse issues; one of the worst ways this happens is when people assume that merely by being born in a ‘Christian country’ they are automatically Christian.  Another way is when the involvement of state with church leads to unChristian activities such as war and persecution, and narrow nationalism instead of the inherent internationalism of our faith.

So the position of the church in the state needs to preserve the voluntariness, and also, it should be said, to glorify God by having it clear than any power and influence is God’s power rather than the kind of power the state has.  Therefore, despite the enormous difference in importance involved, the appropriate position of church in state is to be like the voluntary/hobby organisations mentioned above – Scouts, football and other sports clubs, chess or model railway clubs.

With such clubs, joining is voluntary and they have to attract members by what they offer, not by government coercion or by favoured status in the state.  And leaving is also free; if you choose to leave the model railway club you don’t also have to plan to leave the country to avoid being imprisoned or worse.  Being thrown out – not the Inquisition threatening burning at the stake, but simply “Look mate, if you really won’t keep the rules you can’t be in the club any longer”.   You carry on living in the community, perhaps with slight embarrassment , and you can join other clubs, or even found your own alternative to the original club if enough people are interested.   It should be the same with churches; and thank God it mostly is, these days, but there are too many churches still hanging on to some remnants of a past when many churches did expect a more favoured or even totalitarian position.

It won’t be simply like the hobby clubs.  One major difference is to do with the importance and the distinction of religion.  The various sports and hobbies are not necessarily mutually exclusive – apart from the issue of just not having enough time and/or money for all of them, of course!  There is no ethical or philosophical inconsistency in going to Scouts on Friday night, playing soccer on Saturday, rugby on Sunday, model railway club Monday night, and racing in a stock car on Tuesday night, and so on.  There ARE some ethical and philosophical problems about being Muslim on Friday, Jewish on Saturday, Christian on Sunday, and Hindu during the week.

Another distinction is that there are going to be discussions, even arguments, with people who disagree with us.  And it is a major point about voluntariness that we do that in a loving spirit.  Read I Peter for some guidance about this.  We do have to recognise how important our message is.

A contributor to the forum conversation which inspired this post noted the sometimes oppressive conformity seen among ‘sectarians’ assorted – and I can get a bit fed up myself with Amish arguments about hairstyle or how many straps you’re allowed on your suspenders (in UK, ‘braces’ for trousers, belts being forbidden in many Amish groups as not ‘plain’).  It’s a real problem, though at least these things are not enforced on people outside the community; and, like it or not, any voluntary organisation is human and can get things wrong.  But think in terms of the ‘starting point’.  It may sound a bit trivial at first, but consider three situations involving conformity that a young teenager might face.

Friday night, he enthusiastically puts on his Scout uniform to go to the meeting.  Saturday morning, he enthusiastically puts on his football club’s shirt, and for purposes of this illustration, it doesn’t matter a lot whether that’s a Premier League club he’s going to support, or a junior league club where he is a player himself.  On Monday morning, he puts on his school tie – and you’ll notice I left out the word ‘enthusiastically’….

OK, the ‘free church’ may not always quite live up to its ideal that any conformity should be willingly chosen fellowship/togetherness; but it should never be the kind of compulsion involved in the school uniform, let alone the kind of compulsion seen in the Nazi Party or Hitler Youth.  And this is what I’m getting at with that title ‘the starting point’.   As things now stand we have two broad groups of Christians in the world with two ‘starting points’.  The Anabaptists and other “free church/believer’s church” groups start from that voluntariness, that reliance on God’s power rather than the world’s power, the refusal to coerce.  Others are at the end of a long history of having long ago been ‘Christendomite’ in attitude and though they are no longer the totalitarians they used to be, they still start from the idea that Christianity should somehow be privileged and special, that England is still a ‘Christian country’.   And so they often still think in terms of “We must have laws against gay marriages” and so on, which amount to pushing Christian ideas and practices INvoluntarily on our fellow citizens.  And that is beginning to have all kinds of negative effects….

So what I’m saying is that in facing the world and interacting with it, we are better starting from that ‘like a voluntary club’ position, than from the compromised rags of the old ‘Christendom position; both on grounds of it being closer to what God commands in the Bible, and on grounds of practicality and effectiveness.  It’s also quite likely that in the near future much of what’s left of ‘Christendom’ will be dismantled whether we like it or not.  And I think the world will be more impressed and better served by churches which honestly admit the mistake of Christendom and go willingly, preferably before they are forced to, than by churches which only go reluctantly and hang on grimly to what’s left of their former influence, and carry on afterwards being rebellious troublemakers about their position.

There is another issue.  The importance of our message in the world, not just in the afterlife, does raise questions about how far we can or should be involved in the world’s affairs, even if not in an actually coercive way.  Can we enter politics?  Can we seek to influence government policies?

I’ll hopefully be dealing with that kind of issues in future; but what I want to say for now is “Here’s the starting point.  We are a ‘kingdom not of this world’, a body which must in human terms be voluntary.  How far we may go from that starting point, I am not sure either – but at least it will hopefully be in the right direction.  We should also consider that things are different in a modern democracy; in most of the past, Christians will have had little opportunity at power in the world, but in democracy we do have the vote and other privilege as citizens.  How may we use that?  However it is, we must start our thoughts from the right place, the voluntary nature of the Church.

Rethinking Ecumenism

It was a good sermon from a guy who is a hospital chaplain, based on Acts 15.  That’s the episode now rather grandly known as the ‘Council of Jerusalem’ though it can’t in reality have been much like the later Nicaea or Vatican II; in this council the mostly Jewish early Christians tried to work out how to accommodate an influx of Gentile Christians, and decide how much Jewish customs they needed to impose on these new recruits – circumcision, kosher diet, and so forth.  I’ll leave you to read the details of the ‘Council’ for yourselves, I want to focus on the principles the preacher drew from the passage and consider their implications for the ecumenical/church unity project.

One principle was “Talk about it”.  Now I recall the ecumenism of the 1960s when everyone was really keen to resolve the differences between Christians by discussing them; but that doesn’t seem to happen much now.  Rather, we seem to have decided that where we differ, we won’t talk about it, just each denomination carry on as before and, well, just not discuss differences.  Now of course in a lot of cases the differences really don’t matter all that much and the churches can just carry on with their different customs; but the trouble is that this silence is also meaning that the important differences don’t get discussed – and one very important one in particular, the relationship of the Church to the world or the ‘Christian country’ issue.  

This issue is particularly important just now because of the difficulties the world is having with Islam.  It really matters, at a life and death/possibility of warfare level, whether Christianity is a religion which expects the kind of dominance in the state that Islam aspires to, with Sharia law to be imposed on all, or some lesser kind of privilege or favour in the state compared to other religions/faiths, or perhaps Christianity doesn’t work that way at all but the NT teaches us some other way to relate to the world around us….  We need to be talking about it, and in talking about it, other ideas from that sermon seem relevant.

Two of the points were actually almost the same thing from different angles – “Stick to basics/essentials” and “No ‘Jesus AND… some other thing’ such as the circumcision and kosher food issues of the original council”. 

The case for ‘Jesus AND circumcision’ or ‘Jesus AND kosher diet’ was plausible in a faith which had grown out of Jewish roots and Old Testament promises, but the apostles and church were able to see that these things were no longer essential in the new covenant.  It might be thought that as Israel not so much had a state church as was a state church, there would be a plausible case for the ‘Christian country’ too.  But interestingly that doesn’t seem to have been considered in the early church.  Partly because the issue wouldn’t arise anyway while the church was only just starting, but more importantly because Jesus had ruled it out.  The Church knew of his trial before Pilate and the implications of his declaration that his kingdom was not of this world, and of his rejection of the sword because those who take it up perish by it, and so on.  They knew they were trying to set up a different kind of kingdom to either the Roman Empire or the old ethnic Jewish kingdom, a kingdom of those who heard and followed Jesus rather than those who were forced by worldly power, those spiritually re-born rather than just born once. 

In line with that they positively set up, and taught as the ideal, a church which was not connected to particular nations, but was itself God’s holy nation throughout the earth, not confused with the surrounding society but called out from it as a witness to God’s ways.  In the context of that kind of thinking, ‘Jesus AND Christian states’ is really impossible, not just non-essential.

“Don’t make things difficult” was another principle our preacher highlighted.  The idea of ‘Christian countries’ makes things difficult for ecumenism and also in many other directions – indeed the other things it makes difficult are a difficulty for ecumenism too, as in how much are you willing to be united with churches that make things difficult for both non-Christians and for other Christians?

As a fairly simple example – obviously I want to be united with my fellow-Christians who are Anglicans, and informally I very much am, in fact.  Not only in religious terms either, a couple of months ago I was showing off one of my model railways at a ‘Model Railway Extravaganza’ at a local parish church, letting the visitors to the show actually drive my trains.  Again, the Baptist church I go to is currently involved with several other local churches, including the Anglicans, in setting up a ‘community café’ in the local high street.  But while the Anglican church is deeply constitutionally entangled with the state, and the head of state is its earthly ‘supreme governor’ and so on, formal union is going to be a bit difficult – union with my fellow Christians, fine; union with England as a supposed ‘Christian country’ carries a lot of real difficulties, just starting with the fact that Christian states are a Bible-defying concept anyway!  

There are also issues of warfare; even if I didn’t anyway believe the Bible teaches pacifism, what am I to make of all the past situations when Christians fought one another – for example WWI, with the Kaiser’s ‘Gott mit uns’ (“God is on our side”) set against similar slogans from the nations allied against Germany, and Christians shooting at each other not even in a properly religious cause (though I’d regard Christians fighting for their religion as worse, actually!).  The Church is God’s holy nation worldwide; are the members of that body to end up killing each other because some local churches have got themselves entangled with the world?  How can we have it that our unity as Christians can depend on the rivalries of worldly states?

How are English Anglicans and, say, Swedish Lutherans to achieve a formal unity while both are deeply embedded in the constitutions of countries which in worldly terms may have all kinds of competing interests?  I’m not even going to try and work that one out…!

Much of the concern in the Council of Jerusalem is with difficulties caused for unbelievers/other-believers/potential believers/ new converts; in a particular form then, related to the Jewish origins of our faith, in slightly different ways today.  .  These issues also have implications for our unity, because they cause confusion about the gospel, they interfere with the work of evangelism.   Remember that Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his people applies to their relations to the world!  Also the difficulties can reflect on Christians who don’t practice them as well as on those who do.  And in some cases that actually risks the lives of fellow-Christians for inappropriate reasons, especially when dealing with adherents of other state religions.

For the difficulties posed to atheists and agnostics by the state church kind of set-up, just look at the writings of people like Richard Dawkins.  Huge areas of their objections to ‘religion’ are not about the theology/philosophy but about the antics of various state religions and the warfare, discrimination and so forth not only of the past but still continuing in places like Northern Ireland, and of course also in Islam and other non-Christian religions.  Also I often these days find myself talking to people worried by the state-religion/Sharia-law aspect of Islam and also saying that they don’t want a Christian equivalent.  The shenanigans of the Anglicans about issues like women priests and gay marriage are a major problem precisely because they remain a state church and it can appear that they are therefore the state still discriminating in those areas, and their past conduct, like it or not, has kept such issues unnecessarily heated.  For church unity the issue is whether it is really practical for the rest of us to even work with such bodies, let alone be formally and organisationally united with them, when their position about the state can needlessly hinder our mission to the assorted non-believers around us?

With other religions, the problem is often that like Islam, they are themselves national or state religions in one way or another, and have theologies about warfare which ‘free church’ Christians may find unacceptable.  This brings many issues.  Just for starters, it’s not easy to complain about other religions practising things like national Sharia law enforced on non-Muslims if Christians themselves appear to want something similar.  Unfortunately the argument that it’s all right for us because “We have the true religion” isn’t going to impress anyone else!!  That way round it’s not the difference that poses the difficulty, it’s that some Christians are agreeing with them about the religious state issue and setting a bad example when they shouldn’t!

War is another problem.  Biblically, according to the New Testament, Christians don’t have ‘Christian countries’ with armies to threaten others, we ‘turn the other cheek’ rather than defending ourselves, so we just aren’t in the warfare business – well, shouldn’t be, anyway!  Christian countries fighting wars are a fairly obvious problem to the states adhering to other religions in which the wars take place, and by reflection to adherents of those religions who live in the UK.  A great deal of the difficulty in recent wars has been, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the perception of the West as ‘Christian countries’ and therefore of our armies in the Middle East being ‘Crusading Christian armies’ rather than the liberal democratic armies we perceive.

This is bad enough for the British and other western armies who find themselves fighting a war made intractable by such perceptions and the resulting cross-purposes, and for Britons at home facing terrorism.   But it is even worse for native Christians in Muslim lands throughout the East and Africa, because they are seen as allies of those ‘crusading’ armies of those ‘Christian countries’ and are persecuted for it.  It isn’t easy at best to be a Christian in a Muslim country, there are considerable discriminations and restrictions under Sharia law, but there is supposed to be some basic tolerance.  That tolerance doesn’t work when there are ‘Christians’ at war with Islamic countries.

So there’s the thing; how great an idea is it to be united with Christians whose ambitions for a Christian state are not only unbiblical but put our fellow Christians in unnecessary mortal danger?  Christians being persecuted for being Christians, despite being peaceable, is bad enough; but being persecuted because of unbiblical worldly power and influence seeking by other Christians is surely unacceptable, and the said worldly power-seekers and their unbiblical ideas should themselves be unacceptable in turn.

Also, many of those eastern Christians derive from western missions – missions often by those state churches in their state’s colonies.  This means that they have often inherited those same ‘Christian country’ ideas from the parent churches; and that in turn adds to their problems from the Muslims (or other religions) around them.  In many former Western colonies, Christians and Muslims are effectively at war – real shooting war – because the Christian country idea legitimates that kind of conduct in the same way that the Muslim equivalent does.  You could sort of argue that such Christians ‘deserve’ their problems – but of course they’re just following what they’ve learned from the Western missions.  The whole situation is a mess.

If we take Christian unity seriously, shouldn’t we be trying – REALLY HARD – to get rid of this whole problem??  Shouldn’t we be challenging those who hold this bad idea – seeking to persuade them that it isn’t at all essential, but very much the reverse??  That a comfortable situation in a Western country bought at the price of unnecessarily persecuted brethren overseas is a disgrace, not a benefit.

Another big problem state churches bring to ecumenism is in the history; essentially, most of the things that divide mainstream denominations are things that arose not from the Bible but as traditions in the ‘Christian countries’ back to the Roman Imperial church.  For purposes of this essay I’ll take for granted the Reformation view that over the thousand years since Constantine the Roman Catholic Church had gradually become more corrupted.  As I see it, much of this corruption arose from being a state church, first as part of the wider body that included the later ‘Eastern Orthodox’, and then as the surviving authority of the old Empire in the mixed states that arose in the west from the barbarian invasions. 

Things like monarchical bishops, which had only been trends, became fixed because they suited an imperial church.  Infant baptism was another such trend – before Constantine, this had been sporadic and generally about infants not expected to survive to exercise adult faith, but obviously it suited the Imperial church that everybody was automatically ‘christened’ soon after birth.  Once Theodosius made it a rule that ‘Everybody in my Empire is a Christian or else’, the church necessarily became a mixed body with many members who were just ‘once-born’ rather than spiritually reborn, and whose approach to Christianity was really worldly, including that often people would be seeking high church office because it had become a worldly advantage, and that all kinds of pagan superstitions infiltrated the church with these rather nominal members – and so on….

Come the Reformation, a raft of traditional accretions which had been added to the simple gospel over the centuries were challenged.  Unfortunately the link between church and state wasn’t challenged in far too many places; people had just got too used to thinking of the church in such terms, or if it was raised, there was fear because the state authorities wouldn’t support an independent church and they thought such an independent church couldn’t stand up against the worldly power of the Catholics.  (In honesty they were kind of right about this; at this time Anabaptists were able to grow in a way previously almost impossible in the ‘space’ created by the rivalry of Catholic and Protestant states)  But with a secular authority to satisfy as the new Reformed churches were integrated into their states, there wasn’t freedom to be fully biblical in other areas either, so instead of full reform the state churches ‘settled out’ in various semi-reformed conditions as reformers and governments accommodated to each other.  Some went further than others, but the continued ‘Christian country’ thinking was a hindrance.

Looking at the major things that divide the mainstream churches, there is the link between church and state, there is the style of government/ ministry, and there is baptism, infants vs believers’ (‘Paedobaptism’ vs ‘Credobaptism’).  Most of the other differences are pretty insignificant.

The Church/State link is the main subject of ‘stevesfreechurchblog’ anyway, so not too much detail in this post.  Just to point out that this can range from full establishment of a church as with the Church of England  to various other ways a particular church or Christianity in general can be favoured or privileged in the state and expect the state to conform to our faith.  Ian Paisley, for example, wouldn’t want a fully established church, but he still wants a ‘Protestant country’, with the resulting ‘Troubles’.

Church government; basically most of the state churches have a ‘top-down’ government of some kind and elaborate bureaucracies – the kind of thing you’d expect of a state religion.  The Anglicans and some others have preserved the episcopalian structure of the former Catholic Church, and many would believe in some kind of ‘apostolic succession’ in which clergy appoint clergy and ordination is considered quasi-magical rather than any democratic appointment.  While the NT is arguably fairly free about church government, some of these systems are unhelpful and certainly are ‘non-essentials’.

It is fairly simple fact that when people start from the NT and do ministry as that suggests they all tend to produce very similar patterns, while so many of the other patterns are clearly ‘hangovers’ from the age of state churches.  So again the state church poses a seemingly unnecessary difficulty for unity among Christians.

Baptism; obviously all churches practice believer’s baptism for converts old enough to do their own believing (which can be surprisingly young, though I’d hesitate to follow Spurgeon who I think once baptised an 8-year-old).  Baptising babies is a very different thing and needs some dubious biblical interpretation to justify it.  I think the practice originally arose from two factors, the baptism of children not expected to survive and an understanding of baptism as a quasi-magical washing away of sin rather than a response of faith to God.  But again, the state church with the desire to ‘christen’ everybody for social conformity, and the social ‘rite of passage’ angle (in state not just the church) distorts the argument.

On these ‘big’ differences and also other smaller differences which have arisen in and from the Christendom era, the need is to recognise them as such later developments and to apply to them the tests implied by the Council of Jerusalem and the sermon that triggered this blog – tests of how essential/basic are they, and of the difficulties they may make and whether those are inherent difficulties of the faith or unnecessary difficulties arising from illegitimate traditions. 

At five pages this is about enough.  Our preacher’s message about not making difficulties in the church or with potential converts and so on applies very much to this situation.  This whole Christian country is no part of ‘Mere Christianity’, of the real basics, the real essentials.  Over the centuries it has caused massive distress and mayhem in the name of Christ, and it still does.

LET’S START THINKING OF CHRISTIAN UNITY IN TERMS OF GETTING RID OF IT.

Then we can be united God’s way….

American ‘Separation of Church and State’ – or is it?

Steve’s Free Church Blog

Bit of a gap since my last post; all sorts of reasons including a bit of a dearth of web access opportunities since mid-December.  I now have much better access via a ‘dongle’ so as soon as I can wean myself off the excellent but addictive ‘Ship of Fools’ Christian forums….

In another forum where I chat about Christian matters, my advocacy of an Anabaptist approach was challenged by one guy who pointed out that America has ‘separation of Church and State’ and is still all gung-ho patriotic etc. and arguably a more ‘Christian’ state than many with established churches; how, he asked, did that square with my opposition to ‘Constantinianism’?  What follows is a lightly edited version of my response to that,

American ‘separation of Church and state’ – hmmm!  American Anabaptists would tell you that the American version of that separation is not much like the Anabaptist version, though it does have the merit of allowing Anabaptists to exist (mostly) un-persecuted.  As I understand it what happened is something like this….

The original English colonies in America were supposed to be Anglican like England itself; however because the distance across the Atlantic made enforcement harder, many non-conformists and Puritans sought refuge in the New World – the classic example being the Pilgrim Fathers, who by the way didn’t exactly allow religious freedom in their own colony.  Quakers as is well known founded Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island was a Baptist foundation.  After 1688 I assume that the English colonies also benefited from the Act of Toleration, so the colonies of the War of Independence were a considerable mix but mostly Protestant.  Whitfield I understand preached and ‘fellowshipped’ with Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists as well as Anglicans, and towards the end of Wesley’s life American Methodism (and the English version in consequence) formally split from Anglicanism after Anglican indolence led Wesley to ordain clergy (bishops?) to look after the growing Methodist flock.

In the War of Independence the former colonies chose obviously to reject Anglicanism, and instead of adopting a particular alternative establishment opted for a constitutional rule of no establishment of religion.  While some of the leaders seem to have favoured Deism or Unitarianism, this was generally interpreted that the USA would be a Christian land, just that no particular version of Christianity would be privileged over others.  (I’m letting this stand as I originally wrote it, but on the forum it was challenged, with a suggestion that the Founding Fathers really intended full religious liberty – but also an admission that this may have been subverted in practice along the lines I suggested)  As the growing USA absorbed the former colonies of other European countries, French and Spanish, Catholics were also included, and the general freedom allowed oddities and nonChristian groups also to exist so long as they didn’t cause too much trouble/scandal.

However – you still see the basic ‘Christian state’ assumption in many things.  For example, in the 1800s Native American children were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to emphatically Christian schools, while Mormons were forced West to Utah and when ‘The Frontier’ caught up with them there was a war which forced them to abandon their polygamy.  The 1920s saw the infamous Daytona ‘Monkey Trial’ over evolutionary teaching (doubly scandalous now it has been revealed to have been pretty much a set-up for the benefit of the local tourist industry!), but atheists were also generally unpopular – see for example Cecil B de Mille’s horribly sentimental late silent film ‘The Godless Girl’.  With Communism emphatically atheist, that distaste continued in the Cold War era.  Catholics remained objects of suspicion even as late as the JFK election in the 1960s.  The USA motto ‘In God we trust’ is a very late apparition, though I don’t have the exact date handy.  More recent shenanigans, e.g., under Bush, have been all over the press in recent years so I’ll not go into details.

In other words, not the Anabaptist version of separation of Church and State; more like a practical compromise between assorted ‘Constantinianisms’ which had realised that in the New World they couldn’t impose their particular version.  Anabaptists across the pond tend to refer to this as ‘Neo-Constantinian’ – the same problem in a slightly different form.  I doubt the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the USA even realised, let alone intended, the use their wording would sometimes be put to in the late 20th Century by nonChristian forces.  (the ‘no establishment of religion’ wording has been used in the 20th Century to, among other things, exclude religious instruction from schools and even prevent students setting up ‘Christian clubs’ in schools; I’m not sure of the current state of play on these issues, but I still see occasional references to it)  The Northern Ireland version is somewhat similar to the USA – a collection of Constantinians willing to sink their differences and forego a fully established position for their own denominations to keep NI a broadly Protestant province.  (This sentence is there because in the original forum I was mainly contributing to a discussion of Northern Ireland)

I was going to add a summary of the Anabaptist version of things, but as this is going on the blog, I’ll just refer you to the rest of the blog….

But Seriously ( ) Romans 13 – the ‘so crazy it must be true’[i] interpretation….

 

(‘But Seriously’ is a strand on this blog exploring the implications of biblical texts on ‘Church and State’.  Check other entries in the strand for a rounded picture of the issues)

So finally I get to interpreting Romans 13….

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of him who is in authority?  Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.

For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing.  Pay all of them their dues….

And really it’s rather simple – it means what it says.  Of course, it means what it says in the context of the overall teaching of the New Testament, whereby Jesus’ kingdom is ‘not of this world’, and so doesn’t envisage a supposedly ‘Christian’ government.  Instead it envisages Christians basically in that situation of ‘resident aliens’ which is discussed at length elsewhere in this blog.  Clearly at some point we’ll have to look at the situation that arises when there is a ‘Christian state’; but for now let’s look at this from the perspective of the early Christians like Paul and Peter living in a pagan society….  When we have that clear we can look to other variations and whether they are biblically legitimate.

There is one feature of Paul’s Greek which is not brought out in most English translations; he uses a set of interrelated words with a common root, the verb tasso, ‘to order’.  First time I preached on Romans 13 I produced a paraphrase which does not purport to be a spot-on exact translation ( though it’s not so far out either), but does use a set of English words with the common root –ject to demonstrate in English how Paul’s chosen words ‘bind’ the text together.  Here it is….

“Everybody must be subject to the state authorities, because there is no authority except under God, and those that do exist are part of God’s project.  Whoever objects with violence to the existing authority opposes that divine project, and by opposing brings divine judgement upon himself.”

 

The version ‘be subject’ is actually used in some English translations, perhaps most notably the ‘King James’ version.  It’s considerably better than translating the word (‘hypotasso’ in the original) as ‘obey’.  Having said that I think it is slightly biased to James’ wishes by using the concept of being ‘subjects’ to an earthly ruler like James. 

The two places I’ve used the word ‘project’ are actually two different Greek words, tasso and diatasso, and are verbs which I’ve paraphrased into a noun because, used as a verb, ‘to project’ doesn’t quite have an appropriate meaning.  The implication is that all rulers are ‘ordered’ by God; as the Jewish historian Josephus wrote at around the same time, “No ruler attains his office save by the will of God”.  Note that this includes bad as well as good rulers.

‘…objects with violence…’ represents the Greek ‘antitasso’ , ‘to be disorderly’ or to ‘stand against order’, or even the military concept to ‘stand in array against’.  Again, ‘disobey’ is not quite right; ‘object violently’ would just about have worked, but I recalled the phrase being used in a somewhat ‘camp’ style by comedians, and I wanted to be clear that this is a word conveying the idea of military rebellion, not just somebody being querulous.

As I say, this isn’t a dead accurate translation anyway, but a device to bring out in English the relationship of the Greek words.  The overall meaning of the text is that we are to take our place in an orderly manner in an arrangement of the world ordered by God, and not take a disorderly position which may work against God’s purposes. 

For Christians, the government is ‘ordained’ or more accurately ‘ordered’ by God, it is his providential choice for our country for the time being.  It is not our responsibility to fight against it in a sense of rebellion, but to accept it.  However, note that this is not the ‘divine right of kings’ such as was claimed by, for example, England’s Stuart kings.  It absolutely does not give the king a right to do and demand whatever he pleases.  This is more like the instruction Jesus gave us to ‘turn the other cheek’; we are to react to being ‘smitten’ by turning the other cheek – but that doesn’t mean that the smiter can claim a right to smite us, or that he can demand as if it were a right that those smitten must turn the other cheek.  Likewise Christians are to accept and respect the ruler, even a Nero or Caligula such as Paul and Peter faced, or the likes of Hitler or Stalin in modern times; but they don’t therefore have any God-given rights they can explicitly claim against us as a result.

This ordering works out that

1)      We are ‘subject to the authorities’ – no exceptions.

2)      We must not ‘resist’ the authorities – no exceptions.

3)      We must ‘obey God rather than men’ – no exceptions.

Only it doesn’t seem to work out, does it?  How can we reconcile these requirements?  As we’ve seen, one common effort is to make ‘obeying God rather than men’ the exception to the other two, and further, the exception that means we stop being subject and start resisting.  You may recall I’ve quoted 19th Century Baptist Robert Haldane saying that ‘obeying God rather than men’ was ‘the only exception’ to ‘being subject’.  He was at least clear that ‘resisting’ was out of the question.  I believe however that he wasn’t quite right in construing ‘obeying God’ as an exception.   

If we understand the text to be dealing with ‘order’ rather than ‘obedience’, it works out consistently, because we are positioned in a line ‘ordered’ by God, deriving from His will, and trusting that He knows what He is doing in His providential management of the world.  We stand in order under the ‘authorities’, but also under God.  We ‘obey God rather than men’ as part of that order; and sometimes that means we can’t do what the earthly authorities want us to do.  BUT, as another part of obedience to God, we remain ‘subject to the authorities’, so we follow the example of Jesus and the apostles and the many martyrs of the early church; if the authorities choose to punish us, we accept the punishment.  And of course, if that obedience to God is our choice, we don’t ‘resist’ the authorities.  We also, by the way, don’t isolate this issue from general obedience to God – like ‘turning the other cheek’, and ‘our warfare is not with physical weapons’ and so on.  It’s a real tangle if we disobey God both by resisting the authorities and by ‘taking up the sword’ that Jesus told Peter to ‘put up’; yet that is what an awful lot of people do, in places like Ulster for example.

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of him who is in authority?  Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. 

It may seem that this doesn’t work out either; all very well for Paul to say rulers are only a terror to bad conduct, but of course Paul himself was to end up martyred under Nero….  And isn’t Paul forgetting the odd few episodes of imprisonment, floggings and so on, at the hands of those very authorities?  Again, I often feel that interpreters who so easily find ‘exceptions’ to Paul are forgetting that Paul knew all about persecution.  He had not only suffered it, he had been part of a Jewish equivalent of the Gestapo or KGB actively persecuting the early church.  Paul is not naïve about rulers and persecution, he knew it from both sides, and he wasn’t forgetting it when he wrote Romans!  So what is he saying here?

Very simple – do good.  The ruler, the authorities, the government, can’t criticise you for doing good, so in that respect you will have nothing to fear.  Of course, ‘if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer’.  So if you follow such examples as Ulster paramilitaries who shoot and bomb, and finance themselves by bank robberies, or the various groups which riot and endanger the lives of their fellow-citizens and the police, in the ‘flag protests’ for example, the authorities will be after you and God will not be protecting you because you are disobeying Him….  And He will in the end be having some strong words with you over and above anything the authorities do to you, even if you haven’t quite gone so far that your actions ‘in the name of God’ have actually damned you!

Persecution is a different matter.  To suffer persecution is indeed part of the ‘war without physical weapons’ which we wage not only in God’s name but with God’s power.  We need not fear the ruler who persecutes because he ultimately cannot harm us, and the experience of martyrdom, whether to the death or a lesser suffering, is one of those ‘all things’ which ‘work together for good to those who love God’.   We should so behave that the only things the ruler can find against us are the good things we do in obedience to God, that is, the simple fact that we are Christians. 

That’s the outline.  I know that not every case will neatly fit, there will be grey areas; but this is our starting point, and we should be reluctant rather than eager to look for exceptions, because we trust God for consequences.


[i] ‘So crazy it must be true’ – there is a story that Einstein was once approached by colleagues who wanted him to ‘have a word’ with a younger colleague whose ideas were ‘crazy’.  Einstein is said to have replied something like “Certainly the ideas are crazy – the question is, are they crazy enough to be true?”  To many, a conclusion that we are to be subject to rulers and not defend ourselves seems crazy – but if it is the biblical teaching, it may nevertheless be true….

Responses to my friend the other Steve….

The following were comments from Steve on two recent posts, the ‘Controversy Revisited (1)’ and also the original ‘Beast Revealed’ which unfortunately I had to withdraw.  My responses below.  The issues seem interlinked so I’m responding to these together rather than separately.

Love God, love one another. That is the whole of the Law; the rest is commentary; go away and study it. If you’re falling out with one another, if you’re hurling anathema at one another; you are seriously missing the point. Can you have a go at finding biblical support for reincarnation? It would be a seriously good Idea for Calvin, Zwingli and the Borgias to have to keep coming back until they got it right!

Powerful stuff suffused with God-sense, to which I say Amen (this sentence refers to the original ‘beast revealed’ post; thanks Steve for liking it, I’ll try and remake the point as soon as I can find a suitable ‘hook’ to hang it on. SL). They forget the context of love your neighbour and the parable of the Samaritan. In that culture, then, your neighbour was your enemy, the Amalekite you went out and massacred. The difference between a Samaritan and a Jew? I’ll be blowed if anyone knows. I have no idea why Greeks and Romans are hung up on filioque. A 30-year war, a devastated central Europe and millions of dead for 95 theses? I reckon old Martin has been sat outside the gates this last half millennium commiserating with Augustine about not thinking things through.

First the relatively trivial; no, I can’t see any support for reincarnation for those who’ve had a full life and messed it up, though I have wondered about the possibility for those who die in infancy deprived of a full life. But rightly the Bible doesn’t tell us about things like that; we need to concentrate on what’s relevant to us, and trust God for other people’s fate.  Given a generously forgiving God, Calvin and Zwingli I think got it right enough to expect to see them in heaven, just a bit chastened (as no doubt I will be about some of my errors I haven’t realised in this life!).  The Borgias – that’s up to God in each individual case obviously, not condemn the whole family, but it does unfortunately seem that many of the Borgias were so deliberately wrong it’s questionable whether reincarnation would help them anyway.  Luther and Augustine again I expect to meet in heaven.  The main fault for all these theologians, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and Augustine, was their involvement in, and their inability to see the problems of, the state church idea.  Their basic personal relationship to God appears to have been OK.  Judging by other periods in Europe, the wars or similar were likely to have happened anyway for secular reasons; the ‘Hundred Years War’ between Britain and France was not religious.

‘Love God, love one another’ – I’m not arguing!!  Nevertheless theology is necessary because it’s ‘knowledge about God’ – true knowledge makes a true relationship with God much easier, false knowledge or understanding may mess up that relationship or even completely destroy it.  Of course abstractly true theology without genuine spiritual rebirth won’t help; as James points out, the devils probably know more theology than we do but it hasn’t helped them.  But false theology obviously risks putting your relations with God on a false basis – unitarian theology completely wrecks the idea of the atonement and that makes faith in Jesus as saviour just a bit difficult….  I would also point out that biblical love, ‘agape’ is not just any sloppy old sentimentality but implies very much caring.  God’s judgement is not opposed to his love but part of his caring.

There are comparatively few things in the New Testament that seem to justify anathemas and the like.  And even then, in the NT this is about the church as an independent body which does not expect the state to privilege the church or punish ‘heretics’.  In such a context people’s beliefs are voluntary, and the position is somewhat akin to other voluntary groups like sports clubs – if you join you’re reasonably expected to more-or-less keep the club’s rules, if you won’t keep the rules the club is likely to eventually ask you to leave, but you won’t be punished as a criminal by the state for your dissent from the sports club!  Obviously a reasonable club makes every effort to keep you, but you can’t go on forever committing deliberate fouls which mess up everybody else’s enjoyment of the game or even injure them and give a bad impression to the outside world.  The situation should be broadly similar with the church.  Being a state church messes this up in all kinds of ways; a state has all kinds of worldly aims inappropriate to the faith and is using the religion for such ends as cohesion and conformity in the state. 

As in Ulster to this day, the wars in Europe over the Reformation were not really over the ‘95 theses’ but over having a state religion.  Without that idea you could have had a right ding-dong argument about those theses but not the slightest need to raise even a fist let alone a sword, bomb, or bullet; with a state religion there pretty much has to be war, persecution, etc., to satisfy what the state requires of the religion entangled with it, whether it be a form of Christianity, or Islam, or Japanese Shinto, or indeed by a sociologist’s reckoning the godless ‘religions’ of Nazism, Communism, etc.  Using Christianity as a state religion goes back to the 4th Century Empire, with slightly different versions then developing in the ‘Orthodox’ east and ‘Roman Catholic’ west after the Empire broke up.  Unfortunately the Reformers didn’t challenge the state church situation but rather relied on their local ‘princes’ to support the Reform, resulting in a religiously partitioned Europe.  If you think about it such an idea is inimical to Christianity with its basic idea of personal spiritual rebirth through faith.

One problem here is that yes, God could just arbitrarily make things come out right; but that would be kind of unreal, and of course the wrong kind of coercive on His part.  For human lives to be real and significant we have to actually ‘work out/live out’ these things, and God must, at least to some extent, let us do them bit by bit as we learn while, as ‘judge of all the earth’ guaranteeing there will be no ultimate injustice.  Before the Reformation there was a totalitarian single church in Western Europe, and people who tried to reform it without state support didn’t have the clout to make it stick, though they seem to have been more effective than many realise.  But in broad terms the Reformation sort of ‘had to’ happen as it did both to achieve all the changes it did and also to open things up for the radicals to have a space to be heard, leading in the end to greater religious freedom and a hearing for the ‘free church/ Anabaptist’ case such as I’m putting forward in this blog, and hopefully in due course to the abandonment of what still remains of the unbiblical state church. 

[Massacring the Amalekites – the subject of Old Testament warfare really requires a lengthy post and I am working on it.  In the meantime the above paragraph contains some relevant ideas]

Samaritans and Jews?  The difference starts with the split-up of the original Jewish kingdom after Solomon, into the larger Northern Kingdom based on Samaria and the smaller Southern kingdom of Judah based on Jerusalem.  By setting up a rival to the Jerusalem temple the Northern Kingdom came to be regarded as heretics in the eyes of the southerners.  The Northern Kingdom fell to foreign invasion a long time before the southern, and it seems their already compromised religion got yet further compromised by the invaders’ paganism. 

Eventually Judah and Jerusalem also fell and a considerable portion of the population were deported to modern Persia/Iraq.  Then a conquest of the conquerors brought a ruler who curried favour with subjects by allowing the displaced to return.  A large number of Judeans returned to the southern kingdom area and rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple.  Samaritans remaining in the north opposed and harassed this, increasing enmity between the two groups.  It seems that the Samaritans had inter-married with their conquerors to a significant extent; in Judea the group rebuilding the Temple responded by a policy of ethnic purity, stricter than had been the case in the old kingdom.   By NT times the Samaritans were an enclave in the central highlands of Israel, where some still remain to this day, with a Jewish state more or less surrounding them, though Galilean Jews were also considered inferior and part-paganised by the southerners in Judea proper.  The situation could be compared to Northern Ireland in many ways.  Jesus’ kingdom reconciled Jews and Samaritans, as well as Gentiles, though of course many also rejected him.

The ‘Filioque’ (‘- and the Son’) was a credal issue which was part of the break-up between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.  This messy dispute was arguably another problem resulting from having a state church.  It is academic philosophical theology done in the wrong spirit and in the wrong context.  Technically I think the Romans were just about right; the Holy Spirit is the Spirit equally of both Father and Son in the Trinity – but the very use of the word ‘technically’ shows that we’re no longer in the same world as the New Testament, where theology is more concrete than that and less abstract and academic.  Essentially I think both churches were playing politics in which the Roman Church was looking for a way to be more independent of the Eastern Church and make higher claims for the Pope than the eastern bishops of Alexandria etc.  The ‘filioque’ disagreement was a pretext in that worldly political issue.

The temptation of assuming that God ‘must want’ a religious state in which his people ‘lord it over’ others is really seductive – so much so that far too many people who think of themselves as Christian (and some who basically really are Christian) fall into that temptation and can’t see how the New Testament rejects the idea.  Sadly this leads to unChristian conduct.