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….

Sacrifice to Santa

Every year it happens; some poor guy (or girl) tells children the truth that ‘There ain’t no Santa Claus’; and the sky falls on him/her.  A few years ago it was a primary school supply teacher who it seems unfortunately misjudged whether her class were already old enough to know the truth.  She got suspended and special lessons on ‘the meaning of Christmas’ were arranged to put things right by, well, ensuring that the children’s belief in Santa was restored.

This year it’s a priest.  Talking to children he both told them Father Christmas doesn’t exist and also told them the original legend of St Nicholas (‘Santa Claus’), a 4th Century Turkish bishop known for a probably true act of generosity and also for a few less likely miracles, one of which involves some slightly gory details.  Children were reduced to tears, claimed the front page headline press story about this ‘Grinch’.

Now it may well be that the priest misjudged whether the children were quite ready for the gorier bits of the St Nick legend; but given what can be seen on children’s TV currently, I’m a bit dubious on that.  It’s also getting harder and harder in these days of political correctness and such to judge that kind of issue clearly anyway….

But basically, presumably the crying was mainly over the denial of Santa.  And I think it’s time to reconsider this whole business.

First, the modern ‘Father Christmas’ not only doesn’t really exist, even as a myth he’s a surprisingly modern addition to our Christmas; famous Christmas enthusiast Charles Dickens doesn’t seem to have known of him.

St Nicholas did exist; but apart from the hijacking of his name in its Germanic form of ‘Santa Claus’, he really has nothing to do with the modern essentially pagan fat red-cloaked demigod who lives at the North Pole with an elvish toy factory.  St Nicholas was celebrated in Europe by a festival of giving on his proper ‘saint’s day’ of December 6th, a festival which perhaps surprisingly survived even among Protestants after the Reformation.  I’m not clear how he became entangled with Christmas, the earliest example I personally know of is the appallingly sentimental American poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas….”  I think I could go along with the continuation of a proper St Nicholas festival, on the proper date, which was really about giving to the needy rather than the modern consumerism; but that’s not going to happen now, is it?

Take away the St Nick connection (which is effectively abandoned in the modern Santa myth), and the modern Father Christmas has no real connection to the Christian Christmas celebration, or to Christianity at all.  Indeed, Father Christmas has become an alternative to the Christian Christmas story, and an untrue alternative at that.  And if you look around the shops as Christmas approaches you won’t these days see much of the Nativity, of Jesus and his family, the stable and stuff.  OK, stars and angels seem to have survived from the traditional story, but otherwise it’s all Santa and ‘his’ presents, reindeer, elves, snow, robins, Dickensian scenes assorted, Christmas trees, baubles and other jazzy decorations, cards mostly not showing anything Christian….

So why do Christians put up with this?  Why do we, the followers of the Way, the TRUTH and the Life, go along with the – let’s be blunt about it – LIE?  Why does a priest who tells the truth about Santa get reprimanded by panicky superiors?  Why do church members ‘do Santa’ and tell the Santa lie to their children??  What can be wrong in telling children the truth that they get presents from family and friends who love them, and through normal channels, not via the North Pole?

And what about the media who make such a fuss about the truth-teller?  Be honest, if a priest were to tell children a deliberate lie about anything else, the media would be demanding instant unfrocking; but when it’s Santa, it’s the other way round – join in with the lie or we crucify you!  Santa has become the only religion in Britain which is allowed to persecute unbelievers – and that despite the fact that none of the adult persecutors actually believe in Santa themselves!  But why should Christians be pressurised to tell lies – the media and the politically-correct brigade would be up in arms at attempts to make people of other faiths go along with lies related to their faith, or let their festivals be subjected to similarly blasphemous exploitation?  (‘Blasphemous’?  I invite you to consider some of the words of ‘Santa Claus is coming to town…!)

I don’t like making children cry either; but in this case, who really produces the tears – the person who finally tells the truth, or the people who have told such an elaborate and deliberate lie in the first place?  And while I’m in favour of religious toleration, the Father Christmas myth and the modern ‘Christmas’ that goes with him is no genuine religion – rather it is a commercialised parasite on Christianity, and surely we are well entitled to disclaim it and make clear that it’s no real part of the authentic Christmas, the Christmas which is about the incarnation of the Son of God.  I think it is some indication of the bias and unfairness of the ‘political correctness’ brigade that while they’re so keen to supposedly protect those of other faiths from Christianity, they won’t protect Christianity from this parasite.

We Christians often make a token fuss about the commercialisation of Christmas; but I believe that if we really want to make an impact on that commercialisation, we need to be clear to the world out there that ‘Father Christmas’ is nothing to do with our celebrations, and that  CHRISTIANS DON’T BELIEVE IN HIM!!  It’s not just the commercialisation, it’s also the ‘simple truth’ aspect – we compromise Christian truthfulness when we go along with such nonsense.  Having said that, it does look as if the attempt to have a secular Christmas is flagging a bit; indeed the vehemence with which people are attacked for telling the truth about Santa suggests a degree of desperation….

But Seriously (8) – Romans 13, use and misuse

(‘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)

Romans 13 is a key passage for ‘Church-and-State’ issues; before expounding what it does mean, I want in this post to consider some things it doesn’t mean, some ways it has been misinterpreted.  First, the text itself, in RSV

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….

Tax we’ll do another day.  Obviously how we interpret that obligation will depend on how we interpret the earlier verses.

One misinterpretation I call the ‘Verwoerd version’ after a former leader in the days of ‘apartheid’ in South Africa.  John Stott has related how a South African friend of his, an active opponent of apartheid, was one day called in to some government office, where an official confronted him with a bible open to Romans 13 and challenged him with it.  Why wasn’t he obeying the government as this text taught??  We’ll be looking later at the rounded biblical perspective, but I think it is clear that interpreting the text so simplistically would raise considerable ethical dilemmas for the Christian.  Consider how that would have affected Christians in Nazi Germany, for example, if called to obey a government sending Jews to the extermination camps.  It is surely clear that such obedience to the authorities can’t be right…. 

At least part of the solution lies in Peter’s response to the Jewish authorities in Acts 5; 29, when the disciples had been arrested for preaching the gospel – ‘We must obey God rather than men.’  But we must be careful how we use that text, in case we twist it and end up going too far the other way.

Another misinterpretation, I believe, does just that; I call it the ‘Paisley Pattern’ because I found a clear statement of it in Rev Dr Ian Paisley’s commentary on Romans (written while in prison after a demonstration; I would accept that this imprisonment was probably unjust).  Paisley’s start is perfectly correct – “It must be said clearly at the outset that these verses do not apply to laws contrary to the laws of God.  Robert Haldane said once, preaching from the first verse, ‘There is but one exception and that is when anything is required contrary to the laws of God’”.  Haldane by the way was a Baptist who in the early 19th Century led a revival in Geneva, preaching from Romans in Calvin’s pulpit, and his teaching on Romans including that quote is to be found in his Commentary on Romans – the edition I’ve got was published some fifty years ago by Banner of Truth publishers; it’s about the size of the later Harry Potter books and contains even more content as it is in quite small print on fine paper.  In so much space Haldane said a lot more about Romans 13; 1 than just that quote, and I would suggest if you read it you’ll find his interpretation doesn’t go in the same direction as Dr Paisley….

Paisley goes on

Certain people who wish to bolster up a rotten government and the persecuting laws of the same, condemn the resistance of the martyrs, reformers, confessors, non-conformists, puritans and covenanters to the evil laws of their day…. take the line of least resistance …{and} wrest this and other scriptures to their own destruction….

It is clear from these verses that God has ordained and delegated powers to various departments of society.  For example, the father is the divinely ordained power in the family, the basic unit of society.  This does not mean that God ordains and approves every wicked, immoral, murderous brute of a father who is a tyrant in his home.  The office of father, the power of the father, is divinely ordained but the abuse of the office is not divinely ordained…. In society… the authorities are ordained of God in regard to their office or powers, but not in regard to their characters.  The chief magistrate is divinely ordained, the office is sacred, but a Hitler who usurps and abuses the office is not divinely ordained neither are the laws of such a tyrant to be obeyed when they oppose the law of God.  Paul speaks clearly on the nature of the laws he has in mind when he says, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.  Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?  Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same”.

 This is soooo nearly right, but…!  First, some explanations….

‘The chief magistrate’ – in modern UK usage ‘magistrates’ means a panel of minor local judges.  Back in the Reformation/Puritan era, and in statements of faith like the Presbyterian ‘Westminster Confession’, and so in ‘church-and-state’ discussions in such traditions, ‘magistrate’ meant any person at a great/ruling level in society, including kings and emperors and as in this case a dictator like Hitler.

‘Covenanters’ – the Covenanters were 17th Century Scots who basically fought a civil war with the Stuart monarchy, objecting to the Stuarts imposing Anglicanism in place of the Scots Presbyterianism going back to John Knox.  By mentioning the Covenanters, Dr Paisley shows that he accepts the possibility of a violent resistance to a government.

Essentially the ‘Paisley pattern’ interpretation of Romans 13 is that you obey the authorities until you think they’ve commanded something against God’s law – but then you rebel and take up the sword, the gun, the pipe bomb….  If you believe that you are supposed to have a ‘Christian country’, a non-Christian government will almost inevitably be considered a suitable target for rebellion (or abroad, crusading warfare) ; as will a government whose ‘Christian state’ is the wrong kind of Christianity – Catholic rather than Protestant for example, or Anglican rather than Puritan.  In Northern Ireland, it wasn’t that the Protestants were being commanded to disobey God themselves – they were just being asked to treat their Catholic neighbours fairly; Protestant violence against the Catholic civil rights movement escalated into the counter-violence by the IRA. 

As Haldane pointed out in his commentary, one of the problems with this is that the apparently reasonable exception ends up taking over from the original rule and nullifying it in practice.  Paul’s teaching of ‘be subject to the authorities’ and ‘do not rebel’ and ‘in no case paying back evil for evil’ and ‘do not revenge yourselves’ is rewritten to an actual practice of “We’ll obey so long as it suits us and when we don’t like it we’ll fight back”.  Paul’s teaching of an unusual godly and spiritually-empowered response to persecution is replaced by a position effectively identical to the ordinary worldly position on such matters.

Dr Paisley and the many others who adopt this interpretation of Romans 13 have, I believe, got confused.  They interpret ‘be subject to’ as if it was simply equivalent to ‘obey’ as in the ‘Verwoerd version’ above; and they think that ‘obeying God rather than men’ is a legitimate exception to ‘do not resist’.  The long tradition of the Christian state going back to Constantine means that they interpret the text within that tradition (a Roman Catholic tradition, please note, Dr Paisley), rather than letting the New Testament mean what it actually says.  I’ll be examining the positive interpretation of Romans 13 in a future post, but for now….

First, yes, I accept that ‘We must obey God rather than men’ is the point where Christian ‘subjection to the authorities’ differs from the unqualified obedience that the state would prefer.  But….

Secondly, We must very much indeed OBEY GOD… and that means we must follow the New Testament teaching, not our worldly desires, on how to deal with a government such as Nero, Caligula, Hitler or Stalin, or of course our own.  That NT teaching includes the implications of Romans 12 for Romans 13, as per the previous blog (‘But Seriously (6)’), and also includes Jesus’ forbidding of the sword, Paul’s insistence that our warfare is not with weapons, and Peter’s clear teaching that Christians must be prepared to follow the example of Jesus (and Peter and Paul) in being willing to suffer unjustly rather than resist/rebel violently against the government.

But Seriously (7)… Separate or ‘Unequally yoked’?

 

(‘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)

Our topic this time is the passage II Corinthians 6;14 – 7;1.

Be not unequally yoked up with unbelievers; for what common ground is there between righteousness and lawlessness or what association between light and darkness?  Or what harmony between Christ and Belial, or what partnership between a believer and an unbeliever?   What agreement has God’s temple with idols?  For we are a temple of the living God, as God has said, “I will dwell in them and walk around among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people”.  For that reason, “Come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord, and do not touch anything unclean.  Then I will receive you and I will be a Father to you, and to Me you shall be sons and daughters.  The Lord Omnipotent speaks”.

In possession of these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and complete our dedication by reverence of God

‘Belial’ is a Jewish name for Satan.  The two Old Testament passages quoted are Lev. 26; 12 and what seems to be a free ‘portmanteau’ quote including Isaiah 52; 11 and other passages.  The Leviticus passage is promises of good to the Israelites ‘If you walk by My laws and obey My orders so as to practice them….’ – which are followed by promises of ill consequences ‘if you will not listen to Me and will not practice all these commandments; if you despise My laws, if your soul abhors My injunctions….’   The Isaiah passage in its immediate context refers to the liberation of Israel from Babylon and of course leads into the fantastic Isaiah 53 with its prophecy of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.  Paul almost certainly intended his readers to take account of that context as well as just the words he quotes.

I don’t know about you but as a teenager in a 1960s Christian youth group I heard ‘be not unequally yoked with unbelievers’ quite often – always in the narrow sense “Don’t have a non-Christian girlfriend or marry an unbeliever!”  That is clearly part of what Paul meant, but eventually I realised that he intended something much wider, as seen from that further instruction to ‘come out and be separate’.

Most discussion focuses on how separate we should be….  For me we are clearly wrong if we are ‘separate’ in an ugly way as has been seen with some of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’, or otherwise smugly, proudly, and self-righteously separate, gloating over how we are OK while those around us go to hell; and also if, as seems to be the case with some (though not all) Amish and Hutterites, we are so separate from ‘the world’ that we never preach the gospel to our pagan neighbours, and never or almost never see people coming into the church from ‘outside’.  How can we claim to represent the love of God if we aren’t letting people know about it as Jesus commanded us to do?  At the other end we are also wrong if we are so like the pagans around us that nobody can tell the difference, like the pigs at the end of ‘Animal Farm’ who, having at first led the revolution against the exploiting humans, have turned into exploiting humans themselves.

However, in this post I want to ask how this ‘separateness’ and ‘unequal yoking’ relates to my ‘church-and-state’ concerns.  Start with the obvious – once you’ve gone to a lot of trouble, maybe even fought a war or two, to make yourself a ‘Christian country’, how can you then meaningfully ‘come out and be separate’?  The text here presumes that Christians are living in a state/nation of non-Christians from whom they need to be distinct, to glorify God by living life His way among all their neighbours who live without God, and to challenge the pagan neighbours by the different life that flows from Christian faith.  It’s hard to live that way in a country where everybody is superficially ‘Christian’.

And surely a ‘Christian country’ will in fact mean ‘unequal yoking with unbelievers’ more or less by definition.  As pointed out elsewhere in this blog, you can claim to have such a state all you like, pass as many laws about it as you like, but you can’t thereby cause people to be truly born again; the best you can achieve is superficial conformity.  In an old-style Christian state of the medieval or Reformation era, and down to even the 19th century, the really born-again Christians would have to share the fellowship of the church with large numbers of people who are hypocrites, or scared of persecution, or who just take their Christian status for granted because they have been born in a ‘Christian’ nation – and that rather makes a nonsense of the Christian fellowship[i].  Furthermore it is not unlikely that the hypocrites and worldly among these nominal Christians will seek to end up as the bishops and inquisitors and the like thus distorting the government of the church and its relations with the state.  And the unequally yoked state connection will inevitably involve the church and its genuinely born again members in the state’s wars, and in persecution of dissenters and other New-Testamently-dubious conduct. Unequal yoking results in disobedience to God.  Among the possible and all too often actual consequences has been Christians fighting each other in the armies of warring Christian states; being yoked with the state has separated them from and set them against their fellow-Christians ….

In the modern situation with an established church in a nominally Christian but increasingly secular state, the Church doesn’t even get the benefit of much influence, but comes under pressure to ‘be conformed with the world’ – as a short time ago when we saw David Cameron lecturing the Anglican Church about ‘getting with the programme’ on women bishops.  Again over gay marriage we saw the Church of England (and its disestablished companion the ‘Church in Wales’) being forbidden by law to have same-sex marriages, the decision apparently being taken without actually consulting the Church.  And again, the Church is massively involved in the state education system but it seems clear that political correctness will increasingly prevent the Church’s schools being even distinctively Christian, let alone distinctively Anglican.  Other Christian groups going into the Academy business seem to have had similar experiences of finding their distinctive beliefs muted.  That religious schools should be truly private and not involved in the state system is something I’ll hopefully deal with another time….

In short, the attempt to have a Christian state both nullifies the proper implications of Christian separation from the unbelieving world, and it results in Christians being harmfully ‘unequally yoked’ with that unbelieving world.  It also creates difficulties for those who realise the problem and try to set up churches properly separate from the state; a clear separation from unbelievers is fairly straightforward, but to put clear water between born again Christians and a superficially Christian state and its culture is a good deal harder and is likely to result in an exaggerated and unhelpful separateness which may become unbiblical in other ways.


[i] Of course even where church and state are separate there will be some church members who aren’t truly born again; but where state church membership offers worldly advantage there will be an unnaturally large number of such members.

Marching as to War

Another night of riots over parades in Ulster.  As near as I can work out, what has happened is that last year a ‘Loyalist’ parade provoked considerable disorder in a ‘Republican’ area.  As a result, the authorities (The Parades Commission?) revised the route of this year’s march.  Loyalists complained that this was ‘rewarding’ the Republicans for the previous year’s violence so they called for a protest which more or less inevitably descended into violence and riot despite calls for peace from the Orange Order and various politicians.

Now the democratic right of protest/demonstration I’m quite happy with.  But this particular cause of violent protest I’m very unhappy about.  Why?  Because these people purport to be ‘Bible-believing Christians’, and their conduct doesn’t fit with biblical teaching.

The basic purpose of these parades is to commemorate the ‘Protestant’ victory of the 17th Century.  The practical effect in modern terms is that the Orange Order and similar bodies stage triumphalist marches whose message is that we won and you Catholics and Republicans lost and are second-class citizens in our state.  Obviously there is no major disorder problem when these events take place in ‘Protestant’ areas; but there are places where the routes run through ‘Catholic’ areas.  I don’t know how much this is original intention – i.e. that the routes always ran through Catholic enclaves with provocative intent – or how much it may be because populations have shifted over the years; but clearly staging such triumphalist parades in Catholic areas is provocative in itself.  Complaining at the Catholics for being provoked is … not really a fair complaint, is it?  Staging your own riot and bomb-throwing in response, at great cost to the public purse and great risk to the police (most of whom are still as individuals Protestants and theoretically on the same side as the rioters), seems a rather strange reaction.

Worse, it’s an unbiblical reaction in all kinds of ways.  Two straightforward quotes just to start with, one from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, one from Paul in Romans 12.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called God’s sons.

In no case paying back evil for evil, determine on the noblest ways of dealing with all people.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Now can someone please explain to me how staging these provocative triumphalist parades can possibly be interpreted as ‘peace-making’?  Simply on that ground, Bible-believing Christians should have nothing to do with them in the first place, let alone be claiming that they are for a ‘Bible-believing Christian’ cause!!  Should they not be seeking to receive the blessing as peacemakers, rather than risking the implicit judgement upon those who break the peace?

In no case paying back evil for evil” – even if you are unhappy at having your parade shortened, the rioting looks to me remarkably like paying back evil for evil.  It certainly doesn’t look like what Paul says about following the noblest ways in dealing with people, or ‘living at peace with everyone so far as it depends on you’ ; still less does it look like what he says at the end of that chapter…

Do not revenge yourselves, dear friends… instead, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; in case he is thirsty, give him drink.  For by doing so you will pile burning coals on his head (i.e. you will make him feel guilt and shame for his evil at your expense).  Be not overpowered by evil, but master evil with good.

Furthermore, defying the Parades Commission and other authorities brings this conduct under Paul’s words in the next chapter, Romans 13.

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been appointed by God.  Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.

So the authorities curtailed your parade – be subject to them and let it go!  Now I am aware of ‘the one exception’ to this, which is Peter’s statement in Acts 5; 29 that “We must obey God rather than men”.  I have on my bookshelves Robert Haldane’s massive tome on Romans in which he clearly states that one exception; and I also have on my shelves Ian Paisley’s commentary in which he quotes Haldane on that point.  Or rather, misquotes him, for the one thing Haldane makes clear is that Peter’s words still do not justify ‘resisting the authorities’ by military or other force.  If you have access to a copy of Haldane, check that out for yourself.

Let me explain; it isn’t fully obvious in the English, but Paul in fact is using Greek semi-puns here, words which have a common root.  A bit ago for a sermon I paraphrased the text to bring this out, losing I grant a bit of accuracy but showing the common roots

“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.”

I phrased it ‘object with violence’ because I recall a querulous ‘I violently object ’ as being a somewhat comic or even ‘camp’ phrase not giving quite the right impression.  Paul’s actual word means something on the lines of ‘stand in array against’ like an army, whether a formal army of a state or the less formal forceful opposition of rioters.  It is precisely about resisting the state by force.  Of course Paul recognised the idea of ‘obeying God rather than men’ and in instructing us to ‘be subject’ he is not advocating a servile obedience to whatever wrong the state might require us to do.  But our obeying God does not justify a forceful or violent response; hey, this is the same Paul who clearly told us that “…we do not war with carnal weapons.  For the weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons, but they are powerful with God’s help for the tearing down of fortresses.”

Peter has the same basic position as is clearly shown both by the context of his statement in Acts and by the teaching of his First Epistle.  In Acts, Peter is not raising a rebellion, or gathering Christian paramilitaries to oppose the authorities; he and his fellow apostles were simply preaching the gospel!  When they were arrested, they did not fight back – Peter had learned better on the night of Jesus’ arrest – they peaceably allowed themselves to be arrested and would have clearly submitted to/‘been subject to’ any penalty the authorities might have inflicted.  And Peter teaches the same in his epistle.

Read for yourself the sequence starting in I Peter 2; 12 through to 3; 17 (and echoed in much of the rest of the epistle).  Peter repeats Paul’s admonition to ‘be subject’ to the authorities, and then not only with the authorities of government but also with the lesser authorities of slave-owners and unbelieving husbands, he instructs his readers to be willing, following the example of Jesus, to suffer unjustly.  Again, not to rebel, not to riot – not even to be ‘allotriepiskopoi’ or ‘self-appointed managers of other people’s business’ (4; 15), but to be peaceable ‘parepidemoi’ which almost literally translates to our modern phrase ‘resident aliens’ (i.e. citizens of the kingdom of heaven living on earth).

Applying this to the parade situation; well, stop the inflammatory parades!  They aren’t ‘obeying God rather than men’; there is no biblical command or other requirement for Christians to conduct themselves that way, and much to say we shouldn’t.  And likewise, no riots about the authorities limiting the parades; because in addition to the parades being wrong in themselves, the protests are far from obeying the teaching to be ‘subject to the authorities’, and the riots even further from what Paul and Peter instruct us to do.

What might we do?  Well, Christians could obey God by getting out there and preaching the gospel.  Peaceably, humbly and respectfully, and with no retaliation if they meet hostility.  If the authorities intervene, preaching the gospel would be a properly biblical case for saying ‘we must obey God rather than men’.   And if then the authorities decide to imprison or otherwise penalise you – well, the Bible says suffer unjustly following the example of Jesus, Peter, and Paul.  And beyond preaching the gospel, how about some of that turning the other cheek, feeding the hungry enemy, giving the thirsty enemy a drink, going an extra mile.  At simplest, just free your enemy of the fear and aggravation of your noisy provocative parades – show your enemy followers of Jesus who themselves follow the self-sacrificing example of their Lord.

Of course for this preaching and this practical love of the enemy to be credible, you’ll have to give up the idea of Ulster being a ‘Protestant country’, and of needing to defend that country by any kind of force.  It may take a long time, and a great deal of gentleness, to convince Catholics/Republicans that you represent the biblical loving Jesus rather than an enemy who hates them and wants to dominate them and have them as second-class citizens.  You will have to follow Jesus in rejecting a ‘kingdom of this world’ for your party, for your ‘Protestant culture’.

But I submit that if you start on such a road you will be even more ‘Bible-believing Christians’ than you already are; you will be fighting the Christian fight as Paul said you should, not with ‘carnal’ or ‘physical’ weapons, but with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  The worst damage you can do with that weapon is to raise guilt and shame in your ‘enemy’; and if you love him as Jesus said you should, you won’t take glee or satisfaction in piling those ‘burning coals’ on his head – you’ll be too busy bringing Jesus’ healing to him.

PS; As I prepared this for final posting, the news was that the Orange Order had actually applied for a fresh march down the contested streets.  It has been refused and I suppose we will have to wait and see whether that provokes yet more riots.  But seriously – by what twisted logic could that possibly be considered compatible with Jesus’ teaching to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’?  Teaching which Jesus backed up with a parable, ‘The Good Samaritan’, set against the equivalent in Israel in his day of the sectarian divide in Ulster….

PPS; The Orange Order apparently did march but no further than was allowed; three lodges had been accompanied by some 1000 supporters who eventually dispersed peacefully in the late afternoon.  I’m obviously glad there was no further violence; but a radio news item showed that one leader had been concerned there would be such a result.  And in any case, how does a march with 1000 supporters square with showing love to your opponents or ‘living at peace so far as it’s up to you’?

And even since then they’ve applied again to do the march next week.  Of course nothing has changed and the Parades Commission are unlikely to allow it, so presumably there will be another march to the brink with the attendant risk of further violence – which of course the march organisers will blame on everything but ourselves.  How can they believe this is biblically justifiable????

PPPS; Though still short of full coverage, these issues are further discussed elsewhere on ‘Steve’s Free Church Blog’, particularly the item ‘As Peace in Ulster Flags’.  Detailed discussion of Romans 12 and 13, and of much of I Peter, is also in preparation.

“We’ve come to exterminate the Crusaders….”

That’s what was reported by an Algerian worker at the gas plant where terrorists had taken hostages; “Don’t worry”, they told him, “As an Algerian Muslim we haven’t come to harm you – we’ve come to exterminate the crusaders!” And that statement says much about the messy situation between Muslims and the West at present.  The extremists, and many other Muslims, interpret the western armies currently in their lands as a renewal of the old Crusades, with Christians again attempting to destroy Islam by war.

We westerners don’t see it that way; to us, the western armies, including the Brits, are not Christian Crusaders at all, but the armies of pluralist democracies defending ourselves against terrorists and if anything defending the freedoms of Muslims.  But it’s understandable that Muslims misinterpret the situation.  Take the UK; we have a national established church whose earthly ‘supreme governor’ – the Queen – is also the head of our state and the effective Commander-in-Chief of our armies.  It is all too easy for Muslims to see the Queen as the equivalent of a Muslim ‘Caliph’ – a religious head of a religious state – and therefore see her country’s armies as Christian armies pursuing Christian aims.  America may not have an established church, but is nevertheless a largely ‘Christian’ nation, very vocally so among the Republican Right/Moral Majority wing of their politics, so again it can appear in Arab eyes that they are ‘Crusaders’.

So long as this mutual misunderstanding prevails, it’s hard to see how the West can win the various wars; our opponents cannot surrender what they see as Allah’s cause, and we can’t, compatibly with our own principles, just exterminate them.  And anyway, killing them tends just to confirm their view of us, and convinces more and more Muslims to join the extremists.

There is another serious consequence of this.  Many Muslim lands have Christian minorities.  In theory, Muslims should be tolerant of Christians as fellow monotheists, but – quite logically – this doesn’t fully apply during war with Christian states.  With Christian armies ‘crusading’ in Muslim lands, those Christian minorities can be seen as allies of the ‘crusaders’; and therefore as fit targets for persecution of all kinds.  We occasionally hear of that persecution; including cases where Christians have been forcibly circumcised, and are then in a terrible position – they have not freely chosen Islam, yet if they return to practising Christianity, they will be treated as ‘apostates’ and may be subjected to the Islamic death penalty for apostasy[i].

Many of the Christians involved – those belonging to the various ‘Anabaptist’ groups, for example – would reject the whole idea of ‘crusading/holy war’, and even the idea of a ‘Christian country’; they haven’t the slightest intention of being ‘allies’ of the supposed crusading armies.  Yet sadly they will still be persecuted, because the Muslims don’t understand that – Islamic thinking makes it difficult to understand a separation of religion and state.  It is also the case that others of these persecuted Christians belong to churches which support the idea of Christian states, or even, as in the case of Anglicanism, are ‘established’ in some way in the western country where their denomination originated.  I’m not going to say that such Christians therefore ‘deserve’ persecution – but I will say that it is understandable that Muslims interpret such Christian-country-minded groups as being allied with the ‘Christendom’ with whose ideas they agree.

Ironically, the supposedly ‘crusading’ West is also having trouble understanding the situation.  We are so accustomed to our pluralism and democracy, with its freedom of religion, that we don’t easily grasp the idea of a religion and state being effectively one entity, so we can’t see the problem the Muslims have with us.

Disentangling the mess

In disentangling it’s a good start to admit that there is a tangle!  Sadly neither politicians nor church people in the west seem to want to make that admission.  Many don’t even appreciate the real nature of Islam; they don’t seem to realise that the idea of a unity of religion and state is built into Islam from square one, as is the idea of holy war.  In the lifetime of Muhammad he both ordered and personally led military expeditions; exiled from Mecca he returned with an army big enough to scare the Meccans into surrender, to set up a Muslim state with himself as effectively king.  It is significant that in Islam the big division is not over creeds and beliefs; Shi’as and Sunnis are divided over who, at a certain time, should have succeeded Muhammad as the ruler of the Muslim state.  I will agree that many of the modern extremist Muslims are probably doing things Muhammad would reject; but the key ideas are deeply embedded in Islam and aren’t going to change.  Muslims who try to go ‘back to basics’ will find that the totalitarian religious state, and war both to defend and expand that state, are among the fundamentals of their faith.  It is a myth of political correctness that there are ‘good Muslims’ who have western values in such matters; such people do exist, but arguably they are not fully faithful Muslims, but Muslims failing to follow the original Islamic teaching.  Because this is so, extremist Islam is not going to go away in a hurry.

Christianity is different; in Christianity, the totalitarianism and warfare are an alien graft, not going back to the original but only to over 300 years after Jesus.  I once saw Nick Griffin in a party political broadcast for the BNP portraying the idea that Christianity started as a violent and intolerant religion like Islam but we wonderful British had changed it into the more tolerant body we know today; he couldn’t be more wrong!  Christians who go ‘back to the Bible’ will not find instructions on setting up a Christian state, but teaching that ‘our warfare is not with physical weapons’ (II Cor 10; 4), that Jesus’ kingdom is ‘not of this world’ (John 18; 36) and instructions to ‘be subject to’ the governments of the various non-Christian states they live in (Rom 13; 1ff, I Pet 2; 13ff).  They will find teaching that people become Christians by a spiritual rebirth beyond human power and legislation (John 1; 12-13), not simply by their natural birth in a supposedly Christian state.  They will find the Church itself described as “God’s holy nation” – yet not ruling this world but living humbly in exile from their real home in heaven  (I Pet 2; 9, 1; 1), and commanded indeed not to be ‘allotriepiskopoi – managers of other people’s affairs’ (I Pet 4; 15).

Nobody can be sure how things might have worked out if Muhammad had faced a Christianity still operating in that spirit; unfortunately he saw in Arabia only a somewhat heretical group whose ideas on the Trinity seemed pagan to him, and beyond Arabia a mainstream church which had changed drastically from the original after some 300 years of being nationalised into the Roman Empire and operating as the imperial state religion.   So he rejected Christianity, while in the end copying the idea of a state faith using military means – well, maybe not exactly copying, just that he never seems to have seen any other model of Christianity to inspire him to act differently from pagan national religions.

Christians let Muhammad down at that time (and let themselves down if you think about it!)  They continued to set Islam a bad example as they fought tooth and nail to hinder the advance of the Islamic empire, in Spain for example, and then actually attacked the ‘Holy Land’ in the era of the Crusades, whose atrocities are effectively coming home to roost as Islamic terrorism in the West.  More recently the interference of ‘Christian’ states in the Middle East as colonial powers stirred up much resentment, and caused many Muslims to go ‘back to the Quran’ to seek Allah’s favour by being more fundamentalist.  In particular arrogant handling of Palestine stirred things up.  Essentially Britain promised the land of Palestine to both the Arabs (as led by Lawrence of Arabia) and the Jews in order to gain their support in the First World War (1914-18) and then muddled through till a rather disgraceful abdication of responsibility in the aftermath of World War II as immigration of displaced Jews to Israel grew and friction between Arab and Jew increased.  The subsequent tendency for the US and UK to favour Israel stoked things up further.  Then we became dependent on Arab oil and the balance changed, leading to a Muslim resurgence.

What now?

We – and I mean Christians, rather than the various states we live in – need to set straight the issue of the Crusades; indeed we need to firmly disavow the Crusades.  We must also recognise that such disavowal won’t mean much unless we also disavow the ‘Christendom’ set up by Constantine, and all the subsequent variants – from Anglicanism and Lutheranism to Ian Paisley and his fellow Unionists in Ulster – which seek to give Christianity a special place in the state and inevitably lead to the idea that it is proper to set up ‘Christian’ states by force, defend them by force, and even use force to spread the faith.  The Roman Catholic Church particularly needs to rethink.  It was that church which actually sponsored the Crusades, and I seriously think that supporting the Crusades casts doubt on the fundamental Roman doctrine of papal infallibility; I mean, what real use is ‘infallibility’ which couldn’t recognise the total wrongness of the Crusades and of that warfare in the name of  Jesus??  Where indeed supposedly infallible Popes personally promoted the Crusades?  The RC version of ‘Christian country/establishment in the state’ is not quite like the Anglican or Orthodox or various other Protestant variants, but all lead to the same kind of position on the use of state power to defend religion.    Only a Christianity separated from the state can be an adequate disavowal of the Crusades.  And only a disavowal of the Crusades will enable us to counter Islam with a truly Christian alternative message.  So actually we, even more than the Islamists, need to ‘exterminate the Crusaders’!

What?!!  Are we to get an army together and start a civil war among Christians, killing those we disagree with?  No, very much NOT!  Our warfare, remember, is not with physical weapons.  But we do need to clear that Crusading spirit, and its holy war ethos, from our churches.

Consider this; I don’t know what language was used by the terrorists themselves in Algeria, but that Algerian being interviewed on TV in French used the word ‘exterminer’, in English ‘exterminate’.  Ironically this word originated in Christendom.  It is derived from the Latin ‘ex terminis’ – literally ‘beyond the borders’.  Originally that was what was supposed to happen to heretics – you exiled them beyond the borders, removing them from your ‘Christian’ society.  The trouble was that the borders of Christendom were continent-wide, making exile difficult in practice, and gradually ‘extermination’ came to mean sending the heretics ‘ex terminis’ in a more absolute way, by burning at the stake or other forms of death penalty (drowning was particularly favoured to deal with Anabaptists).   This was yet another way that Christendom distorts the original teaching, in which the Church was meant to live peaceably among their pagan neighbours, and those who were unacceptable to the church were simply excluded from the fellowship (and even then, with a hope of ultimate restoration); of course those excluded from the church would carry on living in the surrounding society.

 

And that is the kind of ‘extermination of the Crusaders’ that we need; not to kill them, but to simply exclude them from the church, to clear up the confusion that has existed since Constantine about the place of the church in the state and the association of the church with warfare.  It won’t happen overnight, and it needs to be done in a Christian way, by loving persuasion, that recognises the good intentions of those we disagree with.

 

I’ll leave it there for now; obviously there’s a major discussion to be had about ‘the next step’ … blog readers please contribute ….


[i] Yes, another practice which Islam seems to have shared with ‘Christendom’.  Jews or Muslims in Spain had often been coerced into accepting baptism, and then if they continued to practice their original faith, were treated as apostates to be burnt at the stake.  Or indeed, having been coerced, they were simply never trusted by the surrounding ‘Christians’.