Saturday, May 19, 2012

Separation of Church and State: Why America and Calvin Don't Mix

Danbury Baptist Association's letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 7, 1801.
"Sir, — Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your Election to office; we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyed in our collective capacity, since your Inauguration, to express our great satisfaction, in your appointment to the chief Magistracy in the United States; And though our mode of expression may be less courtly and pompous than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, Sir to believe, that none are more sincere.

Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty — That Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals — That no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious Opinions - That the legitimate Power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted on the Basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our Laws & usages, and such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those, who seek after power & gain under the pretense of government & Religion should reproach their fellow men — should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dare not assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.

Sir, we are sensible that the President of the United States, is not the national legislator, and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the Laws of each State; but our hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved President, which have had such genial affect already, like the radiant beams of the Sun, will shine and prevail through all these States and all the world till Hierarchy and Tyranny be destroyed from the Earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and good will shining forth in a course of more than thirty years we have reason to believe that America's God has raised you up to fill the chair of State out of that good will which he bears to the Millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence & the voice of the people have called you to sustain and support you in your Administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to rise to wealth & importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.
And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator."

Now, opposing this, protestant leader John Calvin was of a particularly odd persuasion that government retains the power and responsibility to enforce church doctrine.  Not only is this heresy and antithetical to all that is the New Testament, it defies the very nature of government and usurps the purpose and authority of the church.

Calvin says in his Institutes of the Christian Religion - Book IV: Of Civil Government,

"[Civil government's] object is not merely, like those things, to enable men to breathe, eat, drink, and be warmed (though it certainly included all these, while it enables them to live together); this, I say, is not its only object, but it is, that no idolatry, no blasphemy against the name of God, no calumnies against his truth, nor other offences to religion, break out and be disseminated among the people; that the public quiet be not disturbed, that every man's property be kept secure, that men may carry on innocent commerce with each other, that honesty and modesty be cultivated; in short, that a public form of religion may exist among Christians, and humanity among men. Let no one be surprised that I now attribute the task of constituting religion aright to human polity, though I seem above to have placed it beyond the will of man, since I no more than formerly allow men at pleasure to enact laws concerning religion and the worship of God, when I approve of civil order which is directed to this end - viz. to prevent the true religion, which is contained in the law of God, from being with impunity openly violated and polluted by public blasphemy."

First of all, I find it disturbing that Calvin grants the "enabling" of men to breathe, eat, drink and be warmed to the charge of civil government.  This is my first "red flag" that his idea of civil government is one of overarching power. 

Gerald Ford said it best when he noted, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take away everything you have."

Is it consistent (for a real world example) with the American political structure that the civil government, be it federal, state or local, be charged with providing food, shelter, and air?

It may be that Calvin means government's duty is to facilitate life, which it may be said government naturally does by safeguarding the individual's natural right and ability to eat, drink and breathe, etc.  However, I suspect Calvin's idea of government extends beyond facilitating civilization and basic liberties.  When he goes on to say outright that it is the object of government to prevent blasphemy of his religion, I am wholly offended. 

Now, his religion is an offshoot of Christianity, as it relies heavily on controlling the masses by force, something quite antithetical to the Gospel, which softly yet firmly beckons men, by means of reason and appeals to conscience, toward the Light of God's Word. (See Acts 17:2; 18:4; 18:19; 24:25.)

As much as it is the obligation of the prosecution to bring forth evidence of wrongdoing by the defendant, so it is the obligation of a man promoting doctrine to show its validity in Scripture - I challenge the man to step forward and show where it may be found in the words or deeds of Christ, His disciples, or anything at all in the Bible which may prove it a sound doctrine that civil government should punish those who blaspheme Christ or malign his followers.

Surely, one would have to go to the Old Testament to dig out a verse that may fit such a description, but it is without question that an adulteress, who could have been put to death in the Old Testament, was spared judicial corporal punishment by Jesus Christ!  So, if we are to look for an example of what Christ would desire from any institution, be it church, family, or state, we must look to the New Testament for that example.  We would be in error to assume the Old Testament punitive laws are currently applicable.

I end this, I hope not too abruptly, by noting what horrors come from Calvin's idea of civil government.  Michael Servetus, a man who actually advanced medical science with his research into the human circulatory system, was burned at the stake by the civil government of Geneva for heresy.

Calvin wanted him beheaded, but he was instead burned at the stake for "denying the Trinity and infant baptism."

Calvin made this chilling remark following Servetus' execution,

"Whoever shall maintain that wrong is done to heretics and blasphemers in punishing them makes himself an accomplice in their crime and guilty as they are. There is no question here of man's authority; it is God who speaks, and clear it is what law he will have kept in the church, even to the end of the world. Wherefore does he demand of us a so extreme severity, if not to show us that due honor is not paid him, so long as we set not his service above every human consideration, so that we spare not kin, nor blood of any, and forget all humanity when the matter is to combat for His glory."

I rebuke, in no uncertain terms, this heinous doctrine.  It is purely evil and opposes the concept of Grace that Christians are charged to adamantly promote among mankind.

I, myself, am as dubious concerning the doctrine of infant baptism as Servetus; as for denying the Trinity, it is the opinion of many that Servetus' stance on the doctrine was misunderstood and not anti-Trinitarian at all.  In my cursory investigation of his belief on the matter, I cannot find fault with his assessment of the Trinity, and I must conclude that any quibbling would be totally relegated to semantics. 

Therefore, to think that I, if not found guilty of "heresy," would be executed for vocally opposing execution of religious prisoners is terrifying.  I could be killed over semantics?

I appeal to reason; I appeal to your conscience.

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