(Second in a series.) The previous piece in this series ended by pointing out this danger among conservative reformed church officers in our post-Covid world:
Today, when men who are church officers try to make themselves players on the political front, calling for their disciples to make the government into something halfway libertarian, halfway just, halfway Biblical or enlightened or theonomist or millenarian, their naïveté is embarrassing… Church authorities telling civil authorities what to do and how to do it seem to approach civil polity as if it were ecclesiastical polity. They forget politics is the art of the possible.
From salvation history, there are so many examples to choose from. Take the Hebrew Zealots preaching and protesting against the Romans at the time of our Lord, for instance: they raged against their civil authorities, calling for the end of pagan rule and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. They had God’s people fevered with anticipation of change, and so much so that Jesus, Himself the Messiah, was a terrible disappointment by not mounting at least a political (if not military) revolution aimed at bringing in the Kingdom of God they were certain was Yahweh’s intention.
Was it God’s plan for His people to be subjugated to such a secularist mob so intent on wiping out true religion and promoting their own pantheon of gods? Did it honor God for His people quietly to acquiesce to their lawless rulers? Certainly not! Those with godly zeal recognized it was past time for so-called civil authorities to answer for their endless violations of God’s law; for their abuse of power and Imperial Law in service to their own self-aggrandizement; it was long past time for God’s people to rise up and end the tyranny of the wicked and powerful wielding such abusive and autocratic authority over the circumcised.
This was the story of the people of God during the time of our Lord. The Romans were trying to spy out their liberty and they weren’t going to take it anymore. This was the story of the people of God in the Early Church, and hence the Apostolic commands to the pastors, elders, deacons, older women, and members of Christ’s Church to honor and obey the civil authorities. This was the story of the Middle Ages. There were groups of serfs regularly attaching themselves to millenarian prophets who promised to lead them to a stunning declaration of freedom from their evil rulers, all in the name of establishing God’s millenium. As I keep saying, to get some historical perspective on the belligerents within the church today hard at work awakening working-class men to their oppression by their civil authorities, read Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millenium.
Today’s millenarian prophets have stepped right out of the Middle Ages, but with no awareness that history is strewn with their bones. Our Heavenly Father has not used millenarian prophets to overthrow rulers and authorities.
There may be no better illustration of the difference between zealots and pastors than the contrast between the reformers and the anabaptists at the time of the Reformation. There are a couple salient points.
First, the reformers did not set out to reform the civil authorities. They focussed their work and danger and suffering on the reform of church authorities. While it is true the distinction between these two spheres was not what we think we have arrived at today either in our Two Kingdom, separation of church and state clique, or in our reconstructionist, millenarian clique. The student of medieval and Reformation history knows the entire thrust of the work of the reformers was aimed at salvation; at leading men to regeneration, then guarding their souls. The reformers were not liberation theologians or priests. The liberation of God’s sheep Luther fought for when he nailed his theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church was freedom to turn from Rome’s pay and receive mercantile economy promoting sacramental idolatry and salvation to the Biblical economy always at the center of God’s house, which is to repent and believe.
Second, Calvin’s battles with his civil authorities were over access to the table of our Lord. Calvin chose his battles carefully, saving his “give me liberty or give me death” for the liberty to fence the Lord’s table, warning the profane away, and barring them from the sacrament, even though they were the richest and most powerful men in the church.
Are there still servants of God willing to humble themselves by following this very old path of the Protestant reformers, seeing and preaching and doing this yet again, today?