The Reformers and their Stepchildren
(staff-carriers (as opposed to sword-carriers))
Every false interpretation of scripture needs a few good proof-texts, and these were supplied early on by Augustine; e.g. Luke 14:23 was turned from compelling or urging to forcing people to convert. He anticipated the rebuttal and tried to deflate it, but only by arguing that Jesus only allowed people to turn away from him because the "church" had not yet come into full existence. This effectively nullified the example of Jesus for his own followers, such that the marriage between the church and the state was a "fall upward". Augustine then issued a thinly-veiled threat against the Donatists, since he held that the state/church had both the right and the power to hunt them down as those who cause division. Here again we see in the word "division" the misuse of scripture and ignorance of the scope and intent of "separateness". Those who came after Augustine became zealous "missionaries" of coercion, not far from the tendency of missionaries in recent times to try and turn every culture into a western "Christian" one, or to expand the membership of their own particular denomination.
But it should be noted that when anyone is quoted in defense of a given charge, the timing of the quote must be considered. Luther, for example, spoke against coercion at the beginning, but when the pressures of Rome were brought upon him, he chose to abandon that earlier view in favor of a weapon to match Rome: conversion by force. He wanted to save the Reformation more than anything, and if that meant becoming the very thing he originally rebelled against, so be it. We should all take warning from his example, for we are no less prone to take the way that seems right to us, and to rationalize what had once been unthinkable. Yet at the same time, the responses of the "heretics" at every turn are ample proof that the concept of separation was not unknown or unrevealed.
Today's "regional church" is doing exactly the same thing as the Reformers: make "churches" places where the majority are unsaved; the only difference is that they have learned to use a lure instead of the sword. People are enticed with "communitarianism", involvement, social justice, great entertainment, no need to be holy, and activities to keep the kids off the streets. They are encouraged to "plug in", which is essentially the same as calling them cogs that need to find a wheel. It is a giant "bait and switch" where the true unity and family life of the Body of Christ is replaced with the "unity" of homogenization and loss of individuality, where instead of being the "eye or the hand or the foot", each person is an appliance that needs to be hooked up.
We also see in the writings of some of the reformers a very familiar appeal to culture and history: that because the norm was for a nation to adopt a religion, it must be God's will. This is the same argument used to uphold patriarchy, which like the state/church is drawn from the Old Testament and not the New. But as historical record shows, it would be the secular authorities in areas where Protestantism had been established that came to allow freedom, not the Reformed ones, refuting the appeal to what governments always do as being God's will. The "heretics" had truly been "salt" that changed the "flavor" of secular government, without spilling a drop of anyone's blood but their own. But in the Reformed approach we see that the flesh is impatient and tries to fulfill God's promises its own way, as did Sarah in getting Abraham to have children by her handmaid.
It is, then, a great tragedy that the Reformers have been credited with the freedom of conscience characterizing the western world, for they were its bitterest enemies. The "heretics" were the true "reformers" of government and society, a fact also seen in the abolishing of slavery in the United States. But as the saying goes, "History is written by the victors", and the Reformers, having the means to propagate their views, were in a position to rewrite church history to cover over their error. They have achieved great success in painting themselves the champions of freedom and taking credit for the work done by their enemies, in spite of the fact that this indicts them for their opposition to such freedom. Like the Pharisees they say, "If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets",1 but as Jesus retorted, "So you testify against yourselves that you are [their] descendants".
- 1 Mt. 23:30