Books of a Fether

The Reformers and their Stepchildren ©2010 | free PDF

8. Rottengeister

("people who agitate within a society to form a party")

As with the issue raised in the previous chapter concerning a marriage certificate, another related issue was with oath-taking, the very definition of the "proper" state/church marriage. To the "heretics", the oath was the swearing of allegiance to the state, and thus to whatever god or creed it sanctioned. It was instituted, at least in part, to force the early Christians to identify themselves. And as with the other points of contention, the "heretics" refused to have anything to do with such oaths, more so than if the sacralist church had not made an issue of it. And of course the Reformers were all the more insistent on it, since it represented order and was the most obvious means of preserving it. Any who would not swear allegiance to the church were also not swearing it to the state, so such people were looked upon as traitors or unpatriotic, in more modern terminology. But to add insult to injury, anyone who relented under torture was then labeled as someone who didn't follow their own ordinances!

History has shown that the greatest fear of the sacramentalists— a society in chaos— was unfounded. In fact, it is when the state and church lock arms that the people revolt and there is upheaval. But even in today's churches it is feared that without the "oversight" of ordained men, there will be spiritual chaos; without the central planning of synods and committees and boards of directors, the church will not accomplish its mission; without the mystical line to God of the elite, the people are defenseless against the wiles of the devil. This is all sacramentalist thinking and fear-mongering.

Yet another anomaly among the "heretics" was docetism, or the belief that Jesus' incarnation was only apparent and not real. One might wonder how such an idea came to be accepted at all, until it is known that others were teaching, as was the case in the first century, that Jesus was not only human but also sinful; that is, to be in human flesh was to be a sinner. And as always, such aberrant teachings pushed some to the other extreme. One might then ask how any who taught that all human flesh is sinful would explain the incarnation of Jesus as sinless, and the response is to make more than is warranted of Jesus' lack of a human father. This gave birth (pun intended) to the idea that sin is a genetic quality passed by and through males, such that either Mary or her "seed" would have to be mystically cleansed by God prior to Jesus' incarnation. Yet far from solving the problem, this only moved the line in the sand and raised the question of how Mary or her "seed" came to be sinless. Further, if this was an act of God, then of what purpose was the virgin birth in the first place?

Such squabbles over that which scripture does not give the demanded details led one "heretic" to liken them to the contest at the foot of the Cross to see which soldier would get Jesus' clothes. Or as I like to put it, many of the arguments of the ensuing centuries have amounted to deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is an ironic display of deliberate division from those who claim to hate such a thing. But the larger point is that if excuses are to be made for the Reformers as "products of their time" who were driven by external forces to their error, then the same must be granted to the "heretics". In other words, if Calvin is to be absolved of evil for executing Servetus (for the crime of returning after banishment, a common principle of the time), then Servetus is to be absolved of evil for holding to views Calvin deemed heretical.

The defining mark of the "heretic" was, above all, a willingness— even to the point of eagerness— to suffer and die for the true gospel, which they understood to be the real meaning of carrying one's cross. But rather than spark regret or shame in the hearts of the Reformers, such a mark only drew their derision; even Luther mocked them.1 They had convinced themselves that the "heretics" were dying for the wrong cause, and thus not Christian martyrs at all. The very eagerness of the "heretics" to plunge willingly into the flames was spun to be proof that they were of the devil, whose abode was the flames of hell. So they were painted not as martyrs but suicidal and possessed maniacs the world would do better without. At the end of it all, one must ask: exactly how, then, should the Christian be identified?

Another casualty of the state/church is missionary zeal. It is literally impossible to evangelize if everyone is already "christened". And if everyone is part of the church, then all the prophecies must therefore be fulfilled. And if all the prophecies are fulfilled, then there is no hope of a future wherein Jesus will literally come to earth and set up the Kingdom, for that Kingdom is already here. And this, in our time, is leading to the belief that only those who still hold out for that literal fulfillment are insidious obstacles to that Kingdom, and will be treated as viciously as the "heretics" of old— all while "thinking they do God a service".2 At present, though, they are content to merely accuse such people of ignorance or of inventing an escapist myth. But in keeping with the trend we've already noted, the state/church decided to create an order of missionaries too (the Dominicans), to combat the teachings of the "heretics". They were to copy them in all respects but the teachings: travel two by two, dress modestly, etc.

The last question faced in this long struggle was that which still rages: whether the Christian should have any involvement in the state, especially since this of necessity involves law enforcement, possible capital punishment, and even war. But the point is not whether we choose yes or no, but whether we struggle at all. That is, the true Christian will agonize over this issue, while the statist will have no qualms at all, as the state is the rightful arm of the church.

  1. 1 p. 262
  2. 2 John 16:2