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Religious Empires

The Reformation

A Free Conscience

The Reformation was not about religious toleration or religious freedom. The principal Protestant Churches established within the Reformation Movement, the Lutheran, the Reformed, and the Church of England, were no more concerned with fostering individual religious liberty than the Roman Catholic Church. The same basic principles of institutional organization were followed. Absolute uniformity in faith and practice was a given; that's where you start. The same basic need for church-state union was there. The same principle of a "universal" one and only "true church" was there, except that universal could only extend to the citizens of a particular country. Citizens were members of both the religious and civil organizations under the authority of the head-of-state (understanding that little if any distinction was made between the two); and understanding that these are principles not always found complete in practice. The Protestant Churches were as quick to condemn and punish "heresy" as the Catholic Church.

Successful revolution usually produced a wing, or segment, that tries to reform the revolution. Dedicated revolutionaries often visualize fundamental change far beyond the immediate objectives of the revolution's leaders. To protect the stability of the revolution's progress the "visionaries'' are usually branded "enemies of the revolution" and are silenced in one way or another.

The Reformation produced such a movement. Martin Luther often emphasized the need for every man to study the scriptures and hold the scriptures as the one and only final authority in religious matters. Whatever else the Reformation did, it brought religion into the basic family unit. It urged every man and woman to confirm their faith within the pages of the Bible. It clarified and emphasized God's concern for individuals. Those who took these lessons to heart and put them into practice soon were contemptuous of the rich, the powerful, and the learned. They believed that "God useth the common people and the multitude to proclaim that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth; as when Christ came at first, the poor receive the Gospel, not many wise, not many noble, not many rich, but the poor." Individual responsibility is what they learned.

My soul is moved to read of men and women who came to an understanding of these Bible principles and who tried to practice them. As far as they knew, no one before had understood these fundamental principles: every man and woman is responsible for himself or herself before God; no other person is or can be responsible for himself or herself before God; no other person is or can be responsible for me. Nor can any other person stand between God and me; I am responsible before God for myself. What a tremendous revelation!

But this was not, and is not, a new revelation. Had not all the Reformation leaders read what Paul plainly said: "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ...So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." Had they not read: "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth?" Had they not read: "Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God?" What did they think these passages mean?

My soul is also moved when I read our brethren, preachers and elders who write that Christians obey Christ when they obey elders and that Christians rebel against God when they refuse to submit to the dictates of elders. Indeed, my soul is moved to sorrow and grief.

It is my thought that many of us have yet to understand the practical application of individual liberty and individual responsibility in Christ. How can we be charged with the responsibility of developing and exercising our individual faith and be denied the freedom to develop and exercise our individual faith at the same time? It is a contradiction that cannot stand. If we are to be held responsible before God for our individual faith and how we live it, we must be free to develop our individual faith and be free to live as our individual faith leads us.

The continuing series of excellent articles by our brother, Charles Holt, in this journal need to be read and studied carefully. He is drawing a clear, and sometimes stark, picture of what real liberty in Christ would mean in practice. We will no doubt find that many of our brothers and sisters are not ready to accept the responsibilities that must go with such liberty. But every liberty is accompanied by a responsibility. Erich Fromm's book Escape from Freedom describes how frightening personal freedom can be to some people.

Some aspects of civil liberties must be established in law before religious liberties can be extended and protected. The United States constitutional principle requiring a separation of the Federal government from religion was unique in the annals of government. When the Colonists came to the New World they brought with them the basic idea not only of the institutional church but also the assumed necessity of a vital relation between Church and State; the same idea held by European churchmen, statesmen, theologians, jurists, with few, if any, exceptions from Constantine's time until the American Revolution. Benjamine Disraeli's comment on the disestablishment of the Irish Church illustrated that concept when he said that it was "destroying that sacred union between Church and State which has hitherto been the chief means of our civilization and the only security of our religious liberty."

These ideas of Church-State union were held by almost all the religious leaders among the Colonists. Almost, but not all. Roger Williams did not believe it. The founder of Rhode Island was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 for his religious views. Considering that Williams lived more than a hundred years before Jefferson, Adams, Washington, and the other founders of our country, it is worth our time to read some of what he wrote. In his Bloody Tenent of Persecution he wrote,

"All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are...essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the Spiritual, or Christian, State and worship...It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worship be granted to all men, in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in Soul matters able to conquer, to wit; the sword of the Spirit--the Word of God...God re-quireth not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing consciences, persecution of Christ Jesus in His servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls... An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh."

Such soaring concepts of religious freedom came from the ramparts of civilization. To Roger Williams we owe honor as the first to recognize free conscience as a constitutional principle and to create a community based on that foundation stone.

We voiced doubts earlier about our current understanding and support of this principle in practice. In discussing these principles we should clarify what we mean by free conscience, toleration, and liberty. In theory, and maybe in practice, the conscience of man is always free, as the mind is free. We cannot be forced to sincerely believe what we do not believe against our active will. "The man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

But when the beliefs of one's conscience are expressed they cease to be privately held convictions; they become publicly expressed beliefs and subject to public examination. Religious toleration and religious freedom are sometime used as if they are synonyms. They are not. Religious liberty asserts the equality of all; it says that in matters of religion all men stand equal before God and the law. Religious toleration denies that fundamental premise, assuming that one religion has superior rights, which means that the citizens who subscribe to that one religion have privileges not enjoyed by citizens who do not subscribe to that one religion, but for the sake of peace the preferred religion condescends to permit other religions to exist in the community. It was well said by Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, before Parliament. He said: "The time was when toleration was craved by dissenters as a boon; now it is demanded as a right; but the time will come when it will be spurned as an insult." And Tom Paine said it just as well. "Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of witholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it."

If we believe in the American tradition of religious liberty we will embrace the principle attributed to Voltaire. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," he said. Our belief in that principle of liberty is put to the acid test when we are confronted with the promotion and public display of ideas, objectives, and propositions that are to us not only despicable but probably pernicious when loosed upon an unsuspecting public.

If we may correctly assume that our readers hold strong views against racism, that we, as a matter of principle, oppose restricting religious or civil liberties among certain of our citizens because of their race membership or skin color, we can clearly illustrate the principle in a practical setting. Some months ago the American Nazi Party applied for a permit to hold a parade through the public streets of our hometown. The City Council was petitioned heavily to deny a permit for the parade. Civil Rights groups threatened to demonstrate and disrupt the parade if it should be held. Public opposition mounted. As Christians and as reasonably well- informed American citizens, what should our attitude be in a case like this?

The American Nazi Party members believe in and advocate white supremacy. They believe that Americans with black skin are inferior human beings who should not be extended the full rights and benefits of citizenship. I find these ideas revolting. I begin to get sick just reading their publications. I believe that enacting their "program" into law would be unthinkable. The reactions that begin to rise from within cry out to silence and banish these ignorant racist bigots. If they really want to deny "the blessings of liberty" to some of our citizens, then they should be denied the blessings of those liberties themselves!


Suppose for just a moment enough signatures on a petition to the City Council would force the Council to stop the Nazi parade. After all, the majority rules, doesn't it? So we stop their parade, and we prohibit their rally in a public park, and we forbid them to assemble in public anywhere. We have rid our community of an odious public nuisance, and most feel good about it.

The next request for a parade permit is from the John Birch Society. A majority of us object to what they stand for, so their request is denied too. Then supporters of the Irish Republican Army are denied public facilities and protection, then...but you get the idea. Eventually the Boy Scouts are denied a public presentation because they refuse to allow girls in their organization. But that's ridiculous! Yes, it is. But the point is this: once we begin to deny "equal protection" under the law to anyone on a basis of what they believe, we have given up the principle of free speech, the foundation of religious freedom. It is not a violation of any civil law to believe and publicly advocate "white supremacy." It is a violation of law to try to put it into practice under current law, and I believe that the American Nazi Party would make their views the law of the land, if they could. But they can't as long as they are not a majority of voters among us. As long as they keep their views and beliefs no more than that, only expressing them as free speech and trying to convince others by argument only that their views are correct, their rights to free expression of those views must have as full protection under the law as anyone's.

Many of us have trouble generating real, honest concern for protecting the speech and religious rights of people whose views and opinions we find repugnant. But we must realize that many of our own views and opinions are very likely held by a minority too, and if minority views, no matter how far into right or left field, no matter how unpopular, can be suppressed by the majority, eventually mine will be suppressed and yours too.

At this point we should clarify and emphasize that believing in and encouraging protection of freedom of speech and freedom of religion does not imply agreement with or support for what is said in the protected speech or believed and practiced in the protected religion.

This is without doubt a most difficult principle to embrace and practice. How can anyone defend something they are opposed to? This is the point at which the acid is applied to test our convictions, to tell whether we really do believe in free speech and religious freedom. Voltaire said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend...your right to say it." It is not what Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, and Church of Christ members believe and practice that is protected, it is their right to believe it and practice it. It is very difficult for some of us to make that distinction.

There are, of course, some forms of speech that are not, and should not be, protected by law. A person who yells "fire!" in a crowded theater when there is no fire ought to be prosecuted for endangering public safety. A person who incites others to riot should be prosecuted. People whose religious views lead them to expose their children to clear health hazards and thereby expose the public to health hazards should be restricted in that isolated instance. But these are cases where clearly public safety and public order are threatened. But advocating a system of beliefs (without advocating violence), that a majority of our citizens find repugnant to democratic and Christian principles does not present a clear and present danger to the physical safety to anyone or anything. The right to hold such beliefs is protected by law.

The Nazi parade was held in our town. It was on a Saturday. A few curious people and a few serious protesters showed up. Extra police stayed between the parade and the protesters. The Nazis looked more ridiculous than dangerous, but we should not dismiss them lightly. What they say has an appeal to many people. They marched a few blocks, got into their bus, and left town. It cost our city some tax money to permit and protect these marchers and their parade. That is a part of the price we must be willing to pay for free speech. It isn't cheap.

Moving from social and political beliefs that we find objectionable to religious views with which we strongly disagree, should we apply the same principles?

May I now ask my brother, Charles Holt, editor of this journal, a question. Are there men who have told you plainly that the Examiner should be put out of business? Are there men who have told you plainly that you have no right to say the things that you have said through this paper? If so, and if it were possible, do you believe that they would take whatever steps necessary to silence you and this paper?

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the answer to each question is "yes." How sad...and yet how revealing! We believe that the truth has nothing to fear from the false. Jesus said that Light will always dispell Darkness. In the market place of ideas, which is public discussion, discussion of ideas, not of the people who hold the ideas, truth has its own way of triumph. Men who hesitate to submit their thought process and conclusions to fair public examination must have some good reason not to. Preachers who preach only to the choir will never know whether what they preach has enough substance to it to stand the heat of public examination. Men who would deny freedom of speech to any others must have deep roots of doubt about the truth of their own convictions or their own ability to present it and defend it publicly.

Yes, my brethren. Free speech is the foundation of our religious freedom.

The Reformation Radicals

The Reformation did produce a movement that it could not tolerate. And yet it contained principles that one would think required toleration of dissent. The Reformed Church would not assert that Lutherans were not included in the "true Church." Richard Hooker, a Reformed leader, said, "I dare not deny the possibility of their salvation, which have been the chiefest instrument of ours, albeit they carried to their grave a persuasion so greatly repugnant to the truth." In 1631 the Reformed church officially recognized the Lutherans as brothers. But the official Lutheran position remained the same. They would not allow either the mass or the Calvinist worship in Lutheran states.

And there were those who believed that none of the state supported churches were near enough to the truth; those who insisted on following their personal faith regardless of the consequences. We referred to them earlier, and we have shown that the Reformation contained no element of religious toleration, much less religious freedom.

Anabaptist is the name generally given by historians to these individuals. They did not choose the name for themselves. They believed and publicly taught as the birth of mature converted-to-Christ people. Infant baptism was no baptism at all. So, they were called "re-baptisers." Anabaptist refers to all of them who rejected the mainline church-state Churches and went their own way. They were not an organized institutional church. They were, and are, called the "radicals of the Reformation," by church historians. They did not call themselves "radicals." Without doubt some called Anabaptist were deep into the lunatic fringe. Thomas Munzer helped to incite German peasants to calamitous rebellion, based on religious teachings. John of Batenburg is said to have taught that the unconverted must be put to death, that an unconverted spouse must be divorced, that polygamy was scriptural and proper, and that he was Elijah, come to prepare for the second coming. Then there was Munster, a city in Germany. A group of Anabaptists under the leadership of Bernard Rothmann, John of Leyden, and John of Geelen, gained control of the city council. They said that Munster was to be the New Jerusalem. John of Leyden was proclaimed King of New Zion. Then they set about to exterminate the ungodly. Rothmann issued a public call for world rebellion: "Dear brethren, arm yourselves for the battle, not only with the humble weapons of the apostles for suffering, but also with the glorious armor of David for vengeance, in God's strength, and help to annihilate the ungodly." Their followers attacked Amsterdam, killing the burgomaster and many others, and they attacked other cities and monasteries. Finally, someone from within the city of Munster opened the gates to the bishop's army. It is not known how many "Anabaptists" were put to death.

That all dissenters were smeared with the same brush is no surprise. Henry Bullinger, Zwingli's successor at Zurich, wrote, "God opened the eyes of governments by the revolution at Munster, and no one thereafter would trust Anabaptists who claimed to be innocent."

Most of the religious dissenters were honest, hard-working, law-abiding, and deeply commited to living their faith. But it was too late to hope for religious toleration or liberty. The Hutterite Brothers, The Mennonites, The Waterlanders, The Socinians, and other identifiable groups tried to separate themselves from "the world" enough to live theft lives in peace and follow their own faith. It didn't work out well for any of them. Later, some of them found their way to America. They are still here and their faith is protected by law.

The Reformation in France is a sad and bloody story. Although French Protestants did not directly influence the beginning of Protestantism in the New World as much as others, they must have some attention.

John Calvin was French although his influence was based in Switzerland. French Protestants largely followed Calvin and the Swiss in doctrine and practice. French Kings were Roman Catholic. They may have been in conflict with the Pope over many issues, but they were Catholic. As the Reformation movement gained in strength the Catholic Church and the French King closed ranks to defend the Church and the Crown from what they saw as a dangerous challenge to established orthodoxy. England was lost to the Catholic Church and was a growing threat of Catholic Spain and Catholic France. The English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 broke the Spanish dominance in sea power forever and opened the way for English power to expand throughout the world.

French Protestants were called Huguenots. The number of French protestants was at times very large and included enough nobility and wealthy merchants to pose a serious threat to the established order. The very wealthy, powerful, and militantly Catholic Guise family and their supporters, including Phillip II of Spain, were determined to destroy the Huguenot movement. Civil war raged for most of the last thirty years of the sixteenth century. The Huguenots and many Catholic Frenchmen who believed that internal peace and unity were more important to France than killing French Protestants, joined forces under Henry of Navarre. After years of bloody civil war, including the St. Bartholemew Massacre which took the lives of an estimated 100,000 Huguenots, the duke of Guise was assassinated, then Henry III was assassinated the following year. This put Henry of Navarre in line for the French throne. One of the conditions was that he be Catholic. He accepted, and became Henry IV. During his reign the Edict of Nantes (1598) granted a substantial measure of toleration to the Huguenots. Louis XIII followed Henry IV on the throne of France and with him came Cardinal Richelieu, his chief minister. Louis XIV, the Sun King, and Cardinal Marazin followed. Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes (1685) precipitating a huge exodus of Protestants to more tolerant European nations and to the New World.

The English Reformation satisfied almost no one. Since it was politically and personally motivated by Henry VIII in its beginning and because Henry remained Catholic in his faith while opposed to the Pope, the Church of England was somewhere between Catholic and Protestant. It went too far for the Roman Catholics and not far enough for the Protestants. Elizabeth I maintained a sort of continuously negotiated "settlement" during her long reign and the Church of England remained a State Church with the Crown at its head.

Elizabeth had no children and the apparent successor to the throne was her cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotts, great-granddaughter of Henry VII. Mary was Catholic and Scotland was divided. Divorce, the murder of her husband, and a Protestant revolt forced Mary to abdicate and flee to England for refuge. Elizabeth kept Mary in "protective" custody for nineteen years while Catholics plotted time after time to overthrow Elizabeth as an illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII with no claim to the throne. Eventually Mary was implicated in an attempt to assassinate Elizabeth. She was convicted of treason and beheaded in 1587.

Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, followed Elizabeth on the throne as James I (1603-1625). Under James reign the King James Version of the Bible was produced and "appointed to be read in the Churches." This version of the Bible deserves much more attention that can be given here, but we should say that the forty-seven selected scholars were "ordered" to follow the Bishops' Bible of 1568 and not to alter anything not necessary so that the people would continue to hear and read what they were accustomed to. The Authorized Version, authorized by King James I, head of the Church of England, to be read in the Churches of England and Scotland, was slow in being accepted. Over time it became, and is now, the most widely used version of the Bible in the world and still sells more copies each year than any other book.

James was King of Scotland as well as King of England. John Knox, heavily influenced by years spent with John Calvin in Switzerland, was deeply involved in rousing Scottish protestants to rebellion against the Catholic government in 1560. A free parliament discarded the old State Church and established the Reformed kirk, based on Calvinist doctrine, as the State Church. The organization was based on their idea of the presbytery which was the Presbyterian Church. Scotland was separate from England in government until 1707 when under Queen Anne the Act of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Seventh century biographers credit St. Patrick with converting all of the Irish to Christianity, meaning to the Roman Catholic Church, during the fifth century. The Irish were at that time Gaelic. Through the centuries Ireland suffered periodic invasion by the Norse, Anglo-Normans and others, who gradually settled into permanent homes and became Anglo-Irish. Roman Catholicism has been the dominate institutional religion of the Irish since those early centuries. Henry II, encouraged by the Pope, invaded and conquered much of the Irish island (1171) with the intent of imposing English rule, English institutions, English social and political order, and a more direct link between the Irish Catholics and Rome. Henry was recognized as "lord of Ireland" and the people of Ireland were reduced to subordination for centuries to come. The Irish have never submitted to English or British Nation. English monarchs continually dealt with Irish resistance to English rule. The current conditions producing the hate, violence, death, and destruction in Northern Ireland began in these early years of English efforts to impose political and religious institutions upon the Irish by force. This is the way Nations were, and are, created. Can you think of any Nation that ever existed whose birth was not forced through violence, bloodshed, and death? I can't. This is the way of the world.

If we may take this one instance and select one example of what men have done and are doing in the cause of patriotic and religious conviction, it may demonstrate what we are contending with m trying to. educate ourselves and all sincerely religious people of the utter futility and pernicious results in trying to serve God through religious institutions, or political, or social, or economic, or any other kind of institution conceived by man.

Civil war broke out in England in 1642 between King Charles I and his supporters and Parliament and its supporters. Oliver Cromwell was at the head of Parliament's forces. Charles was defeated and was beheaded on Cromwell's order in 1649. In that same year Cromwell led his ten thousand veteran troops into Ireland to face twelve thousand Royalist troops under the Marquess' of Ormonde. Three thousand of the Marguess' troops were within the city of Drogheda. Cromwell summoned the garrison to surrender. They refused. Cannon breached the city's ramparts. On the third assault Cromwell at the head of the troops stormed the city. Winston Churchill (A History of the Enghish-Speaking Peoples, "The New World") writes; "There followed a massacre so all-effacing as to startle even the opinion of those fierce times. All were put to the sword. None escaped; every priest and friar was butchered. The corpses were carefully ransacked for valuables. There is no dispute about the facts, for Oliver told his own tale in his letter to John Bradshaw, President of the Council of State.

"It hath pleased God to bless our endeavours at Tredah (Drogheda). After battery, we stormed it. The Enemy was about 3,000 strong in the town. They made a stout resistance; and near 1,000 of our men being entered, the Enemy forced them out again. But God giving a new courage to our men, they attempted again, and entered: beating the Enemy from their defenses... Being thus entered, we refused them quarter; having the day before, summoned the Town. I believe we put to the sword the whole number of the defendants. I do not think Thirty of the whole number escaped with their lives. This hath been a marvelous great mercy... I think, that night they put to the sword about 2,000 men; divers of the officers and soldiers being fled over the Bridge into the other part of the town, where about 100 of them possessed St. Peter's Church-steeple. These being summoned to yield to mercy, refused. Whereupon I ordered the steeple of St. Peter's Church to be fired, when one of them was heard to say in the midst of the flames, 'God damn me, God confound me; I burn, burn'...I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches... I with that all honest hearts may give the glory of this to God alone, to whom indeed the praise of this mercy belongs."

Churchill adds that a similar atrocity was perpetrated a few weeks later at the storm of Wexford. Every time I read this it takes a few minutes to regain my composure. Jesus said that men would take up the sword and kill in his name believing that they were doing his will. Indeed we have. Indeed we do. And this in the name of the Prince of Peace. Northern Ireland is today aflame in death and destruction, Protestants on one side and Catholics on the other, each representing institutional religion.

To state our purpose again: it is to demonstrate what institutional religion has done and is doing to our family of man. We have created every one of them, large and small; more pain, suffering, destruction, and death has probably come from institutional religion's efforts to perpetuate and expand itself than from any other cause. We are trying to demonstrate that institutional religion is not God's way; it is man's way.

We will next move to the New World Colonies to examine the development of institutional churches in our country. It is our intent to include the period of the Revolution and the making of our nation.