Archive for the ‘Establishments’ Category

Hugh Martin (1822-1885), commenting on Jonah 3:6-8, gets at a foundational issue supporting national establishments of religion.  ” . . how can religious obligations be upon the separate individuals of a nation, and yet the nation as a whole be exempted from it? It is certain that nations as a whole may please or provoke God: just as a family may do; just as an individual may do.”

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The Church, in its worldwide missionary enterprise, must be funded.  Yet, according to Chalmers, the Church must ultimately fail if it makes its services dependent upon a pre-existing demand.  Adam Smith was right to promote free trade in the marketplace, but not in religion.  Why?  Because the natural man won’t pay for the Gospel.  He has no demand for such a supply.  Therefore, missionaries must be financed by those who are already Christian, whose hearts have been enlarged by the Gospel that they may patronize its cause.  This is what Chalmers calls voluntaryism ab extra.  And it is a major part of his argument for the necessity of Church establishments.

In the quote below, Chalmers demonstrates that this has always been the case, from the coming of the Savior to the age of the apostles and beyond.

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“Now let us consider whether this is the footing on which the world ever is; or ever can be, supplied with its Christianity, or rather with its Christian instruction, in the way that is best for the moral interests of our species. It was not so at the first introduction of Christianity, in virtue, not of a movement from earth to heaven, but of a movement from heaven to earth; and the expenses of which, throughout the infancy and boyhood of the Saviour, were certainly not defrayed by those for whose welfare the mission was undertaken. It was not so during the time of His public ministry, when three or four women ministered to Him of their substance, as He travelled from place to place over the land of Judea; and so He was maintained at the cost of the few for the benefit of the many. It was not so in the journeyings of His disciples, two by two among their countrymen—who, when they entered a city, fixed their residence in some particular house, and were supported by the hospitality of one individual for the good of the general population. It was not so when the apostles went forth after the resurrection; and received their maintenance from such as Simon the tanner, or Lydia the seller of purple, or Stephanus and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and others of those Scripture worthies who harboured and entertained the men of God, while they held out the bread of life, without money and without price, to the multitude at large. It was not so when the last, but not Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_Projectthe least of the apostles, provided with his own hand for his own necessities; and the wages of Paul the tentmaker, enabled Paul the apostle, to labour in his sacred vocation without wages. It was not so when he received from other and distinct churches, that, in the church of Corinth, the gospel might not be chargeable to any; and he would suffer no man to strip him of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. And, to come down from the age of the New Testament, it generally could not have been so, that the extension of Christianity was carried forward during the three first centuries. The men who were not yet Christians did not, in those days, send to the apostolic college for men who might give them the lessons of the gospel; but, by a reverse process, teachers went forth among the yet benighted countries of the earth; and their expenses, at least in the first instance, behoved to be borne, not in the shape of a price by those who received the benefit, but in the shape of a bounty by those who dispensed it. In all these instances, contrary to every law or character of pure trade, the expense was borne either totally or partially by one party, and that for the good of another party. It was not as in the ordinary exchanges of commerce. The receivers were not the purchasers; and what they did receive was not a thing by them bought, but a thing to them given. It is an utter misconception that when Constantine set up in his dominions a national establishment of Christianity, he made the first infringement on that system of free trade by which the prosperity of this religion had been heretofore upholden; for, from its very outset, Christianity stood indebted, for almost every footstep of its progress, to a system and a policy directly the opposite of this. When he came forth with his great imperial bounty or benefaction, he only did on the large scale, what thousands of benefactors had previously, and for hundreds of years, done on a small scale before him. When he became the friend and nursing father of the church, he did for the whole territory of which he was the sovereign, what, times and ways without number, the friends of the church had already done, each for the little district in which he himself resided, or for the introduction and the maintenance of Christian worship in some chosen locality of his own. With his great national endowment, he but followed in the tract of those private and particular endowments which, sometimes temporary, and sometimes perpetual, had multiplied beyond all reckoning, during the preceding ages of Christianity; and in virtue of which it was, that churches innumerable were raised, and congregations were formed; but chiefly in the large and flourishing cities of the Roman empire. The peasants, or they who lived in the country and villages, inhabitants of the pagi, and hence called Pagans, were, in the great bulk of them, still unconverted—insomuch that Paganism in those days became synonymous with heathenism; or, in other words, the great majority of the rustics or countrymen of that period, notwithstanding the strenuous and apostolic exertion of many thousands of Christian missionaries for about three centuries together, were still adherents to the old superstition and idolatry of their forefathers. The universal endowment, by which a ministry was provided for every little section of the territory or the whole was broken into parishes, opened a way to the moral fastnesses that were still held and occupied by the countless millions whom all the efforts of by-gone generations had not reached; and so brought a whole host of gospel labourers into contact with the wide and plenteous harvest of the general population.

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1629_seal_Massachusetts_Bay_Colony_MassachusettsArchivesThe following is an excerpt from The Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1629.  The royal charter, in the name of “CHARLES, BY THE, GRACE, OF GOD, Kinge of England, Scotland, Fraunce, and Ireland, Defendor of the Fayth, &c.” was drafted with the view that the “said People, Inhabitants there, may be soe religiously, peaceablie, and civilly governed, as their good Life and orderlie Conversacon, maie wynn and incite the Natives of Country, to the KnowIedg and Obedience of the onlie true God and Sauior of Mankinde, and the Christian Fayth, which in our Royall Intencon, and the Adventurers free Profession, is the principall Ende of this Plantacion.”

Alas, “from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed” (Lam. 1:6).

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Below, Chalmers makes a compelling case against the notion that a Christian ruler must leave his religion at the door of public office.  Men are men, privately and publicly.  And Christian men must be Christian men wherever they go, advocating good and resisting evil according to their place and calling:

“A righteous and religious monarch, or righteous and religious senators, must impress their character on their acts; nor can we understand the distinction, or rather the disjunction, which is spoken of in these days, between Christian governors and a Christian government. We have no such notion of the moral that we have of the physical chemistry, in the compounds of which, the properties of the ingredients may be changed or disappear. The corporation of a state cannot be thus denaturalised, or reduced to a sort of caput mortuum, discharged of all soul and all sentiment—as if by a process of constitution-making in the crucibles of a laboratory. The cold metaphysical abstraction that is thereby engendered, may exist in the region of the ideal; but it does not exist in the region of the actual, nor even in the region of the possible; for men, though convened within the hall of a legislative assembly, will not, therefore, forget that they are men; or think that they must renounce all care for the highest well-being of families, when called to deliberate on the well-being of a nation.”

Hardly rocket science.

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Glasgow_map_1878“Now the specific business which we would like to put into the hands of a Christian minister is, not that he should fill his church any how – that he may do by the superior attractiveness of his preaching, at the expense of previous congregations, and without any movement in advance on the practical heathenism of the community: But what we want is, to place his church in the middle of such a territory as we have now specified and to lay upon him a task, for the accomplishment of which we should allow him to the labour and preference of a whole lifetime; not to fill his church any how, but to fill this church out of that district. We should give him the charge over head, of one and all of its families; and tell him, that, instead of seeking hearers from without, he should so shape and regulate his movements, that, as far as possible, his church-room might all be taken up by hearers from within. It is this peculiar relation between his church, and its contiguous households, all placed within certain geographical limits, that distinguishes him from the others as a territorial minister.”

– Thomas Chalmers

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Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) in his 1829 sermon, On Religious Establishments, addresses a long-standing objection to establishments.  They necessarily corrupt the Church, and history demonstrates it.  The Church only declined after the Edict of Milan.  But, Chalmers counters, the Voluntaries fallaciously mistake the cause.  The source of the secularization was not the state – it was the Church itself.  There is no fault in the contract of these two independent parties, each laboring in its own separate sphere, yet supporting each other mutually.  The fault rests with the party who abuses the contract.  And before the Reformation, it was not the Church that got the raw end of the deal:

“There is a kind of vague and general imagination, as if corruption were the invariable accompaniment of such an alliance between the civil and the ecclesiastical; and this has been greatly fostered, by the tremendously corrupt Popery, which followed in historical succession after the establishment of Christianity in the days PopeKissing_Feetof Constantine, and which certainly holds out, in vivid contrast, the difference between this religion in the period of its suffering, and this religion in the period of its security and triumph. But it were well to discriminate the precise origin of this frightful degeneracy. It arose not from without; it arose from within. It was not because of any ascendency by the state over the church whom it now paid, and thereby trenched upon its independence in things spiritual. It was because of an ascendency by the church over the state, the effect of that superstitious terror which it wielded over the imaginations of men, and which it most unworthily prostituted to the usurpation of power in things temporal. The fear that many have of an establishment, is, lest through it, the state should obtain too great power over the church, and so be able to graft its own secularity, or its own spirit of worldliness, on the pure system of the gospel,—whereas the actual mischief of Popery, (more…)

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James Bannerman (1807-1868), one of the “Disruption Worthies,” wrote a comprehensive two-volume work on the Presbyterian doctrine of the Church, The Church of Christ.  It is a definitive treatment of the subject and really ought to be on the shelf of every Reformed minister, if not of every Reformed head of household.

The following quote comes from a selection in the first volume on the subject of the necessity of a friendly connection between the Church and State.  One of the reasons is that the State cannot be altogether neutral to the universal claims of the of the Kingdom of God within its boundaries.  While the Church does not have a right to interfere in the sphere of civil government, yet it demands audience from king and people of all lands.  Her warrant comes from none less than the Most High:

[The Church’s] first principle and first duty is that of aggression. The ministers of the Gospel claim it as a right to go into every nation, however fenced around and guarded from intrusion, and to demand an entrance in the name of Him who sent them, even although the magistrate should bid them depart from his coasts. Further still, the messengers of the Cross arrogate to themselves thee title to enter into every human dwelling where a sinner is to be found, – seeking admittance in the name of the Saviour of sinners, that they may negotiate with the inhabitant in behalf of their Master, however sternly the door may be closed against them by jealousy of their errand, or hatred to their cause.

It has been the eloquent boast of freedom in our country, that every man’s house is his castle; and that, be it but a straw-built shed, open to every breath of heaven, yet fenced about by the protection and the sanction of law, there even ‘the king cannot and dare not enter.’  But where the king cannot enter, there the missionary of Christ claims to be admitted; and, with a higher warrant in his hand than that of human law, bids the gates be lifted up, that with the Gospel he may enter in” (The Church of Christ, 1:142).

Too often we fail to appreciate this authoritative dimension to missions.  While the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be patient with all men, yet he is not go to into the world hat-in-hand.  Mission forbids timidity, for we have been sent by the King of kings.   No, we should not force entry, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.  Yet alternately, we should not so ‘respect’ the boundaries of men when our Lord counts it no trespass.  It is His claim after all, the deed and grant of His Father.  And the warrant is in our hand.

So let us go.  Aggressively.

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By the 1830s, the Church of Scotland was in the midst of a true evangelical revival.  Yet with the revival came conflict.  Increasingly, the State transgressed into the sphere of the established Church.  Its interference called into question the very spiritual independence of the institution that John Knox and others had helped consolidate under Christ’s ultimate authority. 

Thomas Chalmers, the premier Scottish preacher of the day, threw his full weight on the side of the evangelicals.  In temporal matters, the Church was to be subject to the State.  But not one inch of ground should be given on matters spiritual.  Christ is Head of the Church, and His law is higher than the law of the land.  His servants must at the end of the day obey God rather than man.

In Chalmers’ Memoirs, we read the following words about the dire consequences for compromise.  Speaking of the State’s intrusion in spiritual things, he writes, “Why, this would be lording it over us with a vengeance!  It would be making us swallow the whole principle; and the Church of Scotland, bereft of all moral weight, might henceforth be cast a useless and degraded thing into the bottom of the sea” (Memoirs 4:139).  In short, pragmatism leads to cultural irrelevance.

Though writing in a very different context, his words ring true today.  If the Church should indulge in pragmatism, then it not only breaks allegiance to Christ, but so debases itself as to be contemptible even to the wicked.   “If the salt loses its saltiness, how shall it be made flavorful?  Is it then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trampled under men’s feet.”

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“The sounder part of the Scottish nation know what good their ancestors derived from their Church, and feel how deeply the living generation is indebted to it. . . . Visionary notions have in all ages been afloat upon the subject of best providing for the clergy; notions which have been sincerely entertained by good men, with a view to the improvement of that order, and eagerly caught at and dwelt upon by the designing, for its degradation and disparagement. Some are beguiled by what they call the Voluntary system, not seeing (what stares one in the face at the very threshold) that they who stand in most need of religious instruction are unconscious of the want, and therefore cannot reasonably be expected to make any sacrifices in order to supply it. Will the licentious, the sensual, and the depraved, take from the means of their gratifications and pursuits, to support a discipline that cannot advance without uprooting the trees that bear the fruit which they devour so greedily?  Will they pay the price of that seed whose harvest is to be reaped in an invisible world?  A Voluntary system for the religious exigencies of a people numerous and circumstanced as we are! Not more absurd would it be to expect that a knot of boys should draw upon the pittance of their pocket-money to build schools, or out of the abundance of their discretion be able to select fit masters to teach and keep them in order! Some, who clearly perceive the incompetence and folly of such a scheme for the agricultural part of the people, nevertheless think it feasible in large towns, where the rich might subscribe for the religious instruction of the poor. Alas! they know little of the thick darkness that spreads over the streets and alleys of our large towns. The parish of Lambeth, a few years since, contained not mora than one church, and three or four small proprietary chapels, while Dissenting chapels, of every denomination, were still more scantily found there; yet the inhabitants of the parish amounted at that time to upwards of 50,000. Were the parish church and the chapels of the Establishment existing there an impediment to the spread of the Gospel among that mass of people?  Who shall dare to say so?  But if any one, in the face of the fact which has just been stated, and in opposition to authentic reports to the same effect from various other quarters, should still contend that a Voluntary system is sufficient for the spread and maintenance of religion, we would ask, What kind of religion?  Wherein would it differ, among the many, from deplorable fanaticism?

“For the preservation of the Church Establishment, all men, whether they belong to it or not, could they perceive their own interest, would be strenuous; but how inadequate are its provisions for the needs of the country!  and how much is it to be regretted that, while its zealous friends yield to alarms on account of the hostility of Dissent, they should so much overrate the danger to be apprehended from that quarter, and almost overlook the fact that hundreds of thousands of our fellow-countrymen, though formally and nominally of the Church of England, never enter her places of worship, neither have they communication with her ministers!  This deplorable state of things was partly produced by a decay of zeal among the rich and influential, and partly by a want of due expansive power in the constitution of the Establishment as regulated by law.  Private benefactors in their efforts to build and endow churches have been frustrated, or too much impeded, by legal obstacles; these, where they are unreasonable or unfitted for the times, ought to be removed; and, keeping clear of intolerance and injustice, means should be taken to render the presence and powers of the Church commensurate with the wants of a shifting and still increasing population” (Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, 606, 607).

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Richard Baxter of Kidderminster (from flickr.com)Baxter was an establishmentarian.  It is good that kings and queens should be nursing fathers and mothers to the Church.  He lamented in his Reformed Pastor that magistrates did not make adequate provision of Reformed pastors throughout the England of his day. 

Yet, he did not lay the main blame at the feet of civic leaders.  The fault was with the laziness of the ministry.  “It is we who are to blame, even we, the ministers of the gospel, whom they should thus maintain.  For those ministers that have small parishes, and might do all this private part of the work [pastoral care, mainly through catechizing], yet do it not, or at least few of them.  And those in great towns and cities, that might do somewhat, though they cannot do dall, will do just nothing but what accidentally falls in their way, or next to nothing; so that the magistrate is not awakened to the observance or consideration of the weight of our work” (Reformed Pastor, pp. 184-85, emphasis mine).  Like Chalmers some 150 years after him, his establishmentarianism was no fawning dependence of the Church on the State.  Rather, the Church ought to rise to the calling of its own Master, with or without the aid of the magistrate.  Yet, both Baxter and Chalmers believed that the diligence of the ministry could induce the State to its duty of patronizing the heavenly Kingdom.

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