Archive for the ‘Establishments’ Category

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, lay in the church having obtained too great power over the state; and in the false doctrines which it devised, to strengthen and perpetuate a temporal dominion which should never have been permitted to it. There is no analogy between the apprehended evils to Christianity from an establishment now-a-days, and the actual evils inflicted on Christianity by the corrupt and audacious hierarchy of Rome. The thing dreaded from that connexion between the church and state which an establishment implies, is lest the state, stepping beyond its own legitimate province, should make invasion upon the church; and so, by a heterogeneous ingredient from without, in some way adulterate the faith. The thing experienced, on the contrary, was that the church, stepping beyond its legitimate province, made an invasion upon the state; and all the adulteration practised, either on the worship or the lessons of Christianity, was gendered from within. So far from the state having too much power, so that it could make unlawful invasion on the church—it had too little power, so that it could not resist the unlawful invasion made by the church upon itself. The theoretical fear is, lest the state should meddle with the prerogatives of the church; the historical fact is, that the church meddled with the prerogative of the state. So far from the apprehended corruption having experience to rest upon, it is precisely the reverse—of the actual corruption. But the truth is, that, after many conflicts, the matter is now better understood; and the understanding is, that neither should meddle with the prerogatives of the other. The state may pay the church; yet without conceding to it one particle of temporal sovereignty. The church may serve the state; yet without the surrender of one spiritual prerogative. To teach the people Christianity—that is the church’s service. To teach them no other than what itself judges to be the Christianity of the Bible—that is the church’s prerogative. To deal out among our parish families the lessons of faith and of holiness—this is the church’s incumbent duty. But that these shall be no other than what itself judges to be the very lessons of that Scripture whose guidance in things spiritual it exclusively follows, and that in this judgment no power on earth shall control it,—this is the church’s inviolable privilege. The state might maintain a scholastic establishment; but, without charging itself with the methods of ordinary education, leave these to the teachers. Or the state might maintain an ecclesiastical establishment; but, without charging itself with the methods of Christian education, leave these to the church. In both cases, it would multiply and extend over the land the amount of instruction. Yet the kind of instruction it might leave to other authorities, to other boards of management than its own; and this were the way to secure the best scholarship, and the best Christianity. For the sake of an abundant gospel dispensation, we are upheld in things temporal by the state. For the sake of a pure gospel dispensation, we are left in things spiritual to ourselves; and on ourselves alone does it depend, whether the church now might not be the same saintly and unsullied church, that it was in the days of martyrdom—as spiritual in its creed, as purely apostolic in its spirit, as holy in all its services.”

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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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