Oct 29, 2013

Truth and freedom, church and state

New candelabras for Reformation Sunday

In 1821, James Madison, fourth president of the United States of America and also noted for being instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and as the key champion and author of the Bill of Rights, wrote to F.L. Schaefer:

James Madison, Hamilton's major collaborator, ...
James Madison, Hamilton's major collaborator, later President of the United States and "Father of the Constitution" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“I have received, with your letter of November 19th, the copy of your address at the ceremonial of laying of the corner-stone of St. Matthew's Church in New York. It is a pleasing and persuasive example of pious zeal, united with pure benevolence, and of cordial attachment to a particular creed, untinctured by sectarian illiberality. It illustrates the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due to God, promotes the discharge of both obligations.”

Indeed there is a Scriptural basis forseparation of , or more precisely, distinction between church and state that Luther championed, although something like this happy balance would become a reality before the American Revolution. He spoke of “the two kingdoms”, one of law and one of grace. By this he meant that God had instituted both the church and civil government, but for different purposes and had given them different types of authority. All lawful forms of authority have been established by God. As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above’ (John 19:11).

The government has the right of the sword , that is, to use force of arms to maintain order in this fallen world , according to the Law of God. The government has jurisdiction over the exterior acts of men , and can punish them for evil deeds (Genesis 9:6 ; Exodus 21:14). . The government has no jurisdiction over the souls of men , ie can not demand confessions of faith or decide matters of faith.

The two classical texts that deal with the God-given authority of the state are Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13,14. When Paul then in Romans 13:1 says: ‘There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God’, he is stating that secular government has been established by God.

Earthly authority also include parents (Ephesians 6:1-4) as well as others in positions of responsibility. When Luther explains the fourth commandment in his Large Catechism he says that the primary locus of authority resides with parents, and that all other human authority derives from that.

Revelation 13 presents a situation that is the exact opposite of Romans 13. The unlawful authority of the demonic state is most evident in the absolute claims made on body and soul by the satanic forces behind totalitarian regimes. Here the church must refuse obedience, in line with Peter’s principle in Acts 5:29, even if that means martyrdom, for obedience here would amount to idolatry. Obedience to all forms of human government is never absolute but always limited and conditional. If it means disobedience to God, our allegiance to God must come first.

According to Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession, “All government and all established rule and laws were instituted by God for the sake of good order, and that Christians may without sin occupy civil offices and engage in all manner of civil affairs’ (such as serving as soldiers, buying and selling,
taking oaths where required, owning property, getting married etc). The article also states that ‘the gospel does not overthrow civil authority, the state, and marriage but requires that all these be kept as true divine orders’ (sometimes called orders of creation), unless to do so would mean disobeying God.

The mission of the church is to proclaim the message of God's grace . It has no right to punish
exterior actions with the sword, or command faith. Nor can it teach doctrines contrary to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. It can only proclaim the forgiveness of sins to those who repent or God's condemnation to those who do not repent .

Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession makes it clear that ecclesiastical and civil power are not to be confused. The church should not interfere with civil government or try to tell civil rulers how they should govern. For Christ says that his kingdom is ‘not of this world’ (John 18:33,36), and when asked to settle a legal dispute he replied: ‘Who made me judge or an arbiter between you?’ (Luke 12:14).

When the church and the government recognize their own positions , when
there is a balance between them with respect for human rights , this situation is according to the design of God and is a blessing for all. For the concept of human rights is based on the biblical perspective. First, each human being is a creature of God, who has value in God's eyes no matter their condition in life . Second, although all are sinners , Christ died for all, to give us another chance to live as children of God. The new life in Christ is a gift from God in His mercy. So, salvation belongs to the kingdom of grace, not the realm of law.
Martin Luther
This view of the proper roles of church and state influenced James Madison and other framers of the U.S. Constitution. For this reason, Luther often is hailed as a champion of human rights and particularly the individual conscience, first for his posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517, and later for his heroic stand before the Diet of Worms in 1521.

When diet ordered Luther to recant his criticisms of the teachings of the church of Rome, Luther answered , "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason , for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, since it is evident that they have been wrong several times and contradicted themselves , I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my foundation , my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I can not and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe . Here I am , I can not do otherwise, so help me God . Amen . "

But what Luther defended at the Diet of Worms was not simply his personal liberty of conscience or a political ideal, but something much more: absolute and objective truth revealed by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is why John 8:31-36 is the appointed Gospel reading for Reformation Day. “And ye shall know the truth , and the truth shall make you free . " What is the truth of which Jesus speaks ? The Greek philosophers used the Greek word , αληθεια , which translates as the word truth , to designate the absolute reality . Not something attainable through human reason , but only by some transcendental means, such as divine revelation . Knowing the truth would mean an encounter with the divine, mystical contemplation of the glory of God.
The meaning of tthis truth could also be interpreted within the Hebrew context, the word , אֱמֶת , which means faithfulness to God's plan or purpose . We could say the revelation of the glory of God , the truth is that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save it. The truth is that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin . Jesus Christ is not only a great prophet, not only the Messiah promised to the Jews. He is the Son of God made flesh . The truth that will set us free is not an abstract concept , not any political, economic or scientific truth, but what God has revealed about our salvation in Christ.

For nationalist groups among the Jews , freedom consisted only
of recognizing God as King of kings . Nationalists , or zealots, were ready to fight to the death to defend their freedom to serve only the Lord, the God of Israel. Other Jews thought they were free , regardless of the dominion of the Roman conquerors . Outwardly ruled by the Romans, but inwardly they were free because they did not worship the idols of the Romans but the true God. Sadly , by human nature no one can love God as He deserves , or his neighbor as himself. No one , except Jesus Christ can fulfill the law perfectly , so no one can be truly free by their own efforts.
"Jesus answered them , Verily , verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. " Jesus made clear that he was not talking about political slavery , but spiritual slavery . Many believe themselves to be free when in fact they are enslaved in many parts of their lives. That's why we need to examine our lives in the light of the gospel. Many conflicts arise in our lives and in our communities because we have been enslaved by vain philosophies , the desire to be accepted , prejudices , misplaced loyalties and more .

" So if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed. " Jesus' statements about freedom
have been interpreted to mean that all the truth has a liberating character . Citing this text, it is said that philosophical, scientific or political truths have the power to grant freedom to humans. These truths can give us some measure of freedom in certain areas of human life , but they can not give us the freedom of which Jesus speaks.

None of these truths can free humans from the need
to stand before the throne of God and give an account of their deeds . However, he who has come to know the truth of the gospel has been delivered from eternal death and the power of the devil . The new birth by the Holy Spirit is for all men, in any country and at any stage of life.
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