Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Cultural Catastrophe

The Reformation was a grand rediscovery of true Christian doctrine. But the aftermath was very messy and carries a different type of lesson. It would have been nice if the two halves of western Christianity could have peacefully parted and each gone their separate ways. It would even have been nice if some nations had become Protestant and others had become Catholic and they could have at least separated along national borders. But it did not work that way. There were Protestants in areas under Catholic political control and Catholics in areas under Protestant political control. There were nations which changed from one view to the other, depending on who was in power. There were also divisions between different types of Protestants. All of this became involved in politics, and different groups took sides based on political concerns, and different political leaders took sides based on their political interests.

The result was a series of wars, revolutions, persecutions, assassinations, and plots; and considerable political chaos. It ended up in convoluted confrontations, with multiple sides and with sides frequently changing for political reasons. This resulted, over the long run, in all sides accepting, in most cases, a policy of tolerance. It also left both original sides looking bad and alienating people by their behavior. I do believe (though I admit I am biased) that the Protestants came out of it looking slightly better than the Catholics. But nobody came out of it looking good. The ultimate result of these events was a secularization of society that has continued to this day.

What can we learn from this? We need to be very careful about using violence in promoting the Christian position. I have often wondered if we are not better off being persecuted (as in the early church or under communism), rather than using force to defend ourselves. (Matthew 26:52 may apply here). While I do believe there is a place for Christians to work for just government (Proverbs 14:34), we need to be careful of putting too much hope in the political process. It tends to become entangled in its own goals, which may not accord with any Christian moral concerns. We also need to realize that it is not surprising if the world opposes us (1 John 2:15-17; John 15:18-21; Colossians 2:8). Therefore, we need to be cautious to avoid putting too many of our eggs in the political basket. For we could once more end up falling into the same pit. The best antidote is to remember that God is in control even when the events around us are out of control (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20). For it is only this confidence that prevents us from taking things into our own hands and using whatever method, no matter how questionable, to accomplish our purposes.

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