How Are Christians to View Government?: Lessons from Church History, Part 3

Lucas_Cranach_d_-_Martin_Luther_1528_Veste_Coburg_croppedIn part 2 of this series, we looked at the relationship between church and state during the Middle Ages, noting particularly the tug-of-war between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor over who was to be the supreme authority in the Christian world. Once the Reformation began in the sixteenth century, this dynamic changed considerably, particularly in Protestant countries.

The Uses of the Law

Martin Luther, the theologian who began the Protestant Reformation, had been an Augustinian monk prior to being excommunicated by the Catholic Church. Not surprisingly, even as a Protestant, his ideas about church and state were influenced by Augustine’s “The City of God,” discussed in the first article in this series. To understand Luther’s ideas, it will pay to back up a moment and look at his understanding of the relationship between Law and Gospel.

Break Through to Reality, Part 2

sea_of_cortez_cover_and_photosThe very stark details recorded by John Steinbeck about the Good Friday church service, the stealthy murder in the mangrove swamp, the dark and mysterious barren isle, and the glorious heavens on Easter Sunday, during his expedition in the Sea of Cortez, clearly indicated an intellectual knowledge of Christ’s death and Resurrection. Yet, as I wrote in Part 1, that knowledge did not penetrate to the core of his being.

Breaking Through

In His death and Resurrection, Jesus broke through history to implement God’s plan for humanity. Why was there no breakthrough for Steinbeck; why are there so few breakthroughs today in people’s souls—in hearts, minds and wills?

How Are Christians to View Government?: Lessons from Church History, Part 2

1024px-Raphael_Baptism_ConstantineIn the first article in this series, dealing with the question of how Christians have historically viewed government, we looked at St. Augustine of Hippo, the most important theologian of the Western (Latin) Christian tradition. Augustine argued that in a fallen world, governments are necessary to restrain evil, but since they are themselves part of that fallen world, they are inevitably corrupt and cannot be trusted with unrestricted power. As a result, the Western political tradition has historically limited the power of government and developed systems of checks and balances to try to keep it from turning tyrannical.

This raises the question of how the church fits into Augustine’s schema, and how it is to relate to the state. We turn to that question in this article.

Break Through to Reality, Part 1

log_from_the_seaAs the celebration of Holy Week, culminating with Easter, has come and gone for another year, John Steinbeck’s nonfiction book, “The Log from the Sea of Cortez,” came to mind. Written and dated in journal style, it includes a chapter for each day from Good Friday through Easter.

This ship log recorded the expedition from Monterey, California, around the Baja peninsula, and into the Sea of Cortez to collect species from tide pools. As the crew would sit around reflecting on the day’s work, they would discuss as well the meaning of life, not only for the creatures of the sea but also for mankind.
How Are Christians to View Government?: Lessons from Church History, Part 1

Antonio_Rodrguez_-_Saint_Augustine_-_Google_Art_ProjectChristians in America today do not have any clear understanding of how to think about government. Some look at politics as territory Christians should avoid, whether because they are so committed to the idea that we are citizens of heaven that they believe we should not be involved with any earthly state, or, more often, because they think that we should not bring religion into politics, “legislate morality,” or impose our values on a non-Christian society. Others believe it is our duty to bring our values into culture and the law, and are thoroughly bewildered about what to do when that route is closed to us.

As people who believe in sola scriptura, we turn to the Bible for help, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of clear guidance there. Leaving aside the question of the relationship between the Old and New Testament, the Bible has nothing to say about how to live in a modern democratic republic where we can have a say in public policy. It tells us to be subject to the governing authorities and to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but it also tells us to give to God what is God’s and that our responsibility is to obey God rather than man.

This is where turning to church history can help us.

Discovery Bible Study and 'Lectio Divina': Combining Old and New Approaches to Scripture (Part 2)

ID-100247673And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matt. 13:52

In my previous article, we looked at Discovery Bible Studies (DBS), a relatively new approach to small group Bible study that has been used for evangelism and discipleship in many places in the global south and increasingly in the United States. While often suitable for personal study, DBS’s focus on obedience to the text can sometimes make using it in devotions a challenge, since not all passages have immediate applications in a particular individual’s life. (Besides, for most people I know identifying applications in Scripture is the hardest and most frustrating part of Bible study.)

Fortunately, there is an ancient approach to Scripture known as lectio divina (divine reading) that complements DBS and can address the difficulties raised by the method, particularly for personal devotions.

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