Church and State: Australia’s Imaginary Wall (Introduction and Ch 1)

Tom Frame; University of New South Wales, 2006. 

The following is the product of research being conducted for a paper regarding the Christian role in politics. 

Tom Frame is the Anglican Bishop for the Australian Defence Force. The following is part of a book that looks at the working relationship and tensions between Church and State in Australia. This book is a part of a series that explore, social, political and cultural issues in association with Australian Policy Online.

Introduction

I would say many within the church do not understand the questions, appreciate the character of the debate grasp the attendant theological complexities, acknowledge the lessons of church history, display sufficiently humility about the church’s shortcomings, concede a lack of consensus among Christians, understand the nature of political discourse of value the integrity of the state in this country. p 10.

Too many Christians want the Church to exceed what I believe is its divine mandate by means that are likely to compromise its mission and distort its character. The church is meant to be, after all, an earthly manifestation of a heavenly reality. In my view, some denominations and individuals are in real danger of fusing religion and politics, and of failing to maintain the necessary distance between church and state that is needed for their healthy interaction. p 10.

There are too many denominations in Australia for one to achieve primacy. p 10.

Feeling that Australia is abandoning its “Christian heritage,” a broad coalition of Christian groups is committed to opposing “secularism” wherever they believe it is gaining ground… At times unthinking opposition to secularism has prompted overtly political behaviour and has, in my view, diminished the possibility of the Christian message being heard with respect to some of those things which the church, and only the church, can offer this world. Put simply: the church has more at stake and, therefore, much more to lose than the state. p 11.

Chapter 1: No Wall, One People

Jesus appeared to have been largely indifferent to Roman rule. While conscious of its oppressive spirit and sacrilegious character, he did not openly challenge Roman political authority or military power. He also seemed to have acknowledged the existence of distinct and separate realms of jurisdiction.
Quotes Matthew 22:21. p 15.

The essence of Jesus’ teaching – and the reason he wastanxious to avoid any confusion about its character – was the proclamation of the coming “kingdom of God”. It would take root in the human heart, re-orientate the lives and transform the world. He told his disciples: “you are in the world but not of it.” They were instructed to remain unstained by “the world” – those things that lay outside God’s sovereignty – and dependence on government power for the inauguration or survival of the Kingdom of God. p 16.

They [the church] whereat be concerned about the whole creation; dedicated to maintaining unity wherever the followers of Jesus were found; anxious for the welfare of other believes; and mindful of the small but nonetheless significant part they were to play in God’s unfolding plan of redemption for the whole world. Thud, there to be interested in every person and every person which had not (my emphasis) been transformed into Christ’s likeness or brought into conformity with the will of God. Consequently, the church was to be active in the world on God;s behalf, working to reconcile individuals and communities. But there is nothing in St Paul’s writings which could have been construed a a political manifesto nor was there any encouragement to seize control of civil authority. p 17.

Because they were, in any event, powerless to influence Roman institutions or cutoms directly, they allies their principal energies to attracting new converts and deepening their faith. But remaining faithful to Jesus’ teachings while reaching out to a potentially hostile world did not create two separate spheres to life with one designated religious and the other profane… Paul had already denied such a distinction by calling on Christians to demonstrate and commend their faith in everyday life. p 17.

Those with civic authority were appointed by God and given coercive power to promote order and prevent chaos (Romans 13:1-2). Therefore, everyone was subject to their decrees and directions. Obedience was a non-negotiable duty.

cf. Peter – was resolute in his defiance: “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). If temporal authorities acted contrary to the laws of God, Christians were implored to point out the binding character of these laws and then to insist that even rulers are subject to them. p 18.

Any sense of separation ended with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. This remains one of the most far-reaching events in Christian history. Within the period of one human generation, the church could exchange persecution and oppression of imperial patronage and support. It was a proposition too good to refuse. p 20.

Theology had apparently conquered politics. Although the prior separation of church and stat was based on theological principles, the church’s alliance with the emperor was largely a pragmatic decision. There was a widely held view that if the church did not develop into a great political corporation it would perish at the hands of the encroaching barbarians. It seemed no further justification of the imperial political association was required. p 21.
–> fear driven

Quoting Bohemian reformer Peter Chelcicky:
By means of the secular power Antichrist has pulled all power to himself under cover of the Christian faith. Since we believe that it was meekness and humility unto the cross that Christ delivered us from the power of Satan therefore we cannot allow that the perfecting of our faith comes by worldly power as through force were a greater benefit than is faith. When Emperor Constantine in his heathen mode of existence was taken up into the Church by Pope Sylvester and the later was fitted by the former with external rule – the destruction of the Church was inevitable. p 22.

Reformation… The spiritual and temporal power of the church was in marked decline. [The reformation]… created new distinctions within Christendom that tended to reflect emerging patriotic and financial interests. p 23.

The Church of England
The protection and preservation of an established church encouraged self-righteousness and intolerance- as was demonstrated before and after the English Civil War (1642-48). p 24.

When states insisted on all their citizens adhering to one religion (meaning one denominational tradition) and demanded that hey embrace a religious establishment, internal discord and external hostility soon followed. If there was to be only one faith, it was not surprising that individuals and communities were prepared to kill to ensure it was, by their reckoning, the “true” faith. From the mid-1500’s, Europe was divided by warring religious confessions, which continued for more than a century. Religion and nationalism proved to be a volatile combination. p 25.

From the foregoing survey [history of church and state relations] it is apparent that there is no definitive theological position on the church’s relationship with the state in any Christian tradition despite centuries of near constant deliberation. p30.

The Bible provides an encouragement towards forming a community but foes not offer a blueprint for the temporal character of that community or define its moral identity in precise ways, especially in the matter of interacting with secular authority. The most that can be said biblically is the state is simply the means to an end in the divine ordering of the world.p 31.

It can be said with some certainty, however, that there is nothing in the Bible or in Christian history which justifies or encourages the fusion of church and state. It harms religion and distorts the church. p 31.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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