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Archive for April, 2013

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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