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The Church of Christ and World-Powers

This entry is part 1 of 18 in the series The Church of Christ and World-Powers

This article begins a new series of weekly posts authored by David Lipscomb, an important figure in the Churches of Christ in the United States. Learn more about Lipscomb’s background here and here, and see other references to him on LCI here.

The series is titled “The Church of Christ and World-Powers”, and it was also originally published as a series of 18 articles in The Gospel Advocate in 1866 and 1867. Many of the ideas parallel what is seen in Lipscomb’s book On Civil Government, but from slightly different angles. I hope to provide a little commentary in each article as time allows, and then eventually put out the extended essay in full form as an ebook and perhaps a paperback as well.

The first article sets the stage for Lipscomb’s main argument about the nature of “human governments”. He suggests there are three ways that Christians have taken historically viewed their relationship to the state, and they may sound somewhat different than what you typically hear in history books. He doesn’t specifically mention but somewhat alludes to the “Divine Right of Kings” model, and opts instead to classify them as “Roman Catholic” (church is ally to the state), “Protestant” (church subserves the state), and a separate-and-distinct view. The third position, Lipscomb proposes, argues that all human governments are so far divorced from God’s will that the Christian’s only response is to be separate from them. Inasmuch as the Christian is connected, they should submit as per the instruction of Romans 13, but as we will see further in Lipscomb’s work, the destiny of these institutions is destruction because they are inherently rebellious against God. And now for the article, stay tuned weekly for more.


The Church of Christ and World-Powers (1) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, Jan. 9, 1866

In the Prospectus for the present volume of the Gospel Advocate, we announced our intention of examining the relation which the Church of Jesus Christ sustains to the World-powers – civil, military, and religious, by which it is surrounded and with which it often comes in contact. On this, as on many other subjects, we are apt to imbibe the ideas and adopt the habits of those by whom we are surrounded in childhood, without ever questioning ourselves as to whether those ideas and customs and correct – are they in accordance with the teachings of the great Master? Now Jesus Christ gave rules that will guide his children, safely and securely according to his will, if they will only diligently hearken to those teachings. All scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction is righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. God has given us direction, how we should conduct ourselves in all the relationships of life, as parent and child, husband and wife, master and servant, friend, enemy, neighbor and stranger, he has certainly not left indefinite our duty in that relation – which is so liable to be used to control the whole man, soul and body, time, talent and energy as the world organizations under which we live.

We ask you then, courteous reader, to calmly investigate with us the connection that Christ has established between His kingdom and the World-Powers, or institutions, that we may learn our duties with reference to them, and be prepared ever in this, as other matters to be found walking according to the will of the Master. But for the present we will content ourselves with merely stating the three leading positions of the religious world in reference to this subject.

The 1st and most popular idea, taking the whole professed Christian world into consideration, is that the church should form alliances with the world institutions, for the purpose of controlling and using those institutions for the advancement of its own interest. The member of the Church according to this idea, enter into these organizations not for the intrinsic value of these institutions, but that the interests of the Church may be advanced. With this idea, when the interests of the Church demand it, the identical institution will by the same power be destroyed. This idea we denominate the Roman Catholic idea. It is the ruling principle with the Roman Catholic Church. She approves no special form of human government, but allies herself with every form, as her interest may demand, or her influence thereby be extended. Her votaries worship at every political shrine, and espouse antagonistic causes, yet never disturb the unity of their mother church. The same motive prompts the French Catholics to sustain the cause of France against Austria, that prompts the Austrian Catholics to uphold the cause of Austria against France. The one object that moves each is the advancement of the interests of mother Rome, the augmentation of her interests by giving her control of each government. She in a sense peculiarly of her own, thus becomes all things to all men, Austrian to Austria, French to France, that she may gain both Austria and France to her support. This idea holds that there is nothing good or desirable in political institutions, farther than they may used for the advancement of the Church.

The next idea that we present, holds that political governments are of Divine origin, as such must be supported and sustained, for their own intrinsic worth, and because they are essential to the well being not only of the world, but the Church itself, and in many respects more essential to society than the church. This conception of the relationship existing between them, changes the positions of the two institutions, makes the Church subserve the interest of the State, makes the State first, the Church second. Church members enter into the contests, strifes, animosities and partisanships of the State because their first, highest duty is there, the chief interest of society is embodied therein. With this idea all Church harmony depends upon political unity. This condition of affairs makes the Church the tool of the political clique, at once the victim and fosterer of the sectional prejudice and a party to the national conflicts. We denominate this idea the Protestant idea. Protestantism has its birth in the rebellion of the political rulers of England, Germany, and Switzerland, against the assumption of Rome to control them for the benefit of the Church assisted it is true, by a religious reformation excited by Luther, Zuringle* [Zwingli], and Calvin. Each branch of Protestantism received its peculiar embodiment from the nature and interest of the national government with which it allied itself. English Protestantism differed widely from German, and Swiss from both. This view of the relationship of Church and State pervades all the denominations of Protestant Christendom. We may safely affirm that not one of these has ever been able to maintain its unity intact, its harmony of feeling and action undisturbed, when two nations in which that Church existed was engaged in strife, or even when political partisanship or sectional excitement ran high in any one government. Hence, when the United States separated from England politically, the Church of England in this country and England severed in twain. Also, in the sectional and political strifes in our own country, sectional animosity and bitterness ran fully as high in the religious bodies even before it did in the body politic.

There is yet another view of this relationship that we desire to present. A few individuals in all ages of the Church, from the days of Jesus Christ, to the present time, have maintained that the two institutions, the Christian and the worldly, were necessarily separate and distinct. That they could form no alliances. That each was necessary in its proper place and for its proper subjects. That God’s institution, or the Church, was perfect and needed no help or addition from human hands to enable it to direct the affairs of its own children. On the other hand, that God had left those who refused to submit to his government, to form a government to their own liking, to manage it according to their own views of propriety and for the accomplishment of their own desired ends. And with this, Christians have nothing to do, farther than God has connected them with it. The limit and bound of which connection is a quiet submission to its requirements, when these do not conflict with their obligations to God. In a word, that the Christians cannot become the partisan of any human government or institution. It is his duty to submit to all alike, and with fidelity as to God himself, comply with the requirements of whatever one he may be under, modified by his first duty to obey God unto death itself rather than any man-power, but it is not his province to become an active participator or partisan of any human government or form of government.

This idea prevailing in a church and being acted upon, will at once render that church free from discords and strifes on political grounds. It causes the Christian in England to submit to the government of England, not because he approves that government, but because God requires him to submit to it. It causes the Christian in Mexico to submit to the Republic of Mexico, when under the Republic, not because he approves a republic, or is a republican, but because God says to be subject to the powers that be. It requires him in turn to submit to the Empire of Mexico, when an empire is established; not because he is a monarchist, or a partisan of the empire, but because God says submit to the powers that be, not the ones that ought to exist, or that he prefers, but to the ones that actually do exist. These three ideas of the connection of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ with the world powers and institutions, with their modifications, embrace the faith and practice of the professed Christian world on this subject. These ideas direct the actions of their respective advocates, and exercise a wonderful effect upon the course and destinies of those churches.

Will our readers ponder these questions in their bearing upon the peace, purity, unity, and destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ and the well-being of the world, and with us examine the Sacred Scriptures to see which, if any one of them be true positions assigned the church by its Divine founder. (Jan 9, 1866)

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