Saturday, December 31, 2011

Erastianism: The Trojan Horse of the Marriage Debate

"Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, 'You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.' Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, 'We are witnesses.'"
- Ruth 4:9-11

The Zwinglian Theologian Thomas Erastus is known for the philosophy named for him, Erastianism, which is a theory of church government that holds that the church should be subservient to the state in a Christian nation. This was in opposition to the Catholic doctrine that the state should be subservient to the church. And both rejected the Augustinian "two-swords" doctrine, according to which the church and the state are mutually independent.

The predominant view of American evangelicals toward state recognition of same-sex marriages is that such recognition should be forbidden. In fact, I bring the matter up because my own state is holding a March referendum on adding such a prohibition to our state constitution. I am opposed to that amendment for two reasons, neither of which, I am sure, is coming into the mind of my reader right now.

First of all, I am appalled by the bait-and-switch tactics used by the proponents of this amendment. The debate has focused on whether same-sex couples should marry. That isn't the issue being voted on! The question is whether the state should recognize such marriages, which is a logically-distinct question. By distracting the debate with the false question, the lovers of the state have an opening for their agenda, which leads to my second and main objection.

There are neutral principles in law that apply to everyone, banning fraud and force. In marriage, that is the legitimate basis for banning, for example, the marriage of children. Those principles are neutral because they are general, applying to all classes of people. However, this amendment forbids a minister, as such, from performing his duty in a situation opposed by the state. That is not general; it is specifically a restriction that applies to the minister in his spiritual role.

That is why I raise the warning against Erastianism. Certainly I understand that the minister should be accountable, primarily to God and secondarily to his church. However, to make him accountable to the state is the essence of Erastianism, and I must oppose it as such.

Take a look at the text I use at the top of this post. It is a famous portion of the story of Ruth, in which Boaz takes her as his wife. Notice what he does: he informs the elders of his marriage contract with Ruth. He appoints the town elders as witnesses. At no point does he ask their permission to marry Ruth. In fact, nowhere in scripture is the government given any role in marriage, except - as noted above- to prevent force or fraud. And that is exactly where we have gone off track. The church has surrendered the family to the state. Therefore, I oppose this amendment as more of the same, and plead for American Christians to throw off the shackles of Erastianism, and return to the biblical pattern for the church and family.

I will close with this passage form the 18th-Century Scottish Minister William Wilson, one of the founders of the Associate Presbytery: "The Lord Jesus Christ alone, as Mediator, is Head, Lord, and Lawgiver unto His Church, and to Him alone it belongs to give laws, ordinances, and statutes unto the office-bearers of His house, in their several [respective] spiritual and ecclesiastical functions and administrations... and unto the Lord Jesus alone it appertains to give instructions unto His ministers, to regulate them in the exercise of their ministry..."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Infallibility of the Pope or of the Church Biblical?

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world."
- I John 4:1

The Church of Rome claims for itself that it is blessed with infallibility, that is, that it is incapable of error. She claims this for Her Church as a whole, and for the Pope in particular. In polemics against the churches of the Reformation, Rome claimed that this infallibility made her naturally superior to the Reformers, who explicitly eschewed any personal infallibility.

However, what do the scriptures say? We see above the statement of the Apostle John: The Christian must test the spirits, never accepting spiritual claims at face value, for there are false prophets in the world. In John 5:39, the same Apostle quotes the Lord's praise for those who search the scriptures for knowledge of Him. A little further in the New Testament in Acts 17:11, the believers of Berea are praised for "examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."

In other words, the scriptures give the exact opposite surety from the Catholic Church: the foundation of our faith isn't from an infallible Pope or infallible Church, but rather from an infallible Bible, for "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16).