Tuesday, March 31, 2015
The Anabaptists: Is Nothing Sacral?
Sometimes you read something that makes you stand up and cheer. That happened for me while I was reading “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren” by Verduin recently.
The book is an overview of the Anabaptists and the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) who violently opposed them.
In an attempt to explain why these Christians and their ideas were so aggressively resisted, the author points out something I am sure most people overlook; something that made me stand up and say, “Yes”!
Starting with Jesus, the author emphasizes the differences between “Sacral” societies and the revolutionary teachings of Christ. Namely, the idea that Jesus advocated for a radical ideology whereby men and women who differ – theologically, politically, etc. – can still live together in total harmony.
As he notes in the book, “This is one of the New Testament’s boldest innovations, the sweep of which will not escape the thoughtful.”
Now, what I find so exciting is that the author has put his finger on something that so many, many Christians today have totally missed out on.
“It must not escape the reader that this was a novel insight, so novel as to be revolutionary. The world had never seen the like of it before. For all pre-Christian society is sacral. By the word “sacral”…we mean “bound together by a common religious loyalty.”…we mean society held together by a religion to which all the members of that society are committed.”
He goes on to point out that all other ancient societies were pre-Christian ,and therefore “sacral”.
As he illustrates so eloquently:
“The society of ancient Babylon…was a sacral society; all Babylonians were expected to bow to the one and the same “Object” (See Daniel 3); their society was pre-Christian.
The society of Ephesus was sacral; all Ephesians were expected to join in the chant: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”; (See Acts 19:28) Ephesian society of was pre-Christian.
In our own day, the society of the Navajo…is sacral; all members of that society are expected to take part in the ritual; theirs, too, is a pre-Christian society.”
And then, then, he drops the proverbial bomb:
“According to the construction of things, the Old Testament too was pre-Christian – as indeed it was in the chronological sense. Every member of the OT society was considered to be in the same religious category as was every other member of it. This makes the Old Testament society sacral and pre-Christian.”
Why is this insight so powerful? Because if those Reformed Christians had understood this simple truth, then the murder of the Anabaptists by their Christian brothers would never have taken place.
“…there would in all probability never have been a [persecution of Anabaptists] if the Reformers had been aware of the pre-Christian quality of the Old Testament in this matter. It was the Reformer’s refusal to admit that there is this perspective in the relationship that obtains between the two Testaments, it was their refusal to grant that the one had outmoded the other at this point, that caused the exodus of the Stepchildren (Anabaptists).”
Did you see that? Do you understand what he’s saying here? Because one group of Christians did not understand that the Old and New Testaments were fundamentally different – and that one of them (the New) had “outmoded the other” (the Old)…the bloody execution of Christians by their own brothers and sisters was set in motion.
Today we have much the same arrangement among followers of Christ. One group – the vast majority in this nation – hold the idea that both the Old and the New are concurrent and equally in force. Another group – in the small, but growing minority – understand that Jesus trumps Moses and that the NT declares the OT to be “obsolete” and “fading away”.
All that is missing is the power of one group to put to death the other group for daring to disagree on this point.
Based on the amount of hate mail and venomous comments left on my blog and FB page, if it were legal for those in the majority opinion to have those of us in the minority group arrested, tried and sentenced to prison or death, I would say that this blog would have been written from a jail cell on death row.
But, I digress. Getting back to the book, let’s wrap up the differences between the sacral perspective and the Kingdom perspective:
“It was because the Jews of Jesus’ day were pre-Christian, and therefore sacralists in their conception of things, that the problem “whether it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar” seemed to them an insoluble problem. How could a man, they asked, be loyal to the political community by paying his taxes, without thereby being disloyal to the religious community, the Church? They, sacralists that they were, knew no answer to this question. It vexed them every time they tangled with it. And for that reason they confronted the Master with it, so that He too might be embarrassed by it and be hopelessly pinned in a corner. How great must have been their surprise at the ease with which Jesus, acting on the new insight He had come to convey, sailed through the dilemma with “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. In His way of thinking there wasn’t even any problem.
“As the thoughtful reader will have perceived, much is implied in this New Testament innovation. In it is implied that the State is a secular institution…It is implied in the NT vision that Christianity is not a culture-creating thing, but rather a culture-influencing one.”
Yes! This is where I could no longer contain myself and I jumped up to shout, “Yes!” in my living room.
The Church is not meant to be yoked to the State. We are not compelled to legislate culture through the courts or the law. Instead, we are commanded to communicate the radical Gospel of Jesus to everyone around us and to influence the human heart to submit to the rule and reign of Christ – regardless of what the Laws of the Land may be.
In that way, Christianity seeks to transform the culture from within rather than to legislate culture from above.
As the author notes:
“….there can never be such a thing as a Christian culture; there can only be cultures in which the influence of Christianity is more or less apparent. The NT vision does not pit a “Christian culture” against a non-Christian culture; rather does it introduce a leaven into any existing culture into which it insinuates itself, a leaven whereby that already existing culture is then affected.”