Church Under State

When the ongoing persecution of the early church by the Roman state had evidently failed, the new pragmatic emperor Constantine changed tactics:

In AD 313 he stopped the persecution and instead tried to get the now powerful and influential churches aboard his ship of state. To this end, Constantine decided to kick-start the process by showing church leaders just what government force could do for them.

He began in AD 316 by responding to the call of a regional church leader for help in dealing with some heretics called the “Donatists”. Since the government can exist only by violence (otherwise it cannot collect tax or enforce rules) Constantine, therefore, assisted this church leader by doing what government does best: He sent in troops to kill a number of the Donatists and to close their churches.

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To some Christian leaders, this appeared to be a new and easier way to spread the Word – by killing or crushing opponents to it. In fact, as a PR tactic it worked so well that in just a few years, Constantine felt confident enough to convene a number of the formally recognized Christian Bishops under his own auspices.

Around 300 of them in all, with their entourages, were paid and flattered into attending the “First Council of Nicaea” in AD 325.

One of those attendees – Eusebius of Nicomedia – is thought to have delivered the opening address. Clearly, he was still awestruck by the glory of the Roman head of state when he wrote afterwards that Constantine:

“proceeded through the midst of the assembly, like some heavenly messenger of God, clothed in raiment which glittered as it were with rays of light, reflecting the glowing radiance of a purple robe, and adorned with the brilliant splendor of gold and precious stones”

But in reality, the seeds of organized violence were beginning to take root and grow within Christian leadership. At this conference, one such seed was to be sown by of all people, “Nikolaos of Myra” – later to be called “St. Nicholas” and known around the world, as “Santa Claus”.

According to the “St Nicholas Center” the target was a doctrinal heretic called Arius, who had begun to expound his view that Jesus was not God in the flesh, but merely a messenger or created being:

“As Arius vigorously continued, Nicholas became more and more agitated. Finally, he could no longer bear what he believed was essential being attacked. The outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! The bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable that a bishop would lose control and be so hot-headed in such a solemn assembly. They brought Nicholas to Constantine. Constantine said even though it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence, in this case, the bishops themselves must determine the punishment.”

Since this took place right in front of the Emperor, clearly, it was no private tiff – effectively, it was a public petition. The message was unmistakable – and was underlined when the Bishops later chose to endorse Nikolaos’ action by freeing him.

Observing this large majority among the spiritual leaders, the pragmatic Constantine then decided to offer his support for doctrinal orthodoxy. By doing so, he installed himself as the enforcement arm of an officially approved church – while apparently holding personally to some fusion of emperor-worship, sun-worship, and pseudo-Christian heresy; all under the banner and outward trappings of mainstream Christianity.

But – subject to no official stamp of approval – the doctrine of the divinity of Christ had always been upheld by believing Christians. So while the public statement of faith is trumpeted; it seems clear that the Council of Nicaea served primarily to seal the unholy covenant between church leaders and the blood cult of the state.

The key point to note is that from then on, influential Christian leaders were in alliance with the state. No longer would they need to risk slapping those they strongly disagreed with when, in return for publicly endorsing the Emperor, they could just lobby for them to be arrested, threatened or killed.

And with immediate effect, that is exactly what happened: The slaughter of the Donatist heretics had only been a foretaste of what state power would do in the name of Christianity. Prior to the year AD 308, the Roman state had been baying for the blood of Christians. By the year AD 380, the first public call for the death of all “heretics” was heard – under a definition that was now subject to state approval.

This pact of blood was to endure, and from 800 AD become even more pervasive under emperor Charlemagne, where:

The Church, as normally understood, was reduced to a department of state, as a sort of ministry of prayer, and the responsibility for education and the interpretation of the true Catholic faith was assumed by Charlemagne in his role of ‘David’, the Lord’s anointed. – [RHC Davis, A History of Medieval Europe]

Continuing on through the centuries, the pact is perhaps most widely known for the bloody history of the Crusades. But in more recent times, even the reformer Martin Luther saw little need for any fundamental reform in this area. Instead, he openly called for the state to slaughter protesting German peasants – even while acknowledging their oppression.

And when John Calvin came later, he approved when a non-Trinitarian heretic was burned alive by the Calvinist government of Geneva – though he did lobby for a simple beheading.

The followers of Luther would go on to become a majority within Germany, where Lutheran leaders would publicly endorse Hitler, and even join with the Nazi Party in widespread public celebrations of Luther’s birthday.

And when Hitler wanted to create a single united “Reich Church” under himself, the few pastors who resisted by forming a new “Confessing Church“, were universally condemned by their fellow Protestants:

“…pastors openly welcomed the Nazis, believing that the reintroduction of government by Christian authorities, affirmed St. Paul that ‘the powers that be are ordained by God.’” (Romans 13:1) [“Christianity in Europe during WWII”, Jim Walker, 1 June, 2000]

It now appears that in secret at least, Pope Pius XII helped many thousands of Jews to escape Nazi persecution and even supported a plot to assassinate Hitler. However, Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich, who visited Hitler personally said, “Without a doubt, the chancellor lives in faith in God. He recognizes Christianity as the foundation of Western culture” [Helmreich, Ernst Christian, “The German Churches Under Hitler,” Wayne State University Press, 1979, p.279].

Those Christians who today are so easily fooled by even mildly religious “sound bites” and platitudes have no idea just how “Christian” the public words of Hitler sounded then:

He instructed followers to, “turn away from the anti-Christian, smug individualism of the past“; “educate the youth… in the spirit of those of Christ’s words that we must interpret anew“; [Turner, “In Hitler– Memoirs of a Confidant”, Ch. 23]

Frequently in speeches, he rallied audiences by claiming, “God is with us“.

When visited by Methodist women “deaconesses” and asked from where he drew his courage, “Hitler took out of his pocket the New Testament of Dr. Martin Luther, which one could see had been used very much and said earnestly: ‘From God’s word.‘” [Helmreich, p.139].

In order to consolidate support, Hitler even claimed Christ as his Lord:

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior… I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” – Adolph Hitler, Speech, 12 April 1921

Politically, Hitler was also a “social conservative” who, like those of today, presented the state as Saviour from sinful behavior. That alone was sufficient to gain significant Christian support not only in Germany but also in Britain and America.

This included those attending the “Baptist World Alliance” congress in Berlin 1934, where a huge Nazi flag was on display:

“John Sampey, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, cautioned against hasty judgment of a leader (Hitler) who had stopped German women from smoking cigarettes and wearing red lipstick in public. The Watchman-Examiner carried a letter by Boston pastor John Bradbury. Of the congress, he wrote, ‘It was a great relief to be in a country where salacious sex literature cannot be sold;’ [Professor Lloyd Allen on “Church History”, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, May 27, 2002]

“Our observation is, that while Hitlerism is doubtless not the ultimate end… it is for Germany a safe step in the right direction” [Alabama Baptist XCIX 36 (September 6, 1934)]

“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction… From our point of view as representatives of the state, we need believing people.” – Adolph Hitler [The German Churches under Hitler, p.241]

“a struggle against the poisoning of the soul must begin. Our whole public life today is like a hothouse for sexual ideas and simulations… Theater, art, literature, cinema, press, posters, and window displays must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral, political, and cultural idea.” [Hitler – Mein Kampf]

Final Word

It all sounds so familiar:

Prayer in government schools; the state as guardian of what we see and hear; government oversight of drugs or the smoke that goes into our own bodies; cleansing and sanctification from weaknesses of the flesh through the surrender of liberty to external state control.

But although the theme may be familiar; sadly today’s Christians and social conservatives require far less persuasive religious or socially conservative “sound bites” to be deluded into supporting even the most monstrous activities and wars of the state.

It’s time to wake them up.