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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Church and State: Principles and Imagination

While his theology paralleled Martin Luther's and Ulrich Zwingli's, not all Anabaptists of Hubmaier's time shared his outlook. As noted above, the Anabaptists who composed the Schleitheim Articles had a strong dual kingdom theology; therefore, according to them, a Christian was led by the Spirit whereas government was led by the flesh. Such strong kingdom theology did not permit a Christian to partake of the world's governmental office for it was outside and opposite the Kingdom of Christ. Menno Simons implied that it is the unenlightened and the unsaved 'magistrates and princes' who accept the sword instead of oppose it - because they are 'nothing but earth and flesh, and lack the Spirit of Christ,' they can only act by 'stake, water, fire, wheel, and sword,' in contrast to the Christian whose acts and pursuits are all toward the glory of the loving God.7 Additionally, Hans Denck argued the highest law was that of Christ's love - for which the standard of the Christian ethical guideline was to be compared.8 Pilgram Marpeck, writing around 1540, exhorted all Christians to affirm their citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ and in this way reject all other loyalties.9 While Marpeck contended that holding governmental office was open to Christians insofar as they could rule in accordance with the law of Christ's love, he also believed that such a position between both kingdoms was nearly impossible to maintain.10 Thus, the Christian is in a paradoxical situation if he or she desires a political position for the laws of government, as perceived by this particular Anabaptist group, fundamentally opposed the laws of Christ.

When one summarises Anabaptism, one sees a difficult balance being attempted, perhaps even an ambivalence. The state clearly had a mandate from God, part of which might be to use the sword. Anabaptists were not anarchists. However, even granting this mandate to use the sword, Anabaptists were deeply criticial of the way it was in fact being used, and would hold officials to account using Scriptural teaching, calling attention to the officials' claims to be Christians. Furthermore, many taught that though state was mandated by God, being a Christian government official entailed difficult, even impossible contradictions with the mandate of the Kingdom of God. FOr some this meant absolutely no involvement with the state, for others it meant a limited inovlement. A small minority following Balthasar Hubmaier saw few limits to a Christian's level of involvement. This ambivalence makes it difficult to clearly outline an Anabaptist position on the church and state.

Despite the debates and strong opinions endorsed by each group, the differing views historically held by Anabaptists have not changed through the years - and Christians in our present day struggle with many of the same questions. Every church consists of individuals with differing biases and beliefs, and the major categories have all more-or-less remained. The attitudes of Christians toward the state which one is likely to encounter in any body of believers can be pithily summarised borrowing from H Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture.

  1. The Christ-Against-Culture stance is essentially that of the Anabaptists' two kingdoms model, which places the state apart from Christianity, 'the world' apart from God's people. It is the belief of those who subscribe to this view that sin abounds and therefore 'separation from the world is the preservation of the holy community.'11

  2. The Christ-of-Culture view attempts to harmonise Christ with the ideals of this world, therefore identifying the best of the state with the paradigms of God. Those who subscribe to this attitude believe history will be fulfilled through the kingdom of this world by Jesus' utilisation of the good already existing within humanity, thereby disallowing any notion of God's entering into history to establish a new 'holy order.'

  3. The Christ-Above-Culture position holds the Christian church as superior to the world's state. This view only perceives good in the state because it is believed to be an institution based on God's design - and is believed to be moving toward a future blending of the human order with God's law. God's grace is crucial for this position for it is the only means by which Jesus' teachings can be incorporated into human life - as opposed to the previous Christ-of-Culture view where such good is already present in humanity.

  4. The Christ-and-Culture-in-Paradox stance recognises the separation of both Christianity and the state, while simultaneously acknowledging the necessary function of each. Therefore, the Christian holding to this posture participates in both worlds - in effect, possessing dual citizenship in both kingdoms.

  5. The Christ-Transforming-Culture approach holds that Christians are able to 'renovate' the Kingdom of the World and thereby convert it. Those holding this position recognise the sin of the state, but simultaneously believe that by the power of God it too, along with fallen humanity, can be redeemed.


It will be the temptation of the preacher (as with many topics in this series) to provide a comprehensive guide on all the ins and outs of political participation by Christians. This is not wise. It is also probably not wise to try to define precisely what is and what is not appropriate political involvement for a Christian, though some examples will be helpful. Rather, we suggest that the sermon convey two big convictions kept in tension to portray the basic posture of Anabaptist wisdom on the church and the state and then some stories.

  1. Ibid., 511.
  2. Simons, Complete Writings, 424-425.
  3. Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 269.
  4. Ibid., 271.
  5. Ibid.
  6. H Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1951), 78.