What, if anything, should the state do about heresy?

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by Haeralis, Mar 16, 2018.

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  1. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    This is an issue which I have been wrestling with for quite a while. Obviously, no Reformed Protestant could possibly say that the government can make people Christians. Only God in His grace and mercy can do such a thing.

    Still, I'm wondering whether this precludes any role whatsoever for the state in preventing the propagation of heresy and blasphemy. I think it would be impossible for a believer to argue for the social utility of heresy / blasphemy. A prudential argument, though, could definitely be made that if we give the government the power to stop any religious movement, it could just as easily oppress true believers should the tide of the culture change.

    I'm a political theory student, but I've went back and forth on this over the years. I think that the law is a reflection of our social values, and if we were a society of Puritans, the law would reflect a God-fearing theology, including legal penalties for heresy and blasphemy. That, therefore, should be our goal though we should be quite reticent about the prospect of this happening any time soon, though nothing is impossible for God.

    Should the American government have had the ability to step in and stop Joseph Smith and Charles Taze Russell from spreading Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witness movement, as well as all of the countless anti-biblical cults which have arisen over the years?

    John Calvin on the Death Penalty for Heresy
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  2. Parakaleo

    Parakaleo Puritan Board Sophomore

    Should they have had the ability? They had the ability and also the responsibility. Idolatry is not a natural right to be preserved. Their failure is grave sin and they will answer to God for it. You're on the right track, Koty. Keep studying.
  3. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    I could not agree more that idolatry is not at all a natural right. It is a contradiction in terms to speak of a natural right to do what is wrong.

    When Peter and Paul speak of the role of government, they provide that government should punish what is evil. 1 Peter 2:13-14, for instance:
    "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good." As heresy is undoubtedly evil, it seems to fall under the bounds of legitimate political authority to quash it. God Himself did not tolerate any such wickedness in the OT law, wherein He commanded the Israelites to execute adulterers, blasphemers, sorcerers, etc.

    How do we practically hold a position such as this without going too far in merging the church with the state? The papists, of course, seemed especially prone to conflating the two in a rather unbiblical way, resulting in the enslavement of thousands of lives under a perverse and unholy "other gospel." Were a system of limited religious toleration in place in the Middle Ages, the people of God such as the Lollards, Hussites, and the Waldensians may not have suffered the heinous crimes against them that they did.
  4. Parakaleo

    Parakaleo Puritan Board Sophomore

    A state that places strictures upon blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking, idolatry, etc., is doing nothing more or less spiritual than when they place strictures upon theft and murder. All men are bound by the moral law by virtue of having God as their Creator. It is immoral to commit blasphemy. The civil authorities act in an immoral manner when they turn a blind eye to idolatry or Sabbath-breaking, kicking against the Creator, and are violating 1 Peter 2:13-14 to their own peril.

    The church, on the other hand, has no coercive power. Church officers are not to lord over the people and place strictures upon them of a physical sort. They are to guide and lead ministerially in a way the civil authority is not enabled to, opening and shutting the kingdom of heaven to people through rulings and judgments in accordance with Christ's word for the church. The church also has responsibility to give sound judgments to the state with a prophetic voice, that it would wield the sword in a way that is right in God's sight (this was a major function of the Westminster Assembly).

    These powers are to operate side-by-side in a harmonious way.

    That's just a bit of a start. I may come back to this as I think of other items. I hope this has been somewhat helpful!
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2018
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  5. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    You don't want the state getting involved with church matters even if it were to clear up heresy. The state needs to stay out of church matters.....far away from church matters. I wish the state would stay out of a lot more other things!
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  6. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Here is Turretin on the civil magistrate

    A godly magistrate can call a council, for magistrates are nurse-fathers to the church (Isa. 49:21-23, p. 308).

    On The Civil Magistrate

    Thirty Fourth Question: What is the right of the Christian magistrate about sacred things, and does the care and recognition of religion belong in any way to him? We affirm.

    1. Thesis: the pious and believing magistrate cannot and ought not to be excluded from all care of religion and sacred things, which has been enjoined upon him by God (316)
      1. “A multiple right concerning sacred things.”
      2. Isaiah 49.23 calls him a “nursing father” to the church.
      3. Magistrates are called “gods” (Ps. 82.6).
      4. Natural law argument: to him is commended the safety of the commonwealth and all things pertaining to it, which includes religion.
    2. Explanation: While magistrates may not usurp the calling of preachers, they may still discharge the duties of their own office.
      1. As ministers may not draw the sword, so magistrates may not take the keys of the kingdom.
      2. Jesus told kings to “Kiss the Son” (Ps 2).
    3. Magistrates have a limited, not absolute sacred right.
      1. Stated negatively
        1. He cannot make new articles of faith.
        2. He cannot preach or administer the sacraments.
        3. He cannot exercise church discipline
      2. Stated positively
        1. Establish sacred doctrine in the state and reform it when it falls, as per Asa, Josiah, etc.
        2. Protect the church, restrain heretics, promote the glory of God.
        3. Open and encourage schools (320).
        4. Convene councils
    4. Political power is occupied with a thing either directly and immediately, or indirectly, mediately, and consequently..
      1. In the former, it is concerned with the external man.
      2. In the latter, with spiritual.
      3. If the title “Head of the Church” is applied to the magistrate, then it can only be applied in an external, defensive way (322).
    5. Can he compel to faith? (323ff)
      1. “No one ought to be forced to faith.”
    6. What about heretics?
      1. Heretics should be punished, but not capitally (327ff).
      2. They can poison a nation just as thoroughly as an “external criminal.” However, Turretin makes a distinction between the ringleaders and those deceived. The latter shouldn’t really be punished.
      3. Turretin gives three propositions:
        1. Heretics can be coerced.
        2. Most heretics shouldn’t be executed.
        3. One may kill blasphemous arch-heretics (332).
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  7. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    The problem is, who determines what is heresy? If the government in question were Roman Catholic, then no doubt all of us would be heading to the gallows. I’m just not sure it is possible for any government to enforce laws against heresy considering the fractured nature of the church.

    As for Joseph Smith, he was essentially executed, and it actually helped the Mormon church to grow.
  8. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    The murder of Smith is debatable if that helped that movement grow. I see it as God sending them toward the left coast away from major populations. :)
  9. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    I studied the life of Smith extensively when I was in seminary, and he was literally on the verge of being exposed as a fraud and serial adulterer when he was killed. His death provided a martyr for his remaining followers and galvanized their own belief that they were being persecuted by modern day Egyptians and must head to the western promised land far away from the clutches of the American Pharaoh.
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  10. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Until Jesus returns and set up His Kingdom in full upon this earth, God allows for things that you mentioned to be practiced and tolerated. especially here in a republic form of government that we have established.
  11. beloved7

    beloved7 Puritan Board Freshman

    No, because the perception of heresy is subjective, and would change over time with political winds.
  12. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I think this freedom to act and do, even if against God, was the freedom that the Founders of America put down and codified into the Constitution. They knew Europe fought many wars over expressions of differing religions viewpoints.
  13. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    If we give the power of the sword to the government, if we allow men to take the life of other men, might not they abuse that power and kill the innocent? Absolutely they have and will but that does not negate what God requires (Genesis 9:5-6). Maybe husbands will abuse headship but does that negate headship? Ad nauseam. So let us avoid pragmatics (at least as the foundation).

    Besides, Christians (somewhere) will always be persecuted; that cannot be negated either, whether or not we attempt to create a state that tolerates error of any kind.

    What does God require?
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  14. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    What does the lord permit at this time, the time before the Second Advent?
  15. beloved7

    beloved7 Puritan Board Freshman

    This is a non issue, and quite frankly, an absurdity. Last century, the leading cause of human death, second only to natural death, was democide. Any proposal to give the government more power than it already has is historicaly, and logically ignorant.
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  16. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Did you not just answer your own question above? Or are you now not certain? [​IMG]
  17. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Strictly speaking, God in his providence allows everything, but not everything is morally permissible.
  18. Gforce9

    Gforce9 Puritan Board Junior

    I immediately call upon this government and governments everwhere to cease engaging in heresy.....:2cents:
  19. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    Exactly! Most people in the federal government or in state governments wouldn't know a Bible if they tripped over one. I'm already laughing at the idea of Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi or some useless Congresscritter fulminating against heretics. What a joke!

    Government - stay away!
  20. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    We are the people of means [that is, God's appointed means, and what He requires (as the Rev. Daniel Kok mentioned above)], and God is the Lord of results. We ought not to shrink back from obedience because of what we perceive to be a bad thing, or has potential to be something we perceive to be a bad thing, etc. If the Lord commands it, then we ought endeavor to do it. We acknowledge that the secret things belong to the Lord our God, and to us -to do all the works of the Law. Here is a relevant quotation regarding a typical strawman against Establishmentarianism (i.e. that it creates hypocrites):

    Daniel Cawdrey, Independency a Great Schism:

    Toleration . . . hath done much more towards the rooting of Religion, out of the hearts of many men, in 7 years,than the enforcing of uniformity did in 70 years . . . . To compel uniformity , (in a true, or false way) may, by the corruptions of men’s hearts, breed Hypocrisy, Formality, Atheism and Anxiety of conscience in some. But good and gracious souls, have been discovered, and purified by it, as the three Children, and Martyrs have manifested . . . . Many, at least some that were enforced to conformity in the worship of God, in families, or congregations, have blessed God for that compulsion; who before were Atheists or profane while they had a cursed intolerable toleration, to be of any or no Religion. Lastly, the will indeed cannot be forced to believe; but that professed Christians should be compelled to the external profession of that only way of worship, which Christ hath instituted seems as equal & reasonable , as it is unreasonable, that men be left to their own choice, to worship God, either not at all, or after their own fancies. And he that denies this, seems to me, to be, if not an Atheist, a Skeptic in Religion.​

    And -if we're going to be pragmatists- just for the sake of argument: Rightly we decry murder and would see murderers stopped and put down, etc. How much moreso, then, soul-murderers (hear Mr. Rutherford)?

    If the Lord:

    1. Is decidedly against "freedom of religion" -and He is (Thou shalt have no other gods before me),


    2. Has commanded by way of 5th Commandment that men should subdue their callings (and all actions) to Christ in such a way that is not only for their own advancement, but for the advancement, protection, and righteousness of their own superiors, equals, and inferiors -and He has, then -

    It stands to reason, both logically and biblically, that is required of those men who rule over a nation -according to their place and station and sphere of authority- to uphold the true religion, and suppress and punish the practice of false religion.

    We are not discussing -at this time- what is, but what ought to be. Let us pray and endeavor toward our own duties in such a way that the Lord would be pleased to change the hearts of people that they would desire godly leaders who would do these things. Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
  21. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    If it was mandated by law that you must be a believing Christian to hold civil office, that would have prevented people like Trump and Pelosi from taking power in the first place.

    I'm thinking more abstractly here about what would be ideal and biblical, not necessarily what is possible given our current pluralistic and relativistic government. This climate may very well be the result of a social abdication of a Christian understanding of politics, so that's something to consider.

    I'm not a theonomist or a reconstructionist, but I do look back at colonial America as well as the America about 100 years after the Constitution and admire how they had state / local provisions against things such as blasphemy first amendment notwithstanding.

    In The People v. Ruggles, NY Supreme Court Justice James Kent struck down a blasphemers appeal to the First Amendment on the following grounds:

    "Though the Constitution has discarded religious establishments, it does not forbid judicial cognizance of those offences against religion and morality which have no reference to any such establishment, or to any particular form of government, but are punishable because they strike at the root of moral obligation, and weaken the security of the social ties. We stand equally in need, now as formerly, of all that moral discipline, and of those principles of virtue, which help to bind society together. The people of this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice; and to scandalize the author of these doctrines is not only, in a religious point of view, extremely impious, but, even in respect to the obligations due to society, is a gross violation of decency and good order."

    Were our courts only so wise today.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2018
  22. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    Also worth considering is the view of the Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, appointed by President Madison, who wrote one of the most revered commentaries on the Constitution ever published. Of the First Amendment Freedom of Religion, he said the following:

    "It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether any free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape."

    "The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age."

    It seems like Americans closer to the period of the Founding clearly recognized the importance of Christianity to the social fabric of the country even though they upheld the First Amendment's prohibition of an established religion.
  23. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Try using church discipline against a high profile homosexual and see if the state isn't involved.
  24. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This is your friendly govt reminder: the state will involve itself in the church whether you give it permission or not.
  25. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    The magistrate, as much as any private individual, is bound by the law of God. And he has been given the sword to uphold and enforce it. It is a moral wrong for the magistrate to not punish heretics.

    Let's leave pragmatism aside here. We might talk about abuse of power or who gets to define heresy. But that's avoiding the main point, which is the responsibility of the ruler before God.

    Further, I think it cannot be argued persuasively that religious freedom is a concept either found in or consistent with Scripture.

    "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." That is a rather exclusive statement.

    In a Christian nation with Christian people and Christian rulers, the law of God is above any thought of toleration.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2018
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  26. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    How far are you willing to extend that idea? Should the state suppress Dispensationalists? Baptists? Non-psalm singers? It's a genuine question that you need to think through, if you want the state making these kinds of judgments.
  27. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    That's where it gets difficult. I'm not yet prepared to say how far it should be taken, but I believe the principle stands that the magistrate is responsible before God.
  28. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    It is not a question of simply giving the state more power. Rather, the discussion centres on how far godly government is to be pursued.

    The basic principle is very straightforward: if the magistrate is a Christian, then he should act in the interests of Christians. (It gets more difficult after that, as has been pointed out. To what actual extent is the magistrate to be involved in matters concerning Christ's church?) Naturally, this is at odds with modern ideas of toleration.
  29. brendanchatt

    brendanchatt Puritan Board Freshman

    Really enjoying this thread, Koty.
  30. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Good thoughts. I think we need to distinguish between the most prudent courses a voting citizen or lesser magistrate may take in an effectively heathen nation to preserve the liberty of true worship from the unbending responsibility of a government before the Law of God.

    In the US, the ability for the magistrate (even the President) to punish heresy is minimal and would require a Constitutional amendment to enable which could not happen absent a massive national revival--something we can certainly pray for but which does not appear to be happening at present. Therefore, citizens and magistrates must seek to protect the church, as the US revisions say, and if some believe that it's through a modified libertarianism, that's a matter of prudence and not dogma. The Scriptures do not indicate that Joseph or Daniel attempted or were to attempt prosecution of heathens in (civic) rebellion against their superiors from their positions in foreign kingdoms.

    When a nation is governed by Christians who have the ability to determine the laws of the land, however, I do not see how one could escape the conclusions of the original Westminster confession. Heresy is not merely an ecclesial issue, it is rot and moth to the fabric of society. Does rampant theft harm a nation? Heresy does more. Does dishonesty harm a nation? Heresy does more. If, according to Paul, a magistrate in his proper role is a revenger to execute wrath on him that doeth evil, is that to except the false prophets of heresy and peddlers of idols? Even in the US we at least had laws to prosecute violations of part of the first table in the Sabbath laws at one point.
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