The Example of the Early Christian Church

As an example of the historical prevalence of this technique and to segue to the solution I am proposing to curtail this cycle of manipulation and violence, consider the example of the early Christian church and the eventual emergence of the American system of government. Biblical and extra-biblical sources indicate that the early church was able to establish a culture counter to and independent of the Roman population that they lived amongst. I would argue that it was the independent nature of the Christian lifestyle, born as the outworking of their beliefs but not necessarily the beliefs themselves that served as the primary motivator for the Roman government to persecute and attempt to put down the spread of the Christian way of life.

Biblical accounts report that believers were able to meet all of each other’s needs, even going so far as abandoning the Roman systems of justice in order to resolve conflicts among their membership. The early Christian Church did not actively rebel against Roman authorities; their charity amongst each other simply resulted in the irrelevancy of the aid Rome had to offer, the government of Rome became obsolete to them. Even more troubling to Rome was the evidence that the charity of the early church extended well beyond its own membership. Julian the Apostate, emperor of Rome from 361 to 363 AD, is famously quoted as remarking:

"Why do we not observe that it is their [the Christians'] benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done the most to increase atheism? [atheism to them was not believing in all of the Roman gods] ... When ... the impious Galileans support not only their own poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us."


Why was this Roman emperor, also known for being a philosopher and social reformer, so concerned with the Christian's care for the poor? Why would he not have been relieved to see the needs of the poor being met and to have that burden lifted from the drain it was on the resources of his government? Was the concern born simply out of a theological difference, was it out of a jealousy for the worship of this despised group that he seems to be wringing his hands? That seems unlikely.

I would argue that his focus on care for the poor was born out of a genuine concern that the power base of the Roman government was being undermined by the poor's growing dependence upon the Christian's benevolence in preference to the aid being offered by Rome. Ultimately, the allegiance born out of this transaction of dependency was so effective that instead of attempting to stamp out the Christian church, it was eventually usurped and integrated into the governmental system and ruled the world for quite some time in the form of the Roman Catholic Church  (this is not intended to besmirch Catholics but just to illustrate the principle that the benevolent power and the violent power are intended to be separate if there is to be liberty for the people). This power structure was essential in establishing the authority in the monarchies of the middle ages, and its influence does not go unnoticed even today. The benevolence of the church was used to garner the political power base and the leadership of the church (often also the leaders of the government) then directed the people toward human kings and administrators that exercised the authority according to the political will of the time.  

Once the political authority was established through the poor’s dependency, the power was maintained by propagandizing the poor to view their position in society according to what was necessary to keep them manageable. People were divided into classes, some with more value than others, and some given divine right (by the actual benevolent authority, the Church) to rule over or even own others. Kings and lords ruled or owned the people and this was tolerated by the people with the occasional or even frequent violent overthrow of a kingdom, each one seeking the proxied authority of the people being held by the Church (the Church holding this proxy by means of their care for the poor).

Fractures began to emerge within the Church's political power base through ideological factions in the form of the Protestant reformation and other political and ideological divisions. These divisions were able to garner pockets of power (through the placation of the masses), such as Calvin's government in Geneva, and while these governments still sought to establish power in the form of human administrators, the dissonance in the system caused some new thought processes to become established and evolve. Eventually, in the American colonies, an attempt was made to establish a government that was created with a principle tenant being the separation of the benevolent power of the church from the violent power of the state.

KEEP READING: The Separation of Church and State is Vital for the Integrity of Both

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