Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Are there characteristically Christian views about religion and political power?

Views about church-state relations have varied over the centuries among Christian groups. Bearing in mind that the following is an oversimplification of a very complicated issue, it is possible to characterize four principal positions on this issue. At some times and in some places, Christians have thought of the state as virtually synonymous with the church. The early years of the Church of England as proclaimed by Henry VIII and the Byzantine church under Constantine are examples. Some traditions have accorded the state enormous power over the church, as with early Lutheranism in northern Europe. Reversing the situation, the church has sometimes dominated the state, as during the heyday of Calvinism in Switzerland. Finally, certain communities of the “radical reformation” proclaimed a total separation of church and state, insisting on their right to reject some aspects of ordinary corrupt society altogether. Some descendants of those communities continue to practice conscientious objection with respect to compulsory military service, for example. Throughout history prior to the Reformation, popes often had stormy relationships with the monarchs of the Mediterranean world. The result was a variety of official church positions ranging from supremacy over temporal power, to an attempt at equal balance between the spiritual and the temporal, to de facto admission that the civil authority held supremacy.


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