A Bolder Reformation

Alright, I’m just going to say it. I’m not going to take the time and effort to fully develop and defend it (it’s just a Monday morning blog after all), but still I’m going to say it.

The Reformation for all the good it did, did not go near far enough.

Ecclesial and theological reform were long over due and the reformers, Luther et al., made their contributions, God bless ’em.

But the reform which was most desperately needed never happened. And what might that be? The reform of the church’s allegiance to Constantinianism. Which would be the abandonment of Constantinianism.

For my purposes we will understand Constantinianism as the church as vassal of the state, subsidiary of the government, chaplain to the empire.

In this department the Reformation changed nothing. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: The State. Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant — they were all the state churches of their respective nations/empires.

That this was true of the Reformation is evidenced by the fact that the popular acceptance of the Reformation in the states of northern Europe was far more political than theological. Why be beholden to Rome with its defunct empire when new nation-states were emerging in Europe?

OK, let’s not get bogged down in history. Besides, if I continue in this vain I’ll start making my provocative case that in Geneva, Calvin succeeded in creating the first modern police state — and I can just imagine how well that would go over in some quarters. (A tip of my hat to Dmitri Poliakoff for first suggesting this to me.)

What we need is a reformation that would allow the kingdom of God room to breathe.

As long as the church is a chaplain to the empire, the kingdom of God is banished to the realm of private piety.

So that Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of God is among you,” is misunderstood as, “the kingdom of God is within you.” As such the kingdom of God is sequestered to the private inner world of the individual, rather than being expressed as Jesus intended: God’s alternative society actually lived and practiced by his disciples.

Of course this is radical stuff. The most radical of all. 200 proof Jesus. Jesus straight up. Jesus not as shoeshine boy for Caesar.

This is a much bolder reformation.

And people instinctively know it and get their hackles up. (I’m talking about good Christian people.)

Yes, we want to be radical for Jesus…but not that radical!

It makes people nervous because they intuitively recognize if the kingdom of God is unshackled from the state, it then becomes a rival to the state. They correctly recognize that if the kingdom of God is allowed to come into full form, it means that God has no particular allegiance to any of the kingdoms/nations of this world because he has his own! God has his own kingdom/nation. A kingdom/nation in which he has appointed a president/prime-minister/king/emperor for life: The Lord Jesus Christ. In an independently existent kingdom of God the seminal Christian confession of Jesus is Lord takes on the same political implications it had in pre-Constantine Christianity — the Christianity that we often glowingly refer to as “Early Christianity.” This is the Christianity we ostensibly want to recover. This is the Christianity which the Reformers wanted to return to, but, for whatever reason, lacked the vision to attempt, and thus settled for a theologically tweaked Constantinianism. Constantinianism minus indulges, purgatory, Mary worship, etc. But Constantinianism nonetheless.

But in the early years of the third Christian millennium eyes are beginning to open and ears are beginning to hear.

There are voices calling us to have the courage to finally jettison Constantinianism in favor of the kingdom of Jesus…with all of its radical implications.

A bolder reformation.

And I am so happy to hear those voices, and hopefully be one of those voices. So happy that at times I can’t sleep at night.

And when I do finally drift off, I wake up with this prayer in my heart and on my lips…

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.
(Thy government come, Thy policy be done.)

Lord, send a new reformation.
A bolder reformation.
A reformation that is neither state sponsored nor state endorsed.
A reformation that is heaven sponsored and heaven endorsed.
A reformation where you are no longer a propriety deity of the state–
But the Living God who brings about his purposes through the kingdom of Jesus.
Lord, give us courage.
Courage for a bolder reformation.
Courage to endure misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and worse.
The kind of courage Peter and Paul had when they “invaded” the Roman Empire–
Making the gospel announcement: “There is another king: Jesus!”
Lord, give us apostolic vision and apostolic courage;
That a new and bolder re-formation might occur in our day.
In Jesus’ name,


PS: 35 years ago today I became a Jesus follower. And I’m still on the journey.

What if the church said something of this effect to the state?

I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes,
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.
-Bob Dylan, Changing Of The Guards