I recently wrote an argument on violent language among believers and how this language can produce actual violence. This week, in my church history class, I’ve been bombarded by account after account of violence among believers in the Reformation. Here is a response to this week’s reading I submitted to my professor. All quotations are taken from Turning Points (Fourth Edition, 2022) by Mark A. Noll.
This chapter in Noll made me so sad. It’s so hard to believe that Christians would treat each other this way.
To preface the series of quotes I want to share, here is a line from the Act of Supremacy (which already just sounds dirty):
“…to repress and extirp all errors, heresies, and other enormities and abuses heretofore used in the same…” It then goes on to say that the king would receive all power and authority as the Head of the Church to “repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offences, contempts, and enormities, whatsoever they be…which…may lawfully be reformed, repressed, etc…. for the conservation of peace, unity, and tranquility of this realm; any usage, custom, foreign laws, foreign authority, prescription, or any other thing or things to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.”(154f)
Now, how was this interpreted and implemented? Unfortunately, this kind of violent language coupled with the marriage of church and state produced violent action which was allegedly “much to the pleasure of Almighty God.” Here are several examples from the text of violent language leading to violent actions taken against fellow believers and members of the body of Christ:
For opposing this and similar moves, dedicated Catholics such as Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More would go to the block. For urging Henry on toward a more complete Reformation, dedicated Protestants such as Robert Barnes and John Frith would join them.(155)
And for [Jan Hus’] heretical views (which included a concentration more on the Bible than on church authority as well as a willingness to question the dicta of church decrees), Hus was burned at the stake.(161)
Thus, in Geneva, Calvin approved the cooperation between secular and ecclesiastical authority that led to the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553 after the heretical publications of this Spanish physician had made him a hunted figure in Catholic as well as Protestant Europe.(167)
On other occasions, as in differences over baptism between Anabaptists and many of the magisterial (or state-church) Protestants, the disagreements were vicious and could lead to the weaker party (always the Anabaptists) being exiled, imprisoned, or even executed.(169)
Theocracy has an ugly history which is stained by the blood of brothers and sisters in Christ shed by fellow believers. People who will spend eternity together were corrupted by the spirit of the world to inflict violence for doctrinal disagreements. This makes me seriously doubt the fruit of much of Christianity from the time of Constantine and during the Reformation itself. While I appreciate a lot of the exegetical contributions of these brothers and sisters, the violence among believers which seems to be so characteristic of this time makes me question just how much the Spirit, who produces patience and gentleness, was present in these disputes.