Liberty and Christianity
"Liberty has not subsisted outside of Christianity." Lord Acton
Western Civilization is running as fast as it can from its Christian heritage, denying the very “mother” that gave it birth. In rejecting its Christian roots it undermines the very foundation that its freedom is built upon. Allow me to very briefly summarize the role that Christianity played in bringing political liberty to the West. This is not the usual “stuff” taught in Western Civilization 101 in most major universities.
The most liberating political force in the history of mankind has been Christianity (Jn. 8:36). Christianity branched from the trunk of godly Old Testament Hebrew religion, and the ancient Hebrew commonwealth (before the era of the kings [1 Sam. 8]) was arguably the most libertarian society in the history of mankind. Christianity inherited from Old Testament faith the bedrock belief in the sovereign, transcendent God Who stands above and judges all humanity, including its systems of civil government. The political order is never ultimate.
Christianity shattered the unity of the ancient, pagan world. The source of that unity was the state, usually identified with society itself, at the head of which was a great political ruler, a king or emperor, thought to be a god or god-like. The unity of the ancient, pagan world consisted of the divinization of the temporal order in the form of the state.
Christianity recognized "another king" (Ac. 17:7). The early Christians recognized that no earthly authority, especially political authority, could be ultimate. God¹s authority is ultimate.
In articulating the doctrine of Jesus Christ, the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) laid the foundation of Western liberty. Jesus Christ alone is both divine and human, fully God and fully Man, the unique link between heaven and earth. He is the only divine-human Mediator. This decision dramatically repudiated every divinization of the temporal order. No state, no church, no family, no man could be God or God-like. This perspective set the early Christians on a collision course with the politic power of Caesar. Christians were savagely persecuted not because they worshipped Jesus Christ, but because they refused to worship the Roman emperor. Polytheistic societies encourage the worship of deities. What they resist is the exclusion of all deities, particularly the state, except the true Deity, the God of the Bible.
Though at times during the medieval period, the Roman church overstepped its authority and acted in tyrannical ways, it often functioned as a countervailing force against the tyranny of the state. The medieval world, despite its many defects, supported a large measure of political liberty in fostering several human institutions besides the church which claimed the allegiance of man: the family, the guild, the feudal lord, and so forth. This meant that the state had to share its authority with other equally legitimate human institutions. No human institution may exercise ultimate authority.
Constitutional limitations on political power, which gave birth in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century to constitutional democracies, started in Christian England with the Magna Carta. England also delivered the first successful assault against the evil doctrine of the divine right of kings during the Puritan Revolution in the first half of the seventeenth century, and in 1688-89 during the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary it secured political liberty. The founding of the United States was the greatest experiment in political liberty of the age, and it operated self-consciously on certain distinctly Christian premises. The Founding Fathers, for example, recognized the Biblical doctrine of original sin and human depravity, and therefore fashioned a system of civil government that divided decision making among several branches and did not give any single branch of civil government with too much power. Second, they argued that the role of civil government is to secure the rights of "life, liberty, and happiness," with which God as Creator endowed all men. Third, recognizing the Biblical doctrine that civil government should protect minorities (Ex. 23:9), they drafted a constitution to which they attached a Bill of Rights, thus inhibiting tyranny arising from quick political change at the whim of democratic opinion.
Political liberty as reflected in the separation of powers, as well as checks and balances; the role of the state in protecting life, liberty, and property; and the constitutional protection of the rights of minorities all these were the outgrowth of Christianity.
In our day abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, materialism, socialism, and the injustice of racism plague the Western world. These tyrannies are all the direct result of the abandonment of Biblical Christianity. The Western world has increasingly accepted the proposal of that first modern political liberal, Jean Jacque Rousseau: the state will emancipate you from responsibility to all non-coercive human institutions like the family, church, and business, if only you submit yourself to the coercion of the state. Modern man has been willing to trade away responsibility to the family and church and business for subjugation to an increasingly coercive civil government. We are returning to the classical, pagan world in which the coercive state is the unifying principle for all of life.
The most vicious, dictatorial, and murderous political regimes in the history of mankind have been non- or anti-Christian: ancient Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, revolutionary France, the Soviet Union, Red China, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and other modern secular states. Humanism is and always has been a recipe for political tyranny.
The only hope for the return of political liberty and the freedom it fosters is a return to orthodox, Biblical Christianity. Christianity is not merely a matrix in which political freedom flourishes; it is the only foundation on which to build a free society.