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John Bradshaw - A Wall of Separation


John Bradshaw - A Wall of Separation
John Bradshaw - A Wall of Separation
TOPICS: 500: Reformation, Reformation

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me for 500, our series on the Reformation. Today: "A Wall of Separation". And my guest is Pastor Lincoln Steed from Liberty Magazine, a magazine dedicated to the separation of church and state and to advancing the concept of religious liberty. Lincoln, thanks for joining me.

Lincoln Steed: Great to be with you.

John Bradshaw: You think most people recognize just how important religious liberty is?

Lincoln Steed: No, I don't think so, although it's like apple pie. Nobody is against religious liberty, nowhere, but the way they define it varies greatly. And that's the problem. The true concept of religious liberty is almost been forgotten, even in the United States, which to its credit still very publicly speaks about a commitment to religious freedom. But even in the United States what it's devolving into very quickly is religious entitlement, and that is not religious liberty.

John Bradshaw: A Wall of Separation, most of us take that for granted today, but you don't have to rewind the calendar too far to get to a place where there was no religious freedom and when religion and government were inextricably woven together. In this program we'll understand why that might be a bit of a problem, or why when you unbind the two, humanity has the opportunity to surge forward under the aegis of the Holy Spirit. Our last program dealt with the Counter Reformation. Let me take a moment to review that. We took you to northern Spain, to the birthplace of Ignatius Loyola. And then we took you to the Vatican City. That was where Ignatius Loyola and others petitioned the Pope. They said, "The Reformation is making a big dent in God's church. Give us the permission we need to establish an organization with a charter that allows us to do whatever we must to win back the ground that the church has lost over the years".

The Counter Reformation unleashed, really, a barrage of Catholic influence as the Roman church sought to retake ground that it had lost. One of the things you heard when I spoke with Dr. Damsteegt that was significant was that theologically the church reasserted itself. The position of the Reformers when it came to the Bible prophecies was that the Roman Catholic Papacy was implicated in Daniel chapter seven and Revelation chapter 13. Many of the Reformers were bold enough to claim that the Vatican was Antichrist. Of course, for Rome this was shocking. That was not news that they wanted broadcast, but now that that was made known, now that there was a case made in the Bible that the church of Rome was implicated in a negative way in the last days of this earth's history, Rome decided something had to be done. No, they didn't reverse any theological positions, and they could not rewrite history, but a couple of Jesuits as it happened were commissioned to reinterpret those prophesies of the Bible.

One version of the newly explained prophesies posited that everything to do with Antichrist had been fulfilled in the past, previously, which is where we get the school of prophetic interpretation known as preterism, or pre-terism. Another scholar invented a system of prophetic interpretation that placed all of the last end time events in the very end of time. Keep in mind, the Reformers were largely historicists in their interpretation of the Bible and Bible prophecy. They looked at prophecy, they looked at the book of Revelation and they said some of that has been fulfilled in the past, some of it is fufilling now, and there will be some that's fulfilled in the future. Not so. Ribera, the Jesuit scholar, he said it's all going to take place down in the end of time.

So if it wasn't fulfilled historically, then it certainly couldn't apply to the church of Rome. Was the Counter Reformation a success? By many measures you'd have to say yes, but you'd have to be the final determiner as to whether or not that was actually so. Well, as we look at A Wall of Separation, this program takes us to the New World from the Old. We travel from Italy to New England. We find ourselves in Providence, Rhode Island and Boston, Massachusets, and we go to the site that has said to be the landing of the original Americans, the pilgrim fathers, who landed at what is said to be Plymouth Rock.

Well, as we find out it almost undoubtedly wasn't exactly Plymouth Rock where they landed, but nevertheless it's a great story. And we go to Plymouth Rock and you might be surprised as I was first time I went there that Plymouth Rock isn't Ayers rock like in Australia. It's not the Rock of Gibraltar. It's kind of a small rock, unimpressive, but nevertheless it stands as an icon and a symbol. And it speaks to us today about new beginnings and about the birth of a new nation. It also, if you listen, will speak to you about religious freedom. Maybe religious freedom isn't the most glamorous of subjects to be talking about, but here's what's fascinating. When you go back to the time of Martin Luther, just 103 years before the landing at Plymouth Rock, Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, just 100 years, a century, 103 years to be exact.

Martin Luther had no concept of religious freedom. You know that Luther initially had no burden to separate from his church. To question the authority of the church, well that was out of the question. To speak back against a Pope, somebody who has a divine right to do what he does and to say what he says, who would even dare to do that? So Martin Luther wasn't as far along the continuum as was Roger Williams. Martin Luther agitated theologically. Martin Luther championed the doctrine of justification by faith.

Martin Luther spoke against the church dispensing grace out of its treasury, against purgatory, that place where one is purged from her or his sins in preparation for heaven. He spoke against purgatory. He spoke against indulgences, and so many other things, but Luther didn't talk about religious freedom. Roger Williams did, and it was important to Roger Williams. Stop and think about where we'd be today without religious freedom. I wonder if you'd, just give that some thought. The United States where It Is Written is based is said to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Those are the words inside the national anthem of the United States of America, the Star Spangled Banner. It wouldn't be either, we couldn't say the United States was either without religious freedom. Very, very significant. Imagine how you would feel if you were told what to believe, if you were told how you could worship, if you were told what you could study, if you were prohibited from freely sharing your faith with somebody else. You couldn't challenge the way things were done at your local church and you couldn't even freely decide to stay away from church. You had to do what you were told to do, and if you didn't, severe was the punishment.

Can you imagine that in the 21st Century? You know what's so very interesting? As you look at the book of Revelation, and you look at the overarching sweep of Bible prophecy, as you look at that great battle between good and evil that's been raging for millennia, you have to come face to face with the inescapable conclusion that in the end of time religious liberty will again be denied. The reason I say that is because in the book of Revelation it says "he causes", or forces, or coerces, "he causes all to receive a mark in their right hand. He causes all to worship the beast". We're not getting into defining that right now, but we can see that in the closing moments of earth's history, religious liberty disappears and coercion becomes the norm again. So these are significant times in which we live.

Look out on this program, we'll take you to a beautiful site in Providence, Rhode Island, an enormous statue of Roger Williams. He's still considered to be an enormously important figure in New England, particularly in Rhode Island, a colony that he created. The statue is there. He's not a forgotten son. Plymouth Rock still exists. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit it every year. That still exists and it's still remembered. But go beyond the surface, and are the issues still remembered? This country was settled by people who were seeking for religious freedom, and God wanted that to be so. Religious freedom. This country was settled by people who were seeking a church without a Pope and a state without a king. The original inhabitants of this place were looking for that.

Now fast forward several hundred years, and what are we looking for today? Are we remembering the issues? Do we remember what Roger Williams stood for? Do we understand what religious freedom is? As Pastor Steed will tell us in a few minutes from now, religious freedom doesn't simply mean I get what I want. Religious freedom means religious freedom for all. A Wall of Separation. You'll be blessed tonight. I'll be back with more in just a moment.

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. 1620, one of the most significant dates in the history of the United States, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say in the history of the world. Martin Luther had nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg 103 years earlier. By 1620, Luther had been dead for more than 70 years, John Calvin for nearly 60, Ulrich Zwingli had died almost 90 years before, Theodore Beza, the disciple of Calvin whose likeness is on the Reformation Wall in Geneva, John Knox who stands to his left, the Englishmen William Tyndale, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, they'd all been gone for decades.

In fact, by the time you get to 1620, the recognizable names of the Reformation had all moved off the scene. It could be said that the Reformation ended around that time with many scholars saying that it came to the end with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, a number of treaties that ended the religious wars in Europe. So at about the time the Reformation ended one of the most significant developments in the proclamation of God's word was getting underway. You could see God's fingerprints all over it. If you've never seen it before, Plymouth Rock, 45 minutes south of Boston in Plymouth, Massachusetts comes as a bit of a surprise. The legend is that Plymouth Rock is where the pilgrims got off the Mayflower when they arrived on these shores in 1620.

The fact is, this is only a fragment of the original Plymouth Rock. The original broke in half in 1774 and souvenir hunters chipped away at the rock over the years, so there's much less of it today than there once was. I know you don't always want the facts to get in the way of a good story, but another fact is that no one ever claimed the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock until 1741, 121 years after the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Harbor. But all that's incidental really. The rock itself is not what's important. Today it's a symbol, a symbol of new beginnings and the pioneer spirit. It's an icon visited by more than a million people a year.

So what were the pilgrims doing anyway landing at Plymouth Rock, or wherever it was they landed? Understand that and you'll understand the birth of a great nation. You'll see how the guiding hand of God shepherded his people and fostered the growth of the principles of the Protestant Reformation. So let's back up a few years. The pilgrims on board the Mayflower were Puritans, English Protestants who were committed to purifying the Church of England of Catholic practices. The seeds for the English Reformation were sown by Patrick and Columba and Aidan and others like them. Centuries later, John Wycliffe was described as "the morning star of the Reformation".

And then there was William Tyndale who heroically stood up against King Henry VIII and translated the Bible into English at a time when such a translation was desperately needed. With his dying breath, Tyndale prayed that God would open the eyes of Henry VIII, which God did only two years later when the king gave his permission for four different translations of the Bible into the English language. It was Tyndale's scholarship that provided the lion's share of the King James Version of the Bible. But even though the church in England, or the Church of England, had separated from Rome, it was in desperate need of reform.

Now while it's true that England's King Henry VIII was strongly motivated to separate from the Roman Catholic Church because it would not annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in the 1530's, England's antipathy towards Rome ran much deeper than that. There were significant doctrinal issues that separated the two, but the Puritans wanted even more than that. Even though the Church of England was structurally independent from Rome, that wasn't enough for the Puritans. They believed that when it came to matters of Christian faith and Christian worship, that to depart from what the Bible said was both unnecessary and unwise. They wanted to follow the example of the Lutherans or the Reformed Protestants elsewhere in Europe and return to what they believed was a more Biblical form of Christianity.

Yet, the Church of England continued to embrace many of the forms of Catholicism. The Protestant Movement was separated largely into two wings. The Lutheran, Calvinistic wing, often called Reformed Theology, primarily after the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin; and the Armenian wing, which was patterned after the teachings of Jacob Arminius and others who focused on the role of Christian free will in the salvation process, along with practical teaching such as nonparticipation in war and separation of church and state. The Puritans of England clearly took their beliefs from the Lutheran, Calvinistic wing. And this would be demonstrated by their views on religious freedom, particularly when they came to the New World.

The Puritans played a significant role in the political history of England throughout the 17th Century. For a time, the Puritans ruled the country under the leadership of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell during the 1650's. Early in the 1600's, King James I decided that he would not tolerate the agitation of the Puritans any longer. They'd either come into line with the policies and practices of the Church of England, or they would leave. And many of them left. It was difficult for those who lived in England. Many of them began describing themselves as Separatists, because they came to the conclusion that the Church of England was never going to change. Many of them fled to the Dutch Republic, which at the time was more favorable to Reformed Protestantism.

Life was hard for those immigrants. Many of them had been farmers and they were not able to farm in their new homeland. Instead, they had to learn a trade, but they considered these difficulties just part of God's way of forming in them a godly character. "They knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits". But many of those pilgrims chose to leave the Netherlands and return to England before leaving again onboard a ship called the Mayflower. They were headed for the New World. Now some pilgrims didn't make it. I'll tell you more in just a moment.

This is It Is Written. There were actually two ships that left England, bound for what would become known as the United States of America. There was the Mayflower and the Speedwell. Together they left Southampton on August the 5th, 1620, but the Speedwell leaked, not great for a ship intending to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Both ships stopped in Dartmouth so the Speedwell could be repaired. After leaving Dartmouth, they made it 350 miles beyond land's end before it was discovered that the Speedwell was taking on water again. So once more, they returned to Dartmouth. The Mayflower decided it would push on without the Speedwell. Some of the Speedwell's passengers crammed into the Mayflower, and so the Mayflower, with 102 passengers and between 25 and 30 crew, headed off on what would be a miserable voyage, but they made it.

Slowly, but surely, life was established here in this new land. More and more people would follow in the footsteps or in the wake of the pilgrims of England. They were driven by a desire for liberty of conscience, but they really didn't understand what that truly was. The idea that God has given the right to control the conscience to the church and has given the church the right to define and punish heresy is a school of thought that came right out of Rome. So while these people had rejected many of the doctrines of Rome, they retained the spirit of Rome: intolerance. Any church they set up would ultimately be a church-state. They dictated that only church members could have a say in government. The secular power was in the hands of the church, which can only lead in one direction: persecution.

In 1631, when Boston was a brand new settlement, a Puritan minister not 30 years old arrived here from England. Roger Williams was a separatist. He believed that for a person to be truly faithful to God, that person should separate from the Anglican Church. He and his wife Mary would have six children, all born in the New World: Mary, Freeborn, Providence, Mercy, Daniel, and Joseph. It wasn't long and people knew he was here. Roger Williams was the first person in this land to stand up for something that today we regard as a right. He believed that liberty of conscience was the inalienable right of all people, whatever their religion.

He went so far as to establish government upon the principle of religious freedom. He was the first person in modern Christianity to do that. Williams believed that the government had no place dictating to individuals when it came to religious matters. That was an entirely new way of thinking. It was revolutionary. In the early days of the colonies, church attendance was required by law. You could be fined or even imprisoned for not attending church. Williams was scandalized by this and he decided to do something about it.

Lincoln Steed: And it didn't trouble the Puritans whatsoever, that while they'd left a bad situation, to come to the New World they just set the same model where they would say everyone had to go to church. You'd be fined. You had to abide by what the minister said. No freelance religion. Roger Williams comes along, and he was the conscience and really the guiding light of the true principles of religious liberty that we're keeping alive today.

John Bradshaw: It seems strange to be talking about a battle over religious freedom in the United States, but keep in mind the times and the mindset then. The Church of Rome had taught very thoroughly that there was no religious freedom. It claimed to be the voice of God in the world. The church spoke, church members did what they were expected to do. So even though the Church of England had separated from the Roman Catholic Church, it still retained a lot of Rome's ideas. So when the Puritans came to the free world, they were still hung up on the concept of the church saying, "jump" and the faithful saying, "how high". They had not embraced the concept of religious liberty. So in spite of the Reformation, further reform was still needed.

So while the pilgrims and other Puritan settlers came to these shores for the purpose of exercising their own liberty of conscience, many didn't believe in extending the same right to those who held different beliefs. Freedom was fine for themselves, but not for people who taught and practiced things they disagreed with. One historian described this attitude with these words, "New England divines (pastors and theologians) insisted repeatedly that demand for uniformity of religious practice in no way violated liberty of conscience. They contended that there were two types of liberty: natural (or corrupted) liberty and the 'liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.' Liberty to practice error came under the former heading and was not really liberty at all, but license, the 'liberty for men to destroy themselves.'"

Roger Williams is truly one of the towering figures in the American story. And he's one of the towering figures in the advance of the Word of God. Not only did he advocate religious freedom for all, he was also one of the earliest and most vocal opponents of slavery on these shores. He advocated fair treatment for Native American tribes. He also learned many of the languages of the tribes in the Northeast. He'd run into trouble with the Anglican Church before he came to America. When he got here and he found the same principles of intolerance in a place that was supposed to be a haven for liberty, it disturbed him. He did not agree with the Puritan's attempts to set up a theocracy. He said, "forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God". Williams believed that Constantine was worse for the church than Nero, because Constantine successfully united the power of the civil government with the authority of the church. And before long, things would get much worse for Roger Williams. I'll have more in a moment.

John Bradshaw: 500 years after the Protestant Reformation began on October 31st, 1517, we might be tempted to wonder what Luther, and Knox, and Zwingli, and Calvin, and Farel, and Beza, and the Huguenots, and the Anabaptists, and so many others achieved. Today it would seem that the protest is over, even though the most influential church in the world offers indulgences, hears confessions, teaches justification by faith and works, considers Mary the queen of heaven, where are the Protestants today? Protestants are being welcomed back into the Church of Rome, and many see this as positive. It's being said it's more important to be divided by truth than it is to be united by error. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4, verse two, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine". The word, anything less will never do.

I'm John Bradshaw for It Is Written. Let's live today by every word. 100 years after the Reformation ended, there was still a lot of reform left to be accomplished. As long as there was no liberty of conscience, and as long as the state was united with the church, the church was a long way short of where it should be from a Biblical perspective. The man who would bring the needed change was a Cambridge educated Englishman who moved to the colonies six weeks after his 27th birthday. Williams was forced to leave Massachusetts, and he went into exile in 1636. In the winter, he journeyed through the forests, not knowing where he was going. Along the way he made friends with many of the natives and later said that he would rather live with Christian savages than savage Christians. His journeys led him here, to a place that he would name Providence, convinced that the providence of God had guided him. It was Roger Williams, not Thomas Jefferson who first coined the phrase "wall of separation" so far as church and state are concerned.

In 1644, Williams described the need to build a "wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world". Leonard Levy, a U.S. Constitutional Scholar commented on these words of Roger Williams with the following statement. "Thus, the wall of separation had the allegiance of the most profound Christian impulse as well as a secular one. To Christian fundamentalists of the Framers' time the wall of separation derived from the Biblical injunction that Christ's kingdom is not of this world". The fundamental principle of Roger Williams' colony was that every man should have liberty to worship God according to the light of his own conscience. Rhode Island's founding principles, civil and religious liberty, became the cornerstones of the American Republic. This was extremely significant.

And so today, the Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they're endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". The Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience in religious matters. "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States". "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". It was this environment that allowed the preaching and the teaching of the Bible to flourish. Of course, there have been those who have abused their religious freedom, but just think of the alternative: a world in which you're not free to believe what you believe. That's the world Martin Luther faced when he nailed the 95 Theses to that famous door back in 1517. Word began to spread back in Europe about a place where a person could worship God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.

As one historian wrote, "Massachusetts, by special law, offered free welcome and aid, at the public cost, to Christians of any nationality who might fly beyond the Atlantic 'to escape wars or famine, or the oppression of their persecutors.' And so the fugitive and the downtrodden were, by statute, made the guests of the commonwealth". The colonies grew, and the world saw the prosperity and the increasing strength of a church without a pope and a state without a king. In this patch of earth, Roger Williams raised up a memorial to religious freedom. The establishment of the Rhode Island Colony was a landmark event in the history of the Protestant Reformation, a new haven in a new land where people would finally be free to follow the dictates of their own conscience when it came to matters of faith. Even the Puritans of Roger Williams' day couldn't accept his thinking.

You see, it was the prevailing belief 400 or so years ago that the civil government had every right to dictate to people's conscience. That did not sit well with Roger Williams and it led him into deep conflict. But the conflict that he experienced brought to everyone that followed freedom. Now of course, that meant that if you wanted to opt out to practice no religion, to disagree with the church, then it was your right to do so. And it's this spirit of religious liberty that's described in the New Testament, just a few verses from the end of the Bible where the bride of Christ blends her appeal with that of the Holy Spirit in urging humanity to accept God's gift of salvation.

"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' And let him who thirsts come; and whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely". Freedom of conscience would take hold in America in a way not seen in any other civil experiment in human history. The inalienable right to worship and follow conscience as a person chooses would become one of the main cornerstones of the American experience, and of the final stages of the Protestant Reformation. Roger Williams demonstrated how important it is for believers to press forward. While the Reformation accomplished an enormous amount in terms of opening up the Bible and bringing the light of God's Word to the human mind, there was still a lot left to accomplish, much more to learn, more for the church and more for believers as they grew towards God's ideal.

John Robinson was a pastor of pilgrims in Holland. And he said this to many who were preparing to leave for the New World. "Brethren, we are now erelong to part asunder, and the Lord knoweth whether I shall live ever to see your faces more. But whether the Lord hath appointed it or not, I charge you before God and His blessed angels to follow me no farther than I have followed Christ. If God should reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as ever you were to receive any truth of my ministry; for I am very confident the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of His Holy Word". I'm confident the Lord has more. God has more for you in His Word. That was true in the time of the pilgrims, and that commitment to the Bible, to the progress of God's light would lead others to advance the course of the Reformation and guide multitudes into a deeper understanding of God and His Word.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on 500 brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is Pastor Lincoln Steed. He's the editor of Liberty Magazine, which for 111 years has been advancing the cause of religious liberty and the concept of the separation of church and state. Pastor Steed, thanks for joining me.

Lincoln Steed: My pleasure.

John Bradshaw: Religious liberty, okay. What is it?

Lincoln Steed: Religious liberty is the freedom that you have in Christ to worship Him and to explain that to other people. And, you know and that's the bottom line, but when you're dealing with civil society, often there are claims the state has upon its citizens and there are assumptions the people have about authority.

John Bradshaw: Now you mentioned when we began the program that today what most people believe in is religious entitlement.

Lincoln Steed: In the United States.

John Bradshaw: Yeah. So what's that, how do you define that?

Lincoln Steed: Well they want a special legislative and social privilege for their particular religious viewpoint, and in the United States you often hear more and more today that this is a Christian nation. Now, they don't mean a Muslim nation, they certainly don't mean that it's a secular nation. They mean Christian. They don't necessarily mean Protestant anymore, but they believe a nation that will support their particular viewpoints, of course the right to worship, but it might be more and more their right to legislatively guarantee certain moral viewpoints. And so it's putting a certain class of religionists up against secularists and indeed up against some other religious viewpoints. That's not religious liberty. It's sometimes been said, in fact I say it a lot, that the simple way to understand if something is religious liberty or not: is there coercion involved. If there is, it's not religious liberty. It certainly doesn't comport at all with the original vision of people like Roger Williams who had a very distinct idea of the rights of the state and of the church.

John Bradshaw: Unpack that for me a little bit. Where was Roger Williams on all of this? Because he came from the Old World to the New World and discovered we don't have freedom here, which is a little bit of a surprise. A surprise that people who were escaping persecution brought persecution with them on the boat. How did Williams see this, and what did he do to bring religious freedom to the colonies? Because without Williams, we may not have any semblance of freedom of faith.

Lincoln Steed: I purposely brought him up, and I know you have a concern with Roger Williams. In Europe the Reformation had precursors. In England, and you and I and most of our viewers certainly in the United States look to the thread of English history, and the Reformation in England started with John Wycliffe, the distribution of the Bible and the Lollards, his followers that he sent out, and seeded the whole country with Protestant views, or I'll put it another way, the viewpoint of individual religious freedom. In the United States, I think we see him the same way. Of course this was before this Republic was formed, way before 1776 and the events separating from England, but it was a very formative period, and he was the conscience and really the guiding light of the true principles of religious liberty that we're keeping alive today.

John Bradshaw: Now a lot of fine people will hear you speaking and they'll think that you're an insurrectionist or a radical because...

Lincoln Steed: Well they thought Roger Williams was, absolutely.

John Bradshaw: ...Well, so let me bring this around to a question that wisdom might later dictate I should've stayed right away from. See a lot of people, because of... probably haven't really given this a lot of thought, just see no problem with the state enforcing or endorsing certain religious principles as long as they're theirs. Would Roger Williams have supported the idea of prayer in schools?

Lincoln Steed: No.

John Bradshaw: Why not? What's wrong with having the kids pray to God in school?

Lincoln Steed: You want the state to decide what those prayers must be, how they are worded, how they're directed, how they're orchestrated, what terms you apply to them? That's not good. What I really want to bring out that hardly anybody seems to remember, it's a plain matter of historical record, but Roger Williams didn't just appear full blown suddenly off the ship from England.

John Bradshaw: Sure.

Lincoln Steed: There was a huge movement in England that had begun with John Wycliffe. He made the Bible available to people. People were stirring and thinking that they had rights, they had obligations before God, not to the church. At the time that Roger Williams left England, they were in a ferment of religious opposition, not against the Catholic Church; the Protestant Reformation had taken place; but the true reformation in an understanding of religious liberty was still developing. The Church of England was being administered in the same way. You had to worship at church. You couldn't think anything except what they told. You'd be fined if you preached in the streets as a freelance preacher. And Roger Williams, early on, saw that this could not be.

John Bradshaw: Let's back up. Let's back up. We'll go back to the time of Martin Luther. Let's transport ourselves to Martin Luther's day. And we'll look around and we're asking ourselves, "what's religious freedom looking like here"? in Luther's Wittenberg. Explain that.

Lincoln Steed: Well they didn't have religious freedom. You were to do as the church and the state said. It was partly that the church had established this absolutist sort of relationship to its constituency, but I think more particularly they were barely out of the Medieval period where you were owned by the lord, you didn't have individual rights. Forget religion, you didn't have rights, period. Even the lord was a vassal of the king, so it would never have occurred to anybody to think independently. I'm constantly amused when I watch Hollywood type movies that are set in these periods and you have you know the hero backchatting the king. They didn't do that. You didn't have civil or religious rights. And the Catholic Church was established in that. They were not going to grant anything other than that. What broke it apart, I believe, was two things. Socially there was the movement of people from the land to small shopkeepers and small business owners, they were not bound by Medieval obligations. And then the printing press came about. There was some technical advancements. And it's worth remembering, at the time of the Reformation there were about five-million books already distributed in Europe, most of them Bibles. That's the singular reason. With the loosening of civil constraints and then some knowledge of what the word was, it was unstoppable.

John Bradshaw: This is what I was going to ask you next. You really preempted the question. Why'd it take so long? I mean religious liberty, Roger Williams, what about Martin Luther? He wasn't talking anything about religious liberty and religious freedom.

Lincoln Steed: No.

John Bradshaw: It took all the way down to the time of Williams. Why so long? Maybe you've answered that already.

Lincoln Steed: Well, I think it's a technical question. Knowledge, you know the Bible predicts the end times. It says "knowledge will be increased and men run to and fro". There was minimal knowledge. It was called the Dark Ages for a number of reasons, but not least of which learning and literacy was very low. People couldn't read. I myself have railed in sermons against the Bible chained to the front of the church and people weren't allowed to get to it, but they didn't need to chain it. It was meaningless to them. And the first thing Martin Luther did apart from the 95 Theses, he started printing little tracks and things that went out and around, and of course he translated the Bible into German. I believe that's the singular thing that broke apart the hold that the church and the state had on hitherto ignorant citizenry.

John Bradshaw: Thank so much. We'll be back with more. Wait right there. We have much more from Pastor Lincoln Steed from Liberty Magazine coming right up.

John Bradshaw: Welcome back to 500. I'm John Bradshaw from It Is Written. I'm glad to have with me Pastor Lincoln Steed, who's the editor of Liberty Magazine, which for more than 110 years has championed the cause of religious freedom and has spoken about the separation of church and state. Pastor Steed, so religious liberty in Roger Williams day. He comes to Massachusetts. On a day to day experiential level, what does it look like for people in terms of religious freedom or not having it?

Lincoln Steed: Well they didn't have it. Early on they condemned Anne Hutchinson, who was a woman, a citizen of their little model experiment. And she was brought to task and she refused to be silent, so they banned her, sent her away. And most people don't know. She fled into the wilderness, just like Roger Williams. And then a few years later, her and her entire family and the many who went with her, they were killed by the Indians. At the time everyone said, "This is a judgment of God. Therefore, she must've been wrong to question the magistrates".

John Bradshaw: Explain then how you think Roger Williams, the phenomenon that was Roger Williams has effected life for us today. What did he hand down to people living today?

Lincoln Steed: Well he effected the Baptists, the Baptists picked up on the Roger Williams approach where he said that there was a wall or a hedge in the garden that should separate church and state, and there was to be no authority that transferred between the two, be totally separate. Yeah, that was a thread that came through from him, but it was not the general social thread. We've inherited really the other thread I think, the idea that we use legislation to support religious liberty. At the moment I think we're at the real crossroads of these two threads from early Americana. One was established in the Constitution after much argument, and I think as much as anything, a fear of other religious groups. They jointly put the first Amendment in place that says, "Congress will make no law establishing a religion, nor prevent the free exercise thereof". That was called by Thomas Jefferson the wall of separation. But I'm telling you, you go to many religious get-togethers now of the so called religious right, and they will openly dismiss that and almost spit at that concept. They say they don't believe in the separation of church and state.

John Bradshaw: According to the documents that guide our government, what are we entitled to in terms of religious freedom, religious liberty today?

Lincoln Steed: Well by the first Amendment, it's both the strength and the weakness of the Constitution that it deals in sweeping statements, but doesn't get into the particulars, but it did essentially mandate a hands off approach. But those that want otherwise of course have an angle, because in the several states they all had, not all, most of them had established churches. But on the Federal level they were to stay away from religion. I think that's been a very good protective mechanism. There's no question.

John Bradshaw: But where are we heading today? Where are we going in terms of religious liberty in this country? Where are we going?

Lincoln Steed: Well as I say, this is a very free country. I mean I'd be foolish to make a case that you're going to be persecuted directly or inhibited in any general sort of a way in the United States. It's got a general freedom of function and of practice, but we're heading close to a new sort of an entitlement, and along with that I believe the first line that's being crossed is an establishment one, the idea that the state should support the true faith or the truest elements. In recent years President Bush for example brought in the faith based initiative. Remember that?

John Bradshaw: Sure.

Lincoln Steed: Seems ancient history now, but it established a bad precedent, because billions of dollars in welfare moneys that were going to people through the federal government were then routed through churches. And I remember talking to one of the government lawyers, Carl Esbeck was his name. He was in the Justice Department to oversee of the faith based initiative. I said to him. I said, "Tell me, under this program where you have to decide which churches are safe to run the money through, how does that differ from countries like France where they had a list of acceptable and unacceptable churches". It's a defacto acceptability list. And once you start doing that, and the church or the state rather has a favorite religion or a favorite charity that it supports, by definition religious liberty is broken down in the whole. We're heading toward that very quickly. But we're in the attack on establishment. The free exercise, not yet. But it probably will come, because eventually you can't have an imbalance in these two elements of the first Amendment.

John Bradshaw: Now a few hundred years ago, the Roman Catholic Church was in the cross-hairs of the Reformers. They ruled absolutely. In fact, somebody famously said, "power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely", and said that in reference to the Roman Catholic Church. So we kind of got beyond that. We live in many places in a Protestant society, particularly in North America. The power of the Roman Catholic Church and its influence is on the rise. If you were reading the tea leaves, how would you say this could affect issues dealing with religious freedom as we move forward?

Lincoln Steed: Well, the Roman Catholic Church of course cries foul when you talk history. There was a document not too many years ago called "Memory and Reconciliation" where they disavowed things like the persecution of the Jews, the Crusades, the Counter Reformation, excesses and so on. Although I read the document and it said is it really possible to ascribe guilt to those of a previous age? And then it drew a very strange parallel. It said, "Just as Christ, perfect and undefiled and incapable of error took upon himself the sins of fallen human beings, so the magisterium of the church, holy and incapable of error, will apologize for the actions of some of its adherents". You know that's not an apology. That's an affirmation of their...

John Bradshaw: Superiority.

Lincoln Steed: Yeah, their superiority. In a neat way they sort of cut themselves off from history. It's true, they have changed in many practical ways, but from history, which I love to study, I think the easiest way is to say the Roman Catholic Church, while it's part of the continuum of Christianity, it really is also the continuum of the holy, well not holy, of the Roman Empire itself. It never went away. And the proof is in the pudding. Whenever there's big agreements, like setting up the European Union, or the European Common Market as it once was called, all these agreements are made in Rome. The Pope, I believe, operates, again, as the religious godfather of European actions.

So I'd be careful because even with good intentions they can't totally structurally remove themselves from what they were and became. It is worth mentioning that, at the moment, the Roman Catholic Church is reordered somewhat on religious liberty by a document that came out of the Second Vatican Council. It was a statement on the rights of man, Dignitatis humanae. It says that everybody has the right to believe what they want, and to change their religion, and to witness to other people. I don't know if you were aware of that. Most people are not.

For example, I was at a meeting at Catholic University where Cardinal Dolan was addressing the mostly Catholic group. And in the middle of his speech on religious liberty he stopped and he looked around, and he said, "You know, the Catholic Church once would not have spoken this way about religious liberty. We once held that error has no rights". And then he went on. And after a short break they reconvened and they dispensed with the program. The audience kept calling out, "What did the Cardinal mean? What was he talking about"? And they had to be told that Vatican Two and this document changed everything. And my view is Roman Catholics, I think, have had a refreshing on this topic, but watch out. When they rethink Vatican Two, then the other position will bubble up.

John Bradshaw: Protestantism seems pretty well to have lost its protest.

Lincoln Steed: Well it's forgotten what had protested about.

John Bradshaw: Why do you think we've forgotten?

Lincoln Steed: That's just the nature of human beings. You read the Old Testament and the children of Israel, a couple of days removed from the fire on the mountain, were wanting flesh or whatever it was, I think that's human nature. In the recent debate though, or not even debate now, negotiations, I think an injustice has been done to the memory of the Reformation because it's pretty much been defined as just justification by faith. Martin Luther wrote 95 Theses, many, many points about idols, and saints, and the abuse of power, and the claims to dominance of the papacy.

John Bradshaw: Purgatory and indulgences.

Lincoln Steed: Not just how we're saved and how we appear before God. And people should remember that. But unfortunately the Lutheran Federation a decade or so ago signed on the dotted line that it was a misunderstanding on justification, and that the Roman Catholic Church didn't misunderstand, they nailed that agreement to the door of a Roman Basilica. And only a few months ago now they had another meeting, I'm sure you know about, where they said there's now no longer any impediment to full reunification. So that's not the only aspect of the Reformation, but I think they've forgotten where we came. They've forgotten. Which you can find out if you read Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Many people that were killed for their faith, just the slight word of Biblical truth and they'd be cut down. They've forgotten that even after the Reformation in these wars of Europe that one Protestant sect turned on the other.

John Bradshaw: We're out of time. Thanks so much. I've really enjoyed this. I appreciate you making time for us. Well, let's pray together before we go. Let's do that now.

Our Father in heaven, we're thankful that You've given us truth and light, that in Jesus Christ we have salvation full and free, that in Your Word we have guidance and everything we need to understand You and our purposes towards You. So bless us as we allow You to reform us and prepare us for an eternity which we believe in Jesus is close at hand. We thank You and we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

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