TERRIBLE things will happen, say the advocates of “Christian citizenship,” if Christians keep aloof from politics. To this the answer is that terrible things have happened—the worst that ever darkened human history—because “Christians” went into politics.
For it was a religio-political union between Christianity (as represented by the church of Constantine’s day) and the state, in the person of the emperor, that set in motion the hideous machinery of religious persecution,—that ushered in the long and terrible period of massacre and torture worse than death, done in the name of religion; that spread a pall of blackness over all that was bright in human life, turned loose the worst passions of human depravity, and deluged the earth with human blood, regardless of age and sex. All this actually took place upon the earth, and continued for centuries, because “Christians” did not keep aloof from politics; because, in other words, they entered into the business of conducting the affairs of the state.
Constantine and the church both felt themselves in need of power. So Constantine gave his power as emperor to the church, in return for the power exercised by the church upon men through religion. A partnership was formed for the control of the affairs both of church and state,—a partnership in which ere long the church became the directing and controlling head. This was the church in politics; but the church could never have gone into politics if its members, as individuals, had refused to do so.
And all this was done by the church—by “Christians”—from a very pious motive. It was done in order that society might be reformed and elevated,—and more than this. It was done to usher in the kingdom of God. It was believed that this was accomplished, or speedily to be so, after Constantine had professed conversion to Christianity. When his mother sent him from Jerusalem some “nails of the true cross,” to be used as bridle bits for his war horse, it was counted a fulfillment of Zachariah’s prophecy that “what is upon the bridles of the horses shall be holiness unto the Lord.” And his act of appointing his sons and nephews to be sharers in the authority of the government, was associated with the fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7:16, “The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom.”
The church in her political measures has never lost sight of this vision of the setting up of the kingdom of God. From that day down to the present her efforts to shape the affairs and wield the authority of the civil government, have been with a view of advancing the fulfillment of the prophecies relating to this event. And this same idea and purpose crop out in much that is said to-day upon the necessity of active political work by members of the Christian church. The motive of such activity to-day is not a new one, but is in fact identical with that which inspired the “Christian” church in all the ages of her union with the state.
With this very good and very pious motive, Christians—in the early days of the church—went into politics, and history has recorded the terrible result. Then let the church—let Christians—keep out of politics. Then whatever disasters may come, if they will do this, there can be no possibility of a repetition of the worst calamity that ever brought ruin on church and state.