Fourth in a Series on the Church in Politics

‟By the creation of this united church, we shall establish a religio-political body to which no government will dare say: ‘No.’ ” This was the opinion of a leading advocate of church union in Canada in the early twenties, and by 1925 the church-unionists’ lobby in Ottawa had succeeded in having the House of Commons pass a bill forcing all Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians into the United Church of Canada, whether they wished it or not. Although the bill was eventually modified by the Senate, the church-unionists’ views were not. The use of political pressure has characterized other inclusivist ecclesiastical bodies down through the ages, and the same desire for political power seems to dominate much present-day ecumenical thinking. This point of view flatly contravenes the views of the early Protestant Reformers.

The medieval church had constantly asserted its supremacy over the state, claiming wide political authority. Pope Innocent III (1161–1216) had accepted the feudal submission of a number of monarchs, including the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the king of England, and had instigated a sanguinary military crusade against the Albigensian heretics of southern France. Under his leadership the papacy had reached the highest point of its prestige and power, but it remained for Boniface VIII (1235–1303) in his bull Unam Sanctam to state most fully the papal claims to absolute universal sovereignty. Although in its early days the Church may have exerted political influence for many good ends, such as freeing slaves and protecting the poor, when it became influential men often entered the clergy merely to participate in its power, as an end in itself. This ...

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