Many Protestant preachers are making the point during this Bicentennial anniversary of American independence that our nation has its roots in the sixteenth-century Reformation. Lutherans emphasize Luther’s doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers as the principle out of which later secular democracies evolved. The Reformed point to Calvin’s doctrine of election, which cut across all class lines. Many religious groups take credit for the part their spiritual fathers played in the founding of the United States. Political, economic, religious, and other causes came together in the year 1776, and to single one out does not exclude others.

In general Christianity has been opposed to the establishment of a new government by forcible overthrow of the previous one. In the Middle Ages there was a mutual legitimization between the church and the royal nobility. The church prayed for kings and rulers, and kings and other rulers protected the church in a reciprocal arrangement that was not overlooked by Marx and Lenin.

In recent New Testament scholarship there has been an attempt to revive the view of a revolutionary Jesus, “Jesus the Zealot.” Were it not for the theology of revolution this time-worn concept would have stayed buried. The Jesus of the Gospels eschewed all political ambitions and became thunderously disturbed with those of his followers who wanted to use him for their political advancement. The political views of two major apostles, Peter and Paul, were such that both of them suggested that the Roman emperor should be included in the prayers of the worshiping congregation. It is not difficult to see how a later theory of a divine right of kings could have used these New Testament references.

Lutherans have taken ...

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