Political Theology Research

John Walker on the joining of Church and State in Constantinian Christianity

quote-if-you-aim-at-a-scottish-presbytery-it-agreeth-as-well-with-monarchy-as-god-and-the-devil-no-james-i-of-england-240100John Walker, in addition to having convictions against the carrying of arms by Christians and the sinfulness of taking oaths, held a disdain for the joining together of Church and State under the rule of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Walker, like Glas and Sandeman, rejected the fusion of Church and State, and had no use for the intervention of government into the church, or the church into the government. In a longer essay on religious establishments made by human governments, Walker not only bemoaned this fusion, but he also took a potshot at English King James VI, who not only oppressed Walker’s own people (and who, through the Union of the Crowns, was declared King of both England and Ireland), but who famously declared that without bishops, there could be no King: a clear rejection of both Presbyterianism (which the Glasites originated from), and Congregationalism (the Glasite polity).

The writings of the earliest fathers (as they are called) of the Church prove, what a rapid progress this defection made after the death of the Apostles. But it was not till the Roman empire ceased to be professedly heath, and Constantine assumed the name of Christian, that its malignity became fully developed ; and that connection took place between Church and State, which completely secularized the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Then indeed the flood of corruption rapidly swept before it almost every vestige of scriptural Christianity. Then the sword of human power was considered as the great means of promoting their satanic religion. Then appeared the awful spectacle of different factions, under the name of Christian, employing that sword against each other, as they successively climbed to political greatness on the stepping-stone of their several systems. Then were introduced into the house of God the civil pains and penalties of exile, fines, imprisonment, and death ; with the worldly prizes of riches and honor, and political advancement, to tempt the ambition of carnal religionists. Then advanced with hasty strides the assumptions of priestly authority and hierarchical dominion, originating that stupid and wicked cry of—NO BISHOP, NO KING—which continued current to the present day ; till at length what they called the Altar overtopped the Throne, and the popes of Rome, under the blasphemous claim of deriving their authority by lineal succession from the Apostle Peter, and acting as the Viceregents of Christ,—were enabled to establish themselves in universal sovereignty over the very monarchs who had aided their rise, and conferred kingdoms or deposed kings at pleasure ; while Christendom was overspread with a uniformity of idolatrous superstition and impious mummery, presented to the besotted nations as the religion of Jesus Christ….

In many instances the kings of the earth, who had groaned under the yoke of the Roman pontiff, were glad to patronize the Reformation, as opposed to that domineering power. And alas ! the reformers generally fell into the snare of their patronage ; and in order to avail themselves of the protection and aids of human power, abandoned the principle that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world ; continued that coalition between Church and State, which is essentially inconsistent with scriptural Christianity; and this proved their new Churches to be the genuine progeny of that great whore, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and who is described as the Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth (Rev. xvii. 5.) Hence, in Churches bearing the name of Christian and of Protestant, the awful spectacle was still exhibited of temporal pains and penalties introduced to enforce obedience to their mandates ; acts of human legislature establishing their religious creeds, and ordering their religious observances ; with several carnal inducement held out to allure conformity, and all the worldly aids of pageantry and pomp to excite superstitious reverence.

To this State-religion the continued existence of the race of Clergy was essential. And accordingly they continued,—a class of pretended agents between God and the people, tricked out int he trappings and claims of the Jewish priesthood ;—of that priesthood which had its termination and absolute abolition in Him, who is the great High Priest over the House of God, on the completion of whose work the shadows which had prefigured him passed away… A man appointed by worldly rulers to what is called the episcopal function, after some ceremonies have been gone through with him by others similarly appointed, is supposed to be transformed into a—successor to the Apostles in the government of the Church of Christ !

William Burton, ed., “Thoughts on Religious Establishments; with a Brief Sketch of Ecclesiastical History.,” inEssays and Correspondence Chiefly On Scriptural Subjects by the Late John Walker, Some Time a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and a Clergyman in the Establishment (Dublin: E. Madden, & R.M. Tims, 1838), 336-38, accessed August 8, 2014. You can find this pericope and its larger context, along with the full works of John Walker, at the Glasite Digital Archive.


John Walker on “Bearing Arms”

Hello All:

John Walker, Fellow of Trinity College and founder of the “Walkerites,” a Glasite sect in Dublin, Ireland, was asked by a “Mr. P. C——-.” about his position regarding the carrying of weapons by Christians.  Unlike many of current conversations regarding Christians, weapons, and the use of violence, Walker’s statement is nuanced. His political theology is clear: Christians are not allowed to swear oaths, nor are they allowed to carry arms or serve as soldiers or executioners.   True to his primitivist, restorationist heritage, he stays close to the text of the New Testament. However, at the end of his exposition of scripture, he can’t seem to resist inserting a small statement of his personal leanings, independent of his religious beliefs, about the carrying of weapons or the use of violence.

I must despatch (sic) very briefly two remaining topics which you propose. You ask whether I am “decidedly against a disciple’s bearing arms in every case.”  If I mistake not, I wrote my mind upon that subject lately to my brother, J. L————, whom, I hope, you will soon known, if you do not already. The substance of what I can reply to the question, is this.  I cannot conceive a disciple walking in the truth, and taking upon him the profession of arms.  Indeed, in this country, that is put blessedly beyond controversy, as no man can become a solider without being attested, or sworn before a magistrate, i.e. without directly violating the express command of Christ.  But a man who is in the army—(or who is a public hangman)—may be called to the knowledge of the truth : and in that case I find myself without warrant in the word for dealing with him as an offender against the law of Christ, even though he continue in the profession of arms ;—while I should, without hesitation, urge him, on the grounds of Christian expediency, to quite it if he can. I find a military officer at Caesarea received as a disciple by an apostle, and no intimation given of any injection to him to lay aside the use of arms.  As to the abstract question, whether I would, in any case, think myself justified in resorting to the private use of arms—(even so far as the taking away of life)—in self-defense,—I am not fond of debating it.  I think disciples may peacefully look to their heavenly father, never to place them in any such circumstances as alone could justify it.  But if pressed for an opinion on the abstract question, I must frankly say that I can contemplate cases in which I think that I would, without an scruple, shoot a ruffian, and consider myself in doing so, only as the executioner of the laws: just on the same ground as — if I were in the office of Sheriff—I might be legally bound to hang a criminal with my own hands. But really I should rather decline arguing the point, if any though differently from me : and I do not conceive that a difference of theory on such a question could bar our Christian fellowship for a moment, till it came into practice.

William Burton, ed., Essays and Correspondence Chiefly On Scriptural Subjects by the Late John Walker, Some Time a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and a Clergyman in the Establishment (Dublin: E. Madden, & R.M. Tims, 1838), 385-86.  You can find this pericope and its larger context, along with the full works of John Walker, at the Glasite Digital Archive.