Radical Reformation and the Struggle for Freedom of Conscience

Distortion of the Christian Freedom Message by Organized Religion by Marian Hillar

Proponents of violence in Christian religion, especially against those who do not think as the ruling class of clergy does, cite the Gospel of Matt. 21:12-13 (John 2:13-16) as an injunction for using force and physical constraint. But this is obviously a wishful thinking, because the event described of overturning “the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves” is not a general teaching to use violence in spreading or teaching religion, a specific doctrine or ritual.

It is a specific event of condemnation of abusing the temple precinct for secular activities, nothing more! The interpretation of this passage in other sense is a classical example of distortion of Christian message by organized religious institutions.

The other famous quote when Jesus is supposed to say “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,” etc. (Matt. 10:34-36) was again misinterpreted and perverted by wishful thinking. If it were to mean exactly what it says it would represent, indeed, very devilish morality. What this passage means is clear from the following text:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37-39).

Thus, Jesus predicts future conflicts produced by faith in him either in families or in societies, nothing more. The author of the Ephesian (6:16-17) preached such an interpretation for whom the “the sword of the Spirit” was the word of God: “take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one [understood Satan]. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

In a similar quote (Luke 14:26-33) Jesus as represented by the author of the Gospel demanded absolute devotion to his messianic cause and his movement in the political situation and struggle in Palestine, it has nothing to do with the morality.

One becomes the member of the congregation of believers or Jesus movement by ritual baptism on the condition of expressing a faith in the messianic message. The belief has to be unconditional, because even the presence of miracles may not convince the witnesses (John 12:37, 12: 44-50). But it is not a condition or requirements for the salvation as expected blissful living in the ideal kingdom of God. It is stated that only fulfillment of the specific moral precepts is required: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor you father and mother.”

Also the fulfillment of the universal humanistic moral precept is needed “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:18-19), but following of Jesus is not necessary (Matt. 19:21-22).

Again, the institution of clergy, the church, developed later an attitude of compelling people to join the Christian congregation, conversion to the Christian ideology and rituals, based on the parable of the “dinner guests” (Luke 14:15-24), especially on one statement “compel people to come” (impelleintrare). This parable was also used to justify persecution of “heretics,” “schismatics” and “apostates.” The parable deals with a host who prepared a dinner for invited guests. And when the time came all of them found excuses not to come to dinner.

So the host ordered his servant to “bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” But there was still room in the house, the host ordered: “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.” The Greek terms used for “compel to come” according to the Walter Bauer’s dictionary[1] means in this case “urgently invite” or “urge strongly,” something like “encourage and insist on coming.” It would be ludicrous and highly unethical to force people by violence or any other means than persuasion to come to dinner. Therefore, if this parable is supposed to refer to who is going to participate in the kingdom of God, as the previous context of the text indicates, we may surmise that many were invited and offered participation, but through their own unwillingness they refuse the offer, others are invited though they are not deserving the invitation in the first place, but may be in a dire need of it, still others who are neutral, they too are strongly invited. Door is open to everyone; all will be blessed at the messianic feast. This parable has nothing to do with the “heretics,” “schismatics” or “apostates.”

The developing community of the believers, the saints, did not take lightly those who did not follow their moral rules. In such matters if one member of the congregation (church) sinned against the other, the admonition was in order. In case it did not work, one could bring two or three other members of the congregation and try to persuade the offender. If the offender refused to listen even to the whole congregation, then he should be treated as “a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-18). Moreover, the process of reaching a consensus in a church should be a democratic one:

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Matt. 18:18-20).

There is nothing here about the clergy or institution and about doctrines, only about reaching a democratic consensus among the members of the church of believers, and the whole context refers to the moral infractions against each other. Moreover, in the next paragraph it is explained that one should forgive the offender “Not seven times, but … seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22).


[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, a translation by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, second edition, (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1979). p. 52.