We have now come to Part 5, the finale, of this series “I’m a Protesting Good News-er.” Before we dive into the conclusion of this series, I want to say thank you for everyone who has followed this series. I hope that this series has been enlightening as we have sought to un-define the modern definitions of “protestant,” “evangelical” and “Christian” and return to what they really have meant by examining a few (of many) historical examples of the “great cloud of witnesses” who have proceeded us in the faith.
In Part 4, we looked at the curious case of John Calvin, who although he tried to create a society built solely Christian values ended up creating a society of biblical terror. We also saw how Calvin’s “ecclesiastical policing” culminated in the trial and martyrdom of Michael Servetus. This led us to ask the question: If Christians vote their “Christian values” will the result be “ecclesiastical policing?” How should Christians influence the culture without legislating culture? And I concluded that the answer is truth but not a truth leading to tyranny but a truth that, as Jesus said, will set you free.
How does truth set us free? Let’s take a brief look at the life of William of Orange and see how it differs from Calvin. William of Orange was born in 1533 in Germany and became Prince of Orange in the Netherlands upon the death of his cousin (who was childless) in 1544. During this period of history the Netherlands was under the control of Charles V, who held the titles of Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, then later Charles’ son Philip II who both wanted to squelch all Reformation ideology.
William, however, saw them as tyrants and became head of a rebellion for the freedom of the Netherlands from under the control of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. As many things did during the years of the Reformation, the fight for the sovereignty of the Netherlands turned into a Protestant vs. Catholic fight.
In 1576, a treaty was signed that united the provinces of Holland and Zeeland as a free state under the authority of William and the Reformation church, specifically a form of Calvinism. Now the people of the Netherlands who previously worshiped under intense persecution, now found themselves in place of peace, comfort and prosperity- “success, however, is sometimes more difficult to manage than persecution.”*
As the ruler, how was William going to handle the new freedoms and prosperity of the Reformation church? He had the chance to rule the vain of Calvin- upon the signing of the treaty, William received a mandate “to maintain and preserve the exercise of the Reformed evangelical religion, causing to cease and desist the exercise of other religions, which are contrary to the Gospel.”*
William would not fall into this trap and rule as a same kind of tyrant that they just won freedom from. He sought another way; “William of Orange had resisted turning the revolt against Spain into a religious crusade, and he strove to create a tolerant environment in the Dutch Republic. As a consequence, Lutherans, Mennonites, various dissident groups, and even Catholics all managed to provide their own religious services.”*
What can we, in 2012, learn from John Calvin and William of Orange about influencing our culture? I think we can draw three conclusions.
First, a tyrant is a tyrant no matter what their ideology. William of Orange led the Dutch to fight against tyranny and persecution and he would not allow himself to be a tyrant toward others. Calvin took his theological convictions and forced them upon others under the guise of ecclesiastical authority. God is King but God is not a tyrant and we should be very wary of being tyrannical as we try to influence our culture. We need to be proponents of truth that leads to freedom, not terror that leads to fear.
Second, disagreements should not be discouraging. Because of the leadership of William, the Netherlands became a place where theological issues and controversies could bloom out in the open, not fester under the surface. An earlier blog post of mine become relevant in this discussion, you can read it here https://ryanvanderland.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/tug-of-war-or-tight-rope-why-diversity-in-christian-thought-is-essential/
Third, as Protesting Good New-ers, we need to live up to our name. This whole series of posts boils down to this point and it is the point that I hope you have reached as you have engaged with this series and the ideas presented therein. I believe it is a fact of history that the church has grown when Christians have fought for the inclusion, rather than, the exclusions of others. Sometimes this happens when Christians stand up for minorities, the oppressed or the exploited and sometimes this happens as missionaries go to reach unreached people groups.
Perhaps the Western Church is in decline because we have been protesting the wrong things and have preached bad news instead of Good News. Perhaps we have made people fear us rather then love God. Perhaps we have misunderstood what it means to be a Protestant Evangelical Christian.
I don’t want to be a Protestant Evangelical, I want to be a Protesting Good News-er.
I want to protest toward the inclusion of others.
I want to be a person who lives out the conviction that the person, message and work of Jesus Christ is the Good News for which all of creation has been waiting and through whom all of creation is longing to be redeemed.
I’m a Protesting Good News-er.
* The European Reformations: Second Edition by Carter Lindberg; Blackwell Publishing, 2010.
© Ryan Vanderland 2012