The Anabaptists were the first to insist upon the separation of church and state. Christians, they claimed, were a "free, unforced, uncompelled people." Faith is a free gift of God, and civil authorities exceed their competence when they "Champion the Word of God with a fist." The church is distinct from society, even if society claims to be Christian.
The Reformation unintentionally shattered traditional Christendom. It prayed and preached and fought for the true faith until no single church remained, only what we now call "denominations." But in the place of a solid, unified Christendom, strong national princes still arose to perpetuate the alliance of church and state in their realms for the supposed good of their subjects.
Yet, over the ocean, the "new order" for Christianity in the American colonies threw the churches into another arena. After the first generation of settlers a wide variety of national and religious strains made an established church impossible in all but a few colonies. Probably all the Christian groups were unanimous in one thing: each wanted the complete freedom to proclaim its own view. It soon became obvious, however, that the only way each group could get such freedom for themselves was to grant it to all the others. Thus, the churches were forced to shoulder the burden alone for evangelizing the unconverted and nurturing the believers — no state support, no state protection. Christianity was on its own.
We call this condition "voluntaryism" because the churches, deprived of state support, were compelled to maintain their mission of preaching and teaching on a voluntary basis. Men could accept or reject the gospel as they pleased. The state had nothing to do with it. The denominations had to win converts and raise funds without state aid.
[tags]Anabaptists, BlogRodent, church-history, ChurchRodent, history, Reformation, Voluntaryism[/tags]