Vol.XII No.VI Pg.4
August 1975

The Cost Of Freedom

Robert F. Turner

For the past five months we have used this page for historical studies of the Reformation —- with emphasis on things that pertain to congregational independence. We know this is too condensed to give a very full picture, but we hoped to convey some important truths and to give our readers a better historic sense. We pause, to relate earlier history to our own day.

When Martin Luther sought to answer the Roman hierarchy by the Scriptures he recognized the true principle of the priesthood of all saints. As a priest, any saint could approach Gods throne through Christ, our High Priest. Any saint could teach, baptize, serve at the Lords Table, etc. This tore at the very heart of the sacramental system, and it destroyed the concept of historic succession of bishops and churches. Of course it encouraged individual independence, and logically led to free churches.

In 1523, writing to the Bohemian Brethren, Luther took the ground of congregational independence and advocated the right of a Christian congregation to call, elect, and depose its own minister. At the Synod of Homburg in 1526, a plan was devised to establish what may be called a Congregational system. Luther was consulted and approved of the system in the abstract, but pronounced it impracticable. (Schaff, V.7; Fisher, p.415) We note that when it came right down to doing something about congregational Independence, critical consideration seemed to get the upper hand. Military protection was a big item in those days, and too, radicals were using freedom as an excuse for all sorts of excesses, and Luther did not wish to be classified with them. We are just wondering, if we had been there what would we have done??

Luther thought congregational in dependence impractical because he apparently felt there were too few truly qualified men to whom leadership could be trusted. This is not an invalid consideration. Schaff comments that this independent type of government presupposes a higher grade of self-governing capacity in the laity than the episcopal polity. In other words, freedom has its price — obligation to develop the qualities necessary for self government.

Schaff also comments, Autonomy.. is more or less curtailed.. .where the State supports the Church, for self government requires self-support. Self-government demands competence; qualified men taken from among the members. It requires the willingness and ability to support our own work. This sounds a lot like the definition of independent: not dependent in those factors essential to its function. (See Websters Unabridged. or other standard dictionary.)

Could it be that congregational independence has suffered because we do not want to pay the price of freedom? The theory is great but the practice imposes obligations. It is much easier (cheaper) to let others plan our programs and then just chip in a bit and say we are part of that big publicity-attracting function. We seem to have a hard time learning that freedom is not free — in economics, government, and in the church.