There are forty-nine states in the union—all but Alaska—who have on their statute books what have been called “Blue laws.” These laws prohibit certain public activities on Sunday on the part of the citizenry. Recently these laws came before the United States Supreme Court being challenged as to their constitutionality. There were those who maintained that the laws violated the First Amendment to the Constitution—the amendment which forbids laws respecting the establishment of any one particular religion by the state. The “blue laws” of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were being challenged.
In Maryland the particular question was whether a discount store could sell such items as a can of floor wax or a toy submarine on Sunday. By a vote of 8 to 1 the highest court in the land ruled that they could not.
In Pennsylvania, the same question arose when an open discount house attracted a “great volume of traffic” on Sundays. The court ruled 8 to 1 that the discount house could be prosecuted for violating that State’s “blue laws.”
In Massachusetts and also in another case from Pennsylvania, the question was a little different. Jewish merchants in the state, orthodox in their beliefs that Saturday is the proper Sabbath, closed their stores on Saturday and opened them on Sunday. The Court ruled that the State of Massachusetts could keep a Jewish Super Market from selling on Sunday even though the store did a third of its business on this day. In Pennsylvania the Court gave the state the right to prevent Jewish merchants from selling clothing and home furnishings. These laws were upheld by a 6 to 3 vote.
Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the majority opinion in both cases. He insisted that the “blue laws” did not violate the First Amendment; and, in noting that the “blue laws” often were religious in origin, he pointed out that their purpose had changed over the years. They are now used, he said, “To set one day apart from all others as a day of rest, repose, recreation and tranquility. People of all religions and people with no religion regard Sunday as a time for family activity, for visiting friends and relatives, for late sleeping.”
Apart from the fact that Chief Justice Warren’s reasons for upholding the “blue laws” are poor, these laws bring up an interesting question. Obviously they were originally made because there were men who felt, that it was part of the government’s business to enforce the observance of the Sabbath. This in turn was based upon the premise that, at least in limited instances, the governments have the right to enforce the first table of the law of God. Following this same pattern, there are several states in the union that have laws against profaning God’s name as well.
This question of the government’s right to enforce the first table of the law has always been a sticky question which has usually aroused considerable controversy. We are in agreement with the general principle that the government has not only the right but also the calling and obligation to enforce the first table of the Decalogue. However, two things should be borne in mind: 1) this further implies that the government has, in the words of the Belgic Confession, the calling “to promote the true religion.” Yet this principle runs precisely contrary to the First Amendment. There is therefore, obviously, an inconsistency in the laws of the government regarding this paint. 2) Although the government has the calling to enforce the first table of the law, this must necessarily be limited to the proper sphere in which the government functions. That is, the powers that be have no right to enter and enforce such legislation in the home or church. They have the right to enforce their laws only in the sphere of the state and of the public domain. They may prohibit a man from violating the Sabbath on the public streets, but they cannot punish him for staying in bed all day. They may prosecute for profanity in the middle of downtown; but they cannot enforce laws against profanity in the home.
But even then, we will have to admit quite frankly that this whole matter of the relation between church and state is very difficult and a question worthy of considerably more thought and study than has been given to it in the recent past.
The National Council of Churches has, since the days when it succeeded the Federal Council of Churches, been the object of considerable criticism. The main criticism has usually been that the NCC was reaching into areas it had no right to enter, was assuming to itself powers which were practically dictatorial, was trying to become the sole mouthpiece of all Protestantism. Usually these charges were pooh-poohed by the staunch supporters of this organization.
Recently, however, it is becoming more and more apparent that these charges certainly had a basis in fact, and that the NCC constitutes a real threat to the church.
The goals of the NCC were outlined in a speech at a recent meeting of churches by Dr. Douglas. These goals, as reported in the Torch and Trumpet were 1) the development of a journal which would speak responsibly for the ecumenical church; 2) an effective scheme for organizing congregations on an ecumenical basis; and, 3) more effective use of radio and television on behalf of the ecumenical movement. It was especially this last goal which reveals the intention of the NCC. Dr. Truman roundly condemned certain radio broadcastings for not communicating the Christian gospel but peddling instead denominational wares. He added, “The National Council of Churches ought to be encouraged to take a much firmer stand than it does against the misuses of time for denominational propaganda.” For a long time already the NCC has tried to persuade, sometimes with considerable success, radio and television stations to keep independent religious groups from broadcasting unless their programs were approved by the NCC itself. This means that only the corrupted NCC version of the gospel is to be allowed the right of broadcasting, while our own Reformed Witness Hour will be roundly condemned.
Rev. P.Y. De Jong writes concerning all this:
From all this it ought to be clear to everyone in which direction the Council is moving. Plainly it is the outspoken foe of all denominational distinctiveness. It will exert every possible influence to become the spokesman for all Protestants in the United States. Nor does it seem to bother these gentlemen, who prate long and loudly about our freedoms, that many of their efforts involve a curtailment of our freedoms. Liberalism seems to be tolerant of anyone and anything except historic Protestantism as embodied in the official creeds of the churches. No wonder some of us shake our heads, when occasionally voices are raised urging a more active and positive alignment on our part with this movement. Such suggestions sound strangely like asking us to sell our Reformed heritage for a mess of ecumenical pottage.
To this we might add that as the trend toward ecumenicism gathers momentum and more and more churches are swallowed up in the yawning mouth of one super denomination, it will become increasingly difficult for the true church of Christ to maintain its position in the world and sound forth the clear call of its witness. There is no room in this organization, nor in others like it, for the church of Jesus Christ.
In a recent issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a certain Rev. Thaddeus MacVicar begins a series of articles about the historic Council of Trent which was called by the Romish Church in the sixteenth century to try to stem the tide of the Reformation. In this introductory article, the author describes the need for the council by describing what in his opinion was the true character of the Reformation and the Reformers. Worse slander of God’s servants whom God raised up to deliver the church from the shackles of Rome is difficult to imagine. He writes in part:
Since the fateful year, 1517, when Martin Luther blazed the trail of revolt against the Holy See, millions had abandoned the Church, or had been snatched from her fold by fraud or violence . . .
This central fact, however, should be noted well: the vast majority of those who repudiated the Catholic Faith, scarcely understood it any longer, and already lived in opposition to its moral teachings.
History bears out the truth that the first Protestants were ignorant, or lax, or bad Catholics. Those who shouted loudest against abuses in the Church were themselves guilty of the abuses. Moreover, their new religion merely perpetuated the human spirit behind the old abuses; the spirit of naturalism, self-gratification and pride. The rank and file of the first Protestants raised a great uproar over decadent Catholicism; but what they really feared was the return of strict Catholicism.
Luther offered them a convenient way to salvation, in fact, complete assurance of salvation: by faith alone. There was no longer need of working out one’s salvation “in fear and trembling.” Sin had become as unimportant as good works. Religion was so much easier without confession, the Sunday Mass obligation, periods of fast and abstinence, tithes to the Church and alms to the poor.
Luther’s notion that good works are useless for salvation emptied monasteries and convents of the spiritualess, lax, and even corrupt, religious, who were so numerous at the time. They now gave up all pretense at keeping their vows, following a severe rule, dedicating themselves to works of mercy, on the plea that such things are not pleasing to God.
Thus it became easier wherever Protestantism took over, for secular princes to seize the monasteries and other estates of the Church. Monks and nuns who remained faithful to their vows had to emigrate to Catholic countries. Those who preferred to marry might live on pensions paid by the new owners of their erstwhile religious houses. The priceless opportunity offered kings, nobles, and communes to confiscate the wealth of the Church was a major factor in the rapid, violent success of the Reformation . . .
In Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli, a worldly soldier-priest, blazoned the new ideas among his people. He set the comfortable tone of his “reform” by announcing that the Church’s laws on fast and abstinence need not be observed, and that priests and nuns should be urged, even forced, to marry.
Zwingli seems to have been another of the Reformers whose religion sprang from strictly personal problems. His life was already spotted with allegations against his chastity, which charges he never troubled to deny. In 1522, he and ten colleagues had petitioned their bishop for permission for priests to marry. “Your Honorable Wisdom,” they reminded the bishop, “has witnessed the shameful life we have hitherto, unfortunately, lived with women, giving grievous scandal to everyone.”
Zwingli’s cause, like Luther’s, pitched his countrymen against one another in bloody civil war. Zwingli himself fell on the field of battle in 1531.
Elsewhere in Switzerland, at Geneva, the French layman, John Calvin, set up his Bibliocracy. Geneva became a city governed by the Bible; but the Bible as only John Calvin interpreted it. In religious matters he assumed a degree of infallibility beyond anything Catholics ever dreamed of claiming for the pope.
Unlike the easy-going Protestantism of Luther and Zwingli, the Reformation in Geneva was a regime of fear and repression. AS its supreme spiritual and political master, Calvin ruled his city with a rod of iron for 27 years (1437-1464). Those who contradicted his teaching he put to death or exiled. What he considered heresy, blasphemy, idolatry as well as adultery, were capital offenses. Geneva, with a population of 13,000 during Calvin’s reign, witnessed 58 executions and 76 sentences of exile.
Spies circulated constantly among the people. Servants had to report on their masters, and children on their parents. The theatre, games of chance, choral singing, luxury in dress, drinking in taverns, convivial parties at home, were all forbidden under stern penalties.
The soul of Calvin’s teaching was his terrible doctrine of predestination, which, in final analysis, meant that God created a small number of human beings (chiefly Calvinists) for salvation; He creates all the rest solely to damn them to hell.
Calvin’s Protestantism spread the farthest of any type, due largely to his carefully worked-out theology, his genius for organization, and his university. The university, called the Academy, sent forth trained ministers who established bibliocracies wherever Calvinism could get the political upper-hand, as in parts of France, in England, Scotland, and America (New England).
Such a mixture of half truth and down-right historical inaccuracy is seldom seen on the pages of the religious press. No one claims, of course, that all the people who left the Romish Church at the time of the Reformation left for purest reasons; nor is it true that there were no wicked people who joined the Protestant Churches. But the article is nevertheless strangely silent about those hundreds of thousands of courageous saints who, living Godly lives, were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of their faith. There is no mention of the cruel armies of Rome that bathed the streets of the Netherlands and France with the blood of the sons of the Reformation. This is blood which the harlot of Rome will never be able to wash from her hands.
For the rest, many of the remarks are so inaccurate that they can be proved wrong from reliable historical sources both Protestant and Catholic.