In his De Regno Christi (1550), Martin Bucer advises King Edward VI of England to reestablish the Kingdom of Christ not just through edicts and decrees, but through persuasion. This is a good demonstration of magisterial reformers’ understanding of belief and faith, and the way that one comes to these. Outward conformity is not enough. One must be properly persuaded and must take a hold of the truth by faith. Bucer does not want conversion by coercion. But at the same time, it should be noted that this is not merely a biblical principle. Bucer grounds it in general political prudence. He writes:
Furthermore, Your Majesty will consider this also from the Scriptural examples proposed that those devout kings and princes did not so much compel their people by decrees to recover the Kingdom of Christ as they persuaded them by serious and devout instructions. Wise princes and legislators of old did the same sort of thing among the nations for whose citizens they promulgated laws (Cicero, 2, De legibus). For men do not accept law and observe it consistently, least of all divine law, unless they are first instructed and convinced that law is salutary for them. 1
He continues later like so:
[Since] no one can be a true citizen of the Kingdom of Christ except willingly, and all Christians, even princes, should, to the degree that the Lord endows them, strive to bring willing citizens to the Kingdom of Christ rather than drive unwilling hypocrits to it, anyone can readily see how fitting it is for religious princes to work out the repair of the Kingdom of Christ among their subjects, first by the plain and industrious preaching of the gospel, and them by holy and accurate persuasions, both on their own part and through those who have the holiest and most weighty authority among the people of the realm. 2
Bucer is, here, holding two things in tension quite nicely. The first is the reality that people can only come to Christ willingly. True spiritual conversion is not accompanied by kicking and screaming. The second is that there are outward, temporal means by which that conversion can be attained. And Bucer sees no tension between the necessity of inward spiritual conversion, and that conversion being encouraged and actively sought by the civil magistrate. The true reformation of the commonwealth can be sought by using both political prudence and true spiritual means.
Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.
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