At the time of the Reformation, certain groups emerged which said that one ought to be baptized again [despite one’s infant baptism] when one came to conscious faith in Christ. Therefore, they were called Anabaptists, which means ‘again-baptizers’. But they went further than that. Trying to extract from the penumbras of Jesus’ own sayings and the apparent practices of the early church, they became ‘radical Christians’. After the cult of John of Leyden was forcibly suppressed at Muenster, Westphalia, the Anabaptists became apolitical and tried to avoid military service and participation in government.
[One group of English Christians adopted the doctrine that baptism should be administered to people of conscious faith, without adopting the rest of the Anabaptist cultural package; they became the Baptists and the Bible Churches of today. The Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish are today’s form of the original Anabaptists.]
In more recent times, we have seen the rise of ‘progressive evangelicals’. These often hold similar views to the Anabaptists, but they seek to impose them by political action. They support a pacifist foreign policy and a generous, redistributing welfare state. Because of these two priorities, they regard generous money spent on national defense as a sort of ‘theft’ from the welfare state. How we are to contain things like Communism and Islamist terrorism is not always clear, but I think they advocate keeping their own country safe and not getting into overseas adventures. Some 35 years ago I was sponsoring some dialogues between ‘progressive evangelicals’ from Evangelicals for Social Action and a local group of theonomist Reconstructionists. The ESA people came armed [pardon the expression] for the discussion on foreign policy. But it emerged that they believed that if we laid our arms down as a nation, God would supernaturally protect us. This struck me as a form of ‘national covenantalism’ similar to that held in some circles on the Religious Right. [Incidentally, not all Reconstructionists held to a national covenantalism of this kind! Some did, some did not.]
There are some odd parallels between progressive evangelicals and Reconstructionists. The Reconstructionists are accused of drawing too much on Old Testament civil law. But since Jesus did not have much to say about government policy [however, He had a lot to say about the church, the civil society, and ourselves] the progressive evangelicals also draw on aspects of Old Testament law. Gleaning, the mandate to ‘lend’ to the poor, to give the borrower his cloak back at night, the law of Jubilee, and the freeing of Israelite slaves every seven years, provide evidence that God’s concern for the poor was not a New Testament revelation. One difference is that the ‘progressive evangelicals’ tend to believe that the death penalty is forbidden under the New Covenant. A striking turnabout in the late 20th century was when the Roman Catholic Church, once known as the church of Torquemada and the Inquisition, shifted to this position! [I for one am not sure that Jesus infinitely preferred ‘life imprisonment without possibility of parole’ to the death penalty even for such as chainsaw murderers. Theonomists point out that the Old Testament law never used imprisonment as a punishment.] But progressive evangelicals are just as interested in imposing parts of Biblical morality as they see it; they just differ from theonomists as to what those might be.
[It should be pointed out that ‘progressive evangelicals’, to the extent they are really evangelical, differ from ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal Christians’ on a lot of issues. ‘Progressive Christians’ may support some of the same government policies, but they draw their views from the penumbras of some of the sayings of Jesus rather than the Old Testament, while at the same time they downplay His atonement and often deny His resurrection altogether. ‘Progressive Christians’ tend to believe that human nature is naturally good, while ‘progressive evangelicals’ disagree with this. ‘Progressive Christians’ do not seek the conversion of unbelievers to Christ, whereas ‘progressive evangelicals’ still value this. ‘Progressive Christians’ would modify especially sexual and body morality to conform to the culture [while at the same time opposing the culture’s greed and consumerism!] and ‘progressive evangelicals’ uphold the old morality, though often they try to uphold it in a more merciful way.]
So, in a sense, everyone is trying to ‘legislate morality’ in some way. My own opinion is to draw a Calvinist distinction between the First Table, as we call it, which has to do with our duties to God, and the Second Table, which has to do with our duties to each other. I believe that the government has no business in matters of the First Table, which is why one Religious Right idea that I never supported was ‘prayers in public school.’ [Prayers for public school, yes. Government-supported alternatives to public school, yes.] But in establishing a law code, why not draw on the Second Table? I like to say that the theocrats have already infiltrated the system to the extent of outlawing murder, robbery, cheating, and perjury. Those are in the Bible!