One cannot help but be stirred in reading Martin Bucer’s De Regno Christi. He takes all the beauty of Plato’s Republic, strips it of its communism and communal marriage (which are probably the same thing) and reworks it around a rich Christian legal heritage. One notes, however, that he give the magistrate a fairly large role in guiding religion to reform the society. Is this Erastianism? Maybe not, for Bucer is not saying (as far as I could read) that the magistrate should appoint ministers and determine doctrine. He does, I think, give the magistrate free rein to reform the diaconate. That might not be a bad idea, though. Contrary to Baptist and congregationalist thought, deacons are not ruling elders in the church. Further, on Bucer’s gloss, the role of the diaconate overlaps within the civil sphere, in which case it does become the magistrate’s prerogative. Bucer doesn’t explicitly make that argument, but it does appear to be the general outline of his thought.
It helps to remember that Bucer wrote this treatise for King Edward VI, an early hero of Protestantism. Following Wyclif’s “civil dominion” tract, Bucer’s proposal can be seen, if not as an Erastian state, then at least as a “churchly state.” Admittedly, it’s hard not to be caught up in his narrative. Even in his communistic and unbelieving moments, few can deny the power of Plato’s Republic. Bucer takes all those beautiful elements and transforms them. He gives us the vision of a truly Christian society, in which mercy and justice truly meet.
It’s not surprising, then, that some of the guys at the Calvinist International are hinting towards an irenic Erastianism. Framed around Bucer, Hooker, and Edward VI, it’s a fairly compelling narrative. Still, our duties as Christians are often applied to the situations in which we now live. These situations, of course, are formed by those which came before–water under the bridge, if you will. Some of that water includes the butchering of Scottish Presbyterians who would not yield to an Erastian state. This is the fly in the ointment to any modern Erastian proposal. Secondly, it’s not entirely clear that Bucer is even suggesting this.
(This post is part of a larger review of De Regno Christi, hopefully forthcoming)