Differing Perspectives On Nature, Grace, And Politics

Writing on the subject of special revelation and nature, Bavinck contrasts the traditional Roman Catholic view with the Reformation’s:

Further implied in this is that revelation cannot stand absolutely over against nature. In Roman Catholicism there is a quantitative contrast between the two. Natural religion is essentially different from supernatural religion, and the two are conceptually wholly different—two totally distinct systems and orders. The order of grace is elevated high above the order of nature. The whole of existence, accordingly, is divided between a sacred and a profane area. The world is the unconsecrated, profane area where Satan with his unholy minions hold sway. But squarely within that unholy world God planted his holy, infallible church and endowed it with a great treasure of grace. [1:360]

Ensuing from this worldview are both the world domination for which the Roman Catholic Church always strives and the contempt of the world that it evidences, especially in monasticism. Since nature is of a much lower order than grace, the latter must always have priority over the former and hold sway over it. Further, since what is Christian coincides with the ecclesiastical and does not exist apart from it, the whole world needs to be subordinated to the church. There is no room in Roman Catholicism for the free cultivation of the arts and sciences, for a free state and society, etc. Always the ideal is that the pope as the vicar of Christ possess all power in heaven and on earth. [1:361]

It is worth noting here that that the Anabaptists could share this view with the Roman Church, though they had different visible structures they preferred over the one headquartered in Rome. However, judging by the comments Bavinck makes about how RC theology relates the order of nature to the order of grace, it seems that some Anabaptists, rather than maintaining the superiority of the latter to the former, wholly abandoned the former. (For the sake of symmetry, modern day atheists would be the mirror image, wholly abandoning the order of grace.) In the Zealot/Enthusiast worldview, the only order is the irruptive, the ecclesial. In contrast, the magisterial Reformation fell in line with the following interpretation of scripture:

On the contrary, Jesus prayed to the Father that his disciples would not be taken out of the world but kept in the world from the evil one (John 17:15). In line with this, Christians did not have to go out of the world (1 Cor. 5:10), but to remain in their occupations (1 Cor. 7:17-23); to obey the powers God had ordained (Rom 13:1); to regard all things their own (1 Cor. 3:21-23); to enjoy every gift of God with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3-5); and to consider godliness as of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:8). And that, too, was what the Reformation wanted: a Christianity that was hostile, not to nature, but only to sin. Such a Christianity was not externally imposed in the name of an infallible church but was inwardly assumed in one’s conscience by a free personality. Thus, through this personality, it had a reforming and sanctifying effect upon natural life as a whole. We are far from having reached the ideal and will presumably never reach it in this dispensation. Still it is full of fascination and beauty and worthy of being pursued with all our strength. Coming again into its own in the Reformation was the old adage: nature commends grace; grace emends nature. [1:362]