Monday, November 06, 2023

Anonymous Asks (274)

“Are democracy and Christianity compatible?”

“Many forms of Government have been tried,” said Winston Churchill in the British House of Commons in 1947. He continued, “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time …”

It’s admittedly backhanded, but that’s still a pretty strong commendation, and I’ve had it quoted to me by Christians when I complain about modern democracies and their failings.

I’m not sure I believe it anymore.

We have examples in scripture of several different types of government as well as the absence thereof. All have their drawbacks.

Government in the Bible

1/ Anarchy, But Not in the UK

After the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 came a brief era during which the only God-sanctioned authority existed within homes. The Lord told the woman, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” We can argue about whether that was a command or merely an observation about what the new natural order would produce on average, but the teaching of the New Testament strongly suggests it was the best possible course of action under the circumstances. It certainly works out better for both women and men than endless competition for headship. However, concerning civil authority, God said nothing at all to the first couple. He left humanity to its own devices at first, and anarchy was the result. The wickedness of man was great on the earth, and God blotted out all but a handful.

Okay, so I suspect that’s a strike against libertarianism. Apparently, humanity can’t do without some kind of civil authority calling the shots.

2/ Tyranny

The first form of national government scripture introduces is tyranny, in the form of the enslavement of Israel’s children during their sojourn in Egypt. Obviously, tyranny was not God-sanctioned, but he allowed it in order to demonstrate his glory to the world. Again, the results were profoundly unfavorable both for the Israelites in the short term and also for the Egyptians in the long term.

Strike two. Tyranny not a good look.

3/ Theocratic Rule through Moses

In the wilderness, Israel was introduced to government by the laws of God. At first, this unique theocratic rule was mediated through one man, but that proved too exhausting for Moses. Authority was then distributed, which led to …

4/ Theocratic Rule through Judges

Once Israel conquered Canaan, God ruled it through judges, whom he raised up one after another whenever his people repented of their idolatry and cried out for help. Again, this period ended in failure, with every man doing what was right in his own eyes. More often than not, that was wrong, and the people cried out for …

5/ Theocratic Monarchy

… a king. A human king. Samuel, the last judge of Israel, was greatly offended at their demand, but God consoled him with the words, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” That was not our first clue from scripture that demanding a king came with potential complications, but it’s pretty conclusive that monarchy would not solve Israel’s problems. And it didn’t. The effectiveness of a theocratic monarchy depended entirely on the extent to which each individual king walked with God. When he did, life was good. When he didn’t, things got as ugly or uglier as they did under the judges.

At any rate, we can safely say theocracy was a qualified failure in Israel, because it depended on a single human being — whether Moses, a judge or a king — displaying consistently good character and godly wisdom. That would never happen over the course of a lifetime. Nevertheless, it was still the most successful method to date.

6/ Vassal State/Individual in a World Empire

After the kingdom, Israel fell prey under the sovereign judgment of God to successive world empires: Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. God commanded Jews dispersed throughout the empires of other nations to “seek the welfare of the city” where they had been sent, and later, in the New Testament, to “render unto Caesar” what rightly belonged to him. Christians also are commanded to “be subject to the governing authorities”, whoever they may be.

Let’s just say this has worked out better at some times in history than others. Christians under the Roman Empire during the first four hundred years of this era didn’t always do so well. They certainly had no say in how their own lives would pan out.

And Now, to Democracy!

Of all the types of government (or non-government) we find in the Bible, only the theocracy had any sort of official sanction from God. Other systems of government concocted by human ingenuity in the last few thousand years left citizens either compelled to put up with the conditions into which they were born or considering rebellion. When that was tyranny, a bad monarchy or, later, communism, life could be rough and often shorter than it ought to be.

Democracy is a relatively late development in world history, originating with the ancient Greeks and appearing from time to time in modified form over the centuries. Since it predates the New Testament, we can’t attribute democracy’s appearance to the teachings of Christ, and voting does not appear to have any significant precedent in the Law of Moses.

Aspirationally at least, democracies have at least this is common with Christianity: that leaders are supposed to be servants rather than despots. Further, in common with Old Testament theocracy, everyone is supposed to be subject to law, including governments. Regrettably, it is no longer God’s law, but law it is.

The question of how leaders get into leadership has always been problematic in both systems. In New Testament-style churches, leaders are recognized rather than formally elected, ideally by comparing their qualifications to apostolic lists. How this happens varies from church to church. In democracies, various systems have been tried, giving the vote to smaller or larger groups. Some restrictions on voting have always been deemed necessary. At one time or another throughout history, the vote has been denied to prisoners, women, recent immigrants, non-landowners, women and of course minors.

The Downside of Democracy

Whatever the similarities between democracy and NT Christianity, this form of government was never sanctioned by the Lord Jesus or his apostles. The downside of democracy is the ease with which powerful men can subvert it. Having a vote is meaningless when elections are fraudulent or when you live in a country where your fellow citizens have been media-propagandized into voting for the lapdogs of special interest groups, corporations and billionaires. Likewise, the people are often forced to choose between two manufactured (and usually wretched) candidates with no substantive policy differences (both globalists, both pro-abortion, etc.), or are so undiscerning and/or sinful in their thinking that they actually prefer worse candidates to better ones.

Mind you, every form of government is subject to corruption in one form or another. Living in a subverted democracy may be no worse than living under an arbitrary and whimsical king, provided you keep your head low. Until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to take the throne of David and rule over the planet, we will always be looking for better government.

I often have a sneaking suspicion that one reason God instituted government was to show us we are wholly incapable of doing it ourselves. If this is the case, we have yet to prove him wrong. Democracy is no exception.

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