This article will be wrapping up my little series on Christianity and The State. In the first article, we looked at the Christian’s duty to the state. In the second article, we looked at politics and activism as it relates to the Christian. In the third article, we looked at the issues of morality and liberty. In this final article, I wish to address the question what is the best form of government. In asking this question, I am not looking to propound a general theory as to the best form of Government. I am specifically asking this question from the standpoint of being a Christian. In other words, from a Christian point of view, what is the best form of government.
Biblically, and ideally, speaking, the best form of government — if government is to be understood as a human institution — is no government at all. The technical term for this is Anarchy. Now most of my conservative Christian friends may be going into fits of apoplexy upon reading that. Anarchy?!?!? Are you serious?!?!? Hold on a minute, let’s all calm down and think about this for a moment. When most people think of anarchy, they think of lawlessness and chaos and bomb-throwing thugs (that’s what I thought). However, when you analyze the etymology of the word “anarchy” you realize it simply means “no ruler.” “No ruler” doesn’t equate to lawlessness and chaos. Rather it means that there is no institutionalized state government — i.e., total and complete liberty. Anarchy is the polar opposite of totalitarianism, or tyrannical rule by the State.
Why on earth would I think that anarchy, or State-lessness, is the best form of government? Consider the biblical examples. In the Garden of Eden, was there a State? No. There was just Adam and Eve and God. One might say, “A-ha!!! God was there and he was the ruler. So you don’t have a literal ‘anarchy.'” Two things can be said: 1) True, God was there and he was the “Ruler,” but 2) I specifically defined the government, or the State, as a human institution. In the Garden, there was no human government. The same thing can be said when God set up the nation of Israel at Sinai. God set up a priesthood to serve as mediators between God and man, but there was no human government. God was their king and they were his people.
What about the chaos that became Israel in the book of Judges? In fact, the book of Judges ends with these ominous words: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). There is no disputing that in the book of Judges there was a lot of lawlessness and chaos. However, was that due to God being a ‘bad’ king, or was it due to their sin and depravity? Israel was generally speaking, apostate; they had rejected God as their king and lived as they saw fit. Again, this is not necessarily an argument in favor of human government as it is an argument against the sin of the people. During the time of Samuel, the last Judge over Israel, the people clamored for a king like the other nations had. Samuel warns them that in asking for a king, not only were they rejecting God as their king, but they didn’t really know the ramifications of what they were asking. Samuel lets them know what a king would do:
These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. (2 Samuel 8:11-18)
After reading that, one might think, “Sounds like what the United States President does.” The point Samuel was making is that a king will not look after you like a shepherd looks after his sheep, but like a resource to be exploited for his own gain. With the exception of David (and a handful of others) the history of the Jewish monarchy was a growing cycle of evil kings. Yet, even David, who was a man after God’s own heart, was human and had his flaws. That being said, David is probably the prime example of what a good monarch could be. David is the Shepherd-King who looked after his subjects, and he prefigures the King of kings and the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.
Israel’s experiment with human government was a disaster overall. 120 years after being established, the monarchy was split into two kingdoms — Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC and the southern kingdom by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Everything God said about kings came true, and the nation was destroyed for it.
God’s new covenant community — the Church — is also an anarchist community. There is no political leadership within the Church (later Roman Catholicism being a perversion of the structure of the Church after it’s unholy marriage with the Roman Empire). There are offices of leadership within the Church — elder and deacon — but these offices serve under the headship of Christ. Christ is the head of his body, the Church. The elders and deacons serve as servant-leaders following the words of Jesus: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44). The Church is not to be politicized, nor is it to enter into an alliance with the State. The Church’s allegiance is to Christ as its head and to God as its Sovereign King.
As it concerns the Church living in the world, the Church is to be considered as “resident aliens” in this world whose citizenship belongs to heaven (Philippians 3:20). In a very real sense, we don’t belong to this world. We are in the world, but not of the world. We are called to submit to the State, but not because the State is worthy to be submitted to, but because Christ commands it. But our ultimate authority is Christ, not the State. While the Church is in this world, Christians are to live as model citizens; but when the authority of the State crosses the authority of Christ, Christ wins. The point being the Church is an anarchist community living in the world until Christ the King returns to consummate his Kingdom.
If anarchy is the ideal form of government for the Christian, how does that work? That’s a good question. In all recorded human history, there haven’t been a heck of a lot of anarchist communities in the world. Most of human history is marked by tyranny. Even the United States of America is an experiment in limited government. It is quite possible that the ideal may be unachievable on a large, nation-wide scale. But consider this: Even though we live in a democratic-republic, most human interaction in America is handled in an anarchistic fashion. For example, if there is a dispute between you and your neighbor, you’re more likely to work things out yourselves without involving the State. Most people respect others’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Most people will honor contracts. Most people live their lives with little intervention from the State.
Even so, can the United States function as an anarchistic society? I honestly do not know. To answer this question is both beyond the scope of this article and beyond the scope of my understanding of anarchy and its ramifications. But if liberty is preferred over tyranny, then a state of maximum liberty would be an anarchistic state. As I said, that’s the ideal, but what’s practical? Practical is any form of government that is the least intrusive and least invasive possible. Our constitutional republic is a good example of Minarchy — i.e., minimal rule or government. We would do well as a country to get back to constitutional limits. Perhaps an even better form of minarchy would be something similar to what we had under the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, the United States was a loose federalism with a weak central government and control was pushed down to the most local levels. Most of the complaints regarding the Articles were from people who wanted a strong central government, not necessarily because the Articles were a failure.
Why should a Christian concern himself with what is the best form of government? In one sense, this is a very valid question. The Christian’s main focus is engaging in the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment. Yet, all throughout history, the Church has had to do this within a political context. When the Edict of Milan was passed in 313 AD, Christianity became the ‘official’ religion of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t too long from that point when Christianity transformed from persecuted sect to running the empire. There has always been a temptation to merge Church and State. When that happens, look out! Christianity is not meant to be a state religion. It flourishes when it is free from government control and influence, and that can only happen in a society where freedom and liberty are cherished. Anything Christians can do within the political structures available to them to make the society they live in freer, the better — both for the Church and the people in general. The best form of government is the least government possible — or no government at all.