After the American Civil War, public school textbooks began emphasizing the virtues of “democracy.” The process of democracy, not liberty under law, was presented as the process that made the American system work, the source of its greatness. At the same time, however, we have a great deal of historical and contemporary evidence that the democratic process has always been infected with, if not controlled by, blatant lies and fraud. The term “politician” early became synonymous with an opportunistic, self-serving fraud. Mark Twain once said, “ … I can never think of Judas Iscariot without losing my temper. To my mind Judas Iscariot was nothing but a low, mean, premature, Congressman.” Far from a refining process, our political system has been a method whereby men of the lowest character are elevated to positions of power.
One of the reasons Americans bought into a faith in the democratic process was their assumption that it would move us further towards a just social order. To believe that, it was necessary both to think men generally had similar ideas of what justice was and to believe those standards would be ethically defensible. Justice is a moral concept of what is right and wrong, what should be tolerated or required on the one hand or discouraged or forbidden on the other. As a moral position, it is necessarily religious in nature. Even as America became less Christian its moral ethic long remained largely Christian, so its view of justice was, with some exceptions, rather predictable; it fell within certain bounds. As America religiously moved further away from Christianity, other standards of morals, and hence justice, were prominently advocated, and we became increasingly divided. Marxism, for instance, must redefine the theft condemned in the eighth commandment as just, and then its violation of the sixth commandment against murder as a necessary step against those who resist this new moral order. Democracy seemed to work until the Christian ethic was abandoned and a hostility to Christian history and faith was added, and our political process became a polarized conflict of worldviews.
What Do We Have in Common?
Many years ago, I heard my father say that community necessitates communion, that there can be no community if there is nothing shared incommon, and what held America together for many years was its common Christian faith and ethic. The difference between Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists in the 19th century were far less than now. They sang many of the same hymns and their catechisms and statements of faith were surprisingly similar.
The apostle Paul referred to the Lord’s Supper as the “communion” of the body and blood of Christ (I Cor. 10:16) and the sacrament is often referred to by that term. He used the theme of what believers had in common in the next chapter as well, in that some were failing to see their unity in the body of Christ and were acting as if the faith only involved personal or family concerns. They were “not discerning” their common bond in the community that the ecclesia represented.
Sin Causes Division
I have always thought it was significant that life in Eden before the fall is not described to us. We could not understand it, so controlled are we by our sin natures. Once we see Adam and Eve sinning in Genesis 3, they become understandable to us as sinners. Our sin seems normative to us, where Scripture presents it as something foreign to Creation which God will remove entirely in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
The insight we get into Adam and Eve comes after the fall and it is one of sinful avoidance of responsibility by blame shifting. Sin always causes division (James 4:1ff.). To avoid such division, we must self-consciously pray and submit ourselves to God (vv. 3-4, 7), seek His grace (v. 6), acknowledge and mourn for our sinfulness (vv. 9-10), approach God with pure hearts (v. 8), and obey Him (vv. 11-12). It is not the democratic process of coming together that will solve our divisions, but submission to God and His righteous (i.e., just, for they are the same word) law. In that submission to God we have communion, something in common, and hence community. What Paul was getting at in I Corinthians 11 is that our primary community is the community of faith.
We share much with other believers that we do not have in common (in communion) with those without the body of Christ. Essential to our understanding of who we are is that we self-identify as a Christian, a child of God by grace. We are creatures made in the image of God, which the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 10) rightly identifies as involving knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion. (Eph. 4:24, Col. 3:10, Gen. 1:26-28).
Our knowledge, our epistemology, must be based on our worldview that is God-centered because we believe in our total accountability to the Creator and Lord of all. Righteousness is not merely our personal moral ethic; it is the justice of God, His requirements for all ethical criteria in personal and public life. This must necessarily include the realm of politics; there is no arbitrary limitation of God’s righteousness to His people in Scripture. Holiness is being set apart to God and for His purposes. It is a dedication to service in this life, not a monastic isolation from the world. God’s first command associated with His own image was that man should exercise dominion. This is not a license to control the creation as if we were its sovereign, but a command to govern as a faithful servant in the recognition that the earth is “the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1). Exercising dominion in terms of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness is how we self-identify as being in the image of God. It must therefore be how we identify ourselves as a community of faith in Christ.
Faith in Democracy?
America’s faith in the democratic process is now largely a thing of the past. It is unlikely the process was aboveboard before the recent election. It is now likely the procedures of democracy are as untrustworthy as the promises of politicians and parties. The divisive nature of our political process has placed us in a state of perpetual conflict, as evidenced in the long, concerted attempt to discredit the winner of the 2016 election. Regardless of who takes the oath of office on January 20, 2021, this divisiveness will continue for the foreseeable future. We have no communion, no common thread that holds us together.
I was a teenager in the 1960s. Even with all its revolutionary upheavals, there was still a far greater sense of confidence in many institutions than there is today. There was a much greater trust in the integrity of government then, certainly. It was not the same level of trust of citizens who surrendered their gold for paper in 1933, perhaps, but there was a belief that government could solve our problems, as evidenced by support for L.B. Johnson’s reckless “War on Poverty” spending fiasco and the slow opposition to the casualties in the Vietnam “police action” without results.
In the 1960s the cult of science still controlled popular opinion. The previous decade, polio had been conquered and we had committed to visiting the moon before it was technologically feasible. It was believed we could do it because we were determined to. It was widely believed that man was, through medicine, technology, and scientific advances, solving his problems.
The police were respected. Public education was a venerated American institution. Courts were seen as a means of justice. Now and then I hear someone determined to take their case to court because they are certain they are in the right. I have to remind them that Biblical ethics play no role in our courts, and the statutes that do are often very unjust.
Confidence in these institutions is now incredibly low. But what do we do about our dissatisfaction? Without a common ethic, we have no sense of how to resolve our displeasure. “Conservatism” runs the gamut of anarchism to a desperate attempt to hold the line on our remaining liberties. “Liberalism” varies between a dishonest Marxism that parades as “Progressivism” to racist, discriminatory politics in the name of anti-racism and anti-discrimination. To complicate matters, governments and courts now claim powers regardless of any legislative basis, so we are closing in on authoritarianism while still hypocritically claiming we operate in the name of “the people.”
Democracy assumed that its participants had much in common and, after the Civil War, most felt they did. Americans even felt they could honor the memories of both sides of that war. Not today. It is demanded that we choose sides once again. Division rules, not unity.
A Nation Running From Christianity
Christianity has been banned from the public arena. This has been finally accomplished in my lifetime. The result is only more conflict, as men vie to control others. Something must fill the ethical void left by the banishment of Christianity and the conflict is getting ugly.
Men, we must remember, are never unified in their rebellion against God. Their only commonality is that they are opposed to Christianity. But when men run from God they do not do so in unity, but in chaotic flight in every possible direction. This is the chaos and irrationality we see in our modern world. Only Christianity has taught that there is a “harmony of interests” in men under God and in the Kingdom of our Lord. He makes all things new. The unregenerate cannot be unified because they believe in the Darwinian concept of the inherent “conflict of interests” that means endless infighting and warfare.
Ultimately, the chaos cannot continue and will end, though not without causing a great deal of damage along the way.
The shaking of God continues (Heb. 12:26-27) so that those things which cannot be shaken might remain. That is how it ends. Pray for the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, as that will be the critical factor in how much damage will occur before the next growth spurt of the Kingdom of our Lord.