While for many Christians pluralism seems pragmatic, it is very problematic. Popular wisdom suggests that Christians can only be relevant if they work for small gains within the existing system and stand strongly for one or two non-negotiable social issues. We can’t change the world in a day, so this is an understandable response. However, long-term cultural reformation requires something more — a consistently Christian political philosophy, one drawn from the Bible rather than from Enlightenment principles, so that Christian voters, Christian candidates, and Christian judges can use it as a standard.
Of course, formulating and articulating a comprehensive approach may seem impossible, even pointless. We have very few models, and those we do have aren’t exactly the best models. Medieval Christendom has become a cultural relic, studied by crusty classicists and wistful neo-Catholics, but to many it is an oppressive, arrogant, and ignorant dark age. We are suspicious of the Puritans, because their zeal for the Bible, grandness of vision, and rigorous discipline covered incredible hubris. By the time the Constitution was written, Montesquieu and Locke had replaced Calvin as the dominant voice of New England political theory, and our national documents are haunted by the older commitments rather than self-consciously tied to them. The South, the last example of anything approaching a Christian philosophy of limited government and constitutional consistency, was defeated, and whatever legitimate principles she held are ignored or vilified because they were used to defend slavery. No, men say, it is too hard to work for a Christian society; we must live in the here and now. These models were hardly consistent, and were often terribly misguided, in their attempt to apply Biblical principles to culture and civil polity, so they are best forgotten.
Yet, we must always have a vision. We cannot participate in the political process faithfully if we have nothing distinctive to say, and more importantly, if we don’t have a civic philosophy that is fully consistent with Biblical theology. We should at least understand the foundation of Biblical civil government, and what a nation committed to Christ would look like.
Toward a Christian Theocracy
It is true that Christians are so divided theologically that a single vision for society seems impossible until the church herself is reformed again by the Word and Spirit of God. Yet there is one basic principle that we all should accept: the Christian philosophy of politics desires a Christian Theocracy. Wait. Before you start to hyperventilate over this hot-buttoned and much-maligned phrase, let’s consider what a “theocracy” truly is.
Simply put, a theocracy is the rule or power of God. A Christian theocratic nation is one that recognizes the supreme authority and power of the triune God, and in humble submission, seeks to implement and enforce laws that are consistent with His revealed will. It views the function and goal of civil government in relation to Jesus Christ’s present mediatorial reign at the right hand of God, an aspect of His lordship that many Christians still ignore or relegate to personal piety.
There are numerous misconceptions surrounding the term “theocracy,” and so in advocating a Christian theocracy, we must be exceptionally, and winsomely, careful in addressing them. First, a Christian theocracy would have nothing in common with radical Islamic states. It would not support aggression against religious dissenters or war against unbelievers. Nor would it support subjugation of the state to the church. Such a state would be an “ecclesiocracy” (rule by the church), which is a common mistake even within Christian circles. A Christian theocracy would not mean the end of religious liberty, require forced conversions and church attendance, or demand the subjugation of science to the authority of a theological board of governors. These are convenient stereotypes brought about by very real and tragic examples of such abuses in history, past and present. But they are simply false. Although the term “theocracy” is politically inflammatory, Christians should at least give the idea a fair hearing.
Civic Wisdom and Understanding
In a theocratic culture, the Bible would be given more than just lip service. It would be read, studied, and thoughtfully applied to the issues and problems of current society. Civic leaders would have been nurtured in Christian homes, discipled in Christian churches, and trained in Christian universities to understand the broad spectrum of Biblical piety and law. Citizens would expect the Bible to guide them in their personal affairs as well as in their civic responsibilities. Everyone would agree that the civil polity God gave to the Jews, while specific for that nation, contains moral principles and applications for any believing nation. Deuteronomy 4:5-6 says: “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land you are going to possess. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” God intended His law to be a source of admiration and emulation for other nations. A theocratic society will warmly embrace His wisdom and desire righteous laws.
No King But Christ
Forms of government will vary in Christian societies, but the ultimate allegiance of each should not. Jesus Christ is the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Judge of judges. As a reward for His obedience, suffering, and death the Father has set Him at His right hand and placed all things under His feet (1 Cor. 15:22ff.; Eph. 1:19-24). His Lordship is fundamentally personal and spiritual, but it is not limited to the sphere of personal piety. Isaiah wrote that the “isles will wait for His law” (42:4), and later adds that the nation or kingdom that will not serve His Kingdom will be utterly destroyed (49:23). David exhorts kings and judges to kiss Him (Ps. 2:8). John introduces his Revelation by stating that Jesus Christ is “the prince of the kings of the earth” (1:5), a statement of vast political significance for Christ’s present historical Kingdom. In a theocratic society, the Lordship of Jesus Christ will be a political reality, and laws will support and nurture His Kingdom, will be consistent with His revealed will in Scripture, and will remove any barriers to the church’s task of world discipleship. Jesus’ kingship does not blur the institutional lines between church and state; they are separate spheres, with distinct goals, jurisdictions, and methods. However, they are united in common allegiance to Jesus Christ, and in a theocratic society would promote and support each other in their unique tasks.
With the Bible as its foundation and Jesus Christ as its supreme King, a theocratic nation would take a distinctive shape.
Government itself would have limited powers. Welfare would be the responsibility of private charity and church oversight. Taxation would be limited to provide only for the legitimate functions of government — civil defense and justice — thus unleashing huge amounts of capital for additional investment, product development, cost savings to consumers, and civic projects. Business owners would not be allowed to escape product liability by hiding behind a corporate shield; this would protect workers and consumers, result in a more personal marketplace, and foster market accountability and responsibility. Science and technology would be free to proceed apart from government regulation and intervention except in instances where God’s law respecting life and property are violated. Education would be considered the sole domain of the family and church. Currency would not be created by fiat but based upon a fixed weight and balance, without the inflationary and deflationary patterns caused by the fractional reserve system and a government regulated economy. The courts would adjudicate with Biblical principles, and the guilty would be punished according to God’s law without plea-bargaining, incarceration, or judicial caprice. The bureaucracy required to maintain a monolithic government would vanish, laws would be fewer, and the scope of government would drastically diminish.
This is not a utopian dream. And the theocratic vision will never be implemented while secularists are in power. Such a society is the inevitable fruit of the gospel, as secularism is gradually defeated. Men will desire this sort of political arrangement as their hearts are subdued by the Word and Spirit of God. They will come to see political polytheism as a bankrupt political economy.
Without such a society there can be no liberty. Yet unfortunately a significant portion of the church is quite content with status quo politics. Many are also decidedly opposed to Biblical law as the foundation of civic justice even as they give little heed to it in their personal affairs. Cultural reformation must begin with church revival marked by a true work of God’s Spirit, uniting men to Jesus Christ, and producing self-government in terms of God’s Word. We need both Herculean evangelistic efforts and a renewed commitment to Biblical, Kingdom-oriented prayer. We do not lack the resources for such a society, but we do lack dependence on God, and do not have a clear vision of the glory, power, and majesty of the enthroned King. Without these, liberty will gradually give way to statism.
Have no doubt. We shall see such societies in the future. The isles will wait for Christ’s law. Kings and judges will kiss Him. All His enemies will be made a footstool for His feet in history, and He will bring righteousness, justice, and peace to the nations. This hope, however, requires us to reject partisan politics, turn from our fatalistic eschatologies, and fall down before Messiah the Prince in faith and repentance. He will animate us with His Spirit to press His full claims on men and nations. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
- Christopher B. Strevel
Rev. Christopher B. Strevel currently pastors Covenant Presbyterian Church (RPCUS) in Buford, Georgia. He also oversees students in Bahnsen Theological Seminary specializing in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. He currently resides in Dacula, Georgia, with his wife of twelve years, Elizabeth, and his three children, Christopher, Caroline, and Claire.