Christianity 201

July 15, 2013

The Best System of Government

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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Bill is one of the five authors at The Thinklings blog. This appeared recently under the title On Politics.

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” – Matthew 21:23-27

A month or two ago in my daily reading I happened upon this passage. It is a passage I have read many times before. I tend to underline and at times write in my Bible as I read, and so I wrote something in the margin that I’ve never written in the margin of my Bible before.

A single word: “Politics”

Political thinking is one of the most consistent traits of Jesus’ detractors, far more so than theological thinking, which is ironic, since they thought of themselves as such astute theologians. It’s illustrative to look at the passage above as a representation of all political thought.

Notice the fear: “But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

Notice the complete disregard for, you know, the actual truth: And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say . . .”

Writing that single word in the margin was an epiphany for me. I began to think of the many instances of political calculus in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament. The Jewish leaders in their dealings with Jesus. Pilate in his dealings with the Jewish leaders and the crowds. Herod in his dealings with John the Baptist and his guests at the banquet. Herod Agrippa and Festus before Paul. Nicodemus, coming to Jesus at night for fear of what his associates might think. This helped sharpen for me my understanding of one of the chief, if not the chief attributes of political thinking: fear.

I’ve been around awhile, and I remember well the heady days of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the church in America began flexing her political muscle. There was real hope then that we were going to change our country and our culture for the better through electing the right people. But we did not see the fatal flaw in our thinking: everyone we elected was, by definition and necessity, a politician.

Being a politician isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am thankful for the people who put up with all the argle-bargle and jiggery-pokery of political life to fill necessary leadership positions. But shame on me for ever trusting in elected officials to actually change the culture. In reading about the chief priests and elders of the people above, do you sense any of the courage needed to drive a culture in a good direction?

Politicians, with only very rare exceptions, do not drive cultural change. They are followers of the culture. They, by definition, “fear the people”, because the people, not the truth, keep them in power.

What drives culture is changed hearts. And hearts are only changed by the good work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration through Christ, or through the gentle and deadly drift away from God as we experience and conform ourselves to a world system of power, pleasure, riches, entertainment, angst, and apathy that is ultimately driven by the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

Yet I feel the pull of politics. The game is afoot and it’s easy to become immersed in all the tribalism and division our political culture engenders, wherein people who would otherwise be politely disagreeing over minor issues behave like mortal enemies.

Jesus offers the better way of the Kingdom. I’m gratified that more and more of my Christian brothers and sisters seem to be laying aside the false hope that we’ll be OK if we just get this next election right.

Now I’m not saying that we should check out. I believe Christians need to be involved in politics to the extent that they can do so within the boundaries of the fruit of the Spirit. We should vote. We should even engage in political opposition where appropriate. We may be called at times to lay down our freedom or even our lives to bring urgent change to our land. But we should not hope in our political masters to lead us to the promised land. Jesus has already made that way open.

In a nation with a disintegrating culture, the best we will get from our politicians is a sort of delaying action, and I’m not discounting the value of that. But ultimately, our politicians are going to follow the culture where it leads.

This is one reason why I don’t believe democracy is the best system of government. I think it may be the best system when it comes to organizing fallen humans, but ultimately the best system of government, in my view and more importantly the Bible’s view, is an absolute monarchy.

But only when the Monarch is absolutely perfect.