Revisiting the Christian and State Relationship.

Having recently completed the series on the Ten Commandments here at C&S, I wanted to address the issue of law. Some Christian anarchists reject the idea of law. They are antinomian. In contrast, we wholeheartedly accept the idea of God’s law. Why?

To observe a law is to recognize an authority over oneself; something exactly opposite the intent of some anarchists. However, there is a difference between government and the state. There are may kinds of government, including self-government. A husband who chooses to remain faithful to his spouse is practicing self-government. There may or may not be a law against adultery, but the man is choosing to make a commitment to his wife and to remain faithful to that commitment.

The state is a form of government in which the ruling forces of government impose their will on the subject population by force. Inevitably, such a government is impositional; it imposes its rule over others. God gave to each man a will, and that will is to be exercised in self-government. A person is granted free will. He is thus granted freedom to choose his moral path. Will he engage in positive action and benefit others, or negative action, harmful to others?

Eller helps here. He points out that we choose between heteronomy (“hetero,” meaning “other” and “nomos” meaning “law”) and “theonomy” (meaning “God” and “law”) positions. “All worldly arkys are by nature heteronomous—each is out to impose its idea of what is right upon whoever has any different idea” (Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy, p. 2). But

When Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ he was saying that, although all worldly arkys have to be impositional, his is radically different in that it does not have to be—and in fact is not (Ibid.).

The secular anarchist position, says Eller, is autonomy—”the self being a law unto itself.” But the Christian recognizes that self-rule, when self is interwoven with a fallen human nature, is also a bondage.

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin (Proverbs 5:22 ESV).

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:19 ESV).

Ellul has pointed out, so very intriguingly that although we talk a good talk about desiring to be free, actually,

It is not true that people want to be free. They want the advantages of independence without the duties or difficulties of freedom. Freedom is hard to live with. It is terrible. It is a venture. It devours and demands. It is a constant battle, for around there are always traps to rob us of it. But in particular, freedom itself allows us no rest. It requires incessant emulation and questioning. It presupposes alert attention, ruling out habit or institution. It demands that I always be fresh, always ready, never hiding behind precedents or past defeats. It brings breaks and conflicts. It yields to no constraint and exercises no constraint. For there is freedom only in permanent self-control and in love of neighbor (Jacques Ellul, The Seduction of Christianity, p. 167).

The Christian anarchist has the answer to Etienne de la Boetie’s famous question about the ruler who rules over a people:

How does he have any power over you except through you? How could he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What would he do to you if you yourself did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? (Etienne de la Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, p. 52, op. cit. in Hoppe, Democracy—The God That Failed, p. 90).

How does he have power over us? We give it to him. We seek out someone to rule us because we do not really want freedom. The Fall so radically impacted humankind that we are repelled by the idea of becoming truly human. It will take conversion, a new power working in us from above, to cause us to want genuine freedom. God must waken in us the call to Canaan and quiet the tedious programming of habit which ever says in us, “Back, child, back, return to Egypt and the slavery you know so well. It is the path of least resistance. Go back!”

The alternative is theonomy, by which I do not mean theocracy. I do not mean an earthly religious kingdom ruled by popes or mullahs or pastors. To engage in theonomy is to be guided by God’s law. His law is not impositional, it is voluntary. He is our Designer; He “wrote the manual” on humanity. He knows exactly what works, what fits, what His original design intended. He knows that which is healing and humanizing for us. Eller again:

God’s arky, his will for us, is never anything extraneous to ourselves but precisely that which is most germane to our true destiny and being . . . Rather than a heteronomous imposition, God’s arky spells the discovery of that which is truest to myself and my world.

The contention of Christian anarchy, then, is that the worldly arkys are of the “all” that “in Adam” dies and are no part of the “all” that “in Christ” is made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). (Ibid, p. 3).

We might add more but this will suffice. God’s law is not against us. If it could give us life, it would, but that is not its function in the plan of redemption. It is, however, a primary instrument of God as we invite Him to search us, show us our wicked ways, and lead us into a better way. A way that is non-coercive, does not use force, and leads rather by the winsome, attractive appeal of goodness (Psalm 139:23, 24; Romans 2:4).

God’s law is not impositional; it is an exact match for humanity and its natural desire for righteousness. To the heart which remains unrenewed, God’s law will seem impositional. Such hearts will seek to find any way of keeping alive because they have not died. Self is alive and God’s law looms as a condemning hammer. But if we die daily, if God resurrects a converted heart in us daily, we will neither be enslaved by our own tendency to seek out bondage, nor be agencies coercing and imposing and lording it over others.

What a different world is coming. The Christian anarchist, and no credit to himself, is riding that cutting edge. May God open our eyes to see ever more of His ways.

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Comments on: "Is God’s law impositional?" (1)

  1. very nicely explained — thanks for clarifying how the Christian viewpoint differs from both secular anarchy and theocracy.

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