We here continue a response to Jim Davies, Christian anarchism–Oxymoron?
The first key problem Davies sees is that “ The Bible presents an unmistakable hierarchy of authority” which we are to obey. According to Davies, God lays down rules for no other reason than the exercise of an arbitrary authority on His part.
There are what we name the so-called laws of physics that are connected with our world. In the middle of a conversation with a census guy at your doorstep, he does not suddenly float away or his skin turn blue. The “law” of gravity is consistent, whether a Christian or an atheist walks off a three story high roof. The result is the same.
This is the old question over whether God’s declaration makes something good, or goodness is goodness whether He declares it so or not. Arminius answered this: “God can indeed do what He wills with His own; but He cannot will to do with His own what He cannot rightfully do, for His will is circumscribed within the bounds of justice.” That is, God’s character is innately good, and He cannot act in a way that is contrary to His essential goodness.
The debate here is over nominalistic voluntarism. A Calvinistic approach says that God is free to use His powers in any way that He sees fit to. Arminius argued that God is not freely good but that he is good by nature. That is, He does not arbitrarily choose to be good; He IS good. He is not free to be ungood. Superficially, this would seem to remove freedom from God. But is it a loss of one’s liberty to be able to be what one is?
God’s directives for man are not arbitrary. They apply to all persons. If a person who is kind and gentle drinks poison, he will die. If a person who is harsh and vicious drinks poison, he will die. Far from arbitrary, this is supremely fair. Some things are beneficial to humankind, others are destructive. The Bible points out that God sends rain for the evil and the just, gives sunshine to the evil and to the just. Air is provided and both coercer and coerced breaths it. Thou shalt not steal is a command for all persons, not just certain ones.
In terms of a hierarchy of authority, Davies is mistaken again. God relates directly to the individual. He does not install a hierarchy of authority. Because He is infinite, He can interact with individual persons directly and no hierarchy is needed. His plan of government has always been minimalistic at most. We see it especially in the Bible’s book of Judges. Here, the deliverer (judge) is raised up from among the common people, does his work, and then returns to his common life; he does not become a king or a looting president. The problem in Judges is not that the people lacked a divinely planned form of government but that they chose to ignore God’s moral direction.
When we join a church we choose it freely; membership in a church organization is voluntary, and many churches include mechanisms that give the members some form of say in decision-making. If there is a hierarchy going on, submission to it is voluntary. What could be more anarchic? More voluntary? Davies seems to be nursing questionable presuppositions. Too bad, because normally I tend to appreciate his writing.
Next installment: Let’s talk Romans 12 and 13. . .