Revisiting the Christian and State Relationship.

Archive for the ‘Vernard Eller’ Category

Is God’s law impositional?

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.

Free today

I am free to be a man today because I choose it. The libertarian ethos says that I take responsibility for myself, that I take responsibility for creating community. Some see it as demeaning or destructive of community. By rejecting socially accepted norms one is said to be rejecting community.

On the contrary, in recognizing the long list of rules and redistributions undertaken by a few designated looters, and in bypassing those, I am bypassing an unhealthy, mushroom laden swamp. If I see through the illusion, then why would I continue to participate in the illusion?

I reject today the idea that the modern democratic state is a mark of progress. Not so. As Hoppe points out, we are living in a period when the form of the state is especially decivilizing (Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy—The God That Failed, pp. 1-43). It creates unhuman and unnatural behaviors in people. Instead of depending on family and church, we learn to trust in the state (Hoppe, pp. 98, 183, 184, 197) and its money-creating magic wand. We don’t learn from each other or experience each other; instead, we wait for our government checks and trust in agency this and agency that to address needs.

I reject today that in a coercive setting the majority vote is just. Why should the majority impose its will on a minority? Why would we count that as being right? Why would I participate in that? God gave me free will; why wouldn’t I seek to exercise it for myself? I reject that community is formed by imposition.

I reject the grand illusion painted by the media, merely a water-color cartoon painted in shades of groupthink. Why would anyone soak their brain in the stale juices of Rush Limbaugh or Regis Philbin? I was given ears to hear for myself and I need not the mind of a “truth detector” or a glib entertainer to tell me about my world or to create in me their world.

I choose to see those things as background-radiation, not to be taken seriously, not to be mentally ingested. Like weeds along the side of the road, that world is here today, gone tomorrow. I choose not to live in that prison with its soft felt bars. One who sits in a cell lined with rich Corinthian leather is still not free.

Freedom, however, makes me human. As an anarchist, I am free from the need to seek power or manipulate it. Eller is right: “sinful humanity is simply incapable of exercising impositional power without being corrupted by it” (Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy, p. 40). I don’t want to be corrupted by it. Now I see that and refuse to respond to its siren call.

The nonconformity of Christian anarchy—the refusal to recognize or accept the authority of the arkys of this world—is done in the name of “freedom.” And this is not the same thing as “autonomy”—that being the secular name for freedom, not the Christian. No human arky can create or grant freedom; the idea of “government,” of “imposed arky,” is essentially contradictory to that of “freedom.” Yet, just as truly, the simple elimination of arky creates, not freedom, but only “anarchy”—which is not the same thing. No, Ellul suggests that there is for us no once-for-all liberation, but that our freedom is to be found only in the act of wrestling it from the powers. “It exists when we shake an edifice, produce a fissure, a gap in the structure” (Anarchism, p. 23) . . . . Arkys don’t really care whether you love them or fear them; what they can’t stand is being ignored” (Eller, pp. 19, 20).

There is where I am. I recognize that I am free to ignore them. The news they construct I need not listen to; I am free. The laws they construct and enforce by coercion are of little moment; when the bottom falls out most of that will fall by the way. The media they pump across the satellite network is an artificial reality, a world of their own generation; I stand outside of it. I am free. I wait neither for the latest pronouncement by CNN or Drudge. I am not ignoring the real world, but living in the real one, the one formed by my own concrete actions.

Which brings us back to community. There is a community in the gap, in the fissure, already. There, people interact directly with people, they help one another freely, without imposition. They need no state to make this happen, no impositional authority, no logo on the side of a vehicle, no statute to force them to be good. Every plant that God has not planted will be uprooted (Matthew 15:13), and He did not plant that weed, the state (1 Samuel 8).

All of this is only a beginning, but it is an important beginning. Because I am a Christian, I am free today. I find richness in going around the edifice, in producing a fissure, in living in the gap rather than the leviathan structure. I am free within the matrix. I serve Jesus, the Lord of freedom. I belong to another world.

Liberty and pharaoh’s heart

Process these thought-seeds from Ellul:

The biblical view is not just apolitical but antipolitical in the sense that it refuses to confer any value on political power, or in the sense that it regards political power as idolatrous, inevitably entailing idolatry. Christianity offers no justification for political power; on the contrary, it radically questions it (Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, pp. 113, 114).

Ellul holds that the world of the political is inevitably subverting. As soon as we identify with one power block because we are fighting another power block, we are engaging in a battle that is not our battle. Vernard Eller also gets it:

The battle of the arkys—whether it be the “good” ones or the “bad” ones who seem to be carrying the day—has absolutely nothing to do with the coming of the kingdom of God and his redemption of the world (Vernard Eller, Christian Anaarchy, p. 196).

The Christian is free to ignore the arkys that spread across his horizon. He is free to be non-political, to recognize that all these horizontal arkys are in the process of either coming or going, springing onto the scene or departing from it. Jesus neither affirmed the Roman occupiers nor offered His influence to the zealots who fought Rome. He refused to choose arky A or arky B, because He was the true ARKY, God Himself come to live among men. He set up His tabernacle on planet earth and ate with us, sweated with us, hungered with us, and died with us. He identified Himself totally with us—not with our feeble arkys.

The Christian is free to recognize that he is to follow Christ and that the state is of little more substance than a dandelion. The arky that he subscribes to is THE ARKY. It is God who is so ultimately powerful that He need not flaunt it, and rarely does. He is not threatened by us and offers us liberty. He makes men free.

Someone might say, but what about Pharaoh? In the Bible God says that He hardened pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3). The showdown between God and pharaoh was one of those rare situations where God does intervene, ARKY versus arky, and puts the human in its place. The outcome is always the same.

In the case of pharaoh, God did harden his heart, but pharaoh was a man. Pharaoh had free choice. Pharaoh was committed to posing his arky against God’s ARKY. Instead of granting freedom to the Hebrews as God insisted (Exodus 5:1), pharaoh was determined to remain slave-master. God would not have it. Because God insisted on freedom, and pharaoh insisted on bondage, God did harden pharaoh’s heart. He hardened it by insisting on freedom for men, and pharaoh was committed to enslaving them.

That is, God hardened pharaoh’s heart by God refusing to bend. He was relentlessly good, and pharaoh was bent on fighting against that. Pharaoh had free will and he used it to rebel against the ARKY of freedom.

Eller quoting Barth (with Eller in brackets):

There is not a second kingdom of God [namely, one God has appointed to Caesar] outside and alongside the first. There is a human kingdom which is authoritative and can demand obedience only as such [i.e. only as a human arky]. And this kingdom is sharply delimited by the one kingdom of God (Eller, p. 154).

That is, human governments are just that—human governments. The task of the Christian is not to oppose them as much as to ignore them, not to legitimize them but to transcend them. It is most interesting to see the rising interest in the U.S. Constitution, secession, and nullification. But the business of the Christian is to be a living example of THE ARKY, of a government that is maximally moral, and maximally free. Just as God’s commitment to liberty inevitably raised pharaoh’s ire, as His goodness hardened him, so your commitment and mine to the kingdom of God will stir the wrath of others. Because, deep down inside, they are living on the plan of bondage and in subtle justification of self, must make themselves its advocates.

Tag Cloud