04 December 2014

Inbox: Can We Speak of Christian Anarchism? Was Petr Chelcicky a Christian Anarchist?

Can Christians embrace a form of Anarchism? Jacques Ellul thought so, and he's by no means alone. There's a spectrum to Anarchism. Historically it would be placed on the Left emphasizing the freedom of the individual and a principle of voluntarism as the basis for society. But there's also a manifestation that is usually placed on the Right due to its commitment to laissez faire capitalism. This type of Anarchism, or Anarcho-Capitalism is usually labeled Libertarianism and it is experiencing a massive upsurge in Christian circles. In fact it has created a schism within conservative politics.

Leftist anarchism would embrace the old slogans about property being theft, and in some cases 'No Gods, No Masters', while the Rightist version views taxation as theft, private property and the market as virtually sacred.

But every Christian must ultimately confront the teaching of the New Testament. Romans 13 is of course the text that must be wrestled with and is undoubtedly one of the most misinterpreted passages in history. For Ellul, who did not believe Scripture to be inspired or infallible, it was easy enough to treat it as a form of lesser Scripture or for others, not Scripture at all. Some have rejected the authority of the Apostles and believe they honour Christ by only following his specific mandates in the Gospels. They reject the subsequent body of doctrine taught by the Apostles, especially Paul. This is obviously an unacceptable position.

Others reject the New Testament's supremacy and its authority as the canon of the New Covenant. Of course Dispensationalist don't believe we're in the New Covenant at all! Many Christians refuse to submit to the Apostolic teaching and its interpretation of the Old Testament. They nod their heads when reading a New Testament interpretation of the Old, but then cling to the Judaized forms of interpretation and insist on applying Mosaic law to modern states, or the fulfilled and now obsolete rites of the Temple to the New Covenant Church or some future epoch. The New Testament teaches us how to read and interpret the Old and thus we learn quite clearly in numerous passages that the Old Covenant forms (of which political Israel was a part) were typological, have been fulfilled and are now obsolete. This is perhaps the main theme in the book of Hebrews but this teaching is by no means restricted to that epistle.

Israel and its conduct must be understood typologically. Israel was a picture of Christ and its administration one of redemption and judgment. Even its wars of conquest must be understood as pictures of Christ the Saviour and Holy Judge.

To attempt to treat the Old Covenant polity as something normative for today is to strip it of its typological, theological and covenantal meaning. It is quite literally a form of sacrilege as are all the attempts to argue that Israel was some kind of democratic republic. Israel was an absolute Theocracy. This is not in the sense of modern theocracy, a state run by clerics or dominated by religious legislation. It was an unrepeatable specific Theocracy, a state created by and ruled directly by God Himself.

Sacralists come to Romans 13 and believe Paul is laying out a blueprint for idealised government and since the New Testament is absolutely silent on the issue, and in fact condemns the whole notion, they often turn to the Old Testament seeking models, paradigms and at the very least inspiration for the idea of a Holy State. This is not Paul's aim in the least. Romans 13 is a continuation of the argument in Romans12 and in fact Paul is contrasting the behaviour of the mind renewed, living sacrificed lives of Christians with that of the world and its ethic of vengeance. The state is part of this and Paul is establishing it in opposition to the ethic of the Church.

But the state still exists and always will in this age. Paul is explaining its purpose. Yes, like Assyria and Babylon, even Neronic Rome serves God's purposes and provides a function in terms of God's Providence. It will always be extra- and anti-Christian but at the same time we can be grateful there is some form of the state. The depravity of Romans 1 makes it clear that a world without some restraint, even brutal, sinful and imperfect is better than chaos. We let the dead bury their dead, we will hear of wars and rumours of wars... we're not part of it. We're here to bear witness and suffer to the glory of God.

Sacralism has basically said that in order to fill an 'office' in the Holy State, you may and of course must abandon the ethics of Romans 12. Monday thru Saturday (as it were) you can leave your Christianity behind and utilize this pagan ethic of power and vengeance to help construct the Holy Society. You are only bound to act as a Christian when you stand alone as an individual. This of course is a travesty and yet it is ironic they try and pin the same charge of being Sunday-only Christians on those who insist that we as Christians do not seek power and influence. Will an off-duty police officer indeed turn the other cheek? Their sacrilege has blinded them to the fact that they are doing the very thing they accuse us of. We are Christians all the time and in all things and thus there are many things in this world that we must turn away from.

While Romans 13 has been manipulated and abused by Sacralists, the advocates of a Christo-Anarchism are not properly reckoning with it either.

Some have labeled Petr Chelcicky as a Christian Anarchist. My first inclination would be to say this is misleading but I would qualify that by insisting on a more specific definition of Anarchism. Chelcicky's position (as well as my own), can find some commonality with Anarchism, but only in terms of the school's criticism of the Establishment and the questions it raises. The solutions are something else and tend toward a Utopianism all Christians must reject. Every political and economic model carries something of a utopian promise, it seeks to create a social paradigm that will eradicate the curse of sin and the way it afflicts the world. All are doomed to fail and this must include Anarchism.

Chelcicky most certainly denounces the state as violent and thus non-Christian, and yet nowhere does he advocate agitation or its overthrow. It must be, and its existence is ordained, even specific regimes, but it can never be Christian and we as Christians are to have nothing to do with it.

God ordains the state in general terms, providentially ordains specific regimes, but nowhere does he sanction these specific regimes, their political models, agendas or policies. In the end they will all be judged and be purged from the Earth as by fire. Assyria, Babylon and Rome were Providentially placed and served God's great and mysterious purposes, but they were also condemned and judged as wicked Beast powers. Grasping this dialectic (or paradox if you will) is essential.

The powers that be fall under the general REIGN of Providence, but they are not part of the redemptive REALM... the Kingdom work wrought by the Holy Spirit that will survive into the Age to Come. They fall under the auspices of God as Creator but not Christ as Redeemer. The only nation today that is in covenant with God is the Commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2)... the Jewish-Gentile Church of Jesus Christ. It is Kingdom the world cannot see with their unredeemed eyes.

Even our complete rejection of the state must be qualified. The state, ordained by God, cannot be escaped, and shouldn't be ignored, but we're not to participate in or work with the state.  

Thus, the state must be, and it is a Means utilized by God to restrain evil and keep it from overtaking the Earth.

It's there, but its concerns are not ours. We pray for its peace, we show deference... that does not mean we're  to venerate it, or become patriotic 'citizens'. We pay taxes and in general obey the laws. Some have taken the concept of 'honour' to the point of blind idolatry. The Bible nowhere envisions us as 'citizens' vested in the society. We're always second-class and we must be content in this position. We seek neither the privileges of citizenship nor do we desire to be mere subjects.

We're strangers and pilgrims, sojourners and exiles.

Conflict is inevitable. The state always carries within it the Beast-tendency and it is this tendency that will persecute all dissent, all who do not venerate the Sacral State.

Chelcicky would say that we're called to suffer. The state will persecute us, we will be poor, and success and prosperity are not for those who would remain faithful to Christ.

But like Chelcicky we speak the truth, expose evil, and bear witness. It won't make us popular but the Gospel will spread.

It helps if we recognize the true nature of the world, of This Age, of the Spiritual Warfare in which we are engaged. Only then can we see the real enemy.

It's not the state. The state is not our friend and most of the time isn't our enemy.

The true enemy is the False Church which throughout history has often united itself with state power. The False Church aligned with the State... that's the precise imagery in Revelation. That manifestation of the State is in fact the great enemy to the True Church. It presents a false worldview, inverts the ethics of the New Testament and teaches the Church to behave like the world. It baptizes culture and the state and thus teaches that to utilize violence and wage war are Christian virtues. It's a great manifestation of evil, and will persecute and destroy those who insist on remaining faithful to Scripture. This is more or less the default position of American Christianity and certainly American Evangelicalism.

This position I'm arguing for, this view of the state, has some similarities to Anarchism but in the end it's not a position an anarchist would appreciate. Chelcicky was also less than fond of private property, excoriated the rich and the values of the burgher class...the medieval equivalent of the Middle Class.

But... he did not believe that we should agitate for change or take up arms. It was as if he was content to leave the world in its sinful state... how can we do otherwise? Does God ordain the powers that be or not? But Christians shouldn't behave the same way as the world which we would have to do if we're going to run a nation. They shouldn't embrace the status quo. The enticements of the world, even its possibilities are of little interest. We're called to otherworldliness and obedience, to suffering and humility. The Church itself should be classless... his views were picked up on by Marxist historians... but Chelcicky never expected the world to embrace this.

How can the lost embrace that which can only be wrought by the work of the Spirit?

Society will never embrace a rejection of class. If need be it will simply create a new one as we saw with the Nomenklatura which emerged under Communism. And no state can legislate away fallen man's covetousness. All political and economic systems are doomed to fail.  

But the Church... that's different. We're to think and most certainly live in a different way, one the world cannot understand. We know from the New Testament, contrary to the Judaizing dreams of Postmillennialism that the True Church will always be a minority, even a remnant. We don't wield power and the true number of Christians will always be small. Even if we were to seek power, there wouldn't be enough of us to stop the evil regimes of the world. The lost will wage the wars of the lost and for their own interests. They will coerce people to die in order to preserve their own power. They'll couch it in terms of honour, nation and liberty, but these are all lies and deceptions.

They will try and tell us how to live, how to think about the world. They will try and teach us to find the meaning of life in the narrative of the nation. They will declare wars and demand we fight and die in them. We'll obey their laws, but why would we listen to them, why would offer ourselves to them and pledge our lives and the lives of our children? We have nothing to do with them and they have nothing to do with us.

Perhaps it could be said the Christian view could be one in which we as individuals and as a Church think as Anarchists but we don't act upon it.

Our task even in the darkest of times is to behave right, show mercy, be light and love and continue to spread the Gospel though 'the powers that be' hate to hear it and sometimes will violently lash out at those who refuse to bow down to their golden images.