26 November 2015

The Myth of Principled Power

What of Principled Power? We hear of many Christian leaders who argue that our society would be improved and the Church's cause aided if leaders would simply apply Christian principles to society. If Christian leaders would govern as Christians, if they would act in a principled manner, then power can be utilized for the cause of good, it can assist the Church in its mission to manifest the Kingdom of God on Earth.

It must be understood the very notion is actually obscene and is without Biblical warrant on numerous fronts. This dream all but denies the fallenness of man and the teachings of the New Testament regarding the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not built here, but in Heaven. Our treasures are laid up there, our hearts are there. The Kingdom in this world or age, is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Those who are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, regenerated by Him are unable to discern, detect, experience or visualize the Kingdom in any way. It therefore cannot be equated with Christendom or culture in any sense. To equate these social and political components with the Kingdom is to redefine it, synthesize it with the pagan world, allow manifest unbelievers to experience its holy glories and participate in its construction and manifestation. Such a notion runs completely contrary to New Testament teaching and thus must be exposed as an aberrant deviation and dangerous heresy.

When considering power and worldly treasures, the juxtaposition presented to us in the New Testament is striking. An essential component of the Christian/Kingdom life is the denial of both worldly advancement and the idolatry of money, the two being all but inseparable. The academic definitions of money will not suffice to understand and elaborate upon the New Testament's spiritual lessons concerning its corrupting influence. Advocates of so-called 'Christian Worldview' that rely on these definitions and seek to synthesize them with Christian doctrine, demonstrate the syncretistic tendency at work in the 'worldview' approach. While claiming to be a holistic application of Christian doctrine and an attempt to apply the Gospel to all areas of life, the worldview approach at its heart seeks to form a comprehensive system to administer culture. Despite its claims to the contrary it is a speculative extra-Biblical approach and in terms of Biblical hermeneutics it is thoroughly eisegetical. In other words it is not derived from textual exposition but an alien philosophy being imposed on the text and forcing the text to conform to its demands of systemic coherence and its ethical imperatives.

Biblically speaking money is security and respectability, money is essentially a tool and means to power. The ethic presented to us so vividly in the Sermon on the Mount is one of anti-power and anti-security. It is self-denial and denial of the world, its aspirations as well as its enticements. This is why Mammon is contrasted with the worship of God. This is why we are told to render the coin (and all the power it implies) to Caesar and this is contrasted with what we are to render to God.

It's not a matter of mammon being 'okay' as long as it is harnessed and utilized in the service of God. No, money and what is symbolises, security, respectability and the means to power over others is explicitly contrasted with Kingdom ethics. Even though we can speak of this as a generalization and even allow that many of Christ's examples are necessarily hyperbolic it does not in any way detract from the core message.

Power knows no principle but self-advancement. Even acts of charity and seeming altruism must be understood in this light. This is the great temptation and ultimate corrupting danger of power. The seeking of power demands an alternate ethic, a worldly ethic. Seeking earthly power is the denial of the transcendent nature of God's Kingdom and calling.

It is the ultimate idolatry, a destructive and drowning snare that leads to people 'straying' from the faith as the apostle puts it (1 Tim 6.10). The embrace of power which necessitates the embrace of money (for they cannot be separated) leads to apostasy. Paul identifies this lust for 'gain' as being at the heart of the Ephesian heresy and tells Timothy 'But you, O man of God, flee these things..."

In the Parable of the Sower, Christ warns against the deceitfulness of riches and pairs it with the cares of this world. They go together. The cares of this world and the desire for 'things' and the pleasures of life are contrasted with 'bearing fruit'.

Principles (applied ethics) wedded to power are not 'good works' because the notion of 'principled power' is in effect an oxymoron. Power in itself is like an acid, it corrupts and destroys. What does it destroy? Integrity, ethics and (ironically) principles. It must (by necessity) be self-interested and will always seek to maintain its status. In order to 'do good' the deceived man says, you have to 'hold on' to the power and so you very quickly lose sight of 'the good' and instead embrace an ethic of the end justifying the means.

Christian ethics demand we cannot have anything to do with it. We are to die to self, which is a mandate to eschew power.

And when we reflect more deeply on power we understand its true nature and what happens when man wields it... especially fallen man in a fallen world.

When it comes to power, survival is not enough. This is true in politics and economics for the two cannot easily be separated though academics aspire to do so. Economics cannot be isolated from the context of what money is and what a market 'is' and how it functions in the milieu of the world. Power can never be content and rest with what it possesses. It is incapable of saying, 'This is enough, let's stop here'.

People in power know this all too well. To be static is to die. Power must continually grow and seek ways to secure its foothold, acquire more, and if possible keep others from acquisitions which threaten your own turf. Again this is true whether we speak of politics or economics. The principles are the same.

Speaking of 'principles' within the framework of power is self-defeating and ultimately dishonest. The realist school of politics and economics is practically correct but morally and thus ultimately wrong. This is how the world works status post lapsum, in a fallen state, but that doesn't make it right. And that doesn't mean that we adopt the world's mindset and ethics in order to succeed. For that matter we as members of Christ's Kingdom reject the world's definition of what 'succeeding' is.

All too often those who seek or already wield power will speak of ethical principles being applied to their decisions and exercise of authority. They are either wholly naive or they are trying to justify and rationalise their actions. Their 'principles' are in fact illusions and tools utilized to manipulate. They are dishonest in their framing and assessments of reality. They are deliberately or subconsciously ignoring the reality of the principles upon which they operate and certainly doing their best to ignore the true ethics at work in the consequences of their actions.

In every paradigm, mammon is the principle tool. This is true in every economic and political sphere and I'm afraid it's even the main factor in the institutional Church. We see this when we penetrate the nature of denominational politics and even the world of non-profit charities. In every case money plays an essential role in the power of any individual or organization seeking to wield influence and gain a voice whether in its own internalised culture or in the wider world.

We can't use money as power to build the kingdom and we sure can't use it to help ourselves. It represents an instant and corrupting idolatry. It's a tool but a dangerous and corrupting tool.

It's Caesars to give and take. Though this message so central to the New Testament is no longer popular and in fact decried, the Bible teaches this world is wholly corrupted, a present evil age and under judgment. Do Christians really think that by using the world's tools they will somehow change this? Can we undo the evil of the age? This way of thinking ultimately destroys the posture of expectation that we are called to live by. Our hope is in the return of Christ, not earthly schemes to power.

While we certainly are live to God's glory and love the lost in another real sense the course of this world doesn't matter. What a sad distraction for the Church to get lost in politics, the struggle for power. It is a travesty to argue for legitimacy based on this or that scheme, the basis of currency, rules for capital... these are reductionist academic distractions. This is a case of missing the forest through the trees. And then to teach allegiance or rebellion based on these paradigms is also to misunderstand their nature.

Christians are all caught up in questions of legitimacy based on economic principles and then pretend that somehow these economic principles can be separated from the wielding of political power.

Markets are battlefields to be conquered. Do you think the people in power don't realize that? They seek to gain allies to dominate their enemies and then before long they turn on each other and destroy. The ethic of the market is you had better destroy your competition or they'll destroy you. You had best mark out your turf and then guard it and start planning for the next war. A merger or takeover is often just another form of battle.

The market like politics operates by the law of the jungle. Another apt picture is that of a self-destructive hydra. The beast as a whole destroys its enemies but the heads also kill each other. This is how the world works and it's on an almost infinite scale from children on the playground to executives sitting in the tops of skyscrapers. All along the way people are used, infused with ideas and reasons that manipulate them or assuage their consciences and they when they are no longer of any use, they are thrown away.

How are we to respond to the turmoil of the world, the endless war that is fallen society? What are we told?

There will be wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled.

The Christian quest for political power, the control of society and ethics in the realm of government and economics is in the end a fool's errand and a great and unhelpful distraction for the Church.