The biblical model for civil government, as pictured by the Hebrew Republic, looks strikingly like our constitutional republic. I posed the question at the end of last week’s posting—”What do these principles tell us about the kind of people who will be citizens in this nation?” How do they relate politically to King Jesus?
Historically, there have been two possibilities, the first being a THEOCRACY. Since God created us to worship, we will worship! Even though we initially rejected the Triune God, who created us to worship Him, mankind has always needed, and therefore substituted, a god of our own making. At the time of the Exodus, the nations whom the Israelites conquered all had their own gods, and they all saw their conflicts with Israel as a war between their gods and “Jehovah, the God of Israel.”
In other words, all the nations of the world were political theocracies, ruled by their particular gods. The people of those nations grew up in this climate, and they knew nothing else. Before that, the Greeks and Romans had their mythological pantheons of gods. Whether or not they actually believed in them is problematic. Rome degenerated until Caesar ultimately became the absolute authority in the Roman empire, with all other gods in subservience to him.
Even with the advent of Christianity and its ultimate conquering of the Roman empire, political theocracy continued as the world’s default, recognized, government structure. With ever-expanding Catholic, Orthodox, and, after the Reformation, Protestant movements, the supposed “rule of Jesus Christ” grew exponentially.
However, the churches they founded were very often not “biblical” churches. These nations were generally political ECCLESIOCRACIES—ruled by the church—rather than being THEOCRACIES; ruled by God and His law. Many of these churches were exceedingly corrupt and ungodly. So, there were always “dropout dissenters” from these churches throughout Europe and the Middle-East. From the 9th century to the 16th, these dissenters were, among others, the Paulicians, the Bogomils, the Cathars, and the Waldensians. The founders of the Plymouth Colony in America (the Pilgrims) were a part of one of these separatist groups in England, and they came to America specifically to begin a new colony as a biblical, political theocracy.
In spite of this foundation, the majority of the colonies that followed them were not theocracies, but ecclesiocracies; nine of the 13 colonies were established and financed by the Anglican or Congregational churches in England. Three of the other four colonies were confessed Christian in their governing charters, but not specifically sponsored by a particular church. By the middle of the 17th century, even the Plymouth colony, founded as a political, biblical theocracy, had been absorbed by the larger and ecclesiastical Massachusetts Bay colony.
Rhode Island, the lone colony of the original 13 remaining in our discussion, was unique and literally history-changing. It was started by Roger Williams, a young, fiery, charismatic preacher, who was disenchanted with the legalism and lack of freedom he saw in the Massachusetts Bay colony, where he was a pastor. So, he left and planted a brand new colony, the Providence colony, later known as Rhode Island.
Listen to this excerpt from Gary North’s introduction to his book “Political Polytheism:”
“In 1787, every nation on earth was openly religious. Rulers and citizens around the world affirmed the existence of a particular god, and they called upon their god publicly to defend the nation, bless it, and bring his will to pass in history…Nations were explicitly religious.
“There was only one exception to this rule in all the earth, one isolated political experiment that had affirmed the possibility−even the moral necessity−of avoiding all public references to religion in its covenantal charter. Its founder believed that no city, no state, and no nation should ever publicly affirm the existence of any particular god or religion. This was the first public experiment in secular humanism. In 1787, it had been in operation for a century and a half. That experiment was called Rhode Island.”
This is the second possibility, after a theocracy, for how we, as Christians, can relate to King Jesus politically in our civil government. We can leave the King completely out of the picture, which is what the founders did in the Constitution. Except for the perfunctory “Year of our Lord, 1787” in the last paragraph, neither Jesus nor God is mentioned. Can this be a “biblical civil government?”
This is a government that can be described as SECULAR PLURALISM. The nation’s voting citizens and office holders may have no god, or any god, it doesn’t matter. Government is secular. This is the government with which we have all grown up, thinking and being taught that it is the very best of all possibilities. Even though we were a de facto Christian nation at our founding (90% of the population were professing Christians), we became a de jure secular, pluralistic one in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. God was eliminated from civil government. Many nations of the world have followed our lead and devised pluralistic constitutions patterned after ours. We have been taught that a theocracy is the very worst thing that we could possibly have.
Some time ago, I struggled with these ideas for several years, reading multiple books on each side. Among the writers were Leonard Verduin, a brilliant, articulate defender of principled pluralism, while Stephen Perks and Gary North were advocates of theocracy as the most biblical model.
I found myself, several times, first believing in pluralism, and then, after reading someone else, I would be a theocrat; then read another book (generally another of Verduin’s books) and again be a pluralist. My book, Let Earth Receive Her King!, is my 73 page summary of the results of that study. It is available in ebook form, completely free of charge on my web-page or by simply contacting me personally.
Next week I want to explore what a theocracy would look like in the United States. Also, we will look at the ramifications of the pluralistic government we have, and finally, is a theocracy possible in America, even if we did believe that it was God’s ultimate goal for us. What do we do?