Two hundred years ago, some men in a British Colony decided that the foundation of any government had to be its philosophical assumptions. In other words, they wanted to define WHAT they were governing before they built the FORM of the government.
They summarized that content with these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The American founders defined “to what end” their governance was to support: life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. They then set out to create a form that would capitalize on the strengths and defer the weaknesses of Men/Women to achieve that end.
Why did these men make such a historic transition and develop such a revolutionary Governing Philosophy? The answer is simple: because they were students of historic tyranny and the ideas that drove governments to oppress.
Christian debates over governmental forms tend towards fruitlessness. The foundation, the “to what end…” has not been defined. Actually, I need to amend that comment: the foundational assumptions of Christian Governance have been directly tied to the political evolution of human history. From the governing assumptions of the Roman Empire, to the feudalism of Charlemagne, to the Three Estates of the Middle ages, to the Divine Right of Kings, the Magna Carta, to the Spanish Inquisitions to the Reformation and Counter Reformation, to our modern day Charismatic Chaos or Black Liberation Theology, or Sovereign Grace Ministries’ resurrection of Protestant Papacy.
We can talk until we are all a different shade of blue about the FORM Christian Government can or should take. Should it be Episcopalian? Should the form be Congregational? Should the form be without form? The reality is until we decide exactly WHAT we are governing, the form is irrelevant.
Most people don’t even realize they are advocating historic political theory when they quote bible passages advocating various Government FORMS because they don’t realize the source of the philosophical assumptions. At the moment, I’m not going to extract those historic sources. My point is: to answer the questions of Church Polity FORM, we need to back up and start at a very different place and identify the irreducible principles that undergird the need of FORM.
Tyranny is the substance of government, so spiritual tyranny is the substance of government in spiritual matters. Or maybe I should say Spiritual Tyranny is the use of spiritual themes to perpetrate government–to perpetrate force.
My next few posts are designed to show forth how much remedial work needs to be done.
So many Assumptions, Presuppositions, and Filters are already in place that we read the bible with profoundly closed eyes. Or maybe better said, we read the words but our conclusions are ingrained in the history of our tradition or driven by the substance of our fears.