Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More Monarchy

Andrew has begun posting a multi-part series on the Kinship of All Believers which currently has three installments (with a hint that more may be coming). It is, as usual, a good read and I agree with most of it, especially parts 1 and 2. Part 3, posted a week ago, is partly in response to some questions I posted in his comments section which relate to an on-going debate we have been having about the merits of monarchy versus democracy. (See here, here and here for background and follow the links for his side of the story. Also note that I dropped the ball in not responding to this post.)

I say "partly in response" because many of the points he raises seem to be in rebuttal to arguments I have never made and upon which I am more or less on record as agreeing with him. I do not, of course, begrudge him the right to confont multiple opponents, but it does make the operation of forming a reponse somewhat delicate. My policy will be to ignore those parts of his argument which do not seem relevent, at the risk of leaving a potential misrepresentation of my views unaddressed. This seems both more respectful and likely conducive to brevity (though in a topic this large, brevity may be unatainable at any price). Any misunderstandings resulting from this plan will no doubt be resolved in further posts.

First, then, let us see how Andrew describes his vision of monarchy:

My original intuition is that human authority is patterned after divine authority, which is monarchical. Though human authority is analogous to divine, human authority images God’s in a real way, i.e. human authority must truly represent God’s authority in the world.

I will agree that human authority is derived from divine authority and resembles it to a degree. But to say that it "is patterned after" and "must truly represent" God’s authority is ambiguous and perhaps an overstatement. This language is certainly not biblical. Since human authority is derivative, its resemblance to its divine original is necessarily limited. So the simple fact that divine authority is "monarchical" does not imply that human authority shares this characteristic. We will return to this point, since we still need to put some content into the abstract resemblance that Andrew asserts. For the present, it is sufficient to point out that a similarity is not an identity and we cannot deduce a similarity in one point from a similarity in another.

The claim that there is no king but Christ, and so we ought to have no human kings, is at bottom an objection—a doubt—that human authority can truly minister God’s authority.

This is an unsupported assertion. Certainly such a claim may spring from such a motive, but it is by no means the only motive possible. My earliest political instincts, for instance, were largely Arthurian and it is only regretfully and through much study that I came to see that the biblical model displays a different ideal. (I am actually working on a project of re-connecting the Arthurian legend to a more biblical theory of government, but that is a topic for another time.)

As I said in the comments to Andrew’s post, I think this sentence is the crux of our disagreement and undermines his later discussion of Church hierarchy, which is otherwise quite sound. The question is not whether "human authority can truly administer God’s authority", it is what form that authority should take and how it should be structured. In other words, what is its shape and what limits (if any) should be placed upon it.

To re-phrase Jack’s question: if all believers share in kingship by virtue of being in Christ, why have particular kings to rule over the others? To some it seems that regenerate men who have the Law written on their hearts and who partake of the Holy Spirit have no need of anyone to rule over them. It is thought that saints, who of their own accord follow the law of love, have no need of any external compulsion to do good to their neighbor. While, ideally, this view is true in the realm of personal ethics, it fails to take into account that the collective action of any society must be directed by those in authority.

Here is one of those delicate points that I mentioned above that I suspect is not aimed wholly at me. The first sentence is an accurate paraphrase of my question, but the remainder of the paragraph does not obviously relate to any point I have ever made. Since we are discussing alternate theories of government, of course "regenerate men … have … need of [someone] to rule over them." And, granted that fact, the obedience due to those rulers must, within reason, be similar to the duty to obey God (Rom 13:1-7). But this only refutes the annabaptist notion of "government" which is essentailly anarchic. Christians who advocate democracy do not deny the need for government, but it is a further question what form that government should take.

I would be inclined to dismiss this paragraph as not aimed wholly at me, especially since the second sentence begins, "To some it seems". But then Andrew claims that "This misunderstanding is reflected in Jack’s following statement: 'As Schmemann points out in the quote from yesterday, we are also "fallen kings" and to that extent often require worldly punishments and rewards to keep us in line. But both biblically and theologically, this need is an aspect of judgment, not an ideal state to which we aspire.'"

Now, I admit that this confusion is partly my fault for trying to compress too many ideas into a single (short) comment. Nevertheless, the idea which Andrew refutes is not the one I was asserting. When I mentioned an ideal state, I was not primarily thinking of a world without government, but of a world without punitive government. And as I mentioned here "I do happen to believe that the bible portrays monarchy as a punishment inflicted on a people who reject God's rule and are, therefore, incapable of ruling themselves." So, to flesh out my assertion a bit more: government would certainly exist in an ideal state, but it would not be punitive and so would not be monarchical. That latter is currently an unsupported assertion, but I will defer the argument until we have more fully considered Andrew's case.

Adam was constituted the monarchical head of the race and entrusted with his dominion-stewardship before Eve was created (Gen. 2:15-16,20). While man and woman jointly exercise dominion over creation (Gen. 1:27ff.), it was Adam who was invested with rule over his wife and posterity in order to direct the God-given work of humanity.

Now, this is truly problematic. There are a couple of good points here, but on the whole the exegesis is unwarranted. Let's take this point by point:

1) Was Adam constituted the "monarchical head of the race"? I don't see any evidence for it. It is true that Adam's sin is imputed to all of his descendents (Rom 5:12-14) and so he is a "type" of Christ, whose righteousness is likewise imputed. But this does not imply that Adam was a monarch in any sense. It is certainly not the case that he was called upon to make any decisions or settle any disputes after the Fall.

2) Was Adam's authority over the animals and over his wife indicative of his authority over other men? Again there is no evidence. It is true that Adam named the animals, thus showing his authority over them, but this was a power granted to all men, not just Adam. The fact that he exercised this power independently of his wife (to whom it is also granted in Gen 1:26) only shows that a husband has authority over his wife, which is not in dispute. In order to demonstrate that this authority was a pattern of monarchical rule, it must be shown that Adam exercised it exclusively when other men were present to whom it was not granted.

3) Does the fact that Adam is the father of all men somehow imply that he is therefore a king? This is a more subtle point and it underlies much of Andrew's later argument so it is worth going into some detail. There is certainly a precedent in the Biblical narrative for the patriarchal rule of an extended family (eg Abram in Gen 14), but it is not clear whether this rule is an extension of Adam's authority which he had by nature or simply a convenient arrangement made necessary because of the Fall and men's consequent inability to rule themselves. I would of course assert the latter. A full debate of this point probably requires a separate post, and I will be glad to go into it if Andrew thinks it necessary but in support of my position let me just make two observations before we move on.

a) Of all the people mentioned in the story in Gen 14, only Abram is not called a king, and he is the obvious protagonist. (Lot, of course, is not a king either but he is a dependent of Abram at only insofar as he requires Abram's assistance.) The one king to whom Abram pays homage is Melchizedek, who represents Christ (Heb 7), so this passage tends to reinforce my view of government rather than Andrew's.

b) The rule of a father over his adult son would seem to be contradicted by the very passage that Andrew cites. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Gen 2:23) It is true that the law bids all men "honor" their father and mother (Ex 20:12) but only children are commanded to obey (Eph 6:1).
So what remains of the notion that Adam's authority was monarchical before the Fall? Not much that I can see. Andrew continues:
Far from diminishing Adam’s authority, the fall only reinforces it (Gen. 3:16,20; I Tim. 2:14). The woman was deceived, not Adam. Furthermore, Adam retained his headship over humanity. Any political theory which employs the fall as an excuse to soften the right of human authority to command obedience has no foundation in Genesis. The Bible makes no such argument. Any critique relying on original sin or total depravity to discredit monarchical authority is an illegitimate application of Holy Scripture. Rather, St. Paul instructs us to “honor those to whom honor is due” (Rom. 13:7).

The verses he cites in the first sentence only expand upon principles that I have addressed above. I am not quite sure if his argument is aimed at me or one of his more dispensational opponents, so I will only note that he has not proved the basis of his claim so anything that follows from that basis is moot. As I have already noted, I do not deny the need of or biblical basis for human government, only that it must be monarchical. That will become clearer in the next passage:

The Body of Christ, the Church, is not an undifferentiated homogeneous mass…there is hierarchical authority in the Church…. Given the facts of Scripture and the practice of the historic Church, we must admit no contradiction between common inheritance and the principle of hierarchy.

Hierarchy is a very good word. It technically means "rule by the holy" and was originally applied to angels or, later, to the priesthood. It has come to mean any stratification, which is a pity, but we can recover some of its old sense if we suggest that it should ideally indicate a connection between faith or wisdom -- which comes from faith (Pro 1:7) -- and the right to govern.

But in what sense is this an argument for monarchy? Certainly there can be more than one person at the top of such a scheme so there is no logical connection.

Neither does "the practice of the historic Church" show that the Church was governed after a monarchical pattern until the 4th century -- when the pattern was copied from pagan Rome:
"Following the judgement of the holy Fathers in all things, and acknowledging the canon of the 150 most religious bishops [i.e. the Council of Constinople 381] which has just been read, we also determine and decree the same things with regard to the privileges of the most holy city of Constantinople, New Rome. For to the throne of Old Rome, the Fathers gave privileges with good reason, because it was the imperial city. And the 150 bishops, with the same consideration in view, gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of New Rome; judging with good reason that the city honoured by the monarchy and the senate, and enjoying equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should likewise receive equal rank in matters ecclesiastical, holding the second place after her." Council of Chalcedon (AD 451. Parallel Jurisdiction Canons 9, 28. Mansi, vii. 361; Bright, Canons, xli, xlvii)

So, do "the facts of Scripture" support a monarchical view? Certainly there was a monarchy in the Old Testament Church, but does that imply that this state was prescriptive? Some of my argument against this idea I have already stated here, but now it seems appropriate to go into more detail.

I have already noted above that Abraham did not function as a king. Nor do Isaac and Jacob seem to. After Jacob, God's people are divided into twelve separate tribes which seem to function independently while still acknowledging some sense of unity. I cannot see any sign of a monarchical pattern here until the time of Moses.

I have already discussed part of why I do not believe Moses' rule shows a pattern of monarchy in my earlier post, but let me note the following points:

1) Jethro points out (Ex 18:14-21) that the task of governing the people alone is "too heavy" for one man and suggests a hierarchy of subordinates, which Moses later indicates were chosen by the people for their wisdom (Dt 1:9-15).

2) Moses is never called a king in scripture. In fact he contrasts his rule with the monarchical model when he says in Dt 17:14 "When you come to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me'"....

Joshua's reign is also not described as a kingship and his reign (as well as that of Moses) is explicitly contrasted with the kings of the nations the Israelites are fighting (Jos 12). Further, he does not inherit his authority from Moses by right of birth, as in most monarchies, but is appointed as his successor by God because of his faithfulness. There is a sense in which both of these men had a monarchical aspect to their reign, but Scripture is pretty clear in contrasting the Israelites, whose King is God, with the heathen who have human kings. There is only a single passage (Dt 17) in the Pentateuch or the book of Joshua that uses the word king in any other sense. This is not dispositive, but I think it is worth noting when talking about the Biblical view of monarchy.

The Judges do not function as kings. In the case of Deborah, Barak and Shamgar, their reigns seem to overlap (Jdg 5:6) and there are possible gaps between the judges. One of them (Gideon) explicitely refuse the offer to rule over the Israelites:
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, "Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." But Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you." (Jdg 8:22-23)

Further, when his son Abimelech attempts to make himself king, he is denounced in one of the most eloquent parables of scripture (Jdg 9:8-20). It is true that the end of the book of Judges seems to lament the absence of a human king "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Jdg 17:6; 21:25), but this is equally consistent with the notion that they had rejected God as their king. The extent to which there is any monarchical aspect to the judges seems to be consistent with my assertion that monarchy is generally imposed upon the Israelites as a judgment upon them for their inability to govern themselves under God's authority.

The confirmation of that principle comes during the time of Samuel, last of the judges (who may nevertheless have been contemporary with Samson). In 1 Sam 8:7, God says explicitely that, in asking for a king "they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them."

Andrew has expressed to me his view (though I don't know if he has said it in print) that this indicates simply that the time is not yet right for a monarchy and the sin condemned here is more a lack of patience or of faith. He bases this on the Dt 17 passage which seems to prophesy the future establishment of a monarchy in Israel. This is a possible interpretation, but it is not explicitly stated in the text and I don't think it could be derived from the passages in question without a predisposition to find support for monarchy. So, as I understand his case (and I may not have argued it as fully as he would wish), it is at best unproven.

However, Deuteronomy also prophesies the future apostasy of Israel, and specifies what remedy the Israelites have available:
Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, 2 and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you.

Note that both passages do not say "if" but "when". If we look to the Dt 17 passage for confirmation that the monarchy is approved by God, does not this also imply that the apostasy is equally approved? Of course not, but there is no obvious difference between the structure of the two passages.

Finally, I think we can find more uncertainty in this notion when we examine the words of the prophet Hosea. He implies in three separate places that the monarchical impulse of the Israelites was not merely untimely but wrong in itself:

1. "They set up kings, but not by Me; They made princes, but I did not acknowledge them. From their silver and gold they made idols for themselves — that they might be cut off." (Hos 8:4) Note the connection of kingship with idolatry.

2. "For now they say, 'We have no king, Because we did not fear the LORD. And as for a king, what would he do for us?' (Hos 10:3) Is it a coincidence that this passage is strongly parallel to the passages in Judges?

3. "O Israel, you are destroyed,
But your help is from Me.
I will be your King;
Where is any other,
That he may save you in all your cities?
And your judges to whom you said,

'Give me a king and princes'?
I gave you a king in My anger,
And took him away in My wrath." (Hos 13:9-11)

This strongly implies both that God's ideal is for his people to have only Himself as King, as well as providing further support to the thesis that the period of the monarchy was an act of judgment and not an ideal prematurely sought.

So the "facts of Scripture" do not obviously support a preference for monarchy in the Old Testament. After the fall of the monarchy in 2 Kings, the people of God were ruled by foreigners through the remainder of the Old Testament period and all of the New Testament. There is no evidence that the Church hierarchy was ever monarchical in the New Testament period, despite what our brother in the Roman Catholic tradition would like to imply.

So what, if any, governmental system is endorsed by Scripture? Based on the examples I have cited above and in previous posts, I would suggest that they strongly imply, using modern political terminology, a constitutional aristocracy arising from the consent of the people and having a strong executive. At its best this is consistent with a representative republic such as envisioned by the founders of the United States, which has the additional desirable feature of democratic oversight. I am perfectly open to the criticism that the US does not fully realize either its own founding vision, much less the biblical model. But that is hardly to be expected in an era in which sin has not yet been fully conquered.

Andrew closes with a plaintive query:
The collective good of humanity is the eschatological Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is already present, exercising authority in the world. This Kingdom has in the past and may well in the future transform families and nations on a large scale. The restoration of Christian kingship would therefore seem be a most significant step toward bringing the nations under the obedience of Christ. I am mystified why so few men of faith cherish this ideal in their hearts.

I would respond that his vision of Christian kingship, though having much romantic appeal, is one or two steps short of perfection. Since it is sometimes necessary to go back before we can go forward, it may well that monarchy would be a "significant step" on the right path. But I look forward to a yet further step when:
"I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jer 31:33f-34)


Andrew Matthews said...

This is an excellent response,Russ. I'll be responding as I'm able.

Rosemary said...

Dear Jack,
It is so good to see discussing matters of the Bible. Whether or not they are for or against, no matter. The discussion alone is good. I will be stopping by more often now. :)