SOME DARE CALL IT THEOCRACY
This ominous-sounding charge was made by the son of the late, great Francis Schaeffer as he discussed the Republican Party and political figures like Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. The irony here is that Bachmann credits watching the elder Schaeffer’s How Shall We Then Live, the seminal analysis of western culture from a Christian-worldview perspective that was produced by Frank, as having sparked her initial interest in the nexus of faith and culture. But now, according to Schaeffer junior, by allowing Biblical truths to inform their world-and life-views, and then permitting those beliefs to guide their public policies, “theocrats” on the Right like Bachmann are seeking to impose a form of “Christian Sharia law” on the country. Their end-game: an America blessedly free of “immigration, black people, gays, and women having a right to choose,” where “whites are in the majority.”
The ravings of a backslider and traitor to both Jesus and his father’s legacy are easily dismissed. (Really, Frank? Herman Cain wants to get rid of black people? And Marco Rubio wants to stop immigration?) But the greater truth Christians need to understand is that the further our nation sinks into the abyss of humanism and statism, the more frequently the bogeyman of “theocracy” is going to be invoked whenever Christians dare to express their values in the public square of politics, government and law. As the Dr. Frankensteins to this imaginary theocratic monster—roaming our land in search of blacks and homosexuals to devour—we need to be up to speed on the presuppositions that drive the witch-hunt. The culture-war is about to get very ugly.
Definitions: First, what does the word “theocracy” mean? Dictionary.com is broadly representative in defining it as a form of “government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God’s or deity’s laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.” As Christians we understand that there is only one, true God. So a more precise definition would replace “God or a deity” with Yahweh or “the God of the Bible.”
The only true, God-ordained theocracy that has ever existed was Israel during the time of the Prophets and Judges, the Urim and Thummim,[ii] and the manifest, Shekinah presence of God.[iii] These Prophets and Judges were Israel’s “ecclesiastical authorities” who revealed the will of God infallibly when operating under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. To insure that His general will was clear to all the people, God Himself wrote down foundational moral and social principles upon which He designed the world to function. There was also the profound benefit of the supernatural presence of, and direct interventions by, Yahweh, the “lights and perfections” of the Urim and Thummim, and other miraculous guidance at this very unique time in human history. Israel’s citizens—the people God chose to bring redemption to the rest of the world by modeling the mysteries of the Gospel,[iv] and through whom He brought the scriptures — were sheep being led by a very present Shepherd, who was manifest in part through literally inspired (from in-Spirited) leaders.
Sadly, because of Israel’s persistent disobedience, the glory of God eventually departed. But for a remnant of faithful prophets—who went largely unheeded and often persecuted—Israel was left a shell of its former self, simply going through the motions of being God’s people, but in reality no longer obeying His commands.
This theocratic structure was reborn and transformed with the advent of Christ. At the moment of Jesus’ sacrificial death, the veil of the Templewas rent from top to bottom.[v] This symbolized the end of the Old Testament order and the birth of a “new and better covenant.”[vi] Beginning with Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the redeemed—Jew and Gentile alike.[vii] Thus the New Covenant/Church age began in earnest. Moses’ desire that “all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”[viii] was wonderfully fulfilled. And Jesus’ last words before stepping out of our time-space continuum and into the Throne Room[ix] of the higher, parallel reality we call heaven became—to borrow a useful analogy from Star Trek—the Christian’s Prime Directive:
Teaching nations to observe all the things that Christ has commanded. That does sound rather theocratic doesn’t it? Is Schaeffer right about Bachmann and other faithful Christians, with the most notable Other being Christ Himself? Does Jesus want His servants to establish theocracies—as defined above—throughout the earth?All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.[x]
That Was then; This Is Now
While every aspect of this new covenant is better than the old—even as the glory of the latter house surpasses the former[xi]—to the less renewed mind[xii] it doesn’t always seem that way. Who wouldn’t love to have seen the parting of the Red Sea or the glory cloud settle atop Mount Sinai; to watch, like Indiana Jones, the Shekinah fill the temple and settle over the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant? Most Christians today, though they have experienced the invisible, internal miracle of a changed, reborn heart, still secretly fantasize about seeing an incontrovertible miracle that would constitute the ultimate, inarguable “proof” of God’s existence and the truth of the Gospel. Surely that would be a better way, wouldn’t it?
Well, go ask Thomas (when he wasn’t exactly ten feet tall).[xiii]
The higher life to which we have now been called—walking by faith and living a self-governed life under the authority of God’s word and the leading of the Holy Spirit—is, from our Lord’s perspective, the better way. And this is not just the calling of some priestly or prophetic class of elites, but one all Christ-followers are called to enjoy and embrace.
There is an additional factor to keep in mind here. Perfect, God-breathed revelation through prophets ceased as the canon of scripture was completed around the time the Templewas destroyed.[xiv] God no longer spoke infallibly through a human agent. No longer were there any books waiting to be added to the Bible—no “new” New Testaments holding for a prophet’s pen.[xv] This means that there is no longer any prophet or judge who can authoritatively reveal the word or the will of God. That is unless he or she is “rightly dividing the [already revealed] word of truth” contained in the scriptures.[xvi]
What does all of this mean with regard to the issue of theocracy? Just this: Pentecost brought with it a profound democratization of culture. With the advent of the New Covenant—and the accompanying emergence of God’s Kingdom—every man and every woman became a priest and a king before God. There is no longer an ecclesiastical elite that can consult the prophets or the Urim and Thummim. We can no longer follow a “cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night.”[xvii] Therefore, a theocratic state like the one established by God through Moses is neither possible nor, more importantly, something that God would now want us to reconstruct.
The eventual worldwide rule of Christ, as depicted in St. John’s Revelation, can only come through heartfelt, joyful, worldwide acclamation. There is not, nor could there ever be, another way.
We should also note that the New Testament epoch was and is a wonderfully inclusive one. At its institution, when the Holy Spirit began to draw from “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation,”[xviii] the church very rapidly became a multi-national, multi-ethnic affair. Apostolic leaders were forced to convene in Jerusalem around 50 A.D. to figure out what was expected from the small flood of Gentile converts entering the now-Christianized synagogues, in regard to the Jewish culture and laws from which the church sprang.[xix] It “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to [them]”[xx] that many of the distinctives of the theocratic Jewish state should not be binding on the Gentiles. More slowly (and more painfully) they came to understand that many were no longer binding on Jews as well.
A massive sea-change was afoot with regard to what the Kingdom of God should look like in relation to this world. Clearly the Gospel had the power to change a person’s heart. Additionally, this inward change would inevitably result in the transformation of the person’s thinking, speech and outward behavior. The early Church also quickly learned that the transformation of a person can result in the conversion of an entire household.[xxi] And if a family can be transformed, why not a community? Not that everyone in the community will be converted,[xxii] but if enough are, because the “greater one” lives inside them,[xxiii] might they also be able to impact the spiritual climate of that community to the extent that an approximate Christian righteousness and justice becomes the popular norm? And if this can happen to a community, why not a city, or a nation…or the entire world? Certainly there seemed to be verses in the Bible suggesting such a possibility.[xxiv] Moreover, Jesus, Himself, hinted at it with the aforementioned Prime Directive.[xxv]
But what would a righteous city or a nation that had been taught “all the things” He commanded look like? What system of law and government would it employ? Clearly it would have to seek to follow and honor God. But how exactly would that work in the absence of divinely inspired judges and prophets?
[the booklet continues . . . ]
(Used by permission: By Eric Holmberg and Stephen McDowell)
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[i] To learn more about Eric’s work see, TheApologeticsGroup.com.
[ii] Exodus 28:30; 1 Samuel 14:41
[iii] Even though Israel was theocratic, it was a Biblically functioning theocracy (as contrasted with other religious theocracies in history and the religious theocracy some Muslims are seeking to establish today). While Israel did recognize God as the Supreme ruler, God did not rule directly, but through His Law, and through judges and representatives that the people chose and Moses confirmed (Deuteronomy 1:13-17; Exodus 18:12-26). Furthermore, He did not rule from the top-down, externally imposing His Law upon the people. God gave His Law to Israel and wanted the people to consent to live in accordance with it. The Biblical theocracy that God established with Israel contained many elements that we consider today to be part of free nations, including: election of representatives, rule of law, separation of powers, separation of jurisdictions, civilian military and police. (See Stephen McDowell and Mark Beliles, Liberating the Nations, Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 1995, pp. 32-35). This is whyIsrael has been referred to as theHebrewRepublic.
[iv] There isn’t time here to fully develop this concept, but the rituals and many of the acts the Jews were commanded to perform—some of which seem strange and even offensive to modern minds (from sacrificing animals to stoning a person who gathers sticks on the Sabbath)—were symbols pointing towards redemption, and providing powerful insights into its mysteries. For a detailed development of this see Eric’s upcoming video When the Bible Gets Ugly. To be notified when it is complete, email us at [email protected].
[v] Matthew 27:51
[vi] Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews7:22; among other verses. Forty years after Christ had established His church as a new “MountZion” and “heavenlyJerusalem” (see Hebrews12:20), bothJerusalem and its temple were destroyed by the armies ofRome. The last vestige of the “old” covenant had been plowed under and buried. Furthermore, the rent veil in the temple tells us that the Holy Spirit (called the Shekinah or the Presence in the Old Testament) is no longer symbolically restricted to the location of the Holy of Holies. He has gone out into the entire world and is present “wherever two or more are gathered together in Christ’s Name” (Matthew 18:20).
[vii] Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17; Acts 10:45; among many other verses
[viii] Numbers 11:29
[ix] Particularly given our troubled times, Christians need to be ever mindful that this Throne Room is not far removed from our world, somewhere beyond the confines of our universe. It is the epicenter of a reality that surrounds us (Matthew 3:2); a taste of which is even within us (Luke 17:21). And that Throne Room—with a transfigured, glorified Man seated in the “captain’s chair” (Psalm 110)—doubles as the Control Room for Heaven and Earth (Matthew 28: 18-20; Revelation 1:5).
[x] Matthew 28:18-20
[xi] Haggai 2:9
[xii] Romans 12:2
[xiii] John 20:24-29
[xiv] Only God knows for sure, but the majority report among current scholars is that Revelation was written after the destruction of theTemple (circa 90 to 92 A.D.). Nevertheless a growing number believe and argue, from textual as well as historical evidence, that the entire canon of the New Testament was completed by 70 A.D., that the “new” order was in place as the last vestige of the “old” order was being eradicated. While I am not an expert in the technical aspects of these matters, as an artist, writer and lover of symmetry, synchronicities, and symbols (and having come to appreciate God as a perfect lover and practitioner of all three), I‘ll bet anyone a dinner in the New Earth that ink was drying on the last scroll of the last book of the New Testament before or as Jerusalem was burning (Eric).
[xv] Christian theology has historically considered the New Testament canon—the compilation of the 27 books—complete since the end of the 4th century, with all of them having been written within sixty years (or less) of Jesus’ crucifixion. Throughout subsequent history the church has rejected all further writings, as well as claims to apostolic authority in writing them. Therefore, the The Book of Mormon, to take the most popular example, cannot be “another testament of Jesus Christ” nor can its author, Joseph Smith, or his successors be considered true apostles.
[xvi] 2 Timothy 2:15
[xvii] Exodus 13;21
[xviii] Revelation 5:9
[xix] see Acts 15
[xx] Acts 15:28
[xxi] Acts 16:31; Acts 10; 1 Corinthians 1:16
[xxii] Matthew 13:24-30
[xxiii] 1 John 4:4
[xxiv] e.g., Isaiah 11:9
[xxv] Matthew 28:18-20
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