In my last post we looked at what government is supposed to do. This time we’ll think about how it should be organized. While the Bible does not tell us that directly, I believe we can make some inferences based on what the Bible says government should do. There’s a principle that says ‘form follows function.’ So, if we know what something is supposed to do, we can infer from that what form it should take. For example, if I want to move water from point A to point B without the use of a power source, I know that whatever design I come up with must have a downward slope from A to B. That’s a given based on my desired result. The same is true of government. If we want to achieve certain results, certain designs are compatible with that and others are not.
As we said last time, the biblical mandate for government is that it restrain and evil and reward good.
Therefore, government should be structured so that evil is restrained and particularly so that:
- Human life is valued and protected
- Power is not concentrated in the hands of the few
- The boundaries of the God-ordained spheres of authority in the family and church are respected
Government types run the gamut from autocracy where only one person is in charge to anarchy where no one is. I think it’s safe to say neither of those extremes is likely to produce the biblical result. The first concentrates too much power in the hands of too few people and the second is not conducive to restraining evil.
But, there’s a lot in between those two with varying degrees of concentration of power and freedom of action. What about a pure democracy? What about a constitutional monarchy, a representative republic?, etc.
Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper calls pure democracy the “tyranny of the majority” and Winston Churchill characterized democracy as two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner. This also does not seem best suited to restraining evil and promoting good because the standard used to determine if something should be done is fifty-percent of the voters plus one, not an objective standard of good and evil.
I believe the option most likely to produce the biblically mandated result is some form of democratic government that respects individual liberty but with constraints in place to prevent the two wolves from voting to eat the sheep. I call that freedom within a framework.
The Bible never commends libertarian freedom, freedom without constraint. In fact, it condemns it:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 17:6
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. – I Peter 2:16
The kind of freedom God gives is freedom within a framework:
“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17
We are not free to do absolutely anything but only those things within the boundaries set by God. Any parent will tell you raising children with no boundaries within which to corral their freedom is a recipe for disaster. The same is true of cultures. Apart from boundaries, and I’m talking moral as well as physical boundaries, cultures cease to thrive and be successful or even exist. True freedom gets extinguished. Complete libertarian freedom with everyone doing whatever they want to, always leads to tyranny.
C.S. Lewis said: “The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish.”
So, the most important decision any society can make is, what is the framework within which we operate?
The Founders of our nation understood that to be the Judeo / Christian worldview and ethic and explicitly said, the Constitution cannot support a culture whose foundation is not in God-fearing morality.
Many of our problems today stem, not from having the wrong foundation but from having none at all, from a belief that no framework exists to which the individual is accountable, that there is no truth claim outside of myself and the universe is entirely bendable to my will. This, of course, is a repetition of the Original Sin, a desire to be like God.
Wayne Grudem, in his book “Politics According the Bible” says:
“…a rather strong biblical argument can be made in support of the idea that some form of government chosen by the people is preferable to other kinds of government (at least during this present age, until the return of Christ).”
He makes the following points in that regard:
- The Bible clearly teaches all people are created in the image of God and have equal value.
- Accountability of rulers to the people is a check on misuse of power and the ballot box is a great way to provide that accountability.
- If the purpose of government (to be God’s servant for our good as Paul says in Romans 13:4), is the good of the people more likely to be pursued by a monarch or a ruler accountable to them?
So, it’s an indirect case but a case can be made, nonetheless. But, again, that government must be accountable to more than just the people but to a set of overarching moral standards that do not change. The Founders recognized that such standards exist and, to use their language, are self-evident:
“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.”
But, what about the fact the Bible clearly teaches that God ordains all things, including rulers and governments, and that many, if not most, governments in history do not follow the pattern suggested here? If the Bible can be used to support a representative government, why are there so few of them in history? Here’s where we have to wade into some deeper theological waters and think about the two wills of God – his secret, decretive will and his revealed, moral will. In Isaiah 46:8-10 we read:
“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
God raises up rulers and governments and he brings them down. He does so in pursuit of his secret, decretive will through which he determines all things that come to pass. Even the wicked acts of men lead to the accomplishment of God’s purposes (Proverbs 16:4).
We, however, are not privy to what God is doing behind the scenes. We must operate using his revealed moral will given us in Scripture and by which he instructs us in righteousness. Therefore, that wicked governments exist and are ultimately used by God for his ends, does not mean we don’t pursue righteous government. It’s no different than in our personal lives. Knowing God will use even my sinful acts for his purposes doesn’t mean I don’t resist temptation and pursue righteousness.
So, in the end, civil government should be some form of democratic government that holds rulers accountable but one that operates within a framework that protects individual liberty.