C. S. Lewis warned us to be very careful what things we describe as Christian. We run the danger of dragging Jesus’ name through the mud. That’s especially true in the field of politics.
So it was a major blunder when Christianity Today published Daniel William’s article, The Forgotten Christian Cause: Preserving Democracy. Last time I checked, what Jesus promoted was the kingdom of God. Conscripting Christ to promote another political system is not only ignorant; it’s dangerous, opposed to his gospel.
Purely from a historical perspective this is nonsense. Democracy was here centuries before Christ. Greek culture was admired in Sepphoris (just 5 km from Nazareth), so I don’t doubt Jesus was aware of Athenian democracy. But Jesus did not teach, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden with Herod’s kingship, and I will give you democracy.”
From a political perspective, it’s harmful to equate American democracy with the kingdom of God (as a “Christian cause”). Consider our brothers and sisters in China. Why help turn their government against them by reinforcing the nonsense that democracy is a Christian cause?
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that democracy is a bad thing. I’m saying it’s not a Christian cause. Democracy has some attractive elements: it restricts abuses of power by limiting the duration and extent of power any person holds. It also has some weaknesses: people are so focused on getting elected that they often don’t care well for the people. All systems of government are both helpful and flawed precisely because leaders use power to benefit themselves. What I’m saying is that promoting any system of government as a Christian cause is a false gospel, not the gospel of Christ.
You may be a Christian with a political opinion, just as you may like a football club. If you live in a country where you can vote, I encourage you to do so. You may even work for the government like Joseph did. But that doesn’t make the government godly.
I wish I could convince the left and the right wing that there is no such thing as Christian politics. God never called us to condemn political agendas, or to support them.
Just as there were false prophets in Old Testament times who undermined the kingdom by speaking for other powers, there are false prophets in the church who speak for the power of Rome or America or whatever happens to be the political system of the day. These voices misdirect God’s people into spending our energies on seeking their own political ends. The true voice of the Spirit promotes one authority, testifying to Christ’s.
The final sentence of Daniel Williams’ article reveals why he fell into this trap. He fears America is losing values that are important to him, and he trusts the political process for those values. That’s seriously misplaced faith.
Let’s get back on message and promote the true Saviour. No current political system can save us. Heaven has given us only one name through which the world can be saved (Acts 4:12).
What others are saying
Mark E. Moore, Kenotic Politics: The Reconfiguration of Power in Jesus’ Political Praxis, LNTS (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 154:
Wilmshurst notes: “The kingdom of Jesus also issues a political challenge to the world at large. It attacks the very foundation stones of earthly politics by calling rulers to abandon their pretensions to absolute power and to recognize the true source of such power as they do possess.” The Church’s proclamation is not “edict” in that it is not backed by any sort of coercive power. Nor is it propaganda, strictly speaking, in that its intention is to warn and invite, not manipulate. This is not a direct threat by violence or debate, nor is it rallying majority opinion or shrewd use of propaganda. It is the simple presentation of truth, embodied in the person of Christ.
A second mode of external influence is far more subversive. It is the kenotic act of suffering and service. Jesus’ model and mandate was self-abnegation in the public square. For those determined to be his disciples, this is not a warning to withdraw from the world and its political systems but a methodology for effectively engaging earthly political structures.
Amy E. Black, Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012):
The label “Christian” belongs to God and His work, not to validate human efforts like politics.
Responding to the question of whether Christians in Great Britain should start a Christian political party, C. S. Lewis answered an emphatic no. Invoking the third commandment, Lewis argued that labeling a particular political group “Christian” would misuse God’s name:
The principle which divides [a “Christian” party] from its brethren and unites it to its political allies will not be theological. It will have no authority to speak for Christianity…. It will not simply be a part of Christendom, but a part claiming to be the whole. By the mere act of calling itself the Christian Party it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal. It will be exposed, in an aggravated degree, to that temptation to which the Devil spares none of us at any time—the temptation of claiming for our favourite opinions that kind and degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our Faith.
When we attach the Christian label to things that are not from God, we claim for ourselves an authority that rightfully belongs to God alone.
2 thoughts on “Why democracy is not our message”
So Allen, this idea could go in so many different directions. A few observations. When we speak of the democracy of ancient Greece it is important to remember that democracy was nothing like what we mean when we use the term. Ancient Greek culture believed that each person was by nature born into a particular role or position within society. Each person had an assigned status. This meant most people had no say in city decisions.
When the ancient city was created citizenship was available only to the paterfamilias and, later, his sons. Women, slaves and the foreign-born (who had no hearth or worship of their own, no recognized ancestors) were categorically excluded. (Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual p. 18)
I wonder what Mr Williams thinks was happening for the centuries through which there were no democracies? The Christian faith has grown under all types of governments and laws. It even continued to grow when the church became the government.
What is central to the development of democracy, is the idea of the individual. This idea did not exist in ancient Greek or Roman thought but is a product of the outworking of the Jewish and Christian belief of the equality of all peoples. Humanity is made in the image of God; all humanity has moral equality rather than natural inequality.
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Thanks, Graham. Ancient Athenian communal democracy certainly was different from today’s representative democracy. I think you’d still agree that neither style is anything like having a heaven-appointed king.