COMPARING GOVERNANCE/LAW OF STATE AND CHURCH
In 1995, I began to
consider the issue of man's laws and methods compared to God's. From there
it was but a short step to considering man’s organizational structures, and
the governance of them, to God’s ideas for the church — the eklesia; the
called out ones. It is this comparison I want to consider in this pamphlet.
Law and government must each have a Source, a Purpose, and a Method.
For man and his laws and governmental systems:
the Source is Man,
the Purpose is to
restrain evil, protect the structure, and do collectively
what it is believed can't be done effectively individually, and
the Method is power
backed up with punishment
the Consequences of
this approach include forcing people confronted
by law or government into denial, rationalization, justification and blame-casting.
We dare not admit
that we have done a wrong, or hurt another, for we will be punished --
prison if it is a criminal wrong; bankruptcy if it is a civil wrong.
For God and His Church:
the Source is God
the Purpose is
reconciliation of people to God and to one another
followed by a growing in righteousness of men, women and children, and
the Method is
confession, repentance, and restitution by offenders,
forgiveness by victims, and bearing burdens of victims and repentant offenders by the community
the Consequence of
this approach is a freeing of the Holy Spirit to take
the common clay pots of individuals and pour them out as love offerings of God to the world.
What I have just
presented is the field of the philosopher in the world's system, and the
field of the prophet in God's system. The Prophet calls the people back to
the Source, and to the purposes of the Source.
Once having Source, Purpose and Method, we need Form — Form follows function! Form requires Creation, Enforcement, and Interpretation.
In man's law and government, we have:
Legislators who create laws and systems,
Law Enforcement Officers who call us to account for transgressions, and
Judges who interpret the law into the activities of daily life.
In God's system, we
Pastors who interpret God's law to the
activities of daily life. These
pastors are not the person who stands before you on a Sunday and brings a
message, but the one or two elders — older in the ways of the Lord — whom you allow into your life to pastor you in the daily needs of life. They are truly shepherds.
Finally, in both
man's and God's systems, we need A community sense of:
Balance between rights of the individual and responsibilities to the
An individual recognition that we are subject to the law, that its source is
good, that its purpose is good, and that although its method may be flawed it is still worthy of respect and attitudinal submission,
Participation and cooperation by all to make things work, and
A deferring to the
call, gifts, and work of others when we are not gifted or
As I look at the
history of the U. S., particularly the Declaration of Independence, it seems
to me that our founders had a good understanding of the Source. They did a
good job of creating the form. But they did not understand the purpose of
God's law — restoration. This led to two fatal design flaws — the State is
the victim, and punishment is the beginning and end of the game.
To protect ourselves against an indiscriminate punishment, we developed concepts of fault — intent (in Criminal Law), negligence and recklessness (in Tort Law), and "a meeting of the minds" (in Contract Law). We do not want to punish an innocent person (but we are all guilty before God), so we want a "bad mind." If you are considered to have intended what you did, we make you guilty. If you did not act "as a reasonably prudent person would have acted," we make you guilty. If your minds do not meet, we release you from what God considers your vow.
Faced with certain punishment, we deny the acts we do, and the harms we cause. We are offered no incentive to take responsibility and make right the wrongs.
But don't blame the world for this. The world took the punishment model and "state as victim" from the Church! In 1100 A.D., St. Anselm wrote his understanding of the Atonement (why Christ died on the Cross) into legal terms. He said Christ's death gave us nothing for the sins of this life, only for our sin condition. For the sins of this life we will still be punished. This solidified the following: penance — “fines” to the Church as representative of God; Purgatory — “prison” as a required punishment and purging before having peace with God in the here-after; and a Confessional Booth — for we could no longer openly acknowledge having done an act which hurt another. [A THEORY ON THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE ATONEMENT OF St. ANSELM]
Our founding fathers also did not address the matter of rights v responsibilities or individual v community. Maybe it is not possible to legislate such, but it certainly could have been articulated. In turn, we the people have failed in our teaching task concerning rights v responsibilities, and how source, purpose, method, and consequences should be analyzed in light of the Bible.
Thus, we as a nation totter today between
anarchy and tyranny. Which way will we fall — or will we return to the
Source, re state the purpose, modify the structure, and allow the teaching
to take place? I don't know. Eastern Europe seems open to ideas of
restorative justice; I fear we are closed to them in the U.S.
But what about the
Church of today? While the church still sees the Source (God), and states
the purposes quite well (evangelism and training to righteousness), it is in
the form of operation of the church that we have failed. Christ gave us the
form for the Church in Mark 10:42-45:
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant and whoever wishes to be the first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
I submit that there is no room in this for titles which by their nature confer power on one member of the church over another beyond power of persuasion.
Paul, in I Tim. 3:1, if you study the Greek words and how Paul uses them in his writings, clearly distinguished between the office of overseer — for which position, power and prestige a person might “aspire” (translated as “lust” in I Tim. 6:10, in the King James version, the only other place the word is used) — and the work of a servant overseer — that work which is desired to be done as unto the Lord (deferring to the other workers working in their giftedness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit).
We see servant leadership by example in Acts 2:44-45: "And all those who believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have a need."
We see it changing to a corporate structure in Acts 4:34-35: "For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the feet of the Apostles, and they would be distributed to each as any had a need."
We see the Apostles calling the people back to the model in Acts 6:2-5: "It is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to wait tables (there are 12 of us to teach 8000 of you!). But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom (clay pots in whom the Spirit lives and whom the Spirit will guide), whom we may put in charge of this work (of service, but without any title). But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (and trust God to either produce workers for the rest of the tasks or not, trusting His sovereignty)."
Nevertheless, at some point in time
we, the church, changed from servant-based giving center organisms to
property-based corporate organizations. As the world took its punishment
model from the Church, so the church took its operational model from the
Being property based, we naturally seek protection from the State. So we make effort at law to protect our rights. And with a sense of need for protection comes the need for power. Servant based givers need no such power, nor the protection of man.
Property based corporations must grow or perish; so our religious organizations advertise like product salesmen, seeking to lure the sheep from one flock to another. We then compete with one another in ideology, demand our rights, and require more laws. Servant givers know they need only faithfulness in word and deed for the seed to be sown from which God will bring the increase.
It is the way of man to organize himself around an idea or ideology, in both our secular and religious settings. We often start in a spirit of love, often with an insight of God. But we then try to preserve what we have received. We build up rules and regulations, granting power to protect and preserve, by force if necessary, this growing "thing." A truth of the Gospel is that which you strive to preserve will be lost; it is in giving away that you gain. Our denominationalism represents this holding rather than releasing.
Property based corporations fear freedom of ideas and practices, for such place growth at risk. Law and rules form tools of repression against even freedom of thought. Servant givers have no such fear, for they know Who is in control, Who protects, Who preserves, Who supplies, and Who has the final decision!
And so, the purpose of the church today is to grow, prosper, and build bigger buildings — which cannot be done without power which restrains any who dare to question the form.
The church, like the law, has established “punishments” to restrain deviancy. These are gossip, slander, stigmatizing, and alienation. We have so carried the punishment model into the Church that we are inhibited in confessing our faults, one to another, and praying for one another; thus we can no longer be healed — Jas. 5:18. [CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS -- KEYS TO RECONCILIATION] We excuse and rationalize with a darkened mind — "I didn't mean it." We justify actions borne out of our deceptively wicked hearts — "Well, after all, ...." We have no freedom of Spirit any more than the man facing a criminal charge in the secular courts.
If you look carefully inside the church, you will find legislators, enforcers, and interpreters. We also have the problems with individual v community rights, and rights v responsibilities. These are also products of a property-based corporate structure.
A final result is that we fail to discern the gifts and calls of one another. We refuse to defer to those gifts and calls, allowing people freedom to minister, for such would place the property and institution at risk — someone might make a mistake, and people will stop coming and giving.
Now, don't feel bad. I believe that no organization of man — religious or secular — is indwelt by the Holy Spirit as an organization. Instead, each man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:25) and has the laws of God written upon his heart from the moment of his creation by God (Deut. 30:11 14). The Holy Spirit dwells in individual people who have in faith received from God the gift of salvation. He is also moving about in the world in His role of convicting us of our sin and calling us to confession and repentance.
And no person, or group of people, holds any power but by the forbearance of God, which forbearance will end at the time of Armageddon; that is God does not grant power in the secular sense but forbears while the power is being exercised — reserving the right to intervene and remove the one wielding the power at a moment.
We must understand that a power which a
Christian may find himself holding in the secular or religious world may
only be held as agent of God, and is impressed with a trust to use it as
would the Lord Jesus. We are to be hollow vessels (II Cor. 4:7) so that the
power is seen as coming from God and not from man.
Christians carry with
them into their corporate settings the Holy Spirit. Thus a witness of God
may be made in an organizational setting, and an organization may give the
appearance of making a witness of God to the world when its words and
actions match the words of God. But the actual witness is still being given
As we may receive power in corporate settings — man's or the church — we must exercise that power according to an understanding of these pieces of reality.
So, what is to be done?
As to the laws and government of man in the United States, we must recognize that everything "we the people" declared we were going to do, the Bible says God and God only can do. That will change the lens through which we view actions of law and government, allowing us the peace shown by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the third chapter of Daniel as they faced the King and the fiery furnace. It then allows us to participate in the things of governance without the need to "rule in the way of the Gentiles."
Second, we must personally choose responsible behavior and be accountable for our actions which harm others. This means confessing regardless of the implications which flow from the law or the religious structure. It means having an attitude of strict liability rather than letting our darkened minds and deceptively wicked hearts rule our decisions.
Third, we must seek to restructure our law and legal system so that the true victims are recognized, so that proper confrontation is done, and so that the state of the mind is no longer the measuring rod; rather, the fact of acts which cause harm is to be the measuring rod. Then we must offer grace as a response to the one who will take responsibility for their actions. Finally, we must draw in the community of the victim and the community of repentant offenders to bear burdens caused by the offense — creating supporting communities where none exist at the time.
As to the property-based corporate structures we call churches, we need to verbally, emotionally, and spiritually repent of what we have created. Then we can begin to lay aside the titles in favor of the work. Then we can begin to work without fear for the impact which the work may have upon the offering plate. Then we can begin to publicly recognize the gifts and calls of one another and form teams whereby the gifts work in harmony with one another, building up one another, and deferring to one another.
And, finally, as to both the law and government of man, and the law and government of the Church, we must trust God and walk the path He calls us to even if none will follow. The test is faithfulness, not fruit. Fruit is that which God brings forth from faithfulness, even though the faithful may never see it this side of glory.
William D. Bontrager,
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