Sunday, June 21, 2009

Biblical Anarchy

This is a quick revision of a letter I sent to a respected brother who trashed anarchy in a Sunday school class. In a subsequent discussion, we decided that we were using different definitions of the word, he the connotation of antinomian chaos, I the etymological definition, e.g., “a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups” (Webster’s Online). As I often call myself an anarchist, I think it’s important that my readers know what I mean and why I think it’s biblical.

Anarchy, not what we think of as centralized or government authority, is the model for biblical society. God delegates responsibility to the moon, the stars, and eventually to man, including the duty and privilege of replicating God’s image on the earth (Gn 1). No king is to consider himself above his brothers (i.e., able to do things others cannot, which I would take to include taxation, let alone drug laws); even execution is a function of the community, not the king (Dt 17:6-7, 18-20). We are to be independent and self-motivated, not conformist followers (Pr 6:6-8; Ro 12:1-2). Leaders are servants, not masters (Lk 22:24-26); anyone (or anything) we have to obey is our master (2Pe 2:19), and we are specifically not to allow ourselves to be slaves of men (1Co 7:23). Government as we know it is a violation of all these principles.

The Bible’s first mention of kings (melek; though Nimrod had a kingdom, malkut) is in Gn 14. Note that Abraham, the “father of the faithful,” was subject to no king. He foreshadows Christ by rescuing Lot from the latter’s own sin from outside the world government system: he had no earthly authority for what he did. And whenever he did place himself under the authority of an earthly king (Pharaoh, Abimelek), he had trouble. It was earthly authorities who murdered Uriah the Hittite, Naboth, Uriah son of Shemaiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen, James, Peter, and Paul. In fact, of all the kings named in the Bible, only of Hezekiah is there no evidence that he died with innocent blood on his hands.

I can think of no “anarchic” situation that is nearly as deadly as the everyday evil of archy, like US slavery and Jim Crow, the Trail of Tears, Sherman’s and Sheridan’s marches through the South, Wounded Knee, the bankster bailout, the ethanol food shortage, and the imperialist carnage in Iraqistan, let alone the mass murders in 1920s Russia, 1940s Germany, 1960s China, 1970s Cambodia, 1994 Rwanda, 1980-1996 Iraq. A hoodlum can kill a few people, but to make millions miserable requires archy.

The lesson of Israel’s history from Judges through 2 Kings is that if God’s people reject him, they will worship idols, most especially the state, which will oppress them. The only solution is a heart that is God’s alone: commitment to Christ, filling with the Spirit, and submission to the written Word of God. To the degree that we have that, we have anarchy.


  1. I'm not sure how to respond to this. If you mean that it's impossible for God to change society by changing individual hearts, then social engagement is a waste of time and Jesus is relevant only for getting people to heaven.

    If you mean that an anarchic society would be a more faithful earthly down payment on heaven, I heartily agree.