Saturday, March 11, 2006

Disputation with Jack: The Alleged Impiety of Monarchy

In this entry I'd like to continue an exchange I've had with my fellow parishioner Jack. A number of times he has urged the Priesthood of All Believers doctine (PAB) against my arguments for monarchy. If I understand him correctly, he has indicated that the ideal organization of Christian society is where the people govern themselves (their consciences guided by the light of God's word) under the direct rule of Christ's kingship, there being no king but Christ. This appears on the face of it to be a repudiation (or at least a tendency away from) the ideal of an hierarchical arrangement of Christ's kingdom.

Although I am not sure I understand 1 Cor. 15:24-28 very well, there is a school of thought that the eternal state will be characterized by a kind of "holy anarchy" where all the redeemed will enjoy an unmediated experience of God, seeing and being transformed by the beatific glory of the Father. There are different understandings of this, but needless to say, this final state has not yet been achieved. How much we are to attempt to anticipate this at present is a question I'm currently considering.

Continuing now, here is an important part of our exchange thus far. Jack had written,

"Incidentally, note that Samuel was instructed by God to "listen to the voice of the people", even when they desired something so irreverent as ... a king! (1 Sam 8:7) "

In response I wrote,

"... desire for a king is not per se irreverent. An efficient executive is needed & I will be arguing that a king is best suited fo fulfill this function. Theocratic judges and prophets may have been all that was needed to guide the people on an ad hoc basis in a simpler age, but in developed societies the institution of monarchy has not been improved on (in my judgment!). Finally, we live at a different point in redemptive history than the Israelites of Samuel's day. A King reigns from above, and not only he, but his saints with him."

Jack replied,

"[I]t may not be irreverent per se but I think it is a sign of, at least, theological confusion. In the OT, the people were intended to be a royal priesthood and in the NT we are called "kings and priests" (Rev 1:6 & 5:10). I don't see how the simplicity of the age of judges is relevant. Certainly a larger society requires a more complex government aparatus, but that has little to say about who is in charge of it. Democratic societies can have perfectly servicable executive branches, and our current system is more than adequate."

Here, to continue the discussion, Jack correctly notes that Israel was intended to be a royal priesthood. Note: the whole nation was to be a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6) Yet, immediately at the beginning of that nation's history we have the institution of the Tabernacle cult and the Aaronic Priesthood. The priesthood existed as a separate class in Israel, and presumably does not contradict the idea of all Israel having been a priesthood in a general sense. By analogy, why should a distinct kingly line in Israel contradict the general royal character of Israel?

The whole theory that because Israelite kingship historically arose as a rebellion against God's kingship (1 Sam. 8) therefore monarchy must forever be associated with the rejection of God's rule, is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, it is a commision of the genetic fallacy. The impure origins of a particular institution have little to do with what God intends to do. As the Old Testament history shows, the house of David was established, and the future Messiah would come from it.

Second, the integrity of monarchy has nothing to do with the particular circumstances of the Israelite institution. Monarchy predates Israel: Adam, Noah, Melchizedek and Abraham all were royal figures.

Third, Christ's office is a real kingship. To continue to hold such an attitude against monarchy in general is to distort our evaluation of who Jesus is and what he does. The knowledge that human kingly authority is derived from Christ's authority would be emptied of much of its meaning if we allowed this prejudice in our thinking.

Fourth, such an attitude is, I believe, rooted in the anabaptist-antinomian-liberal suspicion that all human use of power is a usurpation of authority, the arrogant imposition of one ego over another. Such a suspicion calls all government into question, and is essentially treasonous. It is impossible to maintain civil society when such a spirit predominates.

The New Testament teaches that there is a hierarchical order in God's kingdom. Our Lord told his disciples they would sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). In the Church there is an order of apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. (1 Cor. 12:28). This is how the body of Christ is organized (v.27). I don't want to mischaracterize Jack's position, but the Scripture clearly teaches a hierarchical structure in Christ's kingdom, in seeming contradiction to what I've understood from him so far.

In reading this post, the reader may conclude that I confuse the Church, God's kingdom, and the kingdoms of this world. Briefly, my position is that the center of universal authority and rule is in Heaven, but that the New Jerusalem (Heaven) is descending to earth now (Rev. 21). Heaven and earth will eventually coalesce, to achieve the consumation and glorification of all things. But even now, Heaven is breaking into the present, having done so spectacularly at various historical points (Pentecost, the Judgment of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Constantine's conversion). So, while I do not absolutely identify any event of the present with the heavenly dispensation, there are real anticipations of future blessedness. It is true, we are pilgrims "who have here no continuing city" yet we are pressing into and toward the eternal city even now. More on this later.

(Updated 3/20/06)

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