John the Baptist warned the Jewish nation in these words.
The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3:9).
Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Before that could happen, John the Baptist had to clear the junk out of the way.
The context now is different, but the image is powerful. Modern political society is a tree with very strong roots. The problem is that most of these roots are contrary to God's Word. These roots will have to be chopped out before the good tree of the Kingdom can grow.
Seven Danerous Roots
Modern political society is nurtured by eight powerful roots that are inconsistent with the Word of God. Chopping out these roots will radically change our political system:
A sound understanding of politics must deal with the fact that none of these practices and institutions can be justified from the scriptures. This will be hard for most readers to accept, but we will not understand the Kingdom of God until these ugly roots have been cleared from our vision.
The ideas presented in this article are really radical. Most readers will respond by thinking, "I know these things are not perfect, but we have to live with them." "Society cannot function without these institutions". I ask you to reserve judgment. When I have cleared the decks of the junk, I will describe how we can live in peace without them. For now I just ask you to check that what I am saying is consistent with the scriptures. If the institutions that I am rejecting are supported by the scriptures, then you can ignore me. However, if they cannot be found in the Bible, we have no choice but to replace them with something scriptural; or we will not see the Kingdom of God.
Kings, democracy and taxation have been part of our lives for so long that it almost impossible to imagine life without them. In the last sections of this article, I will attempt to stir your imagination by describing how we can be protected from evil without them. However, the obstacles that block our vision must be cleared before we can see clearly, so I will focus first on chopping out the false roots. I will only provide a biblical alternative once they have been cleared away.
Jeremiah reminds us that God sometimes has to "uproot and tear down and "destroy and overthrow" before he can "build and plant" (Jer 1:7). This is the approach followed in this article. The stuff that will have to be uprooted and destroyed is described, before announcing what will planted and built to replace it.
Very few political theorists have understood the implications of 1 Samuel 8. Seen from a political perspective, this is a mind-blowing passage. It should strike fear in the heart of every Christian politician.
But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do." Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king (1 Sam 8 7-10).
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles." When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, "Listen to them and give them a king" (1 Sam 8:19-22).
The message here is very clear. God did not want Israel to have a permanent king. He was their king, so they did not need a human king. A temporary military leader was justified when the nation is under attack, but a permanent king was not part of God's plan.
Samuel reluctantly allowed Israel to choose a king, but he was certain that choosing a king was rejecting God. Unfortunately, copying the surrounding nations is always dangerous for God's people.
Samuel's warning has serious implications for Christians seeking to define a biblically-based political system. God is still our king, so we do not need a human king. Kingship is a sub-optimal option for a Christian society. On the surface this does not seem to be a serious problem, because most Christians do not want a king. However presidents and prime ministers undertake the same duties as kings. Modern presidents and prime ministers often have more power than ancient kings, due to their greater ability to tax.
Most Christians want a prime minister or president. We think that they are not covered by Samuel's warning because they are democratically elected. This is not true, as Saul was elected too. Samuel nominated Saul, but he was only appointed after this nomination had been confirmed by the people of Israel.
Samuel said to all the people, "Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people." Then the people shouted, "Long live the king!" (1 Sam 10:24).
Their cry of "Long live the King" was a vote for Saul. David was elected in the same way.
All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, "We are your own flesh and bloodWhen all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel (2 Sam 5:1,3).
Presidents are not better than kings, because they are elected. Both are wrong because both are the people's choice.
The facts of about kingship are quite straightforward.
Kingship is a sup-optimal option for Christians
Presidents and prime ministers have the same role and powers as Kings.
Presidents and prime ministers are appointed in the same way as Saul and David were appointed.
Samuels warning applies to presidents and prime ministers.
Choosing to be governed by a president or prime minister is rejecting God's kingship and copying the nations of the world.
There can be no presidents or prime ministers in the Kingdom of God. If we are serious about serving God, we need a political system without presidents or prime ministers.
Paul reminds us that we are engaged in a spiritual struggle.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).
Our struggle is primarily against evil spiritual forces, but they are entwined with their earthly equivalents. Spiritual rulers and authorities work through earthly rulers and authorities. The consequence is that the rulers and authorities that we face on earth are not our friends, but our enemies. They participate in the world system that stands against the Kingdom of God.
Jesus put this in a different way. He said, "You cannot serve two masters." We tend to avoid Jesus' challenge by playing word games and calling Jesus Lord. The is neat, because the words "Lord" and "King" have no political content for modern Christians. This means that in our minds, calling Jesus Lord or King does not conflict with pledging loyalty to a human political authority.
We must get this straight. We cannot serve to masters. We cannot pledge loyalty to Jesus and to a political authority. Christians who pledge loyalty to their president, or prime minister, or constitution, or parliament have pledged allegiance to two masters.
A Christian living in a nation ruled by a king could not call Jesus king, because it would be obvious that they had divided loyalty. A Christian cannot serve two kings. He will hate one and love the other.
In America, where people have no experience of kingship or lordship, "Jesus is President" would be a better paraphrase of "Jesus is Lord". However, most American Christians would find it hard to say "Jesus is President," because it would be obvious that they were serving two presidents. Likewise, a pledge of "No Prime Minister but Jesus" would be a subversive statement in a nation with a Westminster system.
A kingdom cannot have two kings. If God is king, there is no place for human kings. Presidents and prime ministers are the modern kings. Democracy crowns the people king. There is no place for them in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus is our Lord and King.
2. No Democracy
Modern Christians just assume that democracy is the best form of government. They forget that democracy is rule by the people (demos kratos = people rule) and Christianity is obedience to God. Obeying the voice of the people is not obedience to God, so there is no room for democracy in a Christian political system.
The biblical evidence is that when the people joined together to make a unanimous or majority decision, they usually got things wrong. The children of Israel frequently voted to Return to slavery in Egypt, rather than follow God into the Promised Land.
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death" (Ex 16:2,3).
Democracy is dangerous, because human sin allows people to make serious mistakes. Had Israel been a democracy, it would never have got into Canaan.
Democracy generally results in the tyranny of the majority over a minority that loses their freedom. Even when they could see into the Promised Land, the people voted against going in. Joshua and Caleb belonged to a minority, so they lost their freedom to obey God.
That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go Back to Egypt." The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: "How long will this wicked community grumble against me? (Num 14:1-4, 26,27).
The people wanted to elect a leader to take them Back to Egypt, because they thought that obeying God was too tough. This is typical of democracy. People will rarely vote for a tough option, even if it is needed. Most will vote for comfort, so a democratic vote usually goes the way of the world.
Democracy often leads to idolatry.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him" (Ex 32:1)
Aaron took their jewellery and built a golden calf.
So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry (Ex 32:6)
This pattern continued throughout the history of Israel.
This is what the LORD says about this people: They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet (Jer 14:10).
The people frequently voted with their feet for the worship of idols.
The decision by Israel was to have a king was a democratic decision, but it was contrary to God's will.
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles" (1 Sam 8:19,20).
The people voted to be like the other nations, despite Samuel warning of the dangers. Democratic elections do not bring out the best leaders. Many of the worst political dictators were voted into power by a large majority. Gideon understood this problem well.
The Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us-you, your son and your grandson-because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian." But Gideon told them, "I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you" (Jud 8:22,23).
Democracy usually gets things wrong. The people voted Gideon for president, but this was not God's will.
Jesus was crucified by a democratic decision.
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified (Matt 15:15).
Ironically, the representative of an evil empire wanted to set Jesus free. However, he agreed to put the decision to a vote, and Jesus was sent down. Democracy perpetrated the greatest injustice that has ever been done by sentencing the only perfect man to death for crimes he had not done.
The crowd is usually wrong, so it is hard to understand why Christians are so enthusiastic about democracy.
My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. "Because you have rejected knowledge because you have ignored the law of your God (Hos 4:6).
Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong (Ex 23:2).
Our goal is the Kingdom of God. A system that panders to the desires of the people will not advance the government of God. Democracy and the Kingdom of God do not mix.
When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This tree represented the ability to decide between good and evil, between justice and injustice without reference to God. Adam and Eve had a choice; they could obey God, or they could decide for themselves how they would live. We face the same choice today. We can accept for God's law or we can make up our own.
Parliaments and congresses are feasting on the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Most people would sooner live under human laws, than acknowledge God by admitting that his law is better than any human law. (For more see Democracy is Dangerous).
We assume that because our legislators are democratically elected, they have authority to make laws. If we elected them, they are making laws on our behalf. But nothing has changed. Democratically-elected legislators are still making human law.
Human laws will always be inferior to God's law. We have the odd situation in the modern world where everyone hates God's law, but loves human law. I can understand why those who hate God would hate his law, but I cannot understand why those who love God are so ambivalent about his law.
When we vote for a person to be our representative in parliament, we are saying that we want that person to make laws for us we are actively rejecting God's law and saying that we prefer human law. If all authority must be under God, legislators and politicians who make human laws are not legitimate, even if they are elected.
God did not give Israel a legislative assembly. A law-making body was unnecessary, because he has revealed his law through Moses.
You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess (Deut 4:11-14).
These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me (Deut 5:22).
There is no evidence in the Bible of a group of people being elected to decide on the laws for Israel. A parliament or congress was not needed because God had already provided perfect laws.
Paul affirmed that God's law is good in his letter to the Romans.
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. We know that the law is spiritual (Rom 7:7,12,14).
God's law is holy, righteous, spiritual and good. What law can be better? Substituting man-made law for one that is holy and good is foolish.
The best that a human legislature can do is add to God's law. That is unwise, as God warned against adding to the laws that he had given.
Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you (Deut 4:1-2).
Adding to God's law is dangerous.
Politicians can only make human laws. Those who seek the Kingdom of God should prefer living under God's laws.
The LORD is our lawgiver (Is 33:22).
If God is our Lawgiver, we do not need human law-makers.
Human legislatures tend to produce a complex rule system. Systems of rules fail because they cannot cover every possible situation. No matter how detailed the rules, situations emerge that are not covered by them, so new clauses or regulations have to be added. Eventually the rules become so complicated that people cannot understand or remember them.
Elected politicians and parliaments are not omniscient, so they get things wrong. Their laws often result in illogical and unjust decisions. Some of their rules will contradict others, adding to the confusion.
God's law is not a rule system. Moses referred to "laws and verdicts" (Deut 5:1). God gave some very basic laws and then added straightforward verdicts that explain how these laws should be applied in practical situations. These verdicts are not comprehensive, but are sufficient to explain how God's laws should be interpreted and applied.
The laws that God revealed are the key to blessing and prosperity.
If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God (Deut 28:1-2).
The blessings that are listed in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 are absolutely amazing. If God's law brings such marvellous blessing, we would be foolish to choose other laws. This even applies in a society that has developed into prosperity.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day (Deut 8:10-11).
No parliaments, congresses or legislative assemblies will exist in the Kingdom of God. God is our lawmaker, so we do not need elected politicians to write laws and regulations. God has given a perfect law, so we do not need politicians to make laws. Our task is to apply God's law correctly.
If there is no legislature and no democracy, political parties will have no role. Galatians 5:19-21 warns that dissensions (party spirit) and factions are rooted in our sinful nature.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Political parties are well-organised "factions" so they have no place in the Kingdom of God. All political parties, whether Christian or not, will have to wither away and die as the kingdom of God advances.
Christians put a lot of effort into getting the "right" political party elected. Television networks devote considerable time to debates about which political party will be best for the country. Businesses spend money supporting the party that they like the most. Even Christians get caught up in this scramble and try to work out which political party Jesus would support. All this confusion misses the point. Political parties have not place in the Kingdom of God.
5. No Taxation
1 Samuel 8 provides the first reference to taxation in the scriptures. A voluntary tithe existed prior to the time of Saul, but there was no compulsory taxation. Samuel described the introduction of taxation by the King.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day (1 Sam 8:14-18).
Here is a surprising truth. During the time of Moses, Joshua and the judges, there was no compulsory taxation. God did not command the payment of taxes. Compulsory taxation was introduced during a time of disobedience, when Israel rejected God and chose to have a king. Taxation is the fruit of period of disobedience to God.
The Old Testament describes in detail the tax burden imposed by the kings of Israel and Judah, but there is no record of God giving them authority to collect taxes. God never issued instructions about taxation, because taxation is unnecessary when he is King.
Failure to pay taxes is not a crime. There is no punishment specified in the Old Testament law for failure to pay a tax or a tithe. Restitution can only be enforced when a person has stolen something that belongs to another or has breached a contract to make a payment.
We do not have a contract with the state, so we only owe payment for what we have personally asked the state to provide. A government that demands payment of taxes is like a mail order company sending out unsolicited goods and demanding payment for them. Because the person receiving the goods has not entered into a contract to buy them, they do not owe anything.
Jesus told people to "give" Caesar what they "owed him". Giving is a voluntary concept. If something is taken by force, it is not given. If someone steals your car, you do not say "I gave it to the thief". We must choose to give, or it is not giving. This confirms that Jesus was talking about a voluntary contributions and not compulsory payment of taxes.
In the Kingdom of God, there will be no compulsory taxation. All civil or community activity will be funded by voluntary contributions. (For more on this topic see Voluntary Taxation.)
6. No Coercion
No King. No Democracy. No legislative assembly. No political parties. No taxation. This is serious stuff, but there is another prohibition that is even more important for the Kingdom of God. No coercion. God does not use force to make people good. He does not force people to obey him, but prefers that people do his will, because they love him. Forcing people to be good has no place in the Kingdom of God, so Christians should not support any system that is based on coercion.
Modern political systems are based on coercion and control. People are forced to obey the laws passed by the those in power, even if they think they are unjust. They are forced to pay the taxes that the politicians levy, even if they believe they will fund immoral activities.
The accepted wisdom says that we need government to restrain evil. The use of coercion is justified by the claiming that that evil people must restrained by the state. Those expressing this view usually make a nod to Romans 13, but never do any detailed study to determine what this passage actually means. Using Romans 13 to prove that God instituted government to restrain evil is a big jump.
The reality is that kings and governments do not restrain evil, they mostly advance it. The Kings of Israel constantly went off the rails and led their nation into evil. Plenty of modern politicians and presidents have given evil a big helping hand. The claim that government restrains evil is a lie.
The Bible never suggests that evil can be restrained by the state. It actually teaches that evil will be restrained by God's law. That is why he gave the law.
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers (1 Tim 1:8-10).
Paul lists some of worst evildoers he can recall: murderers, adulterers, perverts, slave traders. These are the people we want restrained. Paul says that the law was given for these people (and not for their enjoyment). Only God's law can restrain evil people without creating further evil.
The supporters of political control and coercion agree that force is evil, but claim that it is necessary to eliminate disorder. They use the lesser evil of force to overcome the greater evil of disorder. A moral principle that uses evil to overcome evil is twisted, because evil always begets evil. That is why Paul said,
Overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).
Jesus was clear about the limitations of force.
But Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword (Matt 26:52).
Jesus was saying that force will fail; he was also warning that it will destroy those who use it.
Jesus taught that coercion has no place in the Kingdom.
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves (Luke 22:25-26).
Here is the great lie. The rulers of the Gentiles claim to be benefactors, but they are actually controllers. They claim to love the good, but they must use coercion.
The Kingdom of God is totally different. Those with authority in the kingdom must be servants of those they lead. A servant cannot force the person they are serving to do things against their will. A servant cannot control the one they are serving. Jesus does not want one group of people controlling the rest of society, so there is no place for coercion in the Kingdom of God.
After he had been arrested, Jesus had an interesting discussion with Pontius Pilate about the nature of kingship. He said,
My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place (John 18:36).
Jesus was not saying that his kingdom was spiritual, without any impact on the world. Rather he was claiming that his kingdom would not come "out of the world system". The reason is that force is so strongly rooted in the world system that it cannot be reformed. This system will have to be replaced by something that does not require the use of force.
All political power is based on force and coercion. Christians often assume that the Kingdom of God is advanced, if the political system is controlled by better people. This is not true, because the world system will shrink and die because as the kingdom of God advances. Coercion and control have not place in the Kingdom of God.
Most of us have lived in a system based on coercion and control for so long that we cannot conceive of anything else. We just assume that things have to be that way. Christians have not done any better.. We believe that changed hearts bring changed behaviour, but we rush straight Back to forcing people to behave. This is quite odd. We all understand that only the Holy Spirit can change hearts, but we still want to force people to do what is right. We seem to have more faith in coercion by human governments than in the ability of the Holy Spirit can change hearts.
Many Christians think that Jesus ruling from Jerusalem is the perfect government, but the idea of Jesus sitting in Jerusalem and using an "iron fist" to crush all opposition is repulsive and contrary to the gospel. It is also foolish. Jesus would not be able to eliminate evil from a throne in Jerusalem. He could control those in the immediate vicinity, but those further abroad would just ignore him. Jesus could get his followers to track them down and "zap" them, but that would increase their hostility to him. Jesus would not be able to enforce peace by sitting on a throne in Jerusalem.
If Jesus rules the earth from Jerusalem, the church becomes a giant bureaucracy taking orders from Jerusalem. Being a cog in a giant political machine does not sound like the hope to which we were called. We live in a bureaucratic age, and this idea may appeal to men who do not wish to take responsibility, but God would prefer men to be responsible, and exercise authority in obedience to the Word and the Spirit. Jesus can rule through Christians now, if they will submit to his word and the Spirit.
If Jesus has to come Back to bring peace to the world then the gospel must be useless and the Holy Spirit is a failure. God changes the world, by changing the hearts of people, so that they freely choose to obey him. God is backing the gospel and the Holy Spirit, so counting Jesus in Jerusalem is a false hope.
A common belief is that Jesus will rule on earth for a thousand years. Unfortunately, the word millennium is not used in the Bible and the expression "one thousand years" is only used in Revelation 20. It is unwise to base a whole doctrine on a figurative expression in a difficult passage in the book of Revelation.
The millennium is a Jewish Idea. The Jews expected the messiah to come as a mighty ruler and destroy all their enemies. They were disappointed and confused when Jesus came as a carpenter, teaching them to love their enemies. A messiah dying on a cross was well outside their expectations. Christians have embraced the messiah on the cross, but many still have the yearning for a messiah who will come with a rocket launcher and "blow away" their enemies
The problems of the world cannot be solved by force. Jesus refused to use force, even though he could have called on his Father to send a whole host of angels to his aid (Matt 26:52,53). He knew that true converts cannot be won by force. God has a much better way; to win the hearts of men through the inner work of the Holy Spirit, as the church proclaims the gospel.
The devil has used the millennium teaching to rob Christians of their inheritance. Many of the scriptures that promise blessing or victory are assigned to the millennium. This robs us of God's promised blessing.
Jesus can fulfil all his promises through the work of the Holy Spirit in the present age. Working through the Spirit, Jesus can extend his power and influence throughout the entire earth. The Holy Spirit is greater by far than the Devil, so the Spirit of God cannot be a failure? (for more on this topic see Millennium).
Kingdom of God
Chopping out these roots will rip the guts out most modern political systems. If there are no presidents, democracy or parliaments in the Kingdom of God, the coming of the Kingdom will bring a dramatic change from the way that modern political systems function. A system based on a president and a parliament is miles away from the Kingdom of God. A biblical political and economic system will be totally different from anything that we know today.
Most Christians believe that we can advance the kingdom by electing Christians to positions of power. This is not true. Even if a parliament is full of Christians, it is not part of the kingdom of God, because parliaments have no role in the Kingdom. Electing a Christian president does not make the presidency morally right. Changing politicians and policies, even by democracy, does not advance the Kingdom of God. Presidents, democracy and parliaments are part of the problem, so they will have to disappear before the Kingdom of God can come in fullness.
What is Left?
If the axe were to remove all these roots, it would seem like everything had gone. However, two essential elements of social order are left: these are law and judges. These are the foundation of a Christian social and economic system.