Contra Anarchy: A Refutation of Anarcho-Christianity
My longstanding interest in Anarchism has led me to consider the relevance and validity of Anarcho-Christianity. Unfortunately, I find it both theologically wanting and practically disastrous.
I have long been interested in the philosophy of anarchism, as it often has the purest form of an ideology within it. Without the interference of the practical constraints that a state can have, an ideologue can express how they feel a society should function.
Some Christians over the years have expressed support for “Christian Anarchism” that is, rather than a state running a country, we have the Bible as our standard of laws. Anarcho-Christianity comes in many forms and includes some heavyweight minds such as Leo Tolstoy who expresses his thinking most clearly in The Kingdom of the Lord is Within you. Here however, I seek to point out why anarchism and Christianity cannot mix without clear ignorance of the warnings and doctrine of scripture.
The philosophy of Anarcho-Christianity
There is certainly a noble aspect to those who wish to aim for a pure Christianity untouched by the secular state, either in terms of persecution or forced compromise on doctrine. One must only look at the modern-day church to see that “state churches” that is, those churches that have state influence upon their doctrine, have had issues with expressing the gospel.
While the Church of England has had some issues, being theologically a mixed bag of Christians and Christianised Marxists and liberals, other Churches have abandoned the gospel altogether (see the church of Sweden, where many in the priesthood don’t even believe in God).
This is not simply limited to those churches which are in such positions. Many Christians feel that the state enacts deeply unchristian things with their tax money, with the UK alone paying for abortion and funding weapons programmes used to persecute others (see Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Yemen).
Not wishing to be indirectly responsible for the many sins committed in government’s name is totally understandable, but as always, scripture gives a different viewpoint to our fears.
Firstly, one must understand that having no government is not going to make people less sinful. If anything, the Bible depicts lack of governance as something which exacerbates sin rather than reduces it. A constant refrain in the book of Judges is “in those days there was no King in Israel, so each did what was right in his own eyes”.
To give an idea of what happens in Judges, we have people going against the wishes of God by marrying people that he explicitly says not to marry from Judges 1, then after a great amount of violence and bloodshed, including a fat man’s guts being spilled out onto the ground, someone’s temple being crushed with a tent peg, and many more being killed with a donkey’s jawbone to satisfy a man’s greed.
As if that wasn’t enough, the book culminates in a graphic description of a lethal gang-rape of a prostitute, which then leads to a wide scale slaughter and forced marriage of a whole people at the end of the book in the name of finding wives for the tribe of Benjamin. These people did have appointed leaders at points (the Judges that give the book its name) but when they did not (and sometimes when they did), they actively committed atrocities of a horrendous nature. Because of the inherently sinful nature of man, there will always be those that will commit evil acts.
Anarchism – and Anarcho-Christianity – relies upon an assumption that all people are inherently inclined towards the betterment of society (regardless of whether the ideology is anarcho-capitalism or anarcho-communism), which is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the human heart which is as the prophet Jeremiah puts it “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9)
Anarcho-Christianity does not aid morality
In an anarcho-capitalist society there will be those who actively seek to enslave and murder others, the free market will not make them moral. In an anarcho-communist society there will be those who inevitably seek to become a repressive state before “post scarcity” can be achieved, the commune will not make them moral. Why would this be any different for Anarcho-Christianity?
When we would bring in examples of their idols failing, the anarchist would argue it’s not real anarchism, then Augustine answers them well “the first place, why did these gods refuse to take the trouble to prevent the degeneration of morality? For the true God had a right to neglect those who did not worship him, but as for the gods of theirs-the prohibition of whose worship these utterly ungrateful men complain of- why did they give their worshippers no laws to help them in a good way of life?”
Legislation does not make men moral, but it certainly restrains those who seek to be immoral through providing punishment to those who violate the law. If they are going to present a viable alternative, then they must base it on evidence that did not turn into bloodshed and atrocity.
What the bible says about Anarcho-Christianity
Now, having done away with the idea that Anarcho-Christianity can somehow turn people with evil hearts into moral people, thus ending the violence of the state, let us look at the commands of the Bible regarding the state.
Many Christians find it difficult to pay taxes to a state that we know is doing ungodly things. Jesus however gives us a radical command “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, that is the taxes we pay belong to our monarch, as they bear her image.
While we are to also “render unto God that which is Gods” because we are made in His image, that means our lives are to be devoted to him.
It also means that we must obey the authorities that he has put over us, which includes the Kings and Emperors of this world as the Apostle Paul says “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:3-4).
This was written during the time of Roman persecution of Christians, most likely that of Nero, hardly a monarch with a positive attitude towards Christianity.
While of course, the governing authorities have no right to make us disobey God (nor should we disobey God on their command), we do have a duty to pay taxes and treat all authorities with the respect they deserve. Inherently then, the core tenant of Anarchism (that is the abolition of the state) seeks to remove an (albeit temporary) institute that God has put in place. Thus, a Christian cannot support anarchism whilst likewise obeying God.
Objection: but surely God’s Kingdom is the ultimate authority, and thus any submission to governing authorities besides him is idolatry.
Answer: God’s Kingdom in some ways is modelled by any government we have, in the sense that all authority has its authority from God. Whether it is the Elders and Deacons of the Church, who have the Christ-given authority of the apostles to be spiritual leaders. In the same way our rulers model this by exercising stately power.
This does not mean earthly authorities are perfect, it’s worth noting that besides God’s authority, all authority is temporary and will pass (Matthew 24:35, 2 Cor 4:18). Furthermore, the ruling government have the duty to recognise that God is the only reason why they have authority, and they have no right to defy his law, less they be like Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:25).
As Christians, we have the duty to tell them this, but we must submit to them even if they do not recognise this fact. As Basil states “it is a serious thing for a private individual such as myself to speak to an emperor, it will be more serious between you and God”.
At no point when he was writing to that great persecutor Julian did he reject his position as Emperor invalid, rather he pointed out that his lack of acknowledgement of his role under God was a disgrace to his empire. If that is idolatry, I fail to see what good Christian faith looks like.
It should be acknowledged that were a King or other ruler to try and cause us to defy God’s law we are to obey God as Daniel did with Darius (Dan 6). A good example of this would be the Asher’s Bakery case, where they refused to support a message that would have been in defiance of God, even though by God’s grace, our country remains willing to allow Christians freedom of conscience in that regard.
Thus, as I have demonstrated, Anarcho-Christianity flies in the face of the basic reading of Scripture and calls God a liar when He says that authorities are placed by Him. Instead, we should pray for our rulers to be led by God into acknowledging his good Law, be model citizens for them and point them, as well as our fellow citizens to Christ Jesus, from whom all authority comes from, and to whom be all glory, forever and ever.