(A short summary paper of some key principles for discussion)
Some two billion of the world’s population are Christian. They hold, varyingly, a perspective on politics and government drawn from and shaped by the Bible. It is surprising this perspective is not expressed more systematically, more often, especially in Jesus’ transformation of world politics. This short paper seeks to do it, in a rough fallible way, as a series of notes for your discussion on what seem the generic points.
1. God and humanity. The central, full relationship for all people is with God and not with the state. This rules out totalitarianism, ruler worship and political absolutism.
2. God and creaturehood. People are not self-referencing, autonomous, or merely part of a collective group. They live freely before God, not beholden of the State and are responsible for good living. We are neither individualistic or collectivistic.
3. We are called to good living. Justice, or righteousness, or loving our neighbour as ourselves, is the guiding condition of humankind before God. The law of God expresses this good and right living and we are to seek the law and abide in it, to normatively seek the common good, not just our own.
4. We live in institutions. Areas of life like Marriage, Family, Work and economic stewardship of the creation, Education, Worship, Community, the State and are ordained by God for our good. We live in these plurally, respecting them as areas of life in different spheres.
5. The State is instituted, or constituted, by God for law-abiding justice. It is “constitutional”, involves offices and articulated tasks of government like legislation, judgement, punishment, welfare, common good provision and institutional balance. This has developed since the time of Moses.
6. People are called to submit to the God-ordained state, but on God’s terms, not necessarily those dictated by the ruler. Generally, this leads to a stable state, but democratic and conscientious objection rather than rebellion is the stance taken to unjust rule.
7. Law and justice are the main matters of state formation. They involve just legislation, political understanding, international co-operation, principle, love, fairness, mercy, restitution, impartiality. The State does not own the law, but submits to it and forms it by principle under the rule of law, seeking for the good of the people, with accountability to God.
8. As Jesus taught in the SotM, people are called to be upholders of the law and law-abiding. The attitudes and attitude of ordinary people to the law is crucial for the health of the State.
9. Central to State formation is truthfulness, transparency and honesty. Jesus’ interchange with Pilate staes this centrally. As Jesus said, “There is nothing hidden which will not be revealed.”
10. People and states are sinners. Sin is both personal and corporate. It involves understanding, motivation, action and embedded attitudes. One of the deepest forms is idolatry, where money, military power, control, racial identity or some other human focus dominates life. In the Bible both people and state sins are addressed by the prophets. We should understand sin.
11. Properly understood states are governed through service of the people, as Jesus taught, not by self-promotion, glory or nationalism. The prophets, and Jesus, identified the self-serving ways of the Jewish rulers and the weaknesses of the Jewish state and surrounding empires.
12. The biblical understanding of power is not of control or military conquest, but of the power to do good. Acton: Power seen as control corrupts… Those who take the sword will perish by the sword.
13. The biblical economic understanding is of the goodness of work and stewardship, the lawful distribution of property among families, the wrongness of stealing, fairness and service in exchange – the basis of markets, economic long-sightedness, the absence of predation, of putting righteous living before seeking goods, and generosity to the poor partly through redistribution and forgiveness of debt. These principles have been behind much of the economic development of the west.
14. Political life can be redeemed, centrally through Christ, with peace, truth, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, redistribution, service, fairness and freedom from state control.
14. Christianity is a faith of peace and peacemaking. Christ is the Lamb on the Throne and the Prince of Peace. Nations can unlearn war and swords become ploughshares. World disarmament is possible. Causing offence can be addressed. Nations can be reconciled in Christ. We can love our enemies.
15. Taxation is for the good of the people, especially for their common good, redistribution and addressing poverty. It is not for the self-aggrandisement of the rulers.
16. Democracy is a combination of Christian principles of the rule of law, impartiality, service of the people, public accountability and the space where truth can be debated. The demos, the people, are not sovereign or necessarily right. It is where truth contends in the market place.
17. Political Parties are expressions of shared faith and the discussion of truth following the calling to state office, not organs of self interest or state control.
18. God’s people are of all races and nations in equal respect. God is no special respecter of states or empires. Nation shall speak peace unto nation.
Alan Storkey October 2015
(Irenaeus, Augustine, Justinian, Wyclif, Erasmus, More, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Knox, Hooker, Althusius, Perkins, Grotius, Cromwell, Putney Debates, Lilburne, Burke, Acton, Papal Encyclicals, Tawney, Kuyper, Dooyeweerd, Maritain, Fogarty, Mouw, Wolterstorff, O’Donovan, Skillen, Chaplin)