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Is the Kingdom of God a Democracy?


They rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia. And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him ... So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together.
Acts 19:29-32


Odd bunch-those Ephesiansóweren't they? To think they would seek to govern the affairs of their city by rushing into a meeting place without most of them even knowing why they were doing so! However, weren't the Ephesians really just exercising democracy? Are we Americans really so different? The Ephesians were upset because the small business people in their town who made images of the mythical gods (such as their local goddess, Diana) were going to lose their incomes from the preaching of the Truth. The uproar was then fueled further by the realization that the preaching and acceptance of the Gospel in Ephesus would radically change their whole belief system.

Therefore, they sought to stir up decisive public action "by the people and for the people" against the apostle and his companions. Oh, dear, where did that expression, "by the people and for the people" come from?! Not from Ephesus, but from the root of American constitutional law! What impact might American values, such as "by the people and for the people" have on Christians and their fellowship together in the Kingdom?

What do we learn about the American heart and mind from various events in the news? For example, in 1993 a news item appeared about an individual claiming (falsely) that a foreign object had been found in her soft drink and that she was going to sue the manufacturer for a large amount of money? The company was immediately besieged by thousands of other false claims from those hoping to share in a financial windfall.'

Another example is the NCAA athletic tournament just a few months ago. How did whole communities respond to the simple winning or losing of a decisive game by their home team? Rioting in the streets by large crowds was reported in several cities. Perhaps we should even point to the outcomes of something as ubiquitous as gossip in and among local churches. How often are public opinions, and even the actions of the public, generated by hearsay, greed, laziness, fear, or the silly private opinions of an individual or two that, for whatever reason, are heard above the fray?

Conflicting Views of Democracy

From presidents and cabinet ministers to news programs-and even in our children's classrooms-the message is frequently communicated that democracy is the answer to most of the evils in today's world. We are constantly told how anxious we should be to support and promote democracy. The eighteenth century humanist philosophers, like Rousseau, argued for democracy because they believed that mankind was, in the end, generally good and upright and would act wisely together.

However, in the early years of the United States, those faced with the daunting task of giving form to a new nation regarded the idea of democracy quite differently. "Government by the people" was adopted for a very different reason than it might appear. Although our nation's founders established a republic, they rejected Rousseau's reasoning as false and even dangerous! Instead, most of them held the Christian doctrine of the fallen condition of the natural man (and so the human race as a whole). They did not establish a republic because they believed in the innate goodness of man, but rather because they believed that no human, or even any group of humans, could ever be trusted with unaccountable, unchecked power over others.

However, today it is Rousseau's view of democracy that has come to predominate our society.

What Does an American Socio-political Idea Have to Do with the Kingdom?

As Christians, it would be hard for us to be further away from this cultural trend, on the opposite end of the spectrum. That's because, as Christians, we are all monarchists! We serve a King. Not theoretically, not symbolically! But as real subjects before a real King. In fact, we serve the One whom we believe to be the King above all kings.

"We have forgotten what that means," writes C. S. Lewis scholar, Ray Schneider. Yes, virtually all Christians would say, "Christ is the head of the Church," as we parrot the apostle Paul's teaching. But does the world see that truth in our manner of life and in the governing of our fellowships? Do we see it there? Is the rule of Jesus our King just as much an issue now as it was for the Jewish leaders and for Pilate in regard to Caesar? Is this even a Christian distinctive anymore?

Alan Keyes, the former ambassador and recent presidential candidate, pointed out after the elections last November that the American people, as well as their leaders, seem less and less willing to stomach the idea that there is a higher good which must be sought, and to which we must give account. That is, something greater than simply our own will--or even the public will.' How about Christians? "Loyalty," Schneider continues, "has little construction in this modem world which has dispensed with most loyalties, be they to church or hearth or king ... In a world where virtue has almost no construction, which is our world, we cannot expect to be governed better by a consensus of bad men than by a single bad man. Indeed, the single bad man may experience some moments of remorse or goodness ... But in a group, such sentiments are swamped by the general passion of the mob and all go down together.

Christians must understand the workings of mankind and the imperative of a higher way-the "highway of holiness." We must clearly identify and reject the well-sounding but vain philosophy of "relative equality" in opinion and position, which continues to permeate the subculture of believers (Colossians 2:69). The Kingdom of God is obviously not a democracy, and for very good reasons. Whether we are ordained ministers or simply members of a congregation, our private opinionsóeven all of our opinions put together-have no place or standing in the just and righteous rule of God's Kingdom.

We have been bought back from condemnation and separation from Life, every one of us. If we truly are servants of the King who has created, loved, and redeemed us from Satan and self, then it is His word, His desires, His ways, and the work of His hands alone that matter. Not one of us has been put here to rule, although some are just specially anointed by our King to serve us and Him by ensuring that we are fed and protected by the love and principles of His rule until He returns (1 Peter 5: 1 -11). No, we are here to love Him in return, to rejoice in His goodness, and to seize the opportunity He has given us to serve before Him, unworthy servants that we are.

The Practical Application

How often Christians pay lip service to Jesus Christ the Righteous as our Lord and King! In our songs ' 'we praise Him as our Lord and King. Yet, when it comes right down to brass tacks in making spiritual decisions, we are often really quite taken with our own will and outlook. Or perhaps we adopt the views of society or of a certain group or individual that we see around us. Or perhaps we adopt the reasoning of a book or commentary that has captured our fancy. Could this be because deep down we have no King? (Judges 21:25)

How natural it is for us in this time and place in history to hold to the attitude (often without even realizing it) that we will believe and obey this "Lord" of ours only insofar as we agree with Him! Conditional love? How about conditional Lordship? Deep down, we may know how wrong this is, but we are cowardly and fearful about the effects of following our Lord's whole counsel (Acts 20:27). We worry about what impact such absolute obedience would have on our lives, or our church organization, or on the views that others would have of us. When these attitudes and carnal concerns are being harbored at every junction in our spiritual journey together, how can we expect our King to pour out His Spirit and Power on us?

Without God's Spirit and Power, it is vain for us to even open the doors of our meeting place (Malachi 1: 10- 2: 10). We are no more capable of conjuring up genuine spirituality and revival than a bird is capable of creating the air it flies in. In our search for self-realization, for a life that is to our own liking, our Lord warns that we will lose everything (Mark 8:34-38). We cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13-15). Even if we could, who would have any energy or will or pure love for the things of God left-after we have given the best of our time and energy to our own fleshly pursuits?

What people, by their natural choice-let alone with divided loyaltiesówould willingly have the whole reputation and business of their town destroyed for the sake of the Gospel? The Ephesian citizens certainly were not willing to do so. Who would, without assurance of any earthly gain, sacrificially devote themselves to searching out the heart of our Father through the teachings He has handed down to us and with the guidance of the Spirit that He has given us? Who would commit themselves to obedience and service that cries out, "Yes, Lord, not our will but yours; not our ways, but yours"? No one but the loyal subjects of a marvelously perfect King and Father who is looked to and trusted in all matters.

Think about the service that Martha offered our Lord, and her concern that her sister Mary was not helping her serve (Luke 10:38-42). Of course, there was nothing wrong with her desire to serve. Yet, our Lord told Martha that she was "worried and bothered about many things" and that what Mary had chosen to do in listening to her Master was better. Are we listening? Or are we still trying to accomplish the "one thing that is necessary" (as Jesus identified it) with frantic "service"? Are we very busy in the ways we have determined that our Lord ought to be served?

Who, then, is really the king if we find that it is our ideas, opinions, feelings, preferences, and will that are in control? When we humans strive to control our own goals and methods and the lives we lead in general-whether explicitly or implicitly, whether individually or collectively-then our King is no king to us. What we end up with is democracy, or even autocracy, but it is not Christianity! Christianity stands on other ground and other Authority.

Of unknown origin, but most often attributed to George Washington, comes this reflection: "Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is a force, like fire: a dangerous servant and a terrible Master." Is this not as true, or more so, of human administration in spiritual matters as it is of civil administration? (Jeremiah 5:21-3 1) Our life together as believers needs to be much more than a dependence on two or three hours a week of fellowship with other humans who are seeking to build us into great, public clubs with Jesus Christ as our mascot. That is not kingship.

The early Christians gathered in communities of spiritual vision and took the world by storm. They served together as a single living, breathing organism moved by the Presence and Power of God. They were the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of Christ on earth. To be loyal to our King means to be pilgrims and strangers in this world. It means being on the "outside" of things here, journeying home to the Throne in that great City where the Lamb is its fully sufficient Light. As George MacDonald expressed over a century ago: "How happy is that local church on earth that eventually destroys the need of itself by lifting men up into the eternal Kingdom!" This must not only be our mission, it must be who we are.

'Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible (Copyright 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

2 Claims and investigations of Pepsi-Cola contamination, USA Today, numerous issues, Summer 1993.

3 "Towns Seek End to Post-Game Rioting," Washington Post, 04/03/2001.

4 The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right, Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762, trans. by G. D. H. Cole.

5 "Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania," Benjamin Franklin, pg. 337, University of Chicago.

6 "The Founders' Wisdom," Alan Keyes, WorldNet, 11/13/2000.

7 "Left Right Hunt," Ray Schneider, MereLewis Digest, 4/28/2001.