Following my post yesterday, I read a passage this morning in Jacques Ellul’s book The Subversion of Christianity which seems to fit in well with the dynamic I was describing in that post, between (on the one hand) the scepticism towards all power of Psalm 146:3 and (on the other) the principles in Proverbs 31:8,9 that should guide us in exercising power as a “necessary evil”.
Ellul rejects the idea that the church is to be avoid political expression altogether, but identifies two differences between his position and that taken by many Christians who are keen on political involvement:
The first is that in its political orientations the church should find another way. It should not conform to the present age. Nothing is more false than to say: “Society presents us with three or four options, which should we choose?” In reality the church ought to invent and innovate. It ought to propose something new. It should never serve as an instrument of propaganda. It should never seek to justify any political force.
This is consistent with the message of Psalm 146:3, that we are not to put our trust in princes (not even the “distributed princeship” of liberal democracy).
However, that does not mean that all political regimes are equally bad. Proverbs 31:8,9 provides one benchmark for assessing a given regime or political model, but how we apply the principle of “defend[ing] the rights of the poor and needy” through politics is then a matter of human judgment rather than divine revelation. As Ellul says:
The second difference is that if political regimes are not the same, Christians may choose that which suits them best for purely human reasons. Democracy seems to me to be preferable to dictatorship. I like socialism better than capitalism. But strictly speaking, God has nothing to do with such things. Or perhaps he does, but I know nothing about it.
Hence, as I described yesterday, we are driven back to the relativising sceptism of Psalm 146:3 in denying that any form of political authority carries divinely-ordained legitimacy:
The Bible does not enable me in any way to declare that a given regime is in conformity with God’s will. It is not my job as a Christian to identify history with God’s will. We do not have to think that because such and such a power is set up it is God who has set it up.