Often, I have favored the term “Christian Anarchy” when describing what I perceive to be the theological perspective that best describes the relationship between disciple of Jesus and the State (or, the government). The reasons I have favored this term are threefold: Firstly, it is used by many of the authors and thinkers who have informed my own opinion on the subject. Second, the term has etymological significance. The final advantage to the term “Christian Anarchy,” is, I think, the attention it garners, which almost inevitably leads to conversation. People tend to laugh, recoil, or furrow their brow in confusion, and questions typically follow.
But is Christian Anarchism the best way to describe the way a Jesus-follower relates to government and politics? Is the position a one-size-fits-all, or is there room for diversity within so specific a view?
And what the heck is Christian Anarchy, anyway?
Depends on who you ask. The term itself has very definite ties to thinkers like Jaques Ellul and activists like Dorothy Day, and is largely influenced by the writings of folks like Leo Tolstoy and Adin Ballou, neither of whom favored the word “anarchy.”
I prefer to distill the wide spectrum of anarchist thought into the straightforward understanding of a separation of church and state, viz a viz the belief that the two institutions are at fundamental odds with one another.
Bruxy Cavey summarizes the idea well here, explaining the Anabaptist relationship to government. I myself have taught on this in elaborating on the subversive nature of Jesus, and the exegesis of Mark 14.
To put it plainly: The State operates with top-down power over—the coercion of behavior via the threat of punishment/violence, i.e., there are civil laws to which disobedience demands fine, imprisonment, or death. The Church, on the other hand, operates with upside down power under, the reshaping of hearts and minds via sacrifice and service, i.e., Romans 5:8, Romans 2:4, Matt. 26, 1 Peter 3:9, Matt. 5:39, etc.
Given that Church and State have foundational divergences in operation and methodology, the Church can not be the State, and the State can not be the Church. In fact, they have distinct roles laid out in Romans 12 and 13.
This is, in my opinion, the meat and potatoes of Christian Anarchism. Of course, using a word like “anarchy” tends to evoke images of molotov cocktails and those trendy V for Vendetta masks more than it does Jesus of Nazareth. So is there a better way of putting it?
The anabaptist view summarizes things well, but there is, of course, more to anabaptism than its understanding of Church and State. (To find out what, exactly, check out The Naked Anabaptist, by Stuart Murray.)
Greg Boyd elaborates on the term Christian Anarchy in a helpful essay in which he points out:
“(I) argue that Kingdom people are called to pledge their allegiance to God alone, not to any nation, government, political party or ideology. Because Kingdom people are under the rule of God alone, they are not under any other rule. Kingdom people are thus called to be ‘anarchists’ (meaning without [‘an’] human authority [‘archy’]). Not only this, but the main task of Kingdom people is to keep the Kingdom “holy” — meaning “set apart,” “separate” and “consecrated.” We are to take great care to live lives that are set apart from the ideals, values and methods of the world’s politics.
I need to say at the start that this doesn’t mean Kingdom people are to be law breakers. When laws conflict with the rule of God, of course, we must break them (Ac 5:39). But otherwise we’re to submit to them, for not doing so would unnecessarily get in the way of our call to build the Kingdom. But we submit to laws not because they have authority over us, but because we submit to God.”
Recently, however, Greg suggested (with a bit of a chuckle) that a more helpful way or defining the view might be “Christarchy.”
I like that.
Regardless of which term you use to describe it, the way in which a disciple of Jesus does or does not interact with government is obviously a source of major debate in the Church, for better or for worse, to say nothing of the damage done to those outside the Church and to the good name of Jesus as a result of said debate.
In the years since defining my own view, I’ve mellowed a bit. Not on the conviction with which I hold to my belief, but on the fervor I once maintained to argue about it. Whether you or I like it or not, I’m afraid this conversation is indeed an important one, and shows no signs of retreat. As I’ve prayed that my own desire to be heard and to be right would shrink and make way for my desire to know Jesus and to make Jesus known, I’ve held out hope that this conversation might continue, and that the angry war drums of politics, coercion, and violence would be silenced so that the defiant Gospel of Jesus might be heard all the louder.
Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.
To me, that says it all.