Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely (Part Two)
Limiting Power – By James Zekveld (writing for www.ARPACanada.ca). Part One can be found by clicking here.
Whether your political allegiance is to the right or to the left today the complaint against the existing order is the same; some entity has too much power. To a greater or lesser extent, a person on the right will complain about the government’s power while the person on the left will complain about the corporation’s power. Some will complain about both.
The catch word is, “Freedom!” whether that is of conscience, of press, or of sexual orientation. This desire for freedom comes from the very old tradition of limited government versus the excess of absolute monarchy or absolute democracy. This tradition is one that longs for an ideal. Of course, the ideal will never happen on earth, but its principles give us something to work toward. What we, as Christians, desire is a limited government that does not control or strive to control what is not its own to control. Also we look for a government that is aware of the fact that it is ordained by God and works with its people rather than viewing itself as a competitor to the people. A Christian government in the world today will be one that assumes sin, but at the same time, through the person of Christ, strives to be wholly sanctified.
Before we can discuss the limits of government, we need to understand our own failings, as a nation, in our modern era. We disobey the fifth commandment by rebelling against all authority structures. Our default position is that, the people and their authorities are in natural competition with each other. Although, as Christians, we should immediately see the lie in this ideology when it applies to the family, (Father and son should not be enemies, but rather should be fighting for the same ideals and goals) the issues grow more complicated when we bring the fifth commandment to bear on levels of government, especially in a world that does not acknowledge Christ as Lord.
While remembering that we are part of the Body of Christ and owe our first allegiance to Him, it is preferable that we do not think of ourselves in competition with our government. The Prime Minister/President/King is in a sense the father of his/her nation. He/she is the parent of an extended family. The leader is established by God to punish the unjust and reward the just. As Reformed Christians, we do not believe that the church should ever replace the government; neither do we believe that the state should ever have power over that institution, which is the church.
This, of course, brings us to the limiting of governmental power. When a father abdicates his position and beats his wife or leaves his children to starve, the community should intervene, whether that is the church or some other organization. What happens when the leader of a nation is an abdicator? Naturally there should be an institutionalized way means to force that leader to step down or at least make him or her ineffectual. A careful nation will en sure that whatever form of government they have chosen, whether it be monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, that that king or elite or majority will never hold too much power.
History, of course, offers her suggestions. We will ignore the ancient examples and go directly to Christian/ pagan-Christian synthesis solutions. There is the feudal system of the middle ages, which is often designated as antiquated and backward today. Yet the structure offers a far better system of limited power than the all-encompassing state of communist Russia(n) or even the Western states, both of which implement cradle to grave policies, until the state controls all of life. The power of the monarch was limited by the church, the guilds, the merchants, and monarch’s own barons. The people, generally, would side with the monarch or the church in limiting the power of the merchants, guilds and barons. The feudal system was never completely institutionalized, but its organic institutions lie behind the constitutions of both England and the United States.
The United States was very careful in providing limited government for its people, using a constitution and a system of government, though tainted with unbelief that was based on the authority of Christ and the Scriptures. The President, the Senate and the Supreme Court balanced each other, while being balanced by both the constitution and the voice of the people. Canada was influenced by both Britain and the United States in its form of government. Though the Prime Minister is a British name, he serves a purpose much closer to that of the President than that of the original position of the Prime Minister in Britain. Like the United States, Canada provided a constitution for her people. We are built on a foundation that does not give complete power to any demographic. (Including any one person demographic)
Many of the problems we face with our government today stem back to two big changes in the 19th century; the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. The French Revolution and its affect on the west were very complicated. In the end, it destroyed what was left of the feudal system and laid the groundwork for democracy without internal checks and balances. The Industrial Revolution messed up the social order of the West and government filled the void. Without a strong unified church or other institutions to keep it in check, government expanded.
To conclude; how do we as Christians influence again a proper respect for government and limit that government at the same time? To answer the first part of the question; Christians must be faithful Christians. When we obey our parents and respect them, it is easier to obey and respect other authorities in life. Obedience begins in the home; we obey in small things so that it is easier to obey in the big things in life. The organic obedience of a family structure will grow into an organic respect to all authority structures. When we try to limit government power we should use the freedoms we still have to build strong institutions that can stand up to the government. We need to work to persuade our representatives to allow for such institutions. Powerful Christian labor and Christian business and Christian churches should be able to stand up to the government when it tries to do what is not in its job description or something that goes against the word of God. Finally we must never forget our foundation, which is Christ, as revealed in His Word. If we ignore that, all our organizations will be destroyed.