by Al Maxey

Issue #571 ------- April 5, 2013
He who obeys God needs no other authority.
Petr Chelcicky (1390-1460)

Christian Anarchism
A Philosophical Movement
of Pacifistic Non-Involvement

I was recently asked if I was familiar with the philosophy of Christian Anarchism. I had to confess that I was not. Indeed, my first reaction was that the two terms constituted an oxymoron: how could a follower of Jesus be an anarchist, and how could an anarchist truly be a practitioner of divine love? Nevertheless, my curiosity was piqued, so I began to do some research. I assumed I would find a small group of religious radicals of rather recent origin. Instead, this is a philosophy that has been around for centuries. Although most would deem it radical, few would characterize it as either militant or aggressive. Indeed, the majority of those who embrace this philosophy are pacifists (hardly what one envisions when one hears the terms "anarchist" or "anarchy"). Yes, they consider their movement to be revolutionary, but not in a militaristic sense.

The word "anarchy" is generally understood by most to mean: "political disorder and violence; resistance, sometimes by terrorism, to organized government and law" [Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language]. We think of zealots with guns and bombs who are determined to overthrow the government, and there have certainly been many such "anarchists" over the years who have caused great turmoil throughout the world, even though, in some cases, their cause may have been just (the British, for example, would certainly have seen our own patriots of the Revolutionary War period as being "anarchists"). "Anarchism is the theory that all forms of government interfere unjustly with individual liberty and are therefore undesirable" [ibid]. There are certainly times when this is true, but there have also been a few benevolent governments that have championed the individual and protected his/her rights. In either case, the true anarchist would prefer to live free of any governmental involvement in his or her life. The Christian anarchist, then, is one who has chosen to separate (as much as is humanly possible) from earthly governments, and to live instead under the rule of his/her King -- God. As citizens of a heavenly realm, they will adamantly refuse to involve themselves in the affairs of the government under which they live. Thus, they oppose serving in the military, they often refuse to vote, they will not salute a flag or pledge allegiance to it, and some will even refuse to pay taxes. They don't believe in acts of violence against their governments, they simply don't want any involvement with them. They don't want to overthrow government, they just want to stay clear of it ... and they want it to stay clear of them.

In researching the Christian Anarchy movement, it becomes clear that such persons are advocating a revolution, but not in the sense one might suspect. It is not an attempt to remove one form of human government and replace it with another. Rather, it is an attempt to remove oneself from the influence and authority of a human government and to submit instead to the universal rule of God over every aspect of one's life. Whereas many believe one can achieve the latter without necessarily renouncing the former, the Christian Anarchists disagree. Loyalty to the Lord precludes any degree of loyalty to any other form of rule, authority or government. Thus, although it is perceived and portrayed as a spiritual revolution, it most definitely has temporal, societal aspects and applications. On their web sites they make it clear that they are not a political activist group. "On the contrary we are anti-political. Why should we look to an institution such as politics to solve the most pressing problems of humanity that they simply have no power to fix?" [from: Christian Anarchy].

"Christian anarchism is the belief that there is only one source of authority to which Christians are ultimately answerable, the authority of God as embodied in the teachings of Jesus. More than any other Bible source the Sermon on the Mount, especially Jesus' call to not resist evil but to turn the other cheek, is used as the basis for Christian anarchism. Most Christian anarchists are pacifists and oppose the use of violence, such as war. The foundation of Christian anarchism is a rejection of violence, with Leo Tolstoy's 'The Kingdom of God Is Within You' regarded as a key text. Christian anarchists denounce the state as they claim it is violent, deceitful and, when glorified, a form of idolatry" [from: Christian Anarchism]. There is an excellent, and very scholarly, essay on this movement titled "Christian Anarchism: A Forgotten Alternative for the Peaceful Ordering of Society," written by a British professor and presented at a conference in 2006, that is excellent (Click Here to read this essay), and I would encourage the reader to examine it carefully.

This movement is not easily pinned down and cubby-holed, for it is far more a philosophy than an organized entity. As in any such philosophy, there is certainly not unanimity among the adherents as to how best to express their views in daily life and interaction with the governmental authorities under which they are compelled to live. Some will form themselves into religious communities (or communes) where they largely seek to separate themselves from society, whereas others will blend into their societies, but in their hearts they are troubled by the many compromises they feel forced to make. Occasionally, the latter will take a stand and speak out against some governmental intrusion, when said intrusion is clearly in opposition to the will of God. Most Christians and churches, however, tend to "go along to get along" with the governments under which they live. This tension, caused by just how much Christians should resist and oppose the dictates of human governments, has always been present throughout history. In benevolent times, church and state coexist without too much conflict, however this is not always the case. There are more times than not in history where the secular government is very much in opposition to the spiritual and moral focus and expression of the church, and such times call for a commitment from Christians to stand for their faith, even when it may prove costly to do so. To some extent, therefore, each of us who profess faith in Christ are "anarchists." Or, to use the words of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge" (Acts 4:19). "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Yes, there is a need to be "submissive to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1f), but only when such submission does not violate the express will of our God. When a choice must be made between the two, and Christians are often called to make such choices, the choice must always be: we will submit to HIS authority, not YOURS. The degree to which you are willing to do this in daily life reflects the degree of Christian "anarchism" you embrace.

With all the above having been said, each disciple must decide for himself/herself how submissive to and supportive of the secular society in which they live they will be. I'm not sure there is an easily discernable and defined position that is "right" for every person. This is a very subjective area, and one's position is often affected by the conditions and circumstances of one's social and political environment. For example, if I were living under an oppressive government, one hostile to Christianity (such as is found in certain Muslim nations, or perhaps in China), my stand would be much different than it is here in the United States. Sadly, however, I feel our nation is quickly moving away from its historical support of godly principles, and is increasingly embracing and promoting godless agendas. This concerns me deeply, and is motivating me to speak out more and more against such abuses. I still love, and will always love, this great country of ours. I served in its military proudly, spending time in combat in Vietnam (Reflections #232), and do not regret those years. I am not a pacifist, and would be willing to use force again against aggressors against our nation, and would certainly use deadly force against anyone who sought to harm my family or me (Reflections #345). Thus, I do not embrace some of the tenets of Christian Anarchism, which does tend to be pacifistic in philosophy. However, I do agree with the position that we must never submit to the ungodly dictates of the secular authorities. Again, I fear in our country today we are fast approaching a time when a very significant clash is coming between church and state, and it is not going to be pleasant for any involved. God and His Word are being pushed out of our society, and we had better start taking a stand -- and, yes, that means pastors speaking out boldly from the pulpit (Reflections #547)! I also firmly believe Christians should involve themselves in government (thus influencing it for good), rather than withdrawing from it (Reflections #211). So, I'll leave it to you to judge how much, and which flavor of, anarchism I actually embrace! My guess, however, is that most hardcore Christian anarchists would not be overly happy with me!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in California:

You have a treasure trove of information in your Reflections Archives. What is so great about this site is that you have covered so many subjects these past ten years, and that many, many times your subscribers (including me) will ask you a question and/or seek your advice and you will respond with a Reflections article that fully addresses the issue. Again, your Archives is a treasure trove, as it stands, but even more wonderful is the fact that you are still alive and still adding to it. Therefore, your subscribers (both new and old) not only have this great mass of great information, but we have a lot more of these studies to look forward to (Lord willing). I can assure you that we all wait eagerly each week to see what you have to share with us. We are so privileged to have access to these hundreds of Reflections, and also access to YOU. It is downright awesome that I can write to you directly (you don't hide from or withdraw yourself from your readers) and get a personal response from you. This means more to me than you will ever realize! I also find myself quoting you often, and preaching sermons from information I obtain from your writings. You are truly a living legend, and I am blessed to be able to say I know you and have direct access to you. Thank you so much for all that you do, and for all of your great work for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

I wish every preacher in the brotherhood was forced to read your last Reflections -- "The Bottle-Fed Church." During the 48 years since I was baptized at the Pearl Harbor congregation, I can almost count on my fingers the number of "meaty" sermons I have heard from the pulpit. Frankly, 99.9% of the sermons I've heard have been on "the basics" -- hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized, with the "required" number of warnings about all those "evil denominations" thrown in! When confronted about this, the preachers have invariably said, "We must never forget there may be a visitor present who needs to hear this!" No disrespect intended, but that is no way to run a railroad ... or a church! Had it not been for a few good men who dared to look past the so-called "Plan," my wife and I would have given up years ago! Please keep up the good work, brother!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Amen and AMEN, brother! "The Bottle-Fed Church" was a tremendous article!! Bottle-fed churches are the birthplace of spiritual death. I could name many brethren who have died such a death. In some congregations there is more of a "social gospel" expounded than the "meat of the Word." There appear to be more Thessalonians than Bereans among our audiences -- i.e., those who are content being "bottle-fed" immature Christians. Sometimes the one doing the teaching or preaching doesn't know the difference between milk and meat. How can they feed the flock meat when they are guilty of not digging beneath the surface for themselves? Today, too many preachers and teachers are deriving their fare from the Internet. Another concern of mine is that quite often we get new converts "wet," and then we leave them on the banks of the river, or, more specifically, on the side of the baptistery. Don't get me started! Once more, Al, thanks for a tremendous and much needed article. I really appreciate it.

From a Minister in California:

In my 30+ years of ministry, thirty of which were in Churches of Christ, I simply cannot recall one time when there was a conflict within a congregation that was based on a true doctrinal issue. Every conflict was the result of spiritual immaturity on the part of some person or group of people not getting their way! And it was always over a matter of opinion. One of the saddest aspects of ministry, in my experience, was seeing people over a period of years never growing up. On the other hand, one of the greatest aspects of ministry, in my experience, was seeing people over a period of years actually growing up. Thank you, Al, for this article on "The Bottle-Fed Church."

From a Minister in Australia:

Just read "The Bottle-Fed Church." I liked it, Al. My problem with teaching at the level of the members is that in small churches (often less than 50 people), where I've mostly served, there can only be one adult class, and sometimes, because of a limited number of members who can teach, even teens and young adults have to be in the same class with the older adults. So, at times I teach very basic stuff, which bores the more mature, and then at times I teach meaty stuff, which can be over the heads of the others. I trust God can do the rest!

From a Reader in Texas:

Amen to your article on bottle-fed churches. Sadly, as a body of followers, too many of our number have lost the desire to study "meat."

From a Reader in California:

I haven't yet lost my desire for the "meat" of the Word, it's just that most of the time it simply isn't offered. I get really weary of being thrown "softballs" by the "pitchers," especially in Bible class.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Al, "The Bottle-Fed Church" was another excellent issue of your Reflections. I am reminded of once meeting a dear lady from a charismatic faith-group -- a group that demanded their women wear their hair in a bun. When I asked her from which part of "Holy Writ" that command had been taken, she said she didn't really know, but that she would have Bro. So-and-So "explain" it to me. She, herself, was a "babe" in the Word, and could not even begin to explain why she believed or practiced what she did.

From a Reader in Georgia:

In your article "The Bottle-Fed Church," your third point about Grace stirred me the most. It seems to me that the challenge a community of believers, in this area of maturity, must grasp is that we all mature at a different pace: some slower, some faster, some wiser, some, like me, who have to hear it over and over again. I would think it very difficult for a community to experience growth in maturity within a legalistic environment, for once the "leader" matures to his next level of "do's and don't's," then everybody else must get in line with him or get out. This doesn't allow for genuine growth, but only adherence to the party line. In a grace-filled environment, however, one can approach growth in maturity with great patience, knowing that the Teacher is working on the hearts and minds of us all, and that He will show us Truth as we're ready to receive it. Perhaps that is why there is so much bickering in the more legalistic communities. There is an old saying: "A man convinced against his will is unconvinced even still." We have to allow for God's timing in the process. Thanks for all you do, Al. You are a fantastic encouragement to me, and obviously to many others as well.

From a Reader in Canada:

There is no one I have as much appreciation of and also deep love for than you, Al. I have tremendous respect for how you manage your interpretation of the Scriptures and for the quality of your teaching. Receiving your Reflections is a weekly highlight in my life. As for the topic of maturing in Christ (as per your article "The Bottle-Fed Church"), I see about 90% of the folks sitting in any church being still infants: having never reached one solid conclusion based on what they themselves have researched and studied from the Word. Yes, listen to others and let them challenge your thinking, but form your own conclusions from your own study! God bless you, Al, for challenging us to study and think, and may the Lord add many more days to your life so we can be further enlightened by your grace.

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