From Bondage to the Desert – How to Prepare for Freedom – 2

2. Between Dictatorship and Democracy

When the only leadership style that we have known and observed in our lifetime is dictatorship and control, it is very easy to internalise this approach and not be aware of the fact that we are tending to lead the church in the same way that we have seen communist leaders controlling our society.

Democracy is a difficult art to learn. From the extreme of dictatorship it may look like anarchy, but it is obviously not the same thing. It is also an imperfect political system, but still probably the best that fallen human beings can devise.

Some Christians, who are afraid of or who dislike accepting the risks of democracy, try to argue for the idea that the church cannot be a democratic institution but should rather be seen as a theocracy, very much like the people of Israel under the law of God. However, this is wrong interpretation of Scripture, an illegitimate attempt to apply to the Church a system that was ordained by God specifically for the nation of Israel. In fact, such arguments are frequently simply pathetic attempts to hide fundamentally dictatorial tendencies.

We have seen many Christians in the former communist countries who had been persecuted for their faith by the communists and who have become, under freedom, the persecutors of their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Such behaviour is truly pathological and does much harm to the witness of the church in society.

In the New Testament we can find various models of church government, but theocracy is not one of them. The three fundamental models of church government are

  • the hierarchical model – typical of Catholic and Orthodox, but also of some Protestant Episcopal churches, and corresponding to monarchy in the political realm;
  • the presbyterian model – typical of some mainline Protestant churches (particularly Presbyterians) and corresponding to representative democracy; and
  • the congregational model – typical of many Evangelical and charismatic churches, which corresponds to direct participatory democracy.

In the light of this biblical and contemporary reality, we as Christians need to learn to live and function effectively under democracy and reject at all costs the ways of dictatorship, which are a disgrace to those who are called to model the principles of the kingdom of God in the present imperfect situation.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s