Arky Faith

In Chapter One we established the concept of Christian Anarchy. In this chapter we win turn to its opposite, what I call "Arky Faith." Arky faith is that enthusiastic human self-confidence which is convinced that Christian piety can generate the holy causes, programs, and ideologies that will effect the social reformation of society. Differing only as to which actually are the holy causes, arky faith characterizes the Christian Right just as much as it does the Christian Left. In either case, the true believer has no doubt at all as to which arkys are the elect instruments for God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

The dichotomy between Christian Anarchy and arky faith may be as essential in defining true Christianity as any rubric ever proposed. Of course, the distinction won't begin to correlate with the common theological one of "liberal" and "conservative." None of the classic creeds or confessions is of any help in determining which--"anarchy" or "arky faith"--is orthodox and which heretical. Our study cuts in at a different level, addressing a new issue. The Bible (we have seen and will see) very definitely does speak to the matter, though Christian tradition as a whole has largely ignored it.

The issue at stake has to do with the ways and means of God's work in history--rather than predominantly with God's own nature. But arky faith is broad enough to include almost any concept of deity; the following list is representative:

  1. As with the Christian Right, arky faith may hold an entirely orthodox view of God, positing only that it knows which of the arkys God considers his chosen instruments.
  2. As with many theological liberals of the Christian Left, the of arky faith may be simply a mytho-symbolic expression of its utopian vision, set up to inspire the efforts of its adherents.
  3. Arky faith may go beyond Christianity to base itself in the universal religiousness of humanity. Now, rather than speaking of a pluralistic "God," the preference is for "the spiritual [read cultural] progress of the race"--as that is defined and directed the elected arkys, of course.
  4. Arky faith may be expressed in purely secular, humanitarian terms, with no transcendent reference at all.

    Obviously, any and all these options qualify under our definition of arky faith, although because of our present interest we will treat only those claiming in some sense to be "Christian." But the point is that the crux of arky faith lies nearer its concept of "the human" than its concept of "God." Granted, the two are never completely separable; and Ellul did say of the arkys that "they are constantly tempted to take the place of God." That, of course, would be idolatry--though we are going to argue more closely that the sin of arky faith lies fundamentally in its adherents' seeing their arkys as indubitably mesianic, as being God's anointed agents social redemption. The sin, then, is that which Jesus warns again as "chasing after false messiahs."

    So, an arky's problem lies more in its self-image than in its image of God. The pretentiousness of that self-image has per nowhere been more tellingly exposed than in the line Tennyson gives to Sir Galahad: "My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure." Contrast this to Jesus' statement: "So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:10).

There would seem to be no mystery as to why arky faith holds such appeal for us. Given the unquestioned certainty that our arkys are right, good, and dedicated to the service of God, three great advantages would seem to accrue:

  1. Arky faith greatly simplifies moral decision making. One escapes the ambiguity and terrible complexity of dealing with actual individuals who always are very much a mixture of good and evil, actual forces and situations that are very much the same way. Now one can think in terms of homogenous arky power-blocs that clearly classify into either good or bad; moralizing can be done sheerly knee-jerk reflexing. So "pacifism" (of whatever character) is good and anything that is not pacifism is "evil warmaking." A capitalist U.S. government is bad; a socialist Sandinista government is good. "Masculinity" is bad; "femininity" is good. The Moral Majority is bad; the National Council of Churches is good. Multinational corporations are bad; cottage industries are good. Moral choice becomes wonderfully uncomplicated when human affairs are understood simply in terms of a contest between the arkys wearing white hats and those wearing black. The trouble, of course, is that this way of doing morality bears no relationship to moral reality.
  2. Perfectly confident that our own commitments are to the "good," we cannot see why it should be anything other than good that our power for good be "magnified" through the collective solidarities of good arkys. Nevertheless, the hard truth is that you, at most, are one--one individual--and no matter how pure you know you have no right to the strength of ten. That longs to nine other individuals--even if their hearts are not nearly as pure as yours. You have no right to lecture at a volume of "ten." Those other nine people are to be allowed to speak even if you know that what they have to say is hogwash. The rule is "one person, one voice, one vote." And it is every bit as wrong for piety to try to steamroller its "justice" into place as for perversity its "injustice."

    I am convinced there are many Christians (of both the left and right) who, as individuals, are quite modest, humble, and of realistic self-image--but who, then, proceed to satisfy their lust for power; of grandeur, and their sense of self-righteousness through the holy arkys with which they identify. Asserting their "just cause" becomes a psychological disguise for asserting themselves; thus they find Christian justification for the sense of power by which all of us are tempted.
  3. Finally, one of the most alluring aspects of arky faith is what we have called "the trigger effect" and now call "the David and Goliath effect." Still completely confident about the justice of our own cause, we dream about the possibility that, judiciously applied to the right spot, the power even of a small pebble from our weak sling will bring down the Goliath of Evil. The rock slinger may be a minority of one righteous individual, namely me ("God and one make a majority," you know--for those of us bold enough to claim that where we are marks the spot where God is). Or the rock slinger may be the minority of our own small but holy cause group. Yet our faith (our arky faith) is that even a small power play at a key point in the dam can trigger the flood in which "justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream." Yet Amos (whose words these are [5:24]) was making a point the precise opposite of that of arky faith. It is very wide the mark to consider that our "justice" is congruent enough with God's for one to be the trigger of the other. No, Amos is saying, "Get out of there with your arky justice, religion, and piety. Your holy efforts are blocking God out, not helping him in. So step back and let justice (real justice) roll down like waters."

    There is no doubt that the trigger effect does operate on the human scene. And it is indeed a sweet dream that we might be able to accomplish "so much good" just through our little holy effort. Wouldn't God be delighted with us if we rose up, O men, women, and children of God, to trigger the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong? In truth, is it not upon this trigger effect that all revolutionary action is premised--so much good, a sweeping reversal from evil to good, through our one holy pebble? "One person--namely, you--can make the difference!"

    The hitch, of course, is that he who triggers the flood is going to have to take whatever flooding his triggering brings down. Once he has triggered his flood, he has no power to dictate its nature even direct its course; "this thing is bigger than both of us." And so, what the Maccabeen revolutionaries triggered did accomplish religious freedom and the liberation of the temple. But then, out control, the waters swept on to devastate the moral character of both the triggerers and their Jewish state. There was nothing wrong, either, with the Zealot plan: if they could trigger as much as general uprising against the Empire of Evil, then, they were certain, God's Messiah would come rolling down with his flood of justice to eliminate the Romans, set up Israel as the first of the nations, and introduce the promised Day of the Lord. But, sad to say, the flood they actually got was only more, more, and more of Rome. Nothing wrong, again, with the plan to convert the emperor and thus revolutionize the empire. The plan worked, but the resultant flood went its own way--to the detriment of everything Christianity stood for.

    The dream that our "justice" might trigger the rolling waters of God's justice is indeed a sweet one--and one we will always enticing. The pause is that any person presuming to use his power to trigger floods better also have at hand the power to control them--and that person, sad but true, is none of us.

The history of Christianity traces out rather clearly as a continuing contest to determine which arkys, at any given time, are actually holy agents of God.

As we saw in the previous chapter; Christian arky faith got its start in the absolute conviction that the elected arkys of God were two--the Holy Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. Any arkys else (be they churches or states; be they pagan, heretical Christian, or whatever) were enemies of God to be ruthlessly conquered and exterminated.

(In the earlier stages of Christian history, all arky power apparently was perceived as being institutionalized in either the form of churches or states. Only recently have we come to see that there are a whole host of other institutions--education, business, the media, etc.--that are just as intent to govern human thought and behavior.)

The split-up of the empire, with its division of the Western church from the Eastern, did not change the character of arky faith. But now, within Christendom, we had two sets of Christian arkys--each absolutely certain that it was of God and that the other was of Evil. From this point forward (or backward, depending upon God's opinion as to which way his church is going), the contest of arky election will take place as much or more within the church as between the church and the world.

The Protestant Reformation (i.e., the Magisterial Reformation, excluding the Anabaptists who played no part in this development) again fails to mark any significant change. The word magisteral betrays how strongly arky oriented that reformation was. The only thing new is that we now have a plethora of Christian church-state combines in actual military combat with each other for confirmation of their election by God. Not too nice a picture.

It is, then, only as we move into denominational pluralism, the advent of secularism, the development of democratic government, and a breakup of the unholy union between church and state, that we see any significant change in the picture. Yet in no sense is that change a move away from arky faith toward Christian Anarchy. It is simply arky faith taking on its modern form.

Ecclesiastical monopoly within a society no longer being an option, each church had to learn to tolerate intermixture--even while retaining the secret (or not so secret) conviction that it was the elect in a way the others were not. A given state could no longer sport its churchly consort as proof of its own divine election. But that was no bar to civil governments claiming election on their own merits (like, say, "this nation under God").

However, with the new, democratic pluralism now making the ecclesiastical government of an entire populace an impossibility, the denominations had to reformulate the nature and purpose of their arky power. No longer could it be domination by decree but now by propaganda. No longer could it be the power to grant whole populations salvation through the holy sacraments or the preaching of the holy word (or else, if they refuse it, damn them to hell). Now it had to be the power of institutional programs of evangelization, Christian nurture, moral instruction, and social reform that more subtly but just as powerfully get God's will done on earth (or else, if people refuse it, let them go to nuclear hell). There is here no less confidence than before as to whose arky is appointed of God--and no less confidence than before that that arky carries the power that can save the world.

There is evidence in our day that given denominations are beginning to lose out as being the popular choice for "God's anointed." Some Christians see ecumenical councils and agencies as being the bigger and better arkys (more powerful and more effective) and so are pegging their hope and allegiance there. Some Christians see parachurch organizations and cause groups (anything from Youth for Christ to Sojourners) as being the arkys of God's future. And some Christians believe that, for our day, different ones of our wholly secular movements, causes, and parties represent the most truly elected arkys. What it adds up to is that, from Constantine until NOW (that acronymic capitalization is not accidental), church arky faith has completely carried the day.

Regarding the arky of civil government, the picture is no different. Though it is true that the Constantinian holy tandem church and state has largely disappeared, that was far from marking the end of faith in the divine election of government. Many German Christians, obviously, accepted the arky of the Third Reich as being of God. Today, many American Christians see the United States of America the same way (or else as that still-elect arky we are now in process of re-Christianizing).

Of course, there are also a great many Christians who laugh at this phenomenon, but that does not at all mean they have deserted arky faith. They deride the idea that any establishment, rightist governments are elect of God--because they know that election already belongs to whatever revolutionary, leftist government talks social justice and reform. I say "talks," because, by the time one can get around to an evaluation on the basis of performance, the true believer has already committed himself and has no option but to defend his choice. Yet, whether of the Right or the Left, the nature of arky faith is the same--the difference being only as to which arkys are of God and which of the devil.

My first inclination was to spot this as a modern development by citing Walter Rauschenbusch's at-the-time opinion that the government of the Russian Revolution was God's gift to the world as its best model of peace and brotherhood. Then I realized that the phenomenon has been with us as good as forever. In a succeeding chapter, we will see how devout Jews of the second century B.C. embraced the Maccabean Revolt on the basis of its talk about social justice (quality, liberty, brotherhood, and peace) and how their compatriots of the first Christian century embraced the Zealot Revolution on the same basis.

Certainly, on the basis of its sweet talk, many Christians accepted the American Revolution as being of God. The French Revolution probably won the same sort of Christian blessing in its turn. Malcomb Muggeridge has given us a fine account of how British Christians went ga-ga over the Russian Revolution, just as Rauschenbusch did. The Viet-Cong/North Vietnam "revolution" had its Christian following. There are still Christians affirming the godliness of the Cuban revolution, although people have become rather quiet about the Iranian revolution that unseated the Shah. And of course, the current favorite as "Christian arky" is the Sandinista revolution in Nicarugua--as on the Right it is that of the Reagan administration--each probably just as Christianly wrong as the other.

It is interesting that Christian proponents of revolutionary arky faith don't paparticularly care whether a regime is pro-church or anti-church as long as it talks peace and justice. Obviously, some of these revolutions actually have produced more of what they talked about than have others. That is not the point. There is no reason even to argue whether those Christians are wiser or more stupid who are plumping the divine election of the Sandinista revolution than those who plumped the divine election of the Holy Roman Empire. It is the same mistake either way. The only question is whether there ever has been any human arky--church, state, cause group, or whatever--that has merited recognition as God's chosen instrument of human salvation.

Accordingly, about the entire history we have just traced, true Christian anarchists feel nothing but incredulity as to how we got so far off base. Who can say whether that sequence marks a progression or a retrogression, when its heading is so far off the gospel in any case? And there is no point in bringing accusations of villainy, because obviously there were no particular villains involved. "All we, (exactly) like sheep, have gone astray-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay." And there is nothing to do about it but weep-or perhaps, better, laugh at the ridiculousness of it all ... as a cover-up for our tears.

Within the foregoing history of Christendom, there are two churches, two Christian groupings in particular, that stand out as different. They are the New Testament church and the Anabaptists of the Protestant Reformation. I am not arguing that these are the only instances of true Christian Anarchy; yet my own interest and study brings them to focus. The New Testament already has been and will continue to be at the center of our attention, so it seems appropriate, here, to consider the Anabaptists.

Regarding the Christian Anarchy of that movement, the definitive study would seem to be James M. Stayer's Anabaptism and the Sword (Coronado Press, 1976). Stayer never uses the term "anarchism" except in the political, "anti-arky" sense; but "Christian Anarchy" probably would have served him better than the terminology he does use. On page 1, he points out that, in the theological disputations of the sixteenth century, the term "the Sword" (from Rom. 13:4) regularly identified "all temporal force." Stayer himself tends to narrow the reference to physical violence either by or against the civil state. His Anabaptist sources would be a bit more concerned also to keep the established church in the picture. Yet the theological issue itself invites us to broaden the term to cover the whole of what we have called "impositional pressure"--and so translate "the Sword" as "arky power."

Stayer sets out to challenge "classic Anabaptist historiography" for its assumptions: (a) that Anabaptism, from the outset, consistently represented "Christian Anarchy" (now to use our terminology in place of Stayer's); and (b) that the movement as a whole was indeed homogenous in its anarchical theology. There is no question that he makes his case; yet, to my mind, he fails to recognize how close he also came to proving the "classic interpretation" in the process.

Regarding (a), if "Anabaptism" be identified by the practice of believer baptism, then the movement's origin came in 1525. Stayer's research clearly establishes that, no more than five years later, out of the loose mix of Anabaptist fellowships, there were a goodly number that were self-consciously "anarchist" and who knew themselves to be in general agreement with each other (even if differing slightly in their theological rationales). Just as important, it is this growing consensus( and no other) that will survive as "the Anabaptist tradition" continuing down to the present day. Technically, I suppose, "five years later" is not the same as "from the outset"; but in the overall sweep of history, they come to as much as the same thing. My guess is that Anabaptism congealed into Christian Anarchy at least as quickly as, say, Lutherans or Calvinists congealed into their distinctive theological positions.

Regarding (b), Stayer shows that, at points in the early history, there were Anabaptist factions which held to a revolutionist arky faith rather than to Christian Anarchy. Some of these, apparently, were eager to take the sword as God's instrument for overthrowing the powers and establishing the kingdom. Others would take it up much more reluctantly, hoping that God's revolution could be accomplished more peaceably, by less violent means, and with a more limited use of power.

What Stayer (unknowingly) here has discovered is the economy we already have noted in Jesus and Paul and in moderns like Ellul. In a succeeding chapter we will find the pattern strongly enforced by Karl Barth. But Christian anarchists--who normally are under the gun, or facing the cross, of establishment power--hardly find themselves tempted to legitimize, or collaborate with, that establishment. Quite the contrary, they are forever tempted to legitimize--and must continually struggle to differentiate themselves from the leftist arkys of just revolution.

Indeed, Christian anarchists do tend to come from the ranks of disillusioned revolutionaries--or those who, were they not anarchists, surely would be revolutionaries. With these revolutionists of the Left, Christian anarchists share the passion for justice and righteousness which insists that the present order of our human establishment must be radically changed. However, the anarchists have no faith at all that the powers of human piety and wisdom are in any way competent to effect or control such change. That change must come from God. On this point, then, they show affinity with the conservative Right where, of course, emphasis upon the sovereignty of God is strong. Yet the anarchists are not at home there, either--because they can't buy the conservative thesis that the present order of society is the one God wills for us. So, although Christian Anarchy does seem most often to he born out of the Left, it cannot be understood as a variety of either liberal or conservative Christianity. It is its own thing. And I, for one, would be just as happy to have the matter explained thusly: both the Left and the Right are corrupted versions of the original Christian Anarchy. Why not?

However, what Stayer's account shows but never quite says is that any sort of Anabaptist "revolutionism" always turns out to be short lived and aberrational. Also, by far the greater part of movement within Anabaptism is one-way: revolutionaries and their parties either die out or else move into true Christian Anarchy. Stayer finds very few instances of the reverse movement of anarchical Anabaptists going revolutionary. Out of the earliest ambiguity, only Christian Anarchy survives as the virtually unanimous consensus Anabaptism.

Now, what Stayer does also show is that, within this mainline anarchist consensus, different Anabaptists had somewhat different opinions as to just how much and what sort of political involvement was permissible to Christians. Yet, because none of these people come close to putting their "faith" in the possibilities of arky accomplishment, they all can be understood as falling well within Christian Anarchy. What it comes to, then, is that--in spite of Stayer's emphasis on diversity--his study still shows that it is every bit as proper to make generalized statements about "Anabaptism and Christian Anarchy" as about "Lutheranism and Justification Faith," or any other Christian tradition and its particular doctrine. "Generalized" does not have to mean "unanimous."

Where we use the term "Christian Anarchy," Stayer calls "apoliticism." He divides the category into "moderate apoliticism and "radical apoliticism." That distinction is real, of course. However, it does not affect the more fundamental theological distinction between those who see holy arkys as the means of our social salvation and the anarchists who reject the view. At some points (particularly p.122) Stayer also uses the term "separatist nonresistance." "Separatist"--which he defines as "separation from the majority society"--seems to be the exact equivalent of his "apolitical" (and will come under our critique of that term). "Nonresistance" he defines as "refusal to use physical force"--and needs only to be opened out to include the rejection of all forms of impositional arky power.

Recall, then, that Ellul objected strenuously to Jesus' anarchism being called "apolitical." It all depends, of course, upon what one means by "political." If the term identifies only such action as is deliberately calculated to have an express effect in impositionally manipulating and directing public affairs to a desired end, then neither Jesus nor Anabaptists were political. If, on the other hand, the term identifies whatever actions do in actuality have an effect on public affairs, then Jesus and the Anabaptists were as political as can be. So, if "apolitical" suggests people isolated and withdrawn from the life of society, or those whose actions have no effect upon the world around them, then the term is wrong for the Anabaptists.

Does it make sense to characterize the Anabaptists essentially as "apolitical" in a day when, by rights, the term would be just as applicable to over ninety percent of the population who were given responsibilities? How can it be right to call the Anabaptists "apolitical" when, at perhaps a higher percentage than any other church in history, their names are preserved in the political records, the court proceedings of their trials and executions? Granted, they didn't go to court in order to practice politics in the customary sense; but they were active right out in the midst of the political process, and their action of getting themselves executed could not happen without having considerable political consequence.

Further, there is no doubt that--over against the established concept of state-church, folk-church, territorial-church--it was the Anabaptists who introduced into Christendom the concept of a believer-, voluntary-, gathered-church. That concept, of course, has since carried the day--to the point that the papacy recently made acknowledgment that Italy itself is a secular state and not a Catholic one, thus leaving even Roman Catholicism as a gathered church there. Now the Anabaptists obviously did not work this sea-change by means of impositional pressures toward arky reform. There may be those who would argue that the change would have happened even without the Anabaptists. Nevertheless, "apolitical" can't be quite the right term for a people in whose wake such changes of the polis do take place.

Again, it seems that the descendants of the Anabaptists were among the first to understand that the calling of the church includes a ministry of material service to the poor and desolate of the world. Today, that obligation is as much as universally recognized among the churches. In this case, again, there was never any arky effort to sell or impose the idea. Yet the polis of Christendom was transformed in any case. Indeed, an examination of their respective track records across Christian history might show that "apolitical" anarchists have had a more constructive political effect on the world than have the revolutionists who were trying to manipulate the political process for good. So if, as customarily used, "apolitical" is meant to imply "irrelevant to the real world," it is a poor synonym for Anabaptism's or any other form of Christian Anarchy. (Stayer, by the way, now agrees that "apolitical" is the wrong word and explains that he simply borrowed it from a Mennonite historian.)

Aside from its fine presentation of primary sources regarding the position of different Anabaptist leaders on "the Sword," Stayer's book is most helpful by including similar material regarding different ones of the non-Anabaptist reformers. Thus, he can help us clarify the distinctions between Christian Anarchy and differing types of arky faith. In the following, therefore, Stayer provides most of the information, although the interpretation and application are mine:

  • Martin Luther (Stayer, pp.33-44): Surprisingly enough, on basis of Luther's published position on "the Sword" (and particularly his exposition of Romans 13), Stayer finds him to be closer to anarchical Anabaptists than is any other of the Reformers. Luther comes off sounding not completely unlike what we already heard from the Blumhardts and Ellul and what we will hear from Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
    See, these people [the Christians] need no worldly Sword or law. And if the whole world were true Christians--genuine believers, I mean--no prince, king, lord, Sword, or law would be necessary or useful. (P. 37)
    The temporal authority does not at all belong to the charge of Christ but is an external thing, like all other offices and estates. (P.38)
    Follow the gospel and suffer injustice to yourself and your possessions as befits true Christians. (P. 43)
    [Stayer quotes Luther:] Since "the worldly power is a very small thing in the eyes of God," it was not worthwhile to undertake active resistance against its abuse. "Such an order we must have, but it is not a way to get to heaven and the world will not be saved because of it, but it is necessary exactly to keep the world from getting worse." (P.43)
    Dominion and Kingship shall remain to the Last Day, but then all official powers will be abolished, both the temporal and the spiritual. (P. 44)
    This, of course, is not the whole picture of Luther on the Sword. It is, however, enough to show a truly anarchistic skepticism that anything of God's good can ever be expected from human arkys. Consequently, Stayer awards Luther the label "moderate apoliticism," as against the "radical apoliticism" of the Anabaptists. But what Stayer fails to consider is Luther's praxis along with his theory. Do this once and, I contend, Luther is forever removed from consideration as a Christian anarchist. Quite the contrary, he takes on an arky faith of specific coloring.

    Luther was of a staunchly conservative turn of mind and so shows up as regularly legitimizing the power of establishment arkys. In praxis, he is not "apolitical" in any sense of the term. He turns to the "princes" and their Sword to have them gain for him legal standing for his Protestant church and protect it from its enemies (clearly a case of using worldly arky to forward what he is convinced the world is God's work in the world). Although he knows very well that anarchical ekklesia represents the truly Christian form of the church (admitting this in so many words in his The German Mass and Order of Worship), for prudential reasons he opts to retain the structures of state-church arky. He preaches the priesthood of all believers but practices a hard-and-fast arky-power distinction between clergy and laity. He fears anything that smells of revolution and so blesses the princes in their brutal putting down of peasant revolutionaries--and the Anabaptist "fanatics" whom he perceives as being of the same spirit. Luther clearly does believe that conservative, establishment arkys actually do play a vital role in God's plan for humanity.

    There is an entirely true and praiseworthy concern behind this faith of Luther's. He cares about what happens to people. For instance, in that German Mass passage, he rejects the New Testament concept of a gathered ekklesia explicitly because he realizes that only a few people ever would choose to join such groups and, in effect, this would be to leave the masses outside the salvation of the church. For Luther; the stability of a poweful established order was the only thing holding human sin in check and thus making possible a liveable society. Whether he was right or wrong in this, his conservative, legitimizing arky faith is credible and deserving of all respect.
  • Thomas Müntzer (Stayer, pp.73-90): Müntzer's is an arky faith the polar opposite of Luther's. He is the sixteenth-century representative of today's "theology of liberation." For him, revolution against establishment arky in behalf of the poor and oppressed is God's Sword manifesting itself in history. It is true that the Peasants War supported by Müntzer came to the same sorry end as the pre-Jesus Maccabean Revolt and the post-Jesus Zealot Revolt. Yet it is indubitable that all three of these were totally "just" revolutions, turning to violence only because there was no other alternative. Müntzer was every bit as sincere and religious as Luther--and had just as credible an argument for his position.
  • Desiderius Erasmus (Stayer, pp. 52-56): Erasmus had considerable influence on Ulrich Zwingli (our next case), but his thought is different enough to constitute a separate category. Erasmus can be understood as the first proponent of twentieth-century America's Social Gospel. Although it is not immediately apparent as such, his is another form of revolutionary arky faith (not entirely unlike Müntzer's). What Erasmus advocated was a "nonviolent, pacifist revolution." Consequently, the arky upon which his faith centered was what might be called Jesus-Piety. Jesus was to be followed as the perfect teacher and exemplar of the way of love. And Erasmus's faith, then, was the conviction that the arky of such pacifistic humanism is God's chosen vehicle for making the world right.

    To the present day, it is undoubtedly this form of arky faith that is most tempting to the Christian Left and most easily confused with Christian Anarchy. Yet the difference between them is as fundamental as this: Christian Anarchy is based on the conviction that no human arky can serve God's ultimate will for humanity, that only God's own not-of-this-world arky will do. Erasmianism, on the contrary, places its ultimate faith in the conviction that, for the bringing in of his kingdom, God has committed himself to the political arky-power of human pacifistic piety. However, even with that distinction, there is no question about the sincerity and truly Christian dedication of an Erasmus.
  • Ulrich Zwingli (Stayer, pp.49-69): Zwingli is the reformer with whom the Anabaptists had the most direct contact and within whose Zurich church Anabaptism originated. He is the Reinhold Niebuhr to Erasmus's Social-Gospel liberalism. Appropriately, then, Stayer titles his Zwingli chapter, "From Erasmian Pacifism to Christian Realpolitik." Zwingli's, too, is a faith in the arky of Christian piety; but he believes Erasmus's ideas to be too naive and simplistic to succeed within the hard realities of a sinful world. So, Zwingli is still the somewhat Erasmian vision of Christian piety gradually revolutionizing the world for good. Yet he knows this will take the combined arky efforts of his Zurich established church and the Zurich city council--and that with some well-directed political clout. He hopes he can keep the process peaceful but is prepared to go beyond peaceful means where that proves necessary. He is not a Müntzer who welcomes the Sword as the instrument of God's justice--yet neither is he an Erasmus who renounces it in the conviction that human livingness is capable of winning its own way. Zwingli is realistic enough to know that his goal is not the bringing in of the kingdom but only the Christianizing of Zurich. So, as with the others, there is no doubt about the credibility and authentic Christian conviction of Zwingli's pragmatic arky faith.

    Of the four we have presented, Luther's vision is obviously the most pessimistic--although, perhaps by the same token, also the most realistic. His legitimized establishment has held society together (sort of), which is as much as he ever hoped from it. Zwingli's is the most optimistic/realistic--although I don't know that Zurich has ever had a viable claim to being a "Christian" city. The visions of Müntzer and Erasmus, though apparently poles apart, are equally idealistic--each counting not so much upon the amassing of real power as upon the David-and-Goliath "triggering" effect and the purity of heart that magnifies strength tenfold.

    Each of the four positions has a valid rationale. It could be debated as to which scheme is the most workable. I don't believe it is possible to determine which is the most "Christian"--any of the four having difficulty developing a biblical basis. Yet, in spite of all their obvious differences, the four do have in common the conviction that there is a human arky (better: a particular type of arky) which is "holy," which God has elected as the means through which his will shall be done on earth (and for earth) as it is in is in heaven.
  • Anabaptism: Not particularly in its being "apolitical" but in its being "anarchical" (i.e., lacking the faith that any human arky has a select role to play in God's plan of salvation), Anabaptism is radically distinguished from any and all of the visions above. It stands outside the spectrum of arky faith.

    A more recent work of Stayer's throws further light on the matter. The title of his article, "The Revolutionary Origins of the'Peace Churches'" (Brethren Life & Thought, Spring 1985), could just as accurately have read, "The Anti-Revolutionary Origins...." For the thesis he so convincingly argues is that both sixteenth-century Anabaptism and seventeenth-century Quakerism represent the Christian, theological rebound following a gross failure of justice in a political revolution that had been seen as holding great promise. These "rebounders," then, wind up in a quite anti-revolutionary stance of anarchism and nonresistance, i.e., in what Stayer, from the 1527 Schleitheim Confession, typifies as "shunning all established churches and all governments [which is to say, the powers of both Right and Left, Establishment and Revolution]--all their worship services and their 'diabolical weapons of violence."'

    The completely proper and biblical conclusion drawn by these people was this: It has become apparent that no program of human power politics can be the method of social justice--in that sinful humanity is simply incapable of exercising impositional power without being corrupted by it. Therefore, we must look away from the powers of this world and turn to God as the one true source and hope of justice. With the Anabaptists, of course, the revolutionary disillusionment was that of the Peasants' War in Germany. With the Quakers, it was the Puritan Revolution. But I think Stayer is onto a pattern that shows up all over the place.

    I don't know that there was involved a party that could be called "revolutionary," but the justice-barren futility of the Thirty Years' War certainly was sufficient to trigger the rebound of German Pietism and the anarchical shunning of the powers by its radical wing (from which came the Church of the Brethren). The original Christian Anarchy of the New Testament perhaps ought not be called a "rebound," as though triggered by the collapse of the Zealot liberation effort against Rome; that anarchism was in the works even before it became evident that the Zealot revolt was a disaster. Yet the biblical evidence is clear that Christian Anarchy developed precisely as the positive theological alternative (a different option) standing counter to negative Zealot revolutionism.

    In so many words, Jacques Ellul tells us that it was the profound disillusionment of his own revolutionary involvements that turned him to the biblical position of Christian Anarchy. In Karl Barth's case, the term "revolution" is perhaps not as appropriate; nevertheless, with the onset of World War I, it was the "collapse by capitulation" of the peace-and-justice forces of Neo-Protestant theology and religious socialism that "rebounded" him out of his faith in the politics of human piety and into his powers-shunning hope of the kingdom of God. It might be said that Christian Anarchy exists to no other purpose than to rebound people toward God's justice once their hope has been shattered by the discovery of how treacherous and untrustworthy is any attempt at imposing our human justice upon the world.

    However, in response to this analysis, Stayer still finds it important to stress that, nonetheless, all these Christian anarchists had been or were very close to being revolutionists; there is considerable affinity. Of course he is right; I have been as ready to grant the point as he is to make it. Yet that point has the precise effect of strengthening--rather than weakening--the conclusion that will perhaps best be drawn by Karl Barth in a chapter ahead of us.

    In Romans 13, Barth finds the apostle Paul refusing to give divine legitimization to either the Roman establishment or the Zealot revolution against that establishment. Paul will not allow the gospel identified with either the Right or the Left--yet he comes down much harder against leftist revolution than he does against rightest establishment. Why?
    The revolutionary Titan is far more godless, far more dangerous, than his reactionary counterpart--because he is so much nearer the truth. To us, the reactionary [my emphasis-VE] presents little danger; with his Red brother [the then-current Bolshevik Revolution, of course] it is far otherwise.... Far more than the conservative, the revolutionary is "overcome of evil," because with his "No" he stands so strangely near to God.
    Amen. It is precisely the undeniable "political" resemblance (the commitment to peace, justice, freedom, and human welfare) between leftist revolutionism and true Christian Anarchy that makes it so very crucial for us to spot the radical "theological" opposition between the two. Christian anarchists are not secret revolutionists, quasi-revolutionists, incipient revolutionists, or even toned-down, quietist comrades of the revolutionists; at the very least, they are disillusioned revolutionists who have made a theological, quantum jump rebound out of revolutionism.

    Yet goodness knows, in our time, we have seen enough of revolutionary hopes--beginning, if you wish, with the Russian Revolution and running up through the Cuban and Nicaraguan ones (including such social and nonviolent examples as the Student Free Speech Movement and the Sexual Revolution)--to rebound the entire church of Jesus Christ into Christian Anarchy. Thus, what gives me such great concern is, in that situation, to find the leadership of my own Anabaptist-Brethren-Mennonite tradition moving in an exactly perverse direction: out of its time-tested anarchism and into today's dead-end revolutionism. Therefore, I hereby dedicate this book to hastening the inevitable revolutionary disillusionment that might bring these people back to the Christian Anarchy to which they belong.

The New Testament church and the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century display five basic characteristics in common and in contrast to all forms of arky faith:

  1. Neither gives a hint of wanting to legitimize any of the powers that be. Those all exist by God's sufferance; none can boast of his blessing.
  2. Neither shows any inclination to fight the arkys (even those perceived as most wicked) nor to compete with them (whether physically or verbally). There is no felt need to be knocking heads with them or trying to get power over them. It is not in any such contest that the future of the race is being decided.
  3. Neither shows any interest in making something of itself in the eyes of the world--getting its power consolidated, finding organizational structures that will make it most effective and influential. Both are content to be quite weak and, shall we say, anarchistic.
  4. Neither makes any big claims (or even small promises) about what it intends to do in the way of governing, saving, correcting, or even improving a lost and wrong world. Neither makes the sound of a candidate for office.
  5. Most of all, both show complete confidence that God can and will accomplish whatever he has in mind for his world, with or without their help. At his pleasure, God can use either arkys or anarchys, arkyists or anarchists. But he needs neither and, most definitely, licenses none.

I had it in mind now to use the book of Revelation as depiction of the early church's understanding of Christian Anarchy and a means of documenting the five points just made. Yet surely many people would think this hook so revealing of arky battle to be the very last place one would expect to find any hint of anarchism. So perhaps the best way of making this transition is to meet the problem head-on, by addressing the comparison between Romans 13 and Revelation 13 that is found with some regularity in the literature of the Christian Left.

That comparison most often is done to establish the contextualist nature of the Christian relationship to the state: when a state is behaving well, then Christians should respect, obey, and honor it; when it is nasty, then Christians are obligated to denounce, resist, and try to revolutionize it. The Christian response to government all depends upon how the government of the moment is comporting itself.

From this point of view, Romans 13 is read as quite legitimizing. The explanation is that, at the time of Paul's writing, the Roman Empire was in one of its more benevolent phases, making it natural for him to tell Roman Christians that they should obey the authorities, pay their taxes, and all. Revelation 13, then, is seen to be the opposite case. There the empire is portrayed as the Beast from the Abyss--which is taken to indicate that, at the time of the revelator's writing, the empire's behavior was quite different from what it had been in Paul's day. I will leave it for the reader to guess whether it is a Romans-13 or a Revelantion-13 phase these interpreters presently find the U.S. Government to be in.

Yet truth to tell, the evidence won't begin to support this interpretation at either end of the comparison. First, the Romans-13 end: (1) We have already found Jacques Ellul--and in succeeding chapters will find both Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer--strongly denying that Paul here either expresses or implies any sort of legitimizing, any sort of approval, any recognition of merit on the part of the secular state. (2) All three agree--Bonhoeffer the most emphatically--that the relative goodness or badness of the state is absolutely no factor in Paul's argument. (3) For my own part (as will be developed more fully later) it is incredible that Paul ever could have looked upon the Roman Empire as "benevolent." There is nothing in his Jewish background, his personal history; or the political situation of his time that would hint at his intending Romans 13 so.

Moving, then, to the Revelation-13 end of the comparison will also have the effect of getting us into the book we want to talk about. First, there is no evidence that the Beast described in Revelation 13 is to be identified as the Roman Empire. Clearly, the Revelator is here in process of introducing the three members of the Evil Trinity that are the negative spiritual counterparts of the three of the Holy Trinity. The Beast, then, is Anti-Christ, the negative of God the Son. John's imagery throughout the book rather easily sorts out into that representing spiritual, heavenly entities and that representing earthly reality; With his dual trinitys he is plainly on the spiritual level--and it is to make John break all his own rules to try to equate this Beast with the historical, earthly actuality of Rome.

Scholars who presume to read Revelation essentially as an anti-Roman tract are making an assumption they do not have textural evidence to support. As just suggested, the greater part of John's imagery has reference to spiritual powers that have no inherent correlation with earthly entities at all. In the first three chapters of book, where the author is speaking directly of historical situations and events, Rome gets neither named nor implied. John's churches are troubled primarily by heresies from within. A couple are being persecuted from without--but Jews (not Romans) are designated the persecutors. John tells us that, in Pergamum, "where Satan's throne is" (much more likely a reference to pagan shrines than Roman political authority), a Christian named Antipas had been killed--yet without any hint that Rome was responsible. Regarding his own situation, John states it in the passive: "I was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (1:9). Now if this author was intent upon writing an anti-Roman tract--and if; as is usually conjectured, Patmos was a Roman penal colony where presumably the Roman authorities had sentenced John to hard labor--then he sure doesn't know much about writing anti-Roman tracts, deliberately wording his way around first-rate opportunities for pointing the finger.

The one place where Rome stands a chance of figuring directly into the book of Revelation is in the passage (Chapters 17-18) built upon the woman/city imagery of the great whore, Babylon. My own opinion is that John, here as always, is speaking in quite general terms and meaning the woman/city as representative of "worldliness" (of whatever time or place), as the sum of all human arkydom, if you will. Yet my guess is that, if you were to have asked John what present entity best exemplified what he had in mind, he, without hesitation, would have pointed to Rome. Nevertheless, the book itself is a high-level theological discourse and anything but a time bound political harangue against Rome.

However; the real argument against the contextualist Romans 13/Revelation 13 comparison is that--have him call Rome whatever names you will--the Revelator simply does not go on suggest that Christians should therefore resist, withhold their taxes or do anything else in opposition to this monster. There is nothing of that sort in the book anywhere. Actually, John's counsel as to what Christians should do in their situation takes two parts. Firstly, (and repeatedly), they are asked to bear patiently whatever injustice and suffering comes upon them by keeping faithful to Jesus. There is certainly no hint of revolution there.

Secondly, in the midst of the fall of the Babylon-whore, there comes the counsel, "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins" (18:4). My understanding, based upon John's ways of thinking throughout the book, is that this is not a historical-point-in-time command regarding some group's making a geographical move. It is, rather, God's everyday command to every one of his people: "Today, come out from the arkys; separate yourself (spiritually and psychologically) lest you get yourself entangled and go down with them. Their fall takes place every day (which is not to deny that there will also be a final fall of the final day), and your coming-out must also take place every day."

Turn that one any way you will and, again, it can't be made to spell anything like "revolution." In fact, what those two counsels do add up to is Christian Anarchy: "Be entirely unarkycal by continuing coming out from the arkys--and the only way to keep yourself clear is by sticking close, remaining ever faithful, to Jesus."

What it comes to is that the texts themselves simply can't be made to produce any sort of tension or disagreement between Romans and Revelation. There is no evidence that Paul felt good and John felt bad about the empire. Let John speak of the empire as he will; the evidence is that Paul would be the first to agree. Paul says that Christians should pay their taxes, but John certainly never suggests that they should withhold them. Paul discourages revolution, but John certainly never encourages it. Paul says, "Christian Anarchy is where it's at," and John says, "Amen, brother!"

So, back to Revelation and its big picture of Christian Anarchy. Therein, Babylon--the symbolic total of arkydom--false time and again. That is, presumably it falls once (one continuous fall that has caught up every arky thus far), but that one fall is announced or described two or three times. (See both the passages [14:8; 17:1-18:24] and an interpretation of them in my volume The Most Revealing Book of the Bible [Eerdmans], pp. 123-40, 153-71.) Yet this Babylonian arky falls in a very anarchical way: it is never attacked by anyone or by any force--not even by the arky of God, let alone the arky of the church or that of any holy revolution. It simply collapses under the weight of its own evil--just as Christian Anarchy would suggest it should.

Then the Revelator wants to portray Jesus' final victory over all evil--God's arky over Satan's arky, as it were. He hasn't much choice except to use arky battle imagery, but he manages to do it without involving any actual arky contest at all. In his first go at it (16:12-17 on pp. 149-52), the arkys of evil are mustered at Armageddon, ready to take on the Lord God himself. Yet without any godly arkys so much as taking the field, the bullhorn from the squad car announces, "OK, boys! It's over!" And it is. Again, the day carried anarchically. God's arky is not of this world--which means he can take out evil without the help of worldly arkys or without even using his own arky in a worldly way. And the reason the Revelator won't portray Jesus as going into battle at this point is that he knows Jesus has already won it all at Calvary; the most anarchic battle of all.

In his second go at the scene (19:11-20:3 on pp.173-79), the Revelator presents Jesus as the Warrior King on a white horse (arky imagery, for sure). His forces take the field. The arkys of evil come on to face him--and promptly are taken prisoner and fed to the vultures without any battle being recounted at all. Apparently, the arkys of the world recognize that the Warrior King's bloody garments identify him as the Lamb who, in letting himself be bloodied at Calvary, had, once and for all, whipped them on the spot. And with that, all the fight immediately goes out of them. Consistently, John shows God's victory for the world as taking place without any assistance from our holy human arky efforts. And if God does not want or need such, we can afford to be the little anarchists he has called us to be.

Once more, in his finale, the Revelator as much as bends over backward to dispute the prophet Ezekiel. "I've been there since you were," he says, "and I saw NO temple in the New Jerusalem" (21:22 on p.199). And why so great a "no"? Because John knows that temples and the whole apparatus of institutional religion are human arkys claiming to be able to put worshipers in touch with God. Now, in John's picture, the whole of the New Jerusalem is the church; so he is not equating "church" (gathered people) with "temple" of arky apparatus. We are the ones so confused as to think that you can't have one without the other. Yet, where God himself is present, who needs it? He can be his own temple; human arkys are the last thing wanted.

So the book of Rcvelation knows all about the principalities and powers of arkydom--yet it knows nothing of the common faith alignment that divides human arkys into two categories (the "good" ones sponsored by God and the "bad" ones by Satan) which are then pitted against each other in determining humanity's future. No, in Revelation, all human arkys are of a kind (showing only very relative moral distinction); it is this totality of human arkydom the Arky of God finally will overcome by ways and means of his own loving and redemptive discipline.

Humanity's blessed end is to be a total anarchy--the escape from damned arky rather than the victory of any portion of it. Arkys have no ultimate significance or even lasting function. And, the New Testament tells us, if our final end is Christian Anarchy, it can't be wrong to start exercising and enjoying a bit of it now--by ever and always "coming out of her; my people!"

Copyright (c) 1987