Christianity and Anarchy

If anarchy is what Jaques Ellul says it is then Christianity is an anarchist religion.

Of course, there are many different shades of anarchy. So what is the type of anarchy that Ellul proposes?

First and foremost it is a non-violent anarchism. Ellul advocates for a non-violent anarchism on two grounds:

  1. Non-violent movements, tactically speaking, are much more effective when it comes to achieving their goals.
  2. The Bible teaches that love is the way, not violence.

Thus, if nonviolent anarchy is ruled out then what options do we have left over? Ellul explains:

…there remains pacifist, antinationalist, anticapitalist, moral, and antidemocratic anarchism (i.e., that which is hostile to the falsified democracy of bourgeois states). There remains the anarchism which acts by means of persuasion, by the creation of small groups and networks, denouncing falsehood and oppression, aiming at a true overturning of authorities of all kinds as people at the bottom speak and organize themselves.

In summary, Ellul’s anarchy is the rejection of authority and domination. It’s an anarchy that is radically egalitarian, refusing to institute any sort of hierarchy among the people.

Many anarchists would claim that God is one of the authorities that ought to be rejected. In fact, one of the slogans of anarchism is “No God, No Master.”

It’s true that for much of Christian history God has been depicted as the ultimate Master, the omnipotent ruler of the universe. It’s this all-powerful, authoritarian God that anarchy rejects. 

Is there an alternative way to view God, a way that allows for anarchy and Christianity to coexist? Ellul argues for an understanding of God that takes seriously the notion of human freedom:

We ourselves are free to act and are responsible for our acts. But God also acts in each situation. The two actions then combine or oppose one another. In any case, we are never passive. God does not do everything. He can give counsel or issue an order, but he does not prevent us from taking a different course. Eventually–an astonishing situation–he might approve of us even though we do not do as he wills. (We recall the extraordinary wish of Job that God would find himself in the wrong and Job in the right.) In other words, the biblical God is not a machine, a big computer, with which we cannot reason and which functions according to a program. Nor are we robots for God who have to execute the decisions of him who made us.

Worldly rulers and authorities coerce their subjects into an obedient posture. The God revealed in Jesus is a God of weakness, a God who lures and persuades his creation, the implication being that he doesn’t always get what he wants. The Christian God renounces power in the name of love and refuses to coerce in the way that worldly rulers coerce.

Thus, we could say that the god that anarchy rejects is a false God, at least from a Christian standpoint. Christians, along with anarchists, can declare “No God, No Master,” if it is the authoritarian God of coercion that is in mind.

Moreover, if God is our model when it comes to how we are to respond to power then the Church must rethink it’s understanding of authority and organization. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine an institution with less hierarchy and top-down authority than the Church. The entire process by which the new Pope was elected today, for example, reeks of hierarchy.

What if the Church, rather than being a community with a clear chain of command, became a community in which members rejected the right to wield power in the same way that worldly rulers wield power?

What if the Church was so radically egalitarian that it was impossible to point to a “leader” in our midst?

What if the Church served as a refuge for those who have been burned by power and authority rather than just another community with a hierarchy and  a top-down authority structure?

What if the church stood out as a prophetic witness to the reality that there is way for human communities to organize themselves without domination and power-grabbing?

In short, what if the Church existed as holy anarchy?

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3 responses to “Christianity and Anarchy

  1. Much to think about. I appreciate this significantly. Good timing, with grad around the corner, as everyone seems to be reminding us daily.

  2. Our relationship with power as Christians needs to reflect that of our Teacher/Savior/Friend. As such, I really like the way you articulate this. We can’t really be Christian unless we are Deep Anarchists, rejecting not just the idea that no-one should control us, but also the practice of seeking power over others.

    In my recent writing and blogging, I’ve found myself wondering if that might be because our Creator is an Anarchist, pouring out creation in love, but refusing to coerce it.

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