UNDER this heading, we showed last week that a theocracy can exist no more in this world until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the plain teaching of the Word of God. The disciples understood, after the Saviour’s resurrection, that the promise of a kingdom had reference not to this mortal state but to the everlasting immortal kingdom, and they were content to bide their Lord’s time; but it was not so with the selfish, designing men who came into the church in later years. These reasoned that of right all power belonged to Christ. He was not personally present to claim it, but were they not his representatives? and could they not, year, should they not, exercise not only ecclesiastical but civil power as well, in his name and for his glory and the upbuilding of his kingdom in the earth? To ask the question was, in their minds, to answer it as well—hence the theocratic theory which began in the third century to be quite general in the church, and hence also the grasping after civil power to replace the loss of spiritual power due to apostasy from the true faith, and to corrupting alliances with the rulers of the world.
The Saviour sent his disciples forth into a hostile world under the commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:19, 20. The only guarantee of success given the apostles was the promise of the presence of their Lord by his Spirit; and by the power of that Spirit they went forth making converts not only without the aid of the civil power but in the face of the most bitter persecution.
But the power of the Spirit of God could be used only in harmony with the mind of God. The Lord Jesus Christ made no provision for self-seeking among his followers. On the contrary, when on one occasion certain of his disciples sought preferment for themselves, he said:—
Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:42-45.
And again we have these words of our Lord:—
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. Matthew 23:8-12.
But these injunctions were not obeyed. Even in Paul’s day the “mystery of iniquity” was at work as the apostle declared in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Unconsecrated men, like Simon the sorcerer, joined themselves to the church for self-aggrandizement; but the power of the Spirit of God was not for such as they. Power, however, they would have, and so they sought it by usurping authority over their fellows. The humble office of elder, bishop, or overseer—for the terms are in the Scriptures used interchangeably, and all mean the same thing—was magnified, or perverted, rather, so that ambitious men instead of being servants of the church became “lords over God’s heritage.”
But position was not power, and power they would have. And as it was to be had from the Lord only by those who would use it to his glory, these false shepherds sought it at the hands of civil rulers. At first they simply bartered ecclesiastical influence for political power; but subsequently they claimed that the power belonged to them of right. Of the progress that had been made in this direction in the fourth century, Neander says:—
There had in fact arisen in the church … a false theocratical theory, originating not in the essence of the gospel, but in the confusion of the religious constitutions of the Old and New Testaments, which … might easily result in the formation of a sacerdotal State, subordinating the secular to itself in a false and outward way.
The result was the full-grown papacy with the bishop of Rome as “Vicar of Christ,” claiming power to depose kings and to set up kings; and following this in natural order, the history of the long and bloody persecution in which over fifty millions of people perished—sacrificed on the altar of popish ambition. Only evil came of an attempt to establish a theocracy then; only evil can come of such an attempt now.