The Relevance of the Theocracy: The bearing of Old Testament practices on some modern problems
By Meredith Kline
(Originally posted at http://www.meredithkline.com/files/articles/Presbyterian-Guardian-February-16-1953.pdf)
More than is generally recognized, the answers to some live questions facing the Christian today depend on a right view of some “dead” Old Testament history. In recent articles, for example, two writers seeking to define the roles of family, church and state, have, in our judgment, erred in so far as they have founded their conclusions on the history of Israel, because both misconstrue the nature of Israel’s Theocracy.
Fresh from their experience of divine deliverance out of Pharaoh’s tyrant hand, Israel at Sinai entered into a covenant with the Lord. This covenant was pursuant of the earlier covenant promises made to Abraham, and in terms of it, the seed of Abraham which had meanwhile multiplied to national proportions was now organized as a nation whose king was the Lord. Directly from Him would Israel receive both Law and Land. It is to this unique arrangement that the name “Theocracy” has been given.
To what shall we compare it? Was it a state-church like the Church of England? Or were it better to call it a church-state? These answers are equally inaccurate. For when we work with the ordinary concept of church and state and family we do not have the materials out of which the Theocracy can be constructed. It is as though we tried to construct a three-dimensional object out of two-dimensional elements. The conjunction of two or three or a thousand depth-less planes will not produce a solid. So no combination of family, church and state can produce the theocracy, for they do not have their being in the same “dimensional” sphere as the Theocracy. They exist in the sphere of common grace; but the Theocracy in the sphere of Consummation. As G. Vos points out: “The significance of the unique organization of Israel can be right measured only by remembering that the theocracy typified nothing short of the perfected kingdom of God the consummate state of heaven” (Old and New Testament Biblical Theology, 1942, P. 80).
Our illustration of two and three-dimensional things will not take us all the way here. For with these dimensions the difference is simply one of addition. Even when depth is added as a third dimension, length can still be distinguished from breadth and depth as length, and breadth can still be isolated as breadth in the resultant solid. But the difference of the Theocracy and its anti-type, Heaven, from the ordinary institutions is not merely a matter of combination or addition. There is here the appearance of a new species.
For in the kingdom of glory the family cannot be isolated as family distinct from the citizenry of the kingdom. Nor is the sessional record book with its church membership roll something distinguishable from the royal archives with its register of his majesty’s subjects. Nor can it be said, “In this activity the heavenly community function as a family, and in that activity as a state.” But in the “dimension” of common grace it is essential to the nature of family, church and state that they be separately organized and perform separate functions. That is at times difficult for us without access to Urim and Thummin to determine the boundary line of the appointed territory of each institution does not blur this distinction. Since then what is essential to these institutions under common grace vanishes in the Kingdom of the Consummation, the difference must be one of [a] kind. Heaven is a brand new species.
What is true of Heaven is true of its divinely order type, the Theocracy. For though the Theocracy was in the world of common grace, as a type of heaven it transcended its environment and anticipatively shared in the world to come. Whenever we would deal with the theocracy as we behold it in the pages of the Old Testament, we should first listen attentively to the Lord as He speaks to Moses on the Mount: “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). If we do listen we will not try to segment the Theocracy into the usual three discrete institutions. We will not then say: “Here (e.g. in Aaron) is the church, and here (e.g. in Moses or David) is the state, and there the family.” Not even roughly speaking. For all that can be said accurately is, “Here are theocratic priests, here are theocratic kings, here are theocratic prophets and there are the theocratic people from whose ranks all these have come. (Cf. Ex. 28:1; Dt. 17:5; 18:5.) Over all His Old Testament house as the mediator of the covenant stands Moses, the servant of God. And behold, he directs our eyes down the ages to his antitype, Jesus, the Son of God, who is exalted ‘over his house, whose house we are, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorifying of our hope firm to the end (Heb. 3:6).'”
In illustration of the relevance of this thesis to the solution of some current problems of the church, state and family relationships, we turn to the articles mentioned earlier. One of the writers leans heavily on an argument from theocratic arrangements to support his theory that the Christian religion should be officially recognized by the civil government. (Rev. M.R. Mackay, “Is ‘Equality of all religions before the Law’ Scriptural?” Part IV. The Contender. July, 1952.) Having indicated the positive roles played by David and Solomon in the establishment of Israel’s center of worship at Jerusalem, the opposition of various godly kings to Baalism, and similar data, the writer suggests that those who do not accept his view of the relation of church and state are confronted with a dilemma. Their only alternative to capitulating to his position is, he thinks, to contradict the Bible’s approbation of the conduct of David, et al., by judging that these kings transgressed the limits of their authority in interfering in religious affairs.
That the horns of the dilemma are vaporous is evident, for the argument rests on an utterly false equation of the theocratic monarchy with the ordinary state. As observed above, neither church nor state is isolable within the Theocracy. It is therefore impossible to identify one theocratic institution such as the kingship with the ordinary concept of the state. From this it follows that one cannot determine the relationship which should obtain between, e.g., the United States of America and the Christian religion, by a study of the relationship of godly theocratic kings to the worship of the Lord in their day. What we do see in the activity of these theocratic kings is a typical portrayal of the kingly office of the Christ of God, exercised in behalf of His Body, the Church, in a reign which now is and is to come in the glory of the Consummation Kingdom. For that Kingdom will be the anti-type of the theocratic kingdom ruled over by David’s dynasty of old.
To cite another example of the misuse of theocratic history, we turn to an article by the Rev. J. M. Kik in the December, 1952, issue of The Presbyterian Guardian. While it is our opinion that the particular error which will be noted below is part and parcel of a failure throughout his argument to follow the most fundamental exegetical principles of the discipline of Biblical Theology, it is nevertheless by no means the intention of the present article to criticize Mr. Kik’s argument as a whole or to evaluate his theory as such.
The article in question contends, in part, that the Old Testament by precept and example gives to the Church alone the right and duty of training men for the ministry. It offers as proof of this claim: 1. the role of the Levites in the instruction of the people; 2. the training of Samuel by Eli, the high priest; 3. the training of Elisha by the prophet Elijah; 4. the divine calling and instruction of the prophets.
As matters of detail it may be noted that the first item is inaccurate (for with only one partial and inconsequential exception none of the passages offered in evidence has anything to do with the non-priestly Levites). Also item four is irrelevant (as would be the first point even if corrected). Mention may be made, too, of certain features of the calling in the theocratic teaching ministry which seem, irrespective of our main objection, to prevent close enough comparison with the teaching ministry of the new covenant to warrant one’s basing the mode of preparation of the latter on that of the former. Of the two special teaching groups in the theocracy, the priestly and the prophetic, the first calling was hereditary and the second was charismatic. It is obvious that these features would control the agency and mode of preparation, and neither of these features is characteristic of the gospel ministry today.
Our chief criticism again, in terms of the thesis of this article, is that to label the priests and/or the prophets as the church within the Theocracy is unwarranted. The priests were, indeed, the representative-mediators of the congregation in its approach to God, and the prophets declared the Word of the Lord to the congregation. But the king ruled in the congregation, and Israel was that worshiping, serving congregation. All alike who lived in the Theocracy were always engaged in specifically religious, because theocratic, business. God was in the midst of the covenant people and, therefore, all was church, as also all was family and all state – the church of God, the family of God, the Kingdom of God – all in one and one in all, and such was the Theocracy. However, if all is church and all is family and all is state, then nothing is church and nothing is family and nothing is state in the usual sense of those words. Strictly speaking all is Theocracy and nothing but Theocracy.
The one criticism presented here, it need hardly be added, does not by itself invalidate either of the theories used in the illustrations. Our present purpose is only the narrow one of defining the true nature of the Theocracy and so to clear the way that certain problems might be approached on the basis of proper Scriptural evidence. Wide enough, however, is the application of this thesis, for how many pages pro and con regarding the definition of the specific function of the major institutions have been devoted to irrelevant appeals to theocratic practice. The systematic theologian is always obliged to stop, look and listen to the voice of Biblical theology, but that is, perhaps, nowhere more apparent than when he comes in his search for proof texts to the Theocracy.