Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why presbyterianism and democracy go hand in hand

Many are aware that the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has been a strong advocate for Taiwan's independence and also constitutional representative government. This stance of civil polity is not unexpected to anyone who knows church history.

You see, the word "presbyterian" refers to a form of church government. The word derives from the Greek word for elder/official. There is a separate cognate for the word for older person/ elderly. We would recognize the Latin-derived words much more readily: senator vs. senior.

In essence, presbyterian churches are governed by a body of elected "senators." This church government has local, regional, and national bodies. And various powers and responsibilities for each representative body are carefully defined by laws in a constitution -- often called the "Book of Church Order." Rules for deliberation secondary to the book of church order are literally Robert's Rules of Order -- the manual of parliamentary procedure.

Presbyterianism developed in Scotland under the leadership of John Knox and others. Having been exiled from Scotland for a time by the Scottish monarch, John Knox studied with John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin tried to apply principles derived from the Bible to every area of life including government. You can find a model for election of church leaders in the New Testament.

Absolute monarchs in Europe who claimed divine right abhorred the idea of a church that had a representative government. They often persecuted presbyterians, for that reason. At one point in Scotland, the king demanded to be acknowledged as head of the church. The presbyterians refused and were so intensely persecuted, the era of history is called "The Killing Times."

Presbyterian church government gave many clergy as well as ordained lay elders experience in parliamentary procedure and constitutional government. Over the centuries many of them have greatly influence public civil life and government. Presbyterian pastor, John Witherspoon, delegate from New Jersey, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. (read more)

An American presbyterian pastor, David Hall, has summarized some of the principles that influenced the United States Constitution and form of government:

Hall's Five Points of Political Calvinism are arranged into the slightly awkward acronym DARCL:

Depravity of man as a perennial variable
Accountability of leaders to a larger body
Republicanism as the preferred form of government
Constitutionalism to restrain both leader and people
Limited government beginning with the individual and the family


You'll note the contrast: Karl Marx and atheistic communism. This path was followed by China. It did actually in many ways historically match the absolute centralized power of Chinese imperialism.

Man is basically good.
Religion is basically evil, like opium.
Environmental and historical factors (rather than innate nature) have caused a disfunctional society.
There must be dictatorship of the people to transition to a communist utopia.
Centralized power tells people what to do.
Rights are derived as a point of privilege from the collective.
Evolution shows some more fit than others. The path to utopia will be lined with the corpses of any who get in the way.

And the result:
Over 20 million dead under Stalin
Millions dead under Mao's great leap forward and the cultural revolution
The Killing fields of Cambodia under Pol Pot

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