When God formed a model nation from the people of Israel, the kind of government He designed for them was theocracy—rule by God Himself as their king. It was to be a demonstration of the kingdom of God on an earthly level to the people around them. He gave them laws for their life, and jurisdiction and law enforcement were to be managed by elders and priests under the leadership of His representative, Moses. God had absolute authority in all matters, and all things which were not clear from the law were referred directly to Him. The reason why this did not work was not that the scheme itself was faulty, but that it required people who loved God and were committed to Him.
Even though it was a privilege to have God Himself as their ruler, the people of Israel craved for a human king just like other nations around them. Perhaps this was not just because of the attraction to the pomp and show of kings that they saw in the nations around them, but also because they realised that they could not take liberties with God as with men! God described this as their rejecting Him, and even though God warned them about some of the negative consequences of having human kings, they were very adamant about their demand. God gave in to them, and He helped them initially in choosing their kings. But soon people took this into their own hands, and they began to become kings based on their descent from the king’s family or by usurping the throne. It happened to the people just as God had warned them, when the kings began to abuse their authority and mistreat the people. The blessing of God also left them.
When we come to the present age, there are still a few kings around, even though some of them are but ornamental figures without much power, and there is also a whole variety of governments varying from authorities elected by the people to dictatorships.
A popular form of government nowadays is democracy, which has been touted as a government of the people, by the people and for the people (Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address). The unique selling point of democracy is that it is those who are elected by the people themselves who will rule them. Failure to perform up to expectations can result in not getting elected the next time. The catch is that the success of a democratic government depends on the elected representatives managing the government for the people, and that is where it fails. More and more people seem to be getting into government looking for what they can get out of it, by hook or by crook, and not bothering to keep in mind what would be good for the people and the country.
There are several reasons why democracy has not been doing well in India. Though it began well, people began to get into the government, who were only out to make a fortune for themselves. They were neither qualified through education or maturity of experience to hold such responsible positions, nor were they seriously interested in the welfare of the country. As a result, a large number of knowledgeable people who understood what all were going on and what needed to be done became totally apathetic or cynical towards the election process, and they did not take the trouble to express their vote. Many who actually vote are those who are driven merely by loyalty to parties or leaders, or to those who will ‘compensate’ them better for their efforts. A large chunk of voters are swayed by promises, charisma and rhetoric, without being able to understand the nuances or the implications because of their lack of knowledge or education. ‘Vote banks’ based on loyalty to religion and caste, irrespective of the stature of the candidates, are common features in elections. Local strong men who do not hesitate to use crime to meet their ends also find their way into the State assemblies and the parliament. Law enforcement has been very lax, with people knowing that it can be bought over or delayed. Candidates buy their voters with money and once they are in power they distribute government money in the form of freebies to the people in order to maintain their popularity. As a result of such uncontrolled ‘freedom’ in the election process, what we see often is that governments fall much short of being there for the people.
How much grievous it must be to God to see that governments are not very much different in many churches too! Even though people acknowledge with their lips that the government is on Christ’s shoulders and that Christ is the Head of the church, it does not translate in that way in practice as we see in many churches. Christ has practically become a figurehead to which churches pay lip service, while conniving men play their cards in order to achieve and then hold on to power and position.
When God says that Christ is the Head of the church, it implies that the form of government in the church is to be theocracy. The difference here, compared to theocracy in Israel, is that Christ as God and Man brings in the headship of God who also knows the feeling of our humanness having been tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. God’s will for churches is not democracy, with the majority making the decisions accompanied by campaigns and elections, but God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Here again the requirement is that the pastors and leaders have to be godly people dedicated to doing the will of God and glorifying His name on earth, rather than those who are seeking their own (Php.2:20,21). The motto for the church (and Christian organisations) is, “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt.6:9,10).
Certainly, church government needs to be guided on earth by the representative of God (pastor, vicar), who knows and understands the heart of God, and who are assisted and surrounded by other mature, godly people who provide for his protection and support. In reality, we see both pastors who are dictatorial or accountable to no one, and others who are controlled by their committees. It is easy to see that ultimately what is important is not so much the pattern of government as the availability of godly people dedicated to serving God and honouring Him.