Same-sex marriage. Abortion and infanticide by the millions. Brazen occult imagery at the Olympic ceremonies, the Grammy Awards, and the Oscars. Teaching sodomy to our five year olds in public schools. Allowing monuments to Satan in public places. The body politic seems to have gone insane.
While the idea of restoring monarchism to government may sound a bit over the top, considering how bad things have gotten, any idea is worth considering these days, no matter how ancient or odd.
We were raised with stories about how kings were terrible tyrants. But does that justify doing away with monarchy in general? Did we throw out the baby with the bathwater? The arguments behind our revolutions to overthrow and even kill kings—are they biblical, or did they come from a different source?
I did not write this article expecting to persuade many people to become monarchists. I am not one, at least not yet. However, monarchism is a concept still alive and well in the circles of Eastern Orthodoxy, of which I am a member. Because of that, and because of how bankrupt our current system has become, I am willing to entertain the concept.
Because Christians claim to base their beliefs on the bible, this article becomes quite relevant, it seems to me.
And the idea is not as far-fetched as one may think. A couple of years ago, members of parliament for the Republic of Georgia discussed returning to a monarchy. “I’m for a parliamentary republic. I’m also for the possibility of restoring the constitutional monarchy here,” said Freedom Party leader Koka Gamsakhurdia.
His comments came in response to the Georgian Patriarch calling for a restoration of their king in November of 2013: “The Bagrationi Dynasty was terminated in 1801, and since then Georgian people have nurtured a dream to restore the ancient, divinely blessed dynasty,” he said.
According to a poll taken around that same time in Russia, 28 percent of citizens would like to see a return of the Czar. A former member of Parliament formed the Monarchist Party there in 2012.
Regardless of how realistic the idea may be, all Christians should be interested in what the Bible says on the matter.
(Note: This article is an attempt to lay out the plausibility for monarchy. I did not seek to provide “equal time” for democracy. I’m letting 500 years of western civilization do that job.)
(Also, I realize that there are democracies, republics, and democratic republics. I know the difference, but the terms are used here interchangeably.)
1. The bible clearly acknowledges monarchy. Nowhere does it endorse or even mention republics or democracies.
For those of you smart enough to know the arguments, we will get to I Samuel 8 in a minute. Otherwise, the Scriptures seem quite vocal in support of Kings.
Since the New Testament interprets the Old, let’s start there:
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” (I Peter 2:13-14)
“Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (I Peter 2:17)
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (I Tim. 2:1-2)
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the “King” and the “King of kings.” He is not referred to as a president, chairman, prime minister, spokesperson, or figurehead.
Jesus and the Apostles knew about democracy. According to Fr. Joseph Gleason (Antiochian Orthodox, Omaha, Iliniois): “In the New Testament, many people spoke Greek, and the entire Roman empire was deeply influenced by the Greek culture, which had already been aware of democracy for over 500 years. Yet, Jesus and the apostles never suggest that we should replace monarchies with democracies (or with any other form of government).”
Gleason provides a nice list (very minimal) of Old Testament endorsements of monarchism:
- In Genesis 14, King Melchizedek prophetically acts out the first proto-Eucharist in Scripture, blessing Abraham with bread and wine.
- In Genesis 17, God promises to bless Abraham with kings for descendants.
- In Genesis 35, God promises to bless Jacob with kings for descendants.
- In Genesis 49, God promises that Israel’s kings will come from the tribe of Judah.
- In Deuteronomy 17, Moses lays out the blueprint for Israel to have godly kings.
- In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah prophesies about the coming monarchy (verse 10) in a very positive context, focusing on the Lord’s anointed monarch.
- When Israel’s kings are very good, Scripture never suggests that
they should have been “good enough to abolish
monarchy, and establish some better form of government”.
- Similarly, when Israel’s kings are very wicked, Scripture never suggests that “being a king” was part of their sin.
Proverbs 24:21 best sums up the biblical argument against the overthrow of monarchism: “Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with rebellious officials.”
2. Samuel did not rebuke Israel for wanting a king
Biblicists who oppose monarchy are quick to turn to I Samuel 8, as it is the best passage, if not the only passage, that provides some kind of rationale for something other than a monarchical government.
In the story, Samuel has led Israel well for decades as a “judge,” not a king, but his sons are corrupt, and the elders insist that Samuel install “a king to judge us like all the nations.” Samuel is displeased, prays about it, and God tells him to do what they asked. “They have not rejected you, but rejected me,” God says, “that I should not reign over them.” (I Sam. 8:7)
On it’s face, this passage seems to provide nice ammo for refuting monarchism, but it has a number of serious weaknesses.
♦ Firstly, it is strange for Israel to get rebuked for wanting a king when a few hundred years before Moses laid out some rules for kings in Israel: “When you come to the land … and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses.” (Deut. 17:14-15)
♦ Secondly, Israel wasn’t rebuked for wanting a king. They were rebuked for wanting a king “like all the nations.” (This seems to fit with the previous point that God had already made proscriptions for a king.) Biblical scholar James Jordan points out that this phrase “like all the nations” can mean, in the original language, two possible things.
1: A king, as other nations have kings.
2. A king that acts like other nations’s kings, not one tied to Moses’s code of laws.
Jordan believes, because of the context of the passage, and Deut. 17, that the elders of Israel were asking for the second option. And this explains the verses surrounding both Deut 17 and I Sam. 8, warning against kings multiplying horses, gold, and wives. Other nations’ kings built military machines (horses), heavily taxed their subjects (gold), and sported large harems. Moses and Samuel both warn Israel’s king not to go in that direction.
♦ Thirdly, the days of Israel’s judges was no panacea for godly society. The book ends with a woman being raped in front of her passive husband, who then chops her up and sends the pieces to the twelve tribes to point out how corrupt things had gotten. The book is filled with similar atrocities. Judges ends by saying, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (21:25). According to Gleason, “the lack of monarchy implies anarchy. The consciences of the populous were insufficient for bringing righteousness to the nation. A godly king was needed.”
♦ Fourthly, one of the reasons the Israelites were rejecting God by asking for a king was because to do so, at that time, would be violating the mosaic law. Jacob declared at the end of his life, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” (Gen. 49:10). The Israelites
knew their king was to come from Judah, but that tribe was temporarily disqualified due to sexual immorality: “One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation.” (Deut. 23:2)
Judah had slept with his daughter-in-law Tamar (unwittingly—she posed as a prostitute), and she gave birth to Perez (see Gen. 38, a rather bizarre interruption to an otherwise thrilling drama about Joseph). The tribe of Judah was in it’s ninth generation when the elders of Israel demanded a king. Saul had to be taken from another tribe, Benjamin. But he was replaced a generation later by David, from the tribe of Judah, who was now qualified to be king.
The writer of Ruth makes this crystal clear at the very end of the book, naming ten generations from Perez to David: “Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon; Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David. (Ruth 4:13-22)
Pretty cool, huh? (Jordan explains this point well in the podcast link already provided, and Gleason writes about it here.)
♦ Lastly, those who use I Samuel 8 to argue against monarchy certainly cannot use it to argue for democratic republics as we know them today. The system under Samuel was a theocracy, a nation under specific laws from God. Whatever is argued for today, whether it be democracies, republics, loose confederations, or pseudo-anarchism, to argue that Israel before its monarchy modeled the ideal government is to argue for something even more radical for today’s sensibilities than monarchy. A few actually do this, but everyone else needs to chill a little bit.
Fr. John Whiteford, an Orthodox priest in Texas (ROCOR), wraps up his excellent article on this topic with this conclusion: “So one could argue that the most ideal form of government is a theocracy, but as the history of Israel up to this point demonstrated, such a theocracy only worked out well for the people when they were zealous to obey God, which very often was not the case. So monarchy is perhaps the second best system of government, but not one without problems … because for monarchy to work out well, you need a king that is pious.”
3. The early church fathers support monarchy.
For those who know that anybody can make the bible say just about anything (including Christians wanting to kill kings and foment revolution), it is always helpful, indeed necessary, to consult the early church fathers’ interpretation.
As previously mentioned, Christians of the early centuries knew all about democracy. But it is never endorsed as an option.
“Monarchy is superior to every other constitution and form of government. For polyarchy, where everyone competes on equal terms, is really anarchy and discord.” —Eusebius of Caesaria (4th Century)
“The three most ancient opinions about God are atheism (or anarchy), polytheism (or polyarchy), and monotheism (or monarchy). The children of Greece played with the first two; let us leave them to their games. For anarchy is disorder: and polyarchy implies factious division, and therefore anarchy and disorder. Both these lead in the same direction – to disorder; and disorder leads to disintegration; for disorder is the prelude to disintegration. What we honour is monarchy”—St. Gregory the Theologian (4th Century)
In the 14th Century, St. Gregory of Palamas encountered a movement of revolution and democracy that he condemned:
“God has counted the Emperors worthy to rule over His inheritance, over His earthly Church.”
A more recent saint, John of Kronstadt, put it more tersely:
“Hell is a democracy. Heaven is a kingdom.”
However one may try to develop a theory of democracy over monarchism, he will not get there by citing the church fathers.
4. Monarchists can also claim to “know them by their fruit.”
A common argument by Christians is that you “can know them by their fruit” as Jesus famously said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:16). While the sins of various monarchs are well known to history, it is worth noting that democracy and republicanism has it’s own load of dirty laundry. These facts may not be enough to win the argument for monarchy, but they may at least keep things at a stalemate.
Starting with democracy’s best case, the American experiment, the movement cannot be described as thoroughly rooted in Christianity. Yes, the Declaration mentions “nature’s God,” but nowhere else is the Deity acknowledged, though some resort to the Constitution citing “A.D. 1789” as acknowledging the Latin “In the year of our Lord.”
Many if not most of the Founding Fathers were masons, a universalist religion that, like the founding documents, has no interest in naming that most controversial of names, Jesus Christ.
The American Revolution was rooted, not in explicit Christianity, but in the Reason of the Enlightenment, best demonstrated politically during the French Revolution and it’s charter the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Thought leaders of this movement were implicit, if not explicit, atheists, usually quite hostile to Jesus Christ.
Jean Jeacques Rousseau: “Christ preached only servitude and dependence … True Christians are made to be slaves.”
Voltaire: “Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.”
Denis Diderot: “Man will only be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
While Enlightenment political thought was less violent in America, the French Revolution was a bloodbath that ended in tyranny. And it’s philosophical heirs, particularly Russia’s Bolshevism, lay claim to the greatest genocides in human history. According to cultural and philosophical critic Jay Dyer:
“French Revolutionary demagogues, such as Danton, Robespierre, the Duke of Orleans, Marat, and St. Just, were all members of secret societies and Illuminist orders. Many communists leaders such as Vladimir Lenin were also “Illuminists.’ Through infiltrating Freemasonry, many of these bloody men were also inducted into a deeper, darker society within the ranks known as the Illuminati.”
“The Illuminati had been formed in 1776 by an ex-Jesuit canon lawyer named Adam Weishaupt, in Bavaria. Weishaupt, who was immersed in rationalism, intended to organize an elite group that would eventually install a one-world, socialistic order and abolish theology. Weishaupt seems to have been the key ideological figure behind the revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries that ultimately removed all forms of monarchy and effectively cut off Christianity from having any cultural influence.”
Modern governments have no contract with God but rather claim a “social contract” between the government and its subjects. Instead of God being the highest authority, that role now belongs to “the people.”
Jesus Christ is not part of the contract. Compare this to the vows made by a King such as Russia’s Czar Nicholas II at his coronation:
“May my heart be in Thy hand, to accomplish all that is to the profit of the people committed to my charge and to Thy glory, that so in the day of Thy judgment I may give Thee account of my stewardship without blame; through the grace and mercy of Thy Son, Who was once crucified for us, to Whom be all honor and glory with Thee and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, unto ages of ages. Amen.”
Christian monarchs are compelled by their vows before God himself to serve the people of their country and fight for their best interests. Masons take “secret vows” that allow their oaths as leaders of nations to be trumped by what they and their ilk may consider a more important, global agenda that supercedes the interests of the nation-state they serve. (Orthodox Christianity does not, by its own laws and traditions, allow masons to become members of the church. See here and here.)
A school of thought quite prominent in Eastern Orthodox tradition is the concept of the King serving as the earthly “restrainer of evil” against Satan’s continual effort to bring Anti-Christ thinking and leaders to prominence. As the Apostle says in II Thess. 2:7:
“The mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.”
Prominent Church Father John Chrysostom identifies this “Restrainer” as the head of the Roman Empire. Some continue that tradition by identifying the Czar of Russia as the Emperor of the “Third Rome,” (First Rome, then Constantinople when Rome fell, than Russia when the Byzantine Empire fell). “Czar” is a shortened version of “Caesar.” Their arguments are not weakened by the 100 million estimated murders committed by the Bolsheviks and their followers after the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1917.
While both Monarchism and other forms of government have “fruits”
on both sides of the equation, writers like Vladimir Moss believe monarchy has the better record for both Christians and humanity:
“Of course, no political system can ensure permanent stability—the human race is fallen and mutable by nature. Nevertheless, logic suggests and history demonstrates that monarchies have been much more stable than democracies in their adherence to Christian faith and morality. The history of democracy since the French Revolution shows an ever-accelerating decline in faith and morality, and an ever-expanding undermining of the natural hierarchical relations that God has placed in human society, whether these be between parents and children, husbands and wives, teachers and pupils, or political rulers and their subjects. And by undermining these natural heirarchical relations, it implicitly undermines the most important heirarchical relationship of all, that between God and man. The Orthodox monarchy, on the other hand, strengthens all these relationships, and orients society as a whole to spiritual goals rather than the exclusively secular and material goals of contemporary democracy.”
In conclusion, these four arguments set forth here are not expected to win the day politically any time soon. I’m not even willing to say that I am a monarchist. However, I do believe that the case for democracy is not air tight, if the starting point is the Scriptures or church tradition. And the way things are going today in the U.S. and the west, every idea, however old or shocking, needs to be reconsidered as an option.
Meanwhile, Fr. Michael Azkoul provides an excellent charge for Orthodox Christians that applies to all Christians today:
“ … an Orthodox Christian is faced with the dilemma of living in a society which is basically hostile and alien to him. Of course, we must honor the president, obey just laws and do no harm to any man. Yet we cannot allow ourselves to become an intrinsic part of secular society. The early Christians were accused of being ‘anti-social’ because they would not become involved in the affairs of the pagan Roman Empire, so we must expect the same reproach.”