Tuesday, 6 December 2011

On Civil Government: Its Origin, Mission and Destiny and the Christian's Relation to It (2011) by David Lipscomb

In this book David Lipscomb shows why Christians should not support, or rely upon, civil government. Lipscomb is a Christian pacifist who believes that war is the result of human government, as he explains:

"All the wars and strifes between tribes, races, nations, from the beginning until now, have been the result of man's effort to govern himself and the world, rather than to submit to the government of God." (page 14)

He believes that governments are ruled by Satan, executing wrath and vengeance, and thus Christians should have nothing to do with them.

"Every one who honors and serves the human government and relies upon it, for good, more than he does upon the Divine government, worships and serves the creature more than he does the Creator." (page 50)

Although Lipscomb does concede that human government is necessary and has a place in God's plan, in the same way there is a place called Hell.

"Human government, the embodied effort of man to rule the world without God, ruled over by 'the prince of this world,' the devil. Its mission is to execute wrath and vengeance here on earth. Human government bears the same relation to hell as the church bears to heaven." (page 72)

However he is also critical of Church institutions, believing they too have been corrupted by ambition and pride, just like civil governments. Lipscomb goes on to propose a Christian form of anarchism, where Christians should neither support human government nor use force to overthrow it.

"It is the duty of the Christian to submit to the human government in its office and work and to seek its destruction only by spreading the religion of Christ and so converting men from service to the earthly government to service to the heavenly one, and so, too, by removing the necessity for its existence and work. No violence, no sword, no bitterness or wrath can he use. The spread of the peaceful principles of the Savior, will draw men out of the kingdoms of earth into the kingdom of God." (pages 84-85)

This withdrawal of support for human government has been achieved by various Christian anarchists in the 20th century, including Ammon Hennacy who followed a lifestyle of simple living and voluntary poverty, thus reducing his taxable income.

First published in 1866 and nearly 30 years before Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You, On Civil Government is a ground breaking book.

Update: An e-text version of the 1913 edition is now available here.