Right around the world today, nations are being poorly served by their leaders. The ethics of public office have become very ordinary today, and there is no probability of change in the short-term.
Why is this?
From the days of king Saul in Israel around 1,000 BC (see I Samuel 8), this much is evident. There is a close correlation between the ethics of those who choose political leaders, and those they choose. When God observed the spiritual state of the nation of Israel at that time, He warned them just what kind of a man they would soon choose as their king. He would be a disaster. The prophet Samuel warned Israel that
He will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his ploughing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out to me in that day because of the king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day (I Sam.8:11-18).
The incidents of I Samuel 8 were not “out of the blue.” They were not spontaneous, arising with no warning or precedent in Israel’s history. Israel had really been in spiritual and ethical decline since the time of the judges, hundreds of years earlier. And now, the first chapters of 1 Samuel show that Israel under Eli had a corrupt priesthood, and God promised He would judge this too (I Sam.3:10-18).
The text begins with “He will take…” “Take” is used in the passage 6 times, and “His” 9 times. Kings never just take air. They take resources from individuals in the community. Before he’d finished, Saul would be taking a lot more: the lives of innocent people (see I Sam.22:12-19).
What does this mean? Saul was a man who believed in central control. Liberty and its close cousin decentralisation were foreign to him. But Israel’s problems had not begun with Saul, but in the hearts of the people, commencing with the religious leadership of the nation.
Are things any different today? Not in the slightest. It is exactly the same today as it was in Israel, 3,000 years ago. The downward spiral of nations all over the world for at least 150 years, has been led and facilitated by the leadership of the church.
It was the theology of Higher Criticism in the nineteenth century which teamed up with Darwin’s doctrine of evolution and the Survival of the Fittest to pass on a high-octane cocktail of unbelief and rebellion to Germany. Now, the doctrine of “Might is Right” would triumph. Think of Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Hitler.
A slightly different theological version had a similar outcome in the United States. Progressive theology in the U.S. church led to progressive politics in Washington, so that Theodore Roosevelt, just before becoming President in 1900, would claim that U.S. foreign policy should in future be “speak softly and carry a big stick.” U.S. presidents have seemed to forget the “speak softly” part since then.
So, politics has deteriorated considerably, but not before the church and its leadership capitulated to unbiblical and thus dreadful theology.
And where must change begin? In the church, of course. We caused the problems, so we’ll have to fix up where we went wrong, with a return to sound Biblical theology. And that will mean lots of repentance on our part, change, and possibly generations to pass.
But God requires this of us, so let’s start building.