Science in Christian Perspective



Christianity and the Forms of Government*

S. R. KAMM Ph.D.

Professor of Social Science, Wheaton College

From: JASA 4 (September 1952): 4-9.
*Paper given at the Sixth Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation in New York, N.Y.. August 28-31, 1951.

The current crisis in Western civilization has precipitated a new interest in the problems of government. Scholars of the last century have been content to engage chiefly in historical descriptions of governmental forms and to thereby ignore the basic realities of political institutions. The present abuses of governmental power render this leisurely pastime archaic. Students of government must now give themselves to a careful re-examination of the principles of government and an orderly appraisal, of governmental forms. To do so it is imperative that they give some attention to the science of thought and of culture.

Modern treatments of the institutions of government have been cast within the: aura of scientific monism in its various forms. By accepting the fundamental premise that the world of reality is "one," that is, a materialistic or a rationalistic or a supernaturalistic reality, it has distorted the entire view of government. To the materialist government is simply the revelation of human behavior as a reflection of certain material realities embodied in the nature of human life as part of the material world. To the idealist government is merely the outward manifestation of a rationally conceived reality which is the determinant of all life. To the spiritualist government becomes the objective manifestation of some great spiritual rea;ity in which confidence is placed. Each of these views, valid within its prescribed limits, ignores the complex character of life and denies in turn the vital relationship which must exist between them if a full view is to be obtained.

The study of government must now be approached through a different methodology. The older emphasis upon fact, the particular, must give way to a consideration of theory, the universal, in political science. Hermann Haller declared a few years ago that it was doubtful if political science could lay claim to the rank of a science since it left its Christian and natural law presuppositions. Sensing this need of a more authoritative approach one scholar has recently written

... politics is ... the expression of a view of the world, and of a philosophy of being ... in the end the issue of a science of politics is ontological.1

Another has declared with disarming bluntness the impossibility of understanding the political heritage of the Middle Ages through the medium of methodology based upon scientific monism of the materialistic variety.2 Still another, has blazed the trail toward a new understanding of the problems of government when he writes in the preface to his recent treatment of modern political philosophy,

In this statement Professor Hallowell has indicated a return to the Augustinian perspective of Christian theism as a basis for the study of political issues. Likewise, Luigi Sturzo, one of Catholicism's ablest sociologists, has affirmed the necessity of an integralism in social science which will enable men to view life as both unity and diversity.4

The present concern with the nature of government affords a new opportunity to reconsider the basic issues of political life in the light of Christian thought. Using the methodology of Christian theism one may recognize that the ultimate reality of the entire universe is God. This fundamental proposition, based upon the form of faith spoken of in the Scriptures as a gift of God, becomes the premise from which one may begin. The world of ideas then becomes real as it is related to God as the source of all truth. Experience, the life of man in society and in nature, becomes real because of its origin and its sustenance in the creating and sustain power of God. Such an integrated view of life is indissolubly related to the view of God as Trinity.5 With it one may solve the great problems of human thought and existence. Without it one falls into the same errors that others have demonstrated in the history of human speculation.

We come, then, to a statement of the problem: What is the relationship between Christian theism and the forms of government? The nature of the integrated approach of Christian theism with its Trinitarian view of reality has already been described. It remains to consider the forms of government. Immediately one is pressed to clarify the meaning of the term. Government is associated with the process of rulership.6 It involves the authority under which rulership is administered, the institutions through which such authority is administered, and the manner in which such authority is applied. The first question embraces the problem of sovereignty; the second, the nature of political institutions; and the third, the spirit and objectives of the governmental process. On all of these matters Christianity as a body of thought has a definite opinion.

A brief review of political thought serves to focus attention upon the baffling problem of ultimate political authority or power. It is apparent that human thought moves between two poles, viz., the desire to establish a concept of political authority which is superior to all other authorities in the human community, and at the same time to protect the individuals making up that community from the exercise of political power in a manner which is contrary to the best interests of the people however conceived. This is to say that the problem of sovereignty - supreme political authority or power - becomes a problem of philosophy, religion and ethics. The prevailing tendency in our own time is to accept the idea that there must be an ultimate power in the community, that is, the state. The state, however viewed, is said to be supreme in its claims to obedience, but the government - the institutions through which the state exercises its power - is said to be under the rule of law. This implies that restraint is imposed upon government in the interest of humanity.

It is out of this attempt to provide a proper institutional arrangement for the exercise of sovereign power that the various forms of government have been developed. Monarchy is based upon the belief that supreme political power may reside in only one and that its arbitrary exercise can only be satisfactorily checked when the locus of that power is resident in a person of superior position. Aristocracy is grounded in. the conviction that political power is of such nature that no one person may be safely entrusted with it. Good government, that is, government which realizes certain preconceived ends, is achieved only when the exercise of political power is in the hands of a superior "few" in the community. Democracy is based upon the assumption that political power is of such nature that it may only safely be viewed as residing in all men. Its exercise must then be by consent of all rather than that of one or of a few.

What is the Biblical view of this problem? When one turns to the Scriptures one finds quite a different approach. Here one is introduced to the vastly different perspective embraced within the revelational concept of God's covenantal or testamental. relationship with man. Placed at the center of all life is the eternal God who has been revealed to men in the person of His Son and is being revealed to men through the Holy Spirit. This God transcends both history and nature. History and nature have a source and an ordering of its own; but both are dependent upon the will of this sovereign God for meaning. That will is revealed in the meaning of covenant.7 The character of God's covenant far exceeds that of any earthly covenant;8 its faithfulness transcends the most reliable relationships known in human life.9 This covenant cannot be measured in terms of a civil contract for the author of this covenant is prior to law and is not dependent upon it for its sanction. We may say, therefore, that the Biblical view of government is that of a principle of life in which political power is exercised as part of God's beneficent provision for man. This provision is resident in His will as revealed in His covenant or testament. This implies that political authority is an expression of the Divine Person and that its exercise is to be in accord with His purposes.10

Are these purposes of God revealed to man? Has government any relation to these purposes? The Apostle Paul states the answer unequivocally when he writes,

Here the Apostle states quite clearly that peaceful human relations are part of God?s beneficent provision for men, that they are to be obtained through the prayers of God's saints, and that they are part of His redemptive purpose for men.

The Apostle Peter also notes a similar relationship when he writes,

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

For so is the will of God, that with well doings ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men! As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. (I Pet. 2:13-16)

Here obedience to the authority of government is set forth as an opportunity to bear witness to the God, oriented life and at the same time to divest the enemies of the church of the frequent claim that the Christian is anti-social. Obedience to human law is an outward expression of obedience to the law of God. Both of these passages indicate that the redeemed person will exhibit the redemptive work of Christ in his own life by giving proper recognition to political authority Political authority, therefore, becomes symbolic of Godly authority and cannot be disobeyed without denying the nature of God's authority as revealed in His covenant with or testament to men.

God's sovereignty as revealed in His covenant or testament becomes the basis of political authority. Herein lies the answer to the most baffling problem in modem government. Every form of government now in existence with the possible exception of Eire, Switzerland, and, Thailand, rest sovereignty in some rational view of the state as eternal or in some utilitarian view of the necessity of such an idea as a working principle. We are most familiar with the utilitarian idea of popular sovereignty which means that ultimate and final power rests with that somewhat mystical entity, the people. Actually, many existing forms of government have created the juristic or organic concept of the state in order to have some framework of reference to employ in dealing with problems of government. Each of these definitions are woefully lacking in that the concept or institution created to express it is not without some form of limitation upon its power. Christian theism may therefore say to the students of government in our time that the Biblical view of the ultimate and final sovereignty of God in the universe, including the field of political authority, is the only basis upon which one may proceed to a satisfactory understanding of the nature of ultimate power.11 Without it, one is under the necessity of creating an ersatz deity to take His place.

No doubt the casual thinker on such matters will be much disturbed by this return to a Christian concept for a basis of thought. To such it is probably sufficient to say that every other system of thought, whether idealistic or materialistic, has a similar groundwork for its intellectual edifice. Each man who follows in the train of idealism must accept in some form the underlying premise of Platonism as set forth in the master's Republic.12

" . . . my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the Intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed ..."

Similarly, the materialist, whether he be naturalistic, positivistic, or Marxian in his faith, must accept some form of the idea so well expressed by Enrico Ferri when he wrote,

"Modern science ... starts from the magnificent synthetic conception of monism, that is to say, of a single substance underlying all phenomena-matter and force baing recognized as inseparable and indestructible, continuously evolving in a succession of forms-forms relative to their respective times and places. It had radically changed the direction of modern thought and directed it toward the grand Idea of universal evolution."13

Man cannot avoid accepting some basis for his organized knowledge of the universe. Christian theism accepts God as that basis. As it looks at the world in the light of an integrated view, it can conceive of no other.

It is now important that further attention be given to the forms of government in order that we may consider the nature of political institutions and the spirit of their operation. A recent writer has identified four general classifications of government with a total of twenty-six different forms.14 This is in contrast to the traditional order of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. In view of the fact that the present issue lies between those forms of government which propose to concentrate all power in one Institution (unitary government) and those which propose to distribute it in some orderly manner through a constitution (federal or constitutional government); between those which seek to exercise political power without restraint in either manner or extent (authortarian or totalitarian) and those which provide some measure of restraint upon its exercise both as to manner and extent (free or democratic) it seems necessary to consider these two major systems only. Due consideration must be given to the fact that every system of government proposes to offer some form of restraint upon the exercise of political power. 15The theocratic system of the ancient Jews found Its system of restraint in the concept of the covenant and in the wide dispersal of power to tribes and families. God's prophet spoke with the authority of a personal relationship with God. His word was binding because he spoke the word of Deity. He was under restraint because he was the personal representative of God and he gave his utterances in the presence of all the people.

Plato's idealistic system, as pictured in the Republic, found no necessity for restraint upon political power outside the wise and beneficent rule of the philosopher king. Believing that the mind and body of man could be so thoroughly trained that he would be in perfect harmony with the fundamental order of the universe, Plato conceived of a man as exercising a form of rule that was perfect, that is, in need of no restraint. But Plato soon repented of his idealism and found refuge in an evolutionary historicism in which government and those governing is put under the restraint of law - the historical residue of human wisdom and social custom.

Modern proponents of limitations upon government have resorted to the sovereignty of the human mind, the concept of the Perfect natural man, or the natural laws of society as restraining influences upon the institutions Of government. Each of these Is couched within the framework of a world view which embraces a "scientific" premise, either of the rational order such as Plato advocated, or the materialistic order such as Heraclitus set forth in the sixth century B.C., or as Marx proclaimed in the nineteenth century after Christ.

Every one of these forms has also been used to justify absolutism. The concept of the theocracy has been employed by both the Catholic church and the Scottish king of England, James I, to justify the idea of the exercise of political power without restraint other than that imposed upon himself by his own concept of the divine limitation. A similar result is manifest when "scientific" bases of thought have full sway. Hobbes, a mathematician, sought to find restraint in the ability of an absolute sovereign to discern the laws of nature. Since these laws are to be conceived in a utilitarian framework of evaluations, it is easy to see that such a system provides little, if any, restraint upon the ruler. Even the modem pragmatic students of government find that though the concept of public interest is supposed to act as a restraining influence upon the agencies of government that actually the public may act without restraint, thus precipitating a political situation as dictatorial as the one they had set out to circumscribe.

Here, again, Christian theism has something to say. This time it is to define the nature of political institutions in terms of the "ends" or "goals" which are to be accomplished. This restraint is not Imposed through any carefully calculated rational concept of justice. Rather, it views the ends of government to be expressed within the framework of God's beneficent provision for men-His covenant, His view of justice. There is an interesting passage in the City of God where Augustine charges that Rome was never a republic, i.e., a commonwealth or commonweal. Why? Because the people of Rome in their unregenerate state knew nothing of eternal justice - the justice of God. If you mean justice in the sense of social ends and individual welfare conceived within the framework of human experience and human reason then Rome may be said to be a republic, says Augustine. But if you mean justice in the sense of eternal wisdom, God's reason, then the Romans are making false claims.16

Why does Augustine raise this question? It is to show that government in the plan of God is to reveal His justice to men. This means that God's judgmental and redemptive righteousness must somehow become a part of human society, that the laws of men, the political authority exercised by men, must contribute in some way to a justice which transcends that of the mind and thought of man. Greek justice meant giving to each man his due, or providing for each man the opportunity to live in accordance with the nature of his own person. Godly justice means that man must give attention to the destruction of sin in the life of the individual and of society and at the

same time exhibit that quality of sacrificial love that is so characteristic of the covenant or testament. The Greek idea of a mathematical concept of equality must give way to the Hebrew concept of a Godly form of status in grace. This means that even though political power may be channeled through legal forms that endeavor to give expression to a
rationally conceived condition of rights or privileges, that actually government and its agencies must be
ready, also, to extend grace where it is needed.17 It is perhaps worthy of observation in our own time that the recent approaches of scientific penology to the problem of the convicted through the media of remedial and individuated treatment through probation, or parole has often been opposed by Christian people because they believed that justice was being perverted. Actually, such methods may well be viewed as an attempt to return to the practice of the middle ages which was based upon the idea that government must be more responsive to human need than to any abstract concept of justice because it was the function of government to reveal the redemptive love, the grace of God in the process of governing.18

Christian theism also places another restraint upon political institutions through its delineation of the sphere of governmental activity. Christ's statement, "Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's," (Mt. 22:21) may be accepted as an epitome of the "law and the prophets" concerning the whole matter. Herein is expressed a principle that became the basis of conflict for a millenium in the Western world between ecclesiastical and civil authorities.19 The wide disappearance of political systems uniting civil and ecclesiastical power during the nineteenth century led men to believe that the issue was a closed one. The Russian socialist state recently erected upon the dialectical materialism of Marx has reintroduced the problem in a new form - a governmental system erected upon the premise of atheism. Protestantism in general has held that the civil government must minister to the temporal needs of men, the ecclesiastical to the eternal. But this current phenomena raises new issues. The Christian is forced to challenge not only the all-inclusive nature of the Russian political system, but the fundamental assumption that the basic reality is material. Christian theism must then assert again in our day that political liberty is dependent upon (1) the acceptance of the rule of God among men, and (2) the recognition that political power is not supreme, that it is subject to the limitations imposed by God its author.

What now may be said concerning existing forms of government? It should be quite apparent from this discussion that any form of government which seeks to establish its claim to authority on any other basis than that of the will of God is builded upon a false foundation. This we say is quite easy to discern In our modem totalitarian systems such as that in Russia and those which have existed in Germany and Italy. But the problem is not so far removed. Serious students of our political life have discerned serious flaws in the foundations of our own political structure. One student of our institutions has portrayed our predicament in the following language:

Professor Sabine has here betrayed the dilemma of all recent "scientific" thinkers concerning "free" government. Faced with an objective realization of the application of scientific thought in the form of dia lectical materialsim to the governmental system in Russia they have come to see how the concept of democracy thus shorn of its Judo-Christian cultural heritage becomes the entire negation of the political freedom for which democracy has contended. This leaves the democracy of America in the "flying saucer" stage with no means of justification or perpetuation. It is impossible to trace the development of this catastrophe in detail. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that all of our culture is being severely shaken in the present crisis and that the loosely conceived underpinning is being shattered.21 The opportunity for the erection of a new foundation is before us. Here the Christian theist may perform a great public service through a re-evaluation of the premises of democracy.

If democracy is to continue to serve the purposes of God as a form of government it seems imperative that contemporary leadership must give attention to the following questions. What is the justification for the distribution of politicial. power to the masses? Is it the purely utilitarian idea that the exercise of power in the hands of one or of a few has failed to meet the needs of men, or is it because of some intrinsic quality of men in the mass which renders government without their consent imperative? This raises the whole issue of human personality, its origin, its meaning and its end. it asks whether man in the mass is anymore qualified to rule than man in the few or man in the one. A century of popular government both at home and abroad has raised serious questions concerning the validity of the earlier optimistic assumptions of democratic propagandists. Christian theism with its doctrine of original sin unqualifiedly places all of these forms under condemnation. History supports the revelational view by pointing out that man in the mass can be just as inhuman, just as sinful as man in the few or man in the one in dealing with other men. Without a concept of authority outside of man, without a sanction for law outside of experience, man is left without any adequate form of government.

It would, therefore, be helpful to modern students of government to review again the political principles of the Puritans. Living in an age of political despotism and the increasing worship of science they boldly proclaimed their belief in the sovereignty of God, the rule of the "elect," and the participation of the community in the political process. This revival of a "mixed" form of government which was sanctioned by both the scriptures and human history afforded a basis for a governmental structure that has contributed greatly to the realization of God's justice in the affairs of men. Even though the acids of modernity have greatly altered the original structure it is to be hoped that the present period will witness a return to those considerations, and a reconsideration of the purposes of our governmental system. There is little question that it has floundered seriously since leaving its earlier theistic moorings.22

Can anything be said on the basis of these remarks concerning a satisfactory system of government for the Christian theist? It seems to me that the Biblical revelation and history combine to provide us with some measuring rods. First, every governmental system must begin by recognizing in the Person of God the locus of sovereign power. Second, the state and the institutions of government must be in accord with God's view of justice which is ultimately that of redemption.

These considerations leave free to each succeeding generation the question of the best form of govern-

ment. History indicates that political power is a source of great temptation to men. This suggests that power should be distributed among individuals or groups within the community. History also indicates that there is a tendency for institutions of government to forget the limitations imposed by the divine will. This still further emphasizes the need of the dispersion of power. It also gives point to the traditional demand that the people be informed concerning the nature of their government. If justice, Godly justice, be the end of government, then all who participate must be informed of those ends. This would accentuate the need for the continual education of those directing the work of government in the knowledge of God and His purposes.


Dr. S. R. Kamm: (In answer to a question) What is freedom in the Christian perspective? My own understanding is this, that freedom primarily consists of the ability of man to respond to God without the arbitrary control of the human institution. It goes back to that primary elemental statement I referred to: "Render . . . unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." Furthermore when you come to analyze the problem of monopoly you also have to employ the concept of the unregenerate man. The unregenerate man finds his natural abilities and God-given capacities will move toward the direction of exercise of power to the place where he feels himself more secure than he was in the previous situation. In other words, you are dealing with two concepts here which are very real Christian considerations. Now, it seems to me that the state, however you may conceive of it, is empowered with this Godly authority of exercising judgment in terms not only of mathematical equality but in terms of God's redemptive grace and that in so doing the state must act first of all to prevent any monopoly that would interfere with a man's relationship to God. That's the reason why you have separation of church and state; it is to prevent that monopolistic power situation. Secondly when the state interferes with a monopoly, it not only has in mind the persons in a community, but it also has in mind deliverance of the one who is perpetuating the monopoly from his sinful nature.

Now, that is just a suggestion for all of us to follow in looking at those problems. This is the manner in which seek to apply the more integrated point of view to the whole matter.

Dr. P. B. Marquart: I would like to direct one question to Dr. Kamm because he seems to be following a very prevelant form of philosophy which is not too inconsistent with another form that is more recently being talked about, the Christian monism of Bovink which Dr. Kamm is supporting. I've always been interested to know just what the interrelation is between this something which is probably quite prevalent here at Shelton College, and so called dependent interacting realism which we hear about quit a bit through our theology courses out at Wheaton. Just where do we form the integration between them?

And so I'd like to suggest a little integration be tween those two forms of philosophy to show just where they dovetail into each other. Both sound to me very great although there seems to be perhaps a sematic difficulty in each one of them, that is the use of the word realism and the use of the word monism ism which has been so thoroughly identified with anti-ism in the past. So I'd like to know just where these dovetail together. It will be characteristic of our A.S.A. group to have Dr. Kamm, a Free Methodist supporting a doctrine which is Calvinistic and then if we can get Dr. Buswell, a Presbyterian, to support the other one, that would be very interesting.

Dr. S. R. Kamm: I know you will recognize that I would not hope to speak for Shelton College on this matter. I think I tried to make it plain in the paper that what you and I are confronted with is the tendency to try to interpret all of life from what we might call rather narrow perspectives. It's either a materialistic perspective which is so well presented in the last paper, or an idealistic perspective or combinations of these, or, what we sometimes come across in a purely spiritualistic perspective which tends to ignore what I think of as a limited reality both to ideas and to experience. Although I do not profess to be a philosopher with an organized system, I realize we do have to work out something in the way of an organized statement of our thinking and for that purpose and with that line of thought I have endeavored to suggest that in our approach to the problems of social science, we have to recognize, first of all, the primary and ultimate reality of God as the originator and sustainer of the Universe; then those ideas about the world which are His creation, and which we enjoy the privilege of use as we are trained to employ them; further, that experience also is valid within its limits. When you separate any of those and take them apart from each other, you may not recognize their proper relationship.

Sometimes I've tried to say that if you conceive of them in pyramidal form by looking upon God as the head of the apex, then ideas and experiences are real as they are related to God. In other words they are dependent realities as Prof. Marquart has pointed out.

Now I suspect that there are some very real problems even from a rational standpoint in explaining this suspect that we do not have time to go into them this afternoon.


1. F. G. Wilson, "Generalists versus Specialists in Social Science," American Political Science Review, 44:384.
2. Eric Voegelin, "Political Theory and the Pattern of General History," American Political Science Review, 38:75.
3. John H. Hallowell. Main Currents In Modern Political Thought, (Henry Holt and Co., New York, 1950), viii.
4. See Luigi Sturzo. The True Ufe: Sociology of the Supernatural (Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D. C., 1943). pp. 18-20.
5. See Charles N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture (Oxford University Press. New York, 1944). Chapter XI for an excellent statement of the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity as the basis of an adequate methodology.
6. See John C. Marray. "The Problem of State Religion," Theo
logical Studies, 12:fn. 168-159.
7. Paul Ramsey. "Elements of a Biblical Political Theory." Journal
of Religion, 29: 258-261.
8. Isaiah 54:10
9. Isaiah 49:15: Pas. 27:10: Jn. 3:16.
10. Romans 13:1-2
11. Jacques Maritain, "The Concept of Sovereignty," American Political Sclence Review 44: 343-357; Emil Brunner, Justice and the Social Order. 74-75.
12. The Republic (Harper Brother's, New York, 1945), Book VII. in The Dialogues of Plato, (B. Jowett, ed., Bigelow Brown and Co.. New York). II, 269.
13. Enrico Perri, Socialism and Modern Science (international
Library Publishing Company, New York, 1900), P. 95.
14. Robert M. McIver, The Web of Government (Macmillan, New York, 1947), pp. 151-162.
15. (See W. J , 'Shepard, "Government: History and Theory." Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 7:10.)
16. The city of God, Rk. XIX, Ch. 21, 24 in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, II. and reprinted In F. W. Coker. Readings in Political Philosophy (Macmillan, New York, 1938. rev. ed.) pp. 172-175.
17. See Emil Brunner. Justice and the Social Order (Harper and Brothers, New York, 1945) for an interesting treatment of this Problem.
18. Cf. Paul Ramsey, "Mements of a Biblical Political Theory,"
Journal of Religion. 29: 272-273.
19. See M. B. Poster, Masters of Political Thought (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1941), pp. 224-228 for a clear statement of Augustine's Position in this controversy.
20. G. H. Sabine. Democracy and -Preconceived Ideas (Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1945), p. 4.
21. Cf. J. U. Nef, The United States and Civilization (University of Chicago Press. Chicago, Illinois, 1942), Chapter XI.
22. Barbara Ward, "The Silent Revolution," Atlantic Monthly 188: 34-38 for criticism of the Present effort to justify democracy on an economic basis.