What does the Bible say about Fascism?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: What does the Bible say about fascism? 

Answer: Fascism emerged around World War 1, and that was nearly 1900 years after the last bits of the Bible were written. As such, the Bible has nothing to say about fascism… or at least about fascism per se. But if this is true, why do some people level accusations of fascism against God or against his people? I’m not sure why, but they are not getting their data from the Bible. As a philosophy, Christianity is more than tolerant. In fact, Christ taught us to love those who oppose us… and this is antifascist by definition.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43–45, NIV)

What naturally follows for a Christian, however, is to commend all people to follow God’s moral law… and I think that perhaps this is the problem. Please note that I said commend and not command though. Until the Lord returns to rule and reign in righteousness, the action of God’s people is to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13) — and to expand the kingdom of God invisibly just as the yeast expands a loaf of bread (Matthew 13:33). Even God does not expect us to prevail over the world to the point where we will rule its government in his name. Jesus will do that — and hopefully soon.

I think what happens, though, is that when you combine the pervasiveness of that moral sense that is common to humanity with the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting the world of sin (John 16:8), that people feel the pressure of this morality… and they take this pressure as if we were commanding them to behave in certain ways… and don’t get me wrong; I would love for them to act morally! But although this is the topic of much preaching, this is their conscience speaking (Romans 2:14-15)… and not us. We just take the blame. So, can you appreciate the turn-around here? They are blaming us that they feel they must behave. But the reality is that they are their own fascists!

Please note also that calling someone a fascist does not make it true. In fact, the accusation of fascism usually is just name-calling, and you don’t have to travel further than the family dynamic to see this play out. There are many moral and caring families who are living through teen rebellion in their homes — and these teens can be emotionally brittle. For example, if the adults (who have to do their jobs or the household would collapse) remind the teen that they should put their clothes in the hamper… take out the trash… be home by 10 PM — the teen might yell, “Fascist!”

Now, these parents are hardly fascists; they are adults — people who establish and enforce rules for the good of the family. But this example shows the dynamics of name-calling: the ones who use this term are trying to attach the label of totalitarianism to any of the various policymakers in their lives. Why? People who have the unrealistic expectation that they are entitled to live without any restraints will call any leadership that attempts to show them how life actually works fascist. But that use of the word has no technical credibility, and this highlights a critical point for this discussion: the term fascism is often used loosely and not technically.

Fascism still exists in the world, but it exists more in outlying ideologies which will not likely coalesce into a global threat. Many people and organizations still identify with fascism, but they are spread over so many different beliefs and methodologies that I doubt fascism will threaten world peace as it did during World War 2… although it still has a grip on the inner peace off many individuals.

It is important to understand that reasonable governmental restrictions are not fascism. In fact, they support human flourishing by restricting behaviors that harm “the whole.” This is what grown-ups do. They make freedom-restricting decisions which are good for the family… but which often results in protests from the children. But let’s raise the stakes. Since all morality is grounded in God when a government acts as his agent, this is not fascism; this is righteousness… even when non-believers are running the show.

Jesus and the apostles Paul and Peter indicated that the government should be at a minimum tolerated — but at maximum respected as the agency of God.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:17, NIV)

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:4, NIV)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, (1 Peter 2:13, NIV)

(See also Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 2 Chronicles 22:7; Psalm 22:28, 94:20; Proverbs 8:15, 21:1; Ezekiel 29:19; Daniel 2:20-21, 5:18; John 19:11; Romans 9:7, 13:7; Titus 3:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-3)

A quick review of the verses above shows that the Bible teaches (at minimum) the reasonability of cooperating with the government… but this implies that the government too would be reasonable… and we know from both the Bible and from secular history that governments can stray from their designed purposes. But this is just sin doing its work among human beings who happen to control the government. Government is still God’s agent to rule society in this age. The fact that sin has spoiled what God has set up for good does not mean that God fosters fascism by fostering rulership. In fact, God hates a government that has wandered from its task.

….Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:38–40, NIV)

There is a famous (although not credibly attributed) quote about the potential for fascism in American that says, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." These are harsh words against patriotism and Christianity… and do you know what? We should beware of untoward “patriotism” that manifests itself in iron-fisted home-rule or xenophobia (as in Hitler’s Germany)… even if it’s done in God’s name! But we should also be aware of outgrowths in the Christian culture that are tacitly unchristian… things that Jesus would have challenged if they had shown up in Jerusalem… like some Christian version of the Phariseeism he exposed.

Now, when one of God’s people rules and reigns in prayerful communication with God, he will probably make unpopular judgments. But this is not fascism; this is righteousness… and calling prudent governmental correction fascism is a sign of immaturity. That being said, all who rule are also sinful people — even when they rule under God’s (or “good’s”) aegis.

Although imperfection will reign until Jesus comes back, we should not abandon the enterprise of godly government just because it is not serving the purposes of a few “high thinking” elitists… and I will not sit still for their calling reasonable governmental actions fascism. You see, we should learn what Nebuchadnezzar learned so many centuries ago.

Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a statue whose head was gold, whose chest and arms were silver, whose belly and thighs were bronze, whose legs were iron and whose feet were a mixture of iron and clay (Dan.2:24 ff.). Daniel told the King that these segments represented his kingdom and the kingdoms that would follow him. But look what he said to and about King Nebuchadnezzar:

“in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.” (Daniel 2:38, NIV, emphasis mine)

What made Babylon (symbolically speaking) the highest kingdom — noting that the statue decreased in value from head to feet? It was Nebuchadnezzar himself. But it was not that he was so personally great or holy. It was rather that Nebuchadnezzar was the absolute ruler — and the last of his kind.

As you study the subsequent kingdoms, their rulers were powerful, but they were not absolute rulers; they were subject to laws, councils, etc. Now, these are valuable checks-and-balances in a contemporary democracy, but they are lousy symbols… and that’s what this passage is about. You see, Jesus will rule like Nebuchadnezzar ruled: in absolute authority. He will not be, as was “King” Darius, subject to his own law — the law of the Medes and Persians which changes not (Daniel 6:15).

Our contemporary world would not tolerate the power of a Nebuchadnezzar… but this is the gold standard (if you will) for rulership. God wants a single solitary ruler who will rule in righteousness! But such a person would have the power to turn a nation to fascism (or worse). What we have then is a world… burned a thousand times… that has largely purged itself of absolute rulers and has replaced them with representative governments.

Please be aware, however, that our contemporary democracies — although socially prudent structures — are symbolically horrible structures… but they are necessary concessions in a sinful world. By way of comparison, the reign of Christ will be absolute, not democratic. But in the meantime, we need the power spread around to prevent any individual from doing too much harm!

I am grateful to live in the USA, and I feel that we are a pretty good example to the world of how capitalism can work under a representative government. But seeking “consensus” from a population will always pull moral standards downward… and we can only endure so much “down” before we become nonfunctional. This is why I believe that the Lord is coming soon… we’re running out of space.

That being said, even an inferior government is better than anarchy while we wait for the Lord. It’s just that we cannot lay the blame on either God or the government when godless men usurp and misuse its power. Both God and government are still ontologically good… even when the government has become functionally bad. As such, please do not confound the standards of absolute rulership under God, with fascism. Because even when an absolute ruler slides into fascism, that would be a personality disorder and not a flaw in the design.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20160919 Are Christians Fascists?).

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