History: The Church Fulfilled What Athens Could Not

June 11, 2010

Athens. Democracy for all! Well ok....not all.

There is a great article up on Credenda. Peter Leithart  tells the history of democracy in Athens. He states that Plato rejected democracy arguing that only philosophers should rule (the rule of the wise). Aristotle made the case that democracy would work because many voices would provide balance where a single ruler could become unbalanced.

“Each person,” Aristotle surmised, might “possess a constituent part of virtue and practical reason, and when they have come together, the multitude is like a single person.”  The “many-footed” and “many-handed” demos knew more together than any of its parts knew separately.

But the democracy of Athens was limited. Slaves, freed slaves, women and metics were excluded from the deliberations of the various assemblies, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable they might be.  Aristotle thought that was perfectly just, since slaves lacked the natural endowments that would have made them suitable contributors to Athenian life.

Leveling mechanisms were not present in the Athens democracy. There was nothing to ensure that the poor recieved the same voice that the rich did. There was nothing to ensure that slaves were given equal status to free men. These mechanisms of leveling came about with the rise of the church.

Several New Testament’s descriptions of the laos, however, highlight its connection with the Greek democratic ideal.  First-century churches certainly had rulers who ruled in the authority of Christ (Hebrews 13:17), but the body would flourish, Paul insisted, only when everyone contributed.  I daresay what would have most astonished an Athenian visitor to a Christian church would have been the democratic flavor of the assembly.  Here was a demos far more inclusive than anything Athens had dreamt of: Slaves, women, and freemen all assembled together, each, Paul says, with an essential Spiritual charisma to offer for the common good (1 Corinthians 14:26).  Every last one of them edified the body; every last one endowed with the Spirit of God with the prophetic power to communicate that Spirit to others (1 Corinthians 12:1-12; 14:20-25).

Read the rest here.

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