Christarchism In Brief: Part One

Revan Filiaexdeus I Spirituality & Religion I Theory I May 24th, 2013

Christarchism, in a historical context, is a radical ideology stemming directly from the Jesus Movement as an outgrowth of Christianity. It has been referred to as Christian anarchism, though it certainly goes beyond cut-and-dry anarchism. Currently, the ideology is defined by six principles: rejection of organized ecclesiarchy, rejection of state authority, the existence of the Kingdom of God, pacifism, an individual life based on the Sermon on the Mount, service to others; a seventh, communal living, is disputed among its adherents. In a theological sense, Christarchism is the heart of the good news presented by Jesus.

Development of Christarchism occurred in several stages: it began with Jesus, continued into the Protestant Reformation and reached an apex with Russian author and Theologian Leo Tolstoy, where it continues today. This paper is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on Christarchism, but simply presents its principles from the perspective of the teachings of Jesus and gives a modern context.

The word itself, in two parts, comes from Greek: the Greek christos meaning "anointed one, messiah" [1] and -archy meaning "rule of" [2] in a personal and political sense. Thus, Christarchism in a literal sense is rule of the anointed one, the anointed one being the very specific Jewish conception of the Messiah. As a movement, Christarchism developed in several stages directly from the first century Jesus movement, which in turn developed from a rich background of social and economic tension.

Specific to this paper are three different consistently used terms describing the movement around the message presented by Jesus of Nazareth. The first is Jesus Movement, which are the followers of Jesus' teaching, who were mostly Jewish. The Jesus Movement commenced with Jesus' first disciple and continues with all who claim discipleship of Jesus, regardless of any other attributes. The second is Christism, the Jews who believed in a coming Messiah as the restorer of the Davidic-line monarchy and the Son of Man of the Daniel 7 [3] tradition. The third is Christianity, the later Gentile development of the Jesus movement that arose after the death of the apostles from Bishopric councils and the theological preference of Pauline, Gentile theology to the more Jewish oriented thought processes of James or John.

Several assumptions are made here concerning the Jesus movement. The first is that Jesus existed as a real, documented historical figure as attested to in the Gospel accounts as well as extra-biblical sources such as the Talmud [4], Josephus' histories of Rome [5], and the Roman Senator Tacitus's writings [6]. The second: the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present a reliable historical picture of first century social, political, economic, and theological conditions of Roman-occupied Judea as well as that of the development of the Jesus movement. The third: the Apostles of Jesus had experiences through which they genuinely believed that they had seen Jesus resurrected and risen from the grave. [7]

Additionally, a note on citation: where citations occur, they are in the text itself or in footnotes. I make use of what I call "functional citation"; rather than adhering to arbitrary standards of the Modern Language Association or the American Psychological Association, I have cited only the information necessary for the reader to find the source for the cited data.

The Development of the Jesus Movement

The Judaism out of which the Jesus movement and its subsequent derivative Christianity developed had an already existent savior-movement, the previously mentioned Christism. The Israelites driven into exile in Babylon lost their beloved Davidic line of Kings; according to their theology, the Davidic line would never end. [8] Thus, to compensate for the lack of a king, they developed the idea of a Redeemer who would come and restore the throne of David to Israel. This Redeemer came to be called the Son of God, the traditional title of Davidic Kings [9]; another title for this Redeemer is Messiah, carrying the meaning "anointed one" in Aramaic [10]. Christarchism in this context means the authority of God's anointed over the nation of Israel, in stark contrast to human-appointed rulers. The notion is a decidedly external, political one.

The second conception of Christ, the Son of Man, developed separately from close readings of the book of Daniel, where a divine figure called "one like a Son of Man" is presented as being invested with the authority and power of God. In this context, Christarchism is the divine authority of the Son of Man over individuals, a decidedly internal, spiritual quality.

Over time, these two ideas fused into one to form the modern notion of Messiah fulfilled by Jesus, as attested to in Mark's Gospel account. [11] The Baptism movement of John the Baptist existed as an apocalyptic extension of this notion, promoting the ideas of the Kingdom of God and the immediacy of the coming of this Messiah. John's identification of the Messiah with Jesus, and the latter's subsequent acceptance of that sentiment, came to be the foundation of the Jesus movement.

At the time of the Jesus Movement's beginning, Israel was no longer a holistic nation, nor had it been for some time, but was divided into Samaritan, Galilean, and Judean provinces. It was occupied by Rome who tolerated the existence of a Jewish puppet king known as an ethnarch; by the time of Jesus' ministry, the king was Herod Archelaus[12], not to be confused with Herod the Great [13]. Jewish identity was strongly ethnic; if you were born a Jew, you were certainly a Jew and nothing else. Conversion to Judaism did not exist, as Judaism as a separate and distinct religion is a relatively modern notion. Additionally, Jewish identity was strongly parallel to the Babylonian Exile; rather than being slaves in a foreign nation, they were slaves in their own homes.

Out of this grew Second Temple Judaism, the first Temple being destroyed by the invading Babylonians. The second Temple was constructed by Jews under the post-exilic leader Ezra.

The theology of Second Temple Judaism was divided into the priestly and commoner's faith, both of which are further subdivided. The priestly notions of Judaism were divided into the primary divisions of the Sadducees and the Pharisees; the former believed in free will and rejected fate as well as notions of resurrection and afterlife while the latter believed in destiny and individual choice to accept or reject that destiny as well as an afterlife, strict monotheism, and resurrection of the dead. Additional sects existed, such as the Essenes that subscribed to a form of baptism, predestination, and a rigid but kabbalistic interpretation of the Torah [14]. Each of these sects held to its own interpretation of Jewish law, and had its own rituals and traditions.

The commoner's Judaism involved pilgrimages to Jerusalem for major festivals, the offering of sacrifices at the Temple for sins, and actively praying to God. There were also certainly common political notions, as many Jews indeed felt persecuted under both the Roman occupation and Herod the Great's rule, and an opposition to Roman rule inspired by the Maccabean movement [15] manifested as the Zealots [16]. These political dissidents were not always organized. By and large, however, the majority of Jews accepted the conditions of their existence and placed their hopes in the coming Messiah.

In this context, Jesus presented an extraordinary message. Where the priestly sects were concerned with the external qualities of the Law of God, the general message of Jesus was that the Law's external qualities come only through the internal Law - the Law of God written on people's hearts and minds, as attested to by the Prophets [17].

Jesus' disciples came from all walks of life. Some were educated, such as Luke the Gospel writer; some were poor like the fisherman Simon; some were commoners and others, like Matthew the tax collector had high social positions.

Jesus continued in John's way of giving an extraordinarily simple way to understand God. Rather than necessitate a large and rather extensive network of priests and associated rites and rituals, Jesus gave a message of one God, one teacher, and one instructor. [18] This idea is the heart of Christarchism: God, and not a member thereof, rules humanity.

Apostasy from Christarchism

Christarchism's role in the Gospel was severely downplayed with the Gentile development of Christianity and its subsequent ecclesiarchy. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Europeans learned to depend largely on the Roman church for stability, and thus the Roman church's way of thinking became the only exposure to the Gospel that the people received. Christarchism experienced a resurgence with the Protestant movement, where early Protestants rejected both state and church authority.

Another significant development in the resurgence of Christarchism occurs in the Second Great Awakening. Many of the newly born movements of the Awakening re-embraced Christarchism as it rejected even modern Christianity. The early Latter day Saint movement, itself growing out of the Restorationist movement, had strong Christarchist flavors [19] but tended to lose them with the Nauvoo period [20].

The Tolstoyan movement was pseudo-contemporary with the Awakening; the Awakening was already in full swing and had generated advanced theological schools of thought at the time of Tolstoy's writings on religion. One of Tolstoy's principal theological works, The Gospel in Brief, outlines much of the theological basis for what we know as modern Christarchism. As such, the movement around Tolstoy's name and writings has formed the modern basis for Christarchism.

Principle One: Rejection of Organized Ecclesiarchy

Tolstoy's first political commentary on the Gospel was certainly the outright rejection of organized ecclesiarchy, doing so through an acceptance of the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the only truly authoritative writings for a Christian, all the rest being Apostolic commentary on the Gospel, similar to the function of the Talmud for Jews. Jesus accepted the Priesthood so far as they had a Mosaic function. In a lesson of Jesus given concerning the Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-12, Jesus presents a dichotomy between priestly teaching and priestly action; that is, so long as the priests have a legitimate claim to authority, they must be followed in judgement (the function of "Moses' seat"), but their actions are to be disregarded in favor of a true form of righteousness.

Of particular note here is the role of the Sadducees [21]: the Sadducees dominated Temple worship at the time of Second Temple Judaism and adamantly denied an afterlife and resurrection. It is likely, by inference, that the Gospel references to the "teachers of the Law" meant Sadducees, distinguished from the usually named Pharisees.

In a particular encounter with Sadducees, these teachers of the law question Jesus about the resurrection. [22]

The priests of Israel had a long tradition of being opposed to the prophets. In this context, Jesus said that "among those born of women, none are greater than he" of John the Baptist. In light of the Matthew 23 verse, the priests were ones to place lavish strictures of religion upon people, involving repeated purification processes in order to make one acceptable in God's sight. John, however, taught a single moment of repentance and purification as justification in God's sight. Thus, by calling John greatest for his work, Jesus is subtly attacking the ideology of the Pharisaical priestly culture.

Additionally, Jesus believed that the priests failed to understand their true role as a shadow of the coming Messiah [23]. Jesus would have drawn this understanding from the prophetic tradition [24]. It was certainly a recurring motif in the faith of Israel.

Principle Two: Rejection of State Authority

Further, Tolstoy rejected the existence of the state in favor of the Gospel [25] principles of nonviolence, the state being the primary catalyst of violence and action leading to violence. Jesus presented a unique dichotomy between the authority of the state and the authority of God: the things established by the state certainly belong to the state, but the things established by God so too certainly belong to God [26]. Jesus was very clear that no man has power except that which is given to him by God [27], and even still, Jesus ran when the people attempted to put him in power by force. [28]

Like his rejection of ecclesiarchy, Jesus drew his understanding of the dichotomy between God's authority and that of men from the prophetic tradition. Indeed, according to the book of the prophet Samuel, it was men who chose to be ruled over by a king. [29] God allowed for a cruel and wicked king, Saul, to rule over them to attempt to show them how hard their lives would be under a king; when God saw that the people would not relinquish their desire for a king, the line of anointed kings starting with David was established.

Christ as king is a complete fulfillment of the theological hopes of Samuel and his adherents; Christ, rather than accepting a human and earthly throne, repeats the words of Samuel and Jeremiah, that our only king is to be God in an endless, infinite kingdom.

Principle Three: The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke is a dominion unlike anything else that we've encountered upon the earth. According to Jesus, it is certainly not from the world [30] yet rests upon and rules over the entire world. Many of Jesus' parables in the Gospel accounts speak of the Kingdom of God and to whom it belongs, rather than who belongs to it; rather than being given to the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom is given to us. [31]

In a famous teaching, Jesus said "unless you repent and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God" [32]. This is in stark contrast to all the theological expectations of the Messiah as a worldly conqueror and ruler. In Jesus' view, little children have already conquered the world. They have no care for worldly power nor for causing harm to anyone else; they are quite perfectly the children of God. Jesus presents the Kingdom of God as resembling precisely this.

Thus, it can be said that the Kingdom of God is the unity of all who have received the good news of Jesus. The good news is liberating and freeing. [33] Rather than it needing to be established by some worldly means, the Kingdom is already present an internal sense, and through living the Kingdom internally, it is produced externally. Tolstoy presented this idea of the Kingdom to a modern audience in his The Kingdom of God is Within You. The text has become a key reference for the modern Christarchist movement.

Principle Four: Pacifism

One of the key qualities differentiating the Kingdom of God from those of the world is it's adherence to nonviolence. This was taught by Jesus from the beginning of Jesus' ministry. [34] In discussing the Kingdom of God with Pontius Pilate, Jesus said "My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my servants would come and fight" [35]. A principal distinction is drawn here in specific reference to nonviolence that further illuminates the difference between the world's kingdoms and God's kingdom. According to the John the Gospel writer, there are two categories of Jesus' followers: friends and servants [36]. Friends are those like the Apostles, who intimately know God and the workings of the Messiah upon the earth, whereas servants are those who believe in the message but are not privy to God's work. Jesus' usage of the word servant to Pilate obviously refers to the latter group of Jesus' disciples; the key difference between servants of Christ and servants of the world is the former's rejection of violence.

An implication of these words of Jesus is that the first group, the friends, would indeed fight. According to the book of Acts, the Apostles never turn to violence to spread their message or even to defend themselves. What, then, is their fight?

Examining the prayers of Jesus in John 17 illuminates the struggle of the Apostles; the struggle is an extension of the message of the Kingdom of God's internal qualities. Rather than fight through means of flesh, the Apostles fight for the Kingdom of God through means of spirit. Thus, in Christarchism, disobedience or resistance to authority is not condemned; it is only the application of violent means that is.

This position is best supported through examining the acts of Jesus' disciples. When Paul is brought before the Jewish council, he is shown as adamantly defending his testimony of Jesus [37], a prime example of nonviolent resistance. This Paul, resistor of authority through nonviolent means, is the same one who wrote of submission to governing authority [38]. Authority is to be obeyed so long as it does not contradict the instruction of God [39], a position equally prevalent among the disciples. Abhorring violence even when one's life is threatened would have also been present in the teaching of the Apostles, as seen in the death of Stephen Marytr [40]. The disciples of Jesus had a hope in the essential reality and spirituality Kingdom of God as opposed to the fleshy, illusory hopes of the kingdoms of the world [41].

Principle Five: A Godly Life

This dichotomy of the flesh and spirit was presented first by Jesus [42]. Restoring the original understanding of the Torah as a rule of internal behavior with external signs thereof in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew [43] and Luke's companion Sermon in the Field [44] present a radical redefinition of understanding of Torah, where the Torah is a rule of internal behavior rather than external. Matthew's presentation of this series of lessons as occurring on a hill versus Luke's presentation in a field probably indicates that this same idea was presented multiple times. Taking the teaching of the Apostles as an additional indicator, it is likely that this series of lessons was a recurring theme in Jesus' teachings.

Jesus states in the Gospel accounts that the entirety of the Law can be summarized in two simple commandments: love of God and love of man. [45] This perception of the Law was not unique to Jesus, but came into existence shortly before the life of Jesus through one Rabbi Hillel [46], who made an identical summary of the Law and taught "all the rest is commentary". This position is certainly reflected in the teachings of the Apostles and would have been well understood by Jesus' disciples [47].

In one of the more well-known the stories of the Gospel accounts, a rich man comes to Jesus asking for the way towards eternal life. [48] Jesus instructs him to follow the commandments, and lists those he goes over in both sermons, in the order given in both sermons. The commandments are quite similar to the Noahide Laws [49] compiled in the Jewish Talmud only a few short centuries after Jesus.

According to Tolstoy [50], the simple life style of this series of lessons is summarized through following the commandments of God, which in turn is done through living a life of love. Thus, in Christarchism, individuals are called to live a life of love. All other aspects of Christarchism can be seen as being expressions of this love.

Principle Six: Service to Others

As a further rejection of the state, Christarchists practice service to others. It is a rejection of the state on the grounds that the state practices ruling authority over others; as members of the Kingdom of God, we are to serve rather than rule. This is a recurring motif among the teachings of Jesus is the reversal of social roles: what the world considers great, God considers least and vice versa [51]. Many Christarchists use this principle as support for the rejection of ecclesiarchy, as an ecclesiarchy more times than not ends up as a ruling authority rather than one of service. One does not need a power structure to serve, as emphasized by the specific action of servitude of Jesus, where he washes the feet of his disciples [52]. Such an act was normally reserved for the servants of a household.

Further, such service is representative of the union and brotherhood of all believers. To Christarchists, there is no hierarchy of persons; we are all one body, with God as its head. Though we may serve different functions and be given different things to fulfill that function, it is still indeed service; no one member of the body is greater than another.

Principle Seven: Communal Life

In the Apostolic age after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Apostles lived a kind of communal life [53] in which money was disregarded as important, and all resources were distributed to meet the needs of the community. It is likely that the Apostles learned this way of life with Jesus. In an interesting commentary on the multiplication of the bread and fish [54], the miracle is presented as a redistribution of goods. It is unlikely that the people gathered to see Jesus would have traveled out of their homes without something to eat; when the Apostles suggests to Jesus that they be sent away to buy something to Jesus, Jesus responds that such purchasing is unnecessary. According to the redistribution interpretation of the story, it is unnecessary because of the fact that there is already enough food among the people for all to be fed.

Some Christarchists believe that the manner of communal life was specific to the Apostles and does not need to be continued in the modern age; I, however, disagree. Seeing as the Apostles continued in the teaching of Jesus after his death, where else would they have learned such a communal lifestyle but from Jesus himself? If Jesus practiced this mode of living among the apostles, it remains an integral part of the Gospel message.

The communal lifestyle of the Apostles is in striking contrast to the ideology of private property that prevailed in the Roman Empire, and continues in the world today. Many Christarchists, including myself, believe that if all that is created is created by God, then it all quite belongs to God and no human being can claim ownership of anything at all. Further, if the Kingdom of God is not in accord with the world in any way, shape, or form, it is clear that such a communal life is key to the Kingdom.


Today, these principles endure in limited scope in various Christian ideologies, such as the Catholic Worker movement and the broader reaching spectrum of anarchism. It continues to provide a workable, simple solution to enduring social problems. Christarchism is quite different from the religious Christianity which prevails throughout the world, though it shares similar origins.

It is ultimately up to humanity to determine its course. Jesus and the Apostles in standing prophetic tradition [55] presented the ways of the world as death. It is quite evident from the state of the world today that our approaches thus far have led to more violence, more suffering, and ultimately, less humanity. It is high time we give another solution a try, and Christarchism purports to be that very solution.




[3] Daniel 7:13-14

[4] Talmud Sanhedrin 107b, Sotah 47a / Talmud Shabbat 104b, Sanhedrin 67a / Talmud Sanhedrin 43a

[5] Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, 3

[6] The Annals, Tacitus, Book 15:44

[7] Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21

[8] 1 Kings 9:5

[9] Psalm 2:7


[11] Mark 14:61-62






[17] Jeremiah 31:31-34

[18] Matthew 23:8-12

[19] Mosiah 23:7



[22] Luke 20:27-40

[23] Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.- Zechariah 3:8

[24] Jeremiah 5:31

[25] Tolstoy, Leo, The Kingdom of God is Within You

[26] Mark 12:13-17

[27] John 19:11

[28] John 6:15

[29] 1 Samuel 8:6-9

[30] John 19:36

[31] Matthew 5:3

[32] Matthew 18:3

[33] Matthew 11:28

[34] Matthew 5:39

[35] John 18:36

[36] John 15:15

[37] Acts 22-23

[38] Romans 13:1-7

[39] Acts 5:29

[40] Acts 6-7

[41] Galatians 5:17

[42] Matthew 18:8

[43] Matthew 5-9

[44] Luke 6:20-49

[45] Matthew 22:36-40

[46] Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a

[47] John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Romans 13:8, Ephesians 4:2, 1 John 3:1, 1 John 4:7

[48] Mark 10:17-25

[49] Tosefta Avodah Zarah 9.4, from Talmud Sanhedrin 56a.

[50] Tolstoy, My Religion

[51] Matthew 20:20-28

[52] John 13:1-17

[53] Acts 4:32-35

[54] Matthew 14:13-21

[55] Jeremiah 21:8