When “the 300” finished their feat at Thermopylae, and, teaming with the city-state of Athens, repelled the invading Persian Empire, those civilizations enjoyed a short time of peace. But Sparta and Athens were at one another’s throats 50 years or so later in the Pelopennesian War. That conflict featured a political crossroads we still debate today: Sparta believed in aristocracy while Athens practiced a pervasive democracy. The oligarchic party in Athens quietly supported the Spartan-style aristocratic way of governing, believing “democracy” to be too chaotic, too egalitarian, and fated for mediocrity. Athens lost, and so did the leaders of the oligarchic party.
Critias headed that party in Athens, and he–a ha!– was a pupil of Socrates and the uncle of Plato.
Though Socrates was executed for “polluting the youth” of Athens, his advocacy of “rule by the wisest” (aristocracy) made his death there a virtual certainty.
2400 years later, what is the answer? Pure democracy–let’s all vote on everything, appeals to our desire for participation and equality. No one actually practices this because of the obvious inefficiencies–the molasses rate of decision-making. Most “democratic” governments overcome with with Representative Democracy. Aristocracy may (or may not) actually produce rule by the wisest and most apt, but it seems elitist and given to exploitation of those ruled.
Was this perhaps on Paul’s mind when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 that the body is composed of many different kinds of gifted parts; did a little history dovetail into this definitive discussion of our varied spiritual gifts? Who knows. But his treatise on how the Body works together finds a leadership place somewhere, in my opinion, between Sparta and Athens. In the church, we don’t “democratically” cycle-in and cycle-out our elders, ministers, deacons, but neither do we want those leaders to lead like an aristocracy. We want voice, process, participation, discussion–mature decision-making.
Perhaps the key really is in keeping The Body, and how it physically works, in mind.
OK, enough of this superficial blathering!