subject engages the emotions of the conservative Christian today like that of
church and state. There are those who believe that the church should not have
anything to say in the public debate – and who believe the government should
“regulate” the churches (for our own good, of course). It is only the latest
in a long line of conflicts between church and state. From its first days
through the present, the conflict is there. Church and state both claim
supreme loyalty from the citizen; only one can prevail. Paul gives us a strong
statement here, originally written to the Christians at the center of the
world’s greatest empire.
must submit himself 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, he who 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 he will commend you. For he is God's servant
to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword
for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent 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 because of conscience. This is also why
you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time
to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if
revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
(Romans 13:1-7 NIV)
may begin by asking: just what is “authority?” I submit it has the following
has both the right (at least partially) and power (if limited) to carry out
the responsibilities assigned to it. Correctly assigned, responsibility
and authority match.
authority descends from the authority of Christ, which is complete.
Unless a government can show that it is exercising authority in the way
Christ permits, it is not legitimate – it does not have the right.
authority exists for our good. God grants such authority for the
benefit of his children.
side note: then what is tyranny? It is the abuse of authority. Authority is
a good thing; tyranny is the corruption of that good thing. God created
authority; it is one of his attributes. Satan corrupted it.
then, does God commission human authority? His own is undeniable (it’s his
universe); why does he hand it out to us?
and foremost, for the good of his children. Think about it: when the
fire truck roars by, sirens blazing, you submit by getting out of the
way. Why? Next time, you might be the one with the house on fire.
specific purpose is the spread of the Gospel. Under benign authority the
Gospel spreads well (see, for example, the British Empire and the great
evangelism of the 19th century.) Even under persecution the
Christian flees – and takes the Gospel with him.
God appoints a specific ruler with a task suited to the particular
purposes of God. The ancient Israelites were conquered and carried off
into Babylon – and Nebuchadnezzar was appointed that task.
noted above, true authority matches the responsibility given it. If the
fireman roars down the street, shoving all out of the way, only to pick up his
pizza while it is hot, we complain to the fire commission. If he roars to the
rescue of a heart attack victim, we praise him for it. Therefore, the first principle
for those in authority is to neither exceed their authority, nor fail to
perform all their responsibilities.
note what Paul tells us: those in authority also exist as agents of God. At
the least this implies that they should conduct themselves with the rectitude
an agent of God. Seem strange? Just how do you feel when yet another public
official is found to have taken a trip to Tahiti to study tropical water
forefathers had it right: they are supposed to be public servants. When this
attitude wanes, all sorts of evil comes in.
Duty to a “good” government
might next ask, then, just what does the Christian owe the government? We will
start with the “good” government – not perfect, just good. A government whose
attitude towards the church is favorable, one which is doing its best to
fulfill its duties, should be supported by the Christian.
take this in two easy steps:
against God is sin.
rebellion against God’s agents is a) sin or b) virtue?
you listen to our culture, the answer is c): cool. God created authority;
Satan twisted it by rebellion. So why do you have Che Guevara on your t-shirt?
classic statement of the Christian’s duties is summed up in Christ’s, “render
We may summarize the normal Christian’s duties, to most governments of most
times, as follows:
the sword.” Remember that the police powers of the state are there for
your benefit, and be obedient to the law.
honor and respect to your leaders, such as custom and law demand.
for your leaders.
do this not because they are so worthy, but for the sake of the Lord, as Peter
yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether
to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to
punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's
will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as
servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of
believers, fear God, honor the king.
(1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV)
see the point? The rulers – and the rest of the citizenry – ought to see the
Christian as one who is a blessing, not a troublemaker; righteous, not evil.
in a democracy
must, I think, take some consideration of the fact that we live in a
democracy. This imposes upon us particular duties by virtue of our form of
is the ordinary participation of the citizen. Vote; run for office if the
Spirit so wills; show up at the city council meeting.
remember that “Republican” does not mean the same thing as “Christian.”
In either direction.
form of government, however, rests upon an assumption. We often think that one
of being a government of, by and for the people. That’s not it. The assumption
is that the king is not above the law. That doctrine – the core of the Magna
Carta and the Declaration of Independence – is critical to the survival of
democracy. We are “one nation, under God.” If the king is above the law, how
long can government by the people survive?
Duty to an “evil” government
should not come as a surprise to the student (but often does): evil
governments exist for God’s purposes as well. Think of these:
early church was persecuted by the government – and Christianity spread
oppressed the Israelites – and refined their remnant. It is in his court
that the prophet Daniel outlined the future.
Hitler killed six million Jews – and out of that came the nation of
Israel, so important in modern prophetic interpretation.
Chinese church now grows quickly in the spiritual vacuum left by Chairman
Mao, one of the bloodiest tyrants of all time.
allows no evil out of which he cannot make a greater good.
should the Christian do about living under an evil government?
the usual forms of respect and duty should be rendered – all but those
which cooperate with evil.
is likely enough that the Christian will suffer – and as so should suffer
for Christ. How so? Your conscience is not suspended by government
if it comes to it: the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.
what’s important here?
helps to keep our eyes on what we are doing. I might point out three things
that the Christian should see as most important in the struggle against an evil
remember that you are a servant, just as Christ was a servant. You serve
a servant king; indeed, a suffering servant. If suffering and death came
to Christ, why are you unwilling to imitate your Lord and Master?
governments are temporary. The oldest government on the planet dates back
only to the 17th century. In these things God is always in
control; his purposes will be fulfilled. To be downhearted in the
struggle is to deny the sovereignty of God.
that you are commanded to spread the Gospel. You may have to do this from
inside prison walls – but prisoners need Jesus too. You may have to flee
– and bring the Gospel to new places. You may have to suffer or die – to
be an example of the faith to others.
remember that the Christian does not overcome evil with evil, but
overcomes evil with good. The battle belongs to the Lord.