Monday, July 12, 2004

Is Government Ordained by God?

A number of critics of my essay over at Dave Black's site asked me to defend my statement that government is ordained by God. Well, the best place to begin a discussion of civil authority is Paul's letter to the church at Rome. In chapter 12, Paul laid down a principle that individual citizens were not to exact vengeance: "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." Is Paul saying that all punishment must wait until the day of judgment? Of course not. God has established and ordained a ministry of vengeance, the civil government.

Paul next penned these words in Romans 13:
1Everyone 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. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For 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. 4For 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.

Paul speaks of our submission to "powers." He is not limiting his discussion to the Roman State, but is speaking of a plurality of powers that rule. In other words, there is no single human institution that can claim final authority. There are, however, multiple authorities that must be respected.

In verse 2, Paul condemns in very harsh terms those who rebel against legitimately constituted authority, saying that rebellion against them is rebellion against God.

In verse three, he makes the transition to civil government particularly. Strange as it may seem, he indicates that rulers are a threat to Satan and that their very existence points to a hierarchy of power and responsibility, a structure created by God to advance His purpose in restraining evil.

Paul calls the civil authority a "servant" of God. He is a minister of justice, bearing the sword, but a minister ordained by God nonetheless. He has a different function than the minister of the Gospel, but the importance of the role cannot, I think, be denied from the text.

"Christian anarchists" are certainly free to disagree with this reading of the text, but to do so puts them at odds with, among the others, the authors of:

1) The Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession of 1689:
Chapter 24: Of the Civil Magistrate
1._____ God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good; and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers. ( Romans 13:1-4 )

2)The Augsburg Confession
Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage. They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians. They condemn also those who do not place evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, for the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. Meanwhile, it does not destroy the State or the family, but very much requires that they be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5, 29.

3)Belgic Confession
We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, has appointed kings, princes and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose he has invested the magistracy with the sword, for the punishment of evildoers, and for the protection of them that do well. And their office is, not only to have regard unto, and watch for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred ministry; and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must therefore countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honoured and worshipped by every one, as he commands in his Word. Moreover, it is the bounden duty of every one, of what state, quality, or condition soever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to pay tribute, to show due honour and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers, that God may rule and guide them in all their ways, and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order, which God has established among men.

4) Missouri Lutheran Synod
Although both Church and State are ordinances of God, yet they must not be commingled. Church and State have entirely different aims. By the Church, God would save men, for which reason the Church is called the "mother" of believers Gal. 4:26. By the State, God would maintain external order among men, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty," 1 Tim. 2:2. It follows that the means which the Church and State employ to gain their ends are entirely different. The Church may not employ any other means than the preaching of the Word of God, John 18:11, 36; 2 Cor. 10:4. The State, on the other hand, makes laws bearing on civil matters and is empowered to employ for their execution also the sword and other corporal punishments, Rom. 13:4


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