by Mike Ratliff
17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17 NASB)
There is a false belief in much of 21st Century Christianity that grew out of the late 20th Century push to merge Fundamentalism with Conservative politics. That false belief is that the U.S. Government is somehow supposed to be Christian and should govern this country within that framework. Is this the role that God gave government? What about the Christian’s role in politics? Should Christians labor and give large sums of money for political purposes or should those resources and effort be used for God’s Kingdom instead? Martin Luther was often caught in the middle between Kings, Emperors, Popes, and what he believed God willed for him to do. How did he handle this?
The secular government doesn’t extend any further than external and physical matters. God can tolerate secular government because it doesn’t concern itself with sin, good works, or spiritual matters. Instead, it handles other matters, such as guarding cities, building bridges, collecting tolls and taxes, providing protection, defending the land and the people, and punishing criminals. So Christians should obey government officials as long as these officials don’t command them to do something against their consciences. Christians obey without having to be forced because they’re free in all matters.
If an emperor or prince were to ask me about my faith, I surely would tell him, not because of his governmental authority, but because I should confess my faith publicly. If, however, he ordered me to believe this or that, I would say, “Sir, take care of the secular government. You have no authority intruding on God’s kingdom. I will not obey you. You cannot tolerate anyone intruding on your domain. If someone oversteps their boundary without your permission, you shoot them. Do you think that God should tolerate your desire to push him off his throne and seat yourself in his place?”
Peter calls the secular government merely a human institution. It has no power to interfere with the way God has arranged the world. It has no power to give orders about faith. – Martin Luther
I think we must ask ourselves for what Kingdom are we laboring. As Christians, we should be primarily concerned with the Kingdom of God. Yes, we must obey the government under which God has placed us. However, that obedience is subject to our fealty to God. On the other hand, as Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-7:
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7 NASB)
I have watched with much interest as many professing Christians became outraged at the St. Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to not indict a Ferguson, Missouri policeman who shot and killed a young man who had just robbed a convenience store and resisted arrest and even tried to steal that officer’s gun by forcing his way into the officer’s car. The outrage is all based on two things, compassion for the parents and family for the young man who was killed which I do understand and a total misunderstanding of the rule of law and how “probable cause” works in cases like this. Also, most of those who are demanding “justice” and making threats of “no peace without justice” had better be careful. I doubt if they would really appreciate justice if it came their way. What people need from God is grace not justice.
Also, as Paul so eloquently tells us in Romans 13:1-7, if you don’t want the blunt force justice of the law to come your way you do what? Do you defy it? No, you fear it because it does not bear the sword for nothing. I was once reprimanded by the author of a book who was advocating revolution in these United States. I told him that if he continued doing what he was doing he would be leading his dimwitted followers into a bloodbath. His reprimand consisted of him saying that I was actually advocating the policy of “might makes right.” That is not what I said, I quoted Paul from Romans 13:1-7. Who has given governments the power to do what they do?
Now, what we have to do is take what Paul and Peter said and combine it with what Martin Luther said. We obey the authorities over us because God put them over us, but not when those authorities trespass into God’s purview. Our faith is off limits to them. Therefore, you professing Christians advocating violence and revolution against your government, I will not be part of it unless they demand I deny Christ as my Saviour and worship another “god.” Until then, we pray for righteous men to be elected into office.
Soli Deo Gloria!