The Christian's Response to an Encroaching State (Part I)
Written by David Silversides
PDF Print E-mail
Reformed Worldviews - Government

This may seem a rather dry subject, but for the Christian all that pertains to the honour and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ is important. In all things He must have the pre-eminence and therefore, if that means delving into what is going on in our ungodly and apostate nation, then so it must be.

Most of us will have heard the question asked, ‘What are they going to do about it?’ In most cases, we instinctively know who ‘they’ are – the Government, either national or local. This kind of statement is commonplace because there is a vast range of problems that are seen as the responsibility of the State, or civil government, to resolve. But the ‘nanny State’ comes at a price and that price is freedom. In particular, an ungodly nanny State will encroach upon the liberties of the people of God. Because the people of God have a supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, they have fixed Biblical principles and therefore cannot or should not bend those principles to fit in with the demands of an ungodly government. Moreover, the bigger the role that Government assumes, the greater the likelihood and number of occasions where what is required by the civil power and what Christ requires of His people will come into conflict.

We must also face the fact that there is a widespread sense of dependence on the State that is encouraged by a process of high and very complex taxation and the subsequent handing out of a vast range of benefits. In other words, tax high and then make as many people as possible feel that they are getting something from the Government by handing some of their taxes back to them. This is an oversimplification, but surely not that much of an exaggeration. With all this money swirling around, we must go back to the first principles of the Word of God.

The Biblical View of the State

Firstly: all authority amongst men begins with God and His Christ

All authority exercised by one human being over another is either God-given or it is usurped. It either comes from God and is legitimate or it does not come from God and proceeds from the arrogance and pride of men. A Christian cannot believe in unlimited government, not in the family, not in the church and not in the State. Since all authority has been given to our Lord Jesus Christ, then it is the duty of kings and rulers to acknowledge His authority over them. Psalm 2:10-12 tells rulers to ‘kiss the Son’ and to honour Him and acknowledge Him as King over them as Samuel did when he kissed Saul at his anointing (1 Sam.10:1).

This is not merely speaking about kings and rulers in their personal lives; it is speaking of them in their capacity as civil rulers. The earlier verses of that Psalm are quoted in the book of Acts 4:25-28, ‘Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou has anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done’. These verses of Psalm 2 are applied to Herod and Pontius Pilate, not simply as individuals, but as civil rulers who used their public position in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ. When we come to the later part of the Psalm, therefore, which tells rulers to kiss the Son and the judges of the earth to be wise and to serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling, it is addressing rulers, not simply in their personal lives but in their exercise of civil power, to bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the duty of rulers to trust Christ personally, certainly; to repent and believe on Him. But it is also their duty, in their public capacity, to submit to Jesus Christ and to openly acknowledge Him as the Prince of the kings of the earth. No activity and, especially, no exercise of authority can legitimately be engaged in without submission to Christ as King of kings, the blessed and only Potentate.

Secondly: the principal duty of rulers is the punishment of evil-doers

We read in Romans 12:19 – 13:4, ‘Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord … Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God:  the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation…For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil’. The fundamental principle here is that vengeance belongs to the Lord and this one principle, which outlaws private revenge, also requires the civil ruler, as

God’s minister to whom a limited power is given, to execute vengeance upon them that do evil. God has not committed the execution of vengeance to private individuals, but he has delegated a limited expression of His own intolerance of sin to civil rulers.

The duty of submission to civil rulers arises from their divinely delegated authority, as it does also for heads of families and the church’s eldership within their respective spheres. The delegation of limited authority to men is always the basis of the requirement of submission. Children are to obey their parents, and wives are to obey their husbands, because God has given a limited authority to husbands and to parents (Eph.5:22 & 6:1-3). Church members are to submit to the elders of the church for the same reason, that Christ the King has given a limited authority to the eldership of the church (Hebrews 13:17). This duty of submission, in all cases, does not extend to complying with requirements to do what is sinful (Acts 4:19 & 5:29). The Lord never gives either unlimited or arbitrary authority to anyone. At no point, even in governing a nation, is any part of the life of man to be lived independently of submission to the Word of God.

Thirdly: the ruler is to punish evil as defined by God

This follows from the above. He is an avenger of ‘evil’ (Rom.13:4). Who but God can define evil? There is no definition of evil that has any validity apart from God. Richard Dawkins may talk about right and wrong, good and bad, but it has no meaning. The atheist has no right to even talk about right and wrong. There is no such thing if there is no Lawgiver in Heaven whose authority is over all. Evil must be defined by God. And it is the public expression of sin (declared in Scripture to be the transgression of God’s law), which defines the evil that the civil ruler ought to punish. This extends to both tables of the Law of God. The idea that the civil power only has to do with the second table of the Law and that the first four commandments, even in the public domain, are only a matter for the private individual has no Biblical foundation. Public transgression of any of the Ten Commandments is the proper domain of punishment by the civil power.

The idea of total religious freedom, in which civil rulers only take account of the second table of the Law, is quite impossible to put into practice. The Mormon polygamist is a polygamist because he is a Mormon. The public Sabbath-breaker sins not only directly against God, but also against his neighbour as he vexes the godly and encourages the ungodly in their wickedness until they are ruined. So the idea that you can separate off the second table of the Law, and that the State will only deal with that, is impossible to implement as well as unscriptural.

Fourthly: if the state has other functions, it must be shown biblically to be within the authority given to rulers by God

If we want the state to do more things than punish sin, we must show in some way that the Bible says that they have the authority for that function from the Lord. Government of a nation should mean, first and foremost, punishing Biblically defined evil and must be limited by God’s Word.

Continued here.

Rev. David Silversides is the pastor of Loughbrickland Reformed Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland, UK.  This article was printed in the Free Church of Scotland's "Free Church Witness" and is republished here with permission.