The Christian and Civil Government (I)
The recent wave of rioting which has swept some of America's major cities, and which seems to worsen every summer, should cause every child of God to restudy what the Lord said about the Christian's relationship to government. It is not likely that faithful children of God are participating in t h e riots, looting and killing which we h a v e seen. Yet, for the sake of the righteous, and through their godly influence, there is hope that our nation can be spared. Jesus likened his disciples to light, salt and leaven. (Matt. 5:13-16; 13:33). All of these figures suggest influence.
Civil Government Is Ordained of God
"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" (Rom. 13:1-2). It is impossible for human beings to dwell together in society without some kind of rule or law. Paul argues that God ordained rulers and says that when we resist rule, law or order which God ordained, that we thereby resist God. Let men say what they will about riots, looting and killing being caused by poverty, slums, unemployment or lack of education, the simple fact remains that such conduct is caused basically by a lack of respect for the law of God.
Paul does not argue that God ordained a certain form of civil government. The cause of Christ has existed and flourished under various forms of government. The church was established under the rule of imperial Rome. Some of the rulers ignored the church, some tolerated it and others openly persecuted it. Paul deals with the institution of government itself and points out the obligation of Christians under whatever form of government they chance to be, to be subject to rule or order.
There are two primary functions of government as ordained of God:
(1) To promote good and protect the well doer. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same" (Rom. 13:3). "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Pet. 2:13-14).
(2) To punish the evil doer. ". . . for the punishment of evildoers" (I Pet. 2:14). "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" (Rom. 13:4).
Any government which does not operate to bring about these two effects fails in its God ordained purpose. When these objects are not pursued the eventual result is anarchy. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." "There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength" (Psa. 33:12, 16-17). "Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov. 14:34). "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a. kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them" (Jer. 18:7-10).
These passages make it clear that God moves behind the scenes in the affairs of nations. When a nation forgets the law of God it will perish and the multitude of a host cannot save it. As you view the scene in our land, how does this strike you as to the promise for our future as a nation? When a nation reaches the point that law-abiding citizens are not safe, when policemen, National Guard and federal troops are ordered not to shoot and allow such criminal action as we have seen in the streets of our cities recently, then God's purpose in ordaining civil government is being set aside.
When laws are made with more concern for the "rights" of the criminal element than for the well being of decent people who fall victim to crime, then rulers are failing in their purpose. Rom. 13:4 speaks of "bearing the sword" and says that the rulers bear it "not in vain." That means they have a right to exercise force, to the taking of life if that is necessary, to deter the wrong doer. In 1966 there was one criminal executed in this country. Thirteen states have abolished capital punishment and others are considering doing so. Yet, the crime rate rises frightfully. Unless vengeance is executed speedily against those who take human life at will, then lawlessness will continue to mount. I read recently where some sociologist said that "we have learned that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime." I wonder upon what figures he based his conclusion since it has been years since much of it was practiced, and these have been the very years when crime has increased more than ever before.
Some have exposed their ignorance of the word of God by arguing that the Bible teaches against capital punishment. Paul said rulers bear not the sword in vain and further said of the civil power "he is a minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Our president said "we are not going to have this lawlessness." Well, we have been having it and it gets worse instead of better. I may not know all the "ins and outs" of government, but I know one thing. The riots, tooting and killing can be stopped when the "powers that be" decide to do what God Almighty gives them a right to do and that is to bear the sword with such precision and persistence that the lawbreakers will decide it is not quite "kosher" to burn, steal and kill. Let them instruct the police or the guard to mow down in the streets people caught burning and looting, and I will tell you it would not take much of that to cause some to think twice before they act as some have been doing. Any nation that does not enforce law and order fails in one of its God-ordained functions. A nation which passes laws which tend to favor the criminal element, and which permit and even encourages lawlessness in committing suicide.
One later article will deal with what the Christian owes his government.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 3, pp. 10-12