The Christian and Civil Government (II)
Connie W. Adams
In a previous article we showed what civil government owes to its citizens. It was designed by God for the protection and praise of those who do well and for the punishment of those who do evil, even to the use of force (bearing the sword) in the preserving of law and order. Now we address this article to the matter of what a Christian owes the government of which he is a part. God intended for all men to be subject to the "rulers" under which they live, but a Christian does all things in the name of Christ (Col. 3:17) and therefore looks to the scriptures to learn just exactly what his obligation is in any relationship.
The Christian's Duty to Government
1. Submission to law and order is required. "Let every soul be subject- unto the higher powers . . . . Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resistesth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Rom. 13:1-2). Peter said "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king,, as supreme; or unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloche of maliciousness, but as the servants of God" (I Pet. 2:13-16).
Several things are clear from this passage: (1) submission is required whether to the supreme ruler of state, or lesser powers authorized by him. (2) This is not just to please man, but "so is the will of God." I ought not to obey the law just because a policeman is standing on the corner, or have to slow down because I overtake a vehicle with two-tone paint and a light on top. The law should be obeyed because this is the will of God. (3) Christians living within the law, doing good, serve as a good example to others, and put to silence any who might object that the cause of Christ is contrary to law. (4) Freedom in Christ does not justify any Christian taking law into his own hands. No man under the guise of maintaining his liberty has the right to become a law unto himself.
In the light of the foregoing, no Christian has any business becoming a party to any reactionary movement bent on taking the law into its hands, whether that movement would take the form of a civil rights protest organization or a vigilante group like the Ku Klux Klan. Defiance of law, whether it is violent or non-violent, is wrong. For men to hood themselves and seek to execute punishment in the place of legal processes is clearly wrong, I know of some brethren who have become a party to such. Rioting, burning, looting and killing are wrong. They are lawless, but so are any other actions which defy law or seek to take over the place of the "powers that be."
When we say that Christians ought to be subject to civil law, it is to be understood that this must always be considered in the light of divine law. Should the rulers of any nation ever prohibit Christians to discharge their God-given duties, and then submission to such a law would place one in conflict with God's appointment. Acts 4:13-21, 29 gives an account of Peter and John being forbidden by the Jewish council to preach anymore in the name of Jesus. They continued to preach and said "we must obey God rather than man." Wives are taught to be obedient to their husbands, but it is understood that this is within the sphere of right action. Servants are taught to obey their masters, but again, in harmony with divine truth. Even though a law might be considered oppressive, or in our opinion unjust from a human standpoint, yet I am to keep it unless by keeping, it I should violate a clearly expressed mandate of God.
Notice that this relationship we are discussing concerns the duty of a Christian to his own government. Rom. 13 and I Pet. 2 are not dealing with international wars, but rather with the obligation of a government to its citizens and vice versa. I see a difference in civil government bearing the sword for the punishment of those who violate her own laws, and an international situation in which men are schooled in the philosophy of hate and the techniques of war. Such circumstances could conceivably pit Christian against Christian on the battlefield, for the Christian in one nation is just as bound to obey the law of that land as a Christian in our nation is bound to obey his law. Under such a condition Christians could kill each other on the battlefield while both of them are obeying the powers that be.
Jesus said "a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand" (Matt. 12:25-26). While it is true that he applied this saying to the kingdom of Satan, he yet expressed a truism applicable to any kingdom. This not only extends to the battlefield where weapons of destruction are employed, but to the field of espionage which is stock in trade in wartime especially. Can a Christian, under guise of obeying the powers that be, engage in deceit, adultery, to say nothing of murder and mayhem, all of which are at times part and parcel of such activities? Such action is, at least to this writer, contrary to the demands of the gospel of Christ. I realize that this is an area in which Christians have differed through the years without dividing. I suppose the reason for that is that this is a matter which must be settled in the individual conscience.
But with this notable exception (violating divine law), every Christian is to be subject to law and order.
2. Taxes are to be paid to the powers to be. Paul said "for this cause pay ye tribute also" (Rom. 13:6). Jesus said "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Matt. 22:21). We may not always approve of the use made of tax money, but it is right for government to require citizens to pay taxes for the support of public projects. Every Christian should report honestly in this matter and do what he is required to do.
3. We are to honor rulers. They are "ordained of God," constitute a "minister of God to thee for good" and is not a "terror to good works" (Rom. 13:1-4). Paul further said "honor to whom honor" (Rom. 13:7). Peter said "honor the king" (I Pet. 2:17). I may not agree with the Senator from my district, or the state Governor, or the President of the nation, but I must respect the office they hold and recognize the right of civil power to exist and function. I heard members of the church say things when President Kennedy was assassinated which sounded like they were glad. I found such conversation very strange indeed. Rulers, whether we agree with their policies or not, have a tremendous job to perform. They make errors, some more than others. But they are to be honored because of the place they hold.
4. We are to pray for rulers. Paul wrote "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:1-4). Modern technology has brought nations within quick and easy reach of each other. There are conflicting one another in ideologies which clash with first one trouble spot after another. Civil unrest and disturbance breaks out in every nation at one time or another. Weighty decisions must be reached which touch the lives and often upset the plans of multitudes of people. These decisions at times affect the spreading of the gospel as doors are either opened, closed or obstructed. Whether or not you agree with the politics of any man in a ruling position, whether on a city, county, state or national level, remember to pray for him. The word of God so teaches.
There is much power in the prayers of that God's people. Paul said we are to pray to the end we might lead quiet and peaceable lives in honesty and godliness. The highest ambition of a Christian should be to go about his service to God unhindered. This will further result in the saving of the lost, as men, under these ideal conditions can best "come unto the knowledge of the truth."
In such troubled times as these, let Christians keep cool heads, pure hearts, and let them obey the law. Forget not to pray for rulers. Who knows but that by the godly influence of a sufficient number of Gods people our nation might yet be spared for a season. Remember that God would have spared Sodom for the sake of ten righteous souls. Our gravest danger as a nation is that the salt of God's people will lose its savor. When that happens, nothing can arrest the ultimate destruction which comes from corrupted morals, perverted justice, and tolerated lawlessness in the streets.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 4, pp. 11-13