Truth Between Extremes of Error: Relation to Government

Ralph D. Gentry
Dayton, Ohio

The Problem

The Christian while in the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13), and subject to Christ's authority (Matt. 28: 18; Eph. 1:22,23), is still a citizen of an earthly kingdom and in obedience to human government (Rom. 13: 1ff.) A possible conflict of authority is recognized, in which event God is supreme (Acts 5:29). The problem is in establishing in which act God's word is violated and disobedience to earthly powers becomes necessary. Out of the controversy arises two extremes of error with the truth in between.

Other Extreme

It is alleged that whatever earthly governments 3,re authorized of God to do, it is scriptural for a Christian to participate in as a loyal citizen in obedience to God's command to "be subject unto the higher powers" (Rom. 13:1). Assuming that God has authorized the government to render capital punishment and engage in carnal warfare, it is believed the Christian may take up arms and kill his fellowman both as Christian and a patriotic citizen.

In consequence, such a contention would allow no distinction between duties belonging to the civil government and the Christian, i.e., whatever God commands of civil government, He also commands of the Christian as a necessary part of the Christian life, should the government demand said service.

But God has not commanded the Christian to engage in whatever He permits civil powers to do. In fact, the scripture teaches the very opposite. Christians are forbidden to take vengeance, whereas, the government is God's minister to do it for them (Rom. 12:19-21; Rom. 13:4). In these passages is a contrast between what the Christian and the civil government are authorized to do. No mention is made of what the Christian as a member of the civil government is to do. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that this passage deals with obedience to a Roman dictatorship engaged in aggressive and oppressive designs. Will anyone be so bold as to assert such activity is within the scope of a God ordained government's authorized sphere? If such designs were not ordained of God, this passage does not teach unrestricted allegiance to civil government. If obedience to civil government is not restricted man's law is supreme over God's law. If it is restricted, these extremists are obligated to show at what point one must refuse to obey. And what could be worse than taking the life of a fellowman, yea, even a brother in Christ?

Those who place more emphasis upon American patriotism than upon heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20) tell us, "All are cowards who will let others fight their battles for them" and "We should love our families and our country enough to fight for them and it."

Such arguments, significantly, are without scripture and are only such as appeal to the emotions, serving purpose but to salve the conciences of those determined to take the easy and cowardly way out to escape persecution on the home front. The truly courageous are those daring to do right despite the outcome.

We are told that should the Christian help in any fashion to manufacture the weapons, he is just as guilty as the soldier pulling the trigger. Supposing this to be true, it would prove nothing other than the inconsistency of conscientious objectors. But is it true? No. Jesus paid taxes to Caesar (Matt. 17:24-27), without endorsing all for which the revenues were spent in such an iniquitous government. Are those working on a sugar plantation in the liquor industry also?

One Extreme

Others insist the Christian as a citizen of a spiritual kingdom must be so separate from governmental affairs se as to not hold any public office, whatever its function, and/or must not vote in any public election even to the end that men of integrity might be selected. Of course such persons could not consistently pray for those "in authority" and at the same time refuse to cooperate toward the accomplishment of good government in a democracy such as we have in the United States.

Some religious groups have attempted to set up their own civil legislative courts as well as ecclesiastical powers. They have considered themselves as outside of any earthly control. In fact, the Catholic church has attempted to reign over civil governments as supreme authority in all matters. "The celebrated Constitution 'Unam Sanctum' teaches that 'both swords', the spiritual and the material, are in the power of the Church, but the latter is to be wielded for the Church, the former by the Church; one by the hand of the priest, the other by the hand of kings and magistrates, but at the pleasure and sufferance of the priest. One sword must be under the other; and the temporal authority must be subject to the spiritual power..." (Catholic Dictionary, 1909, page 280).

It seems likely that some in the early church were bordering upon this extreme. The nature and character of the Roman government under which the Christian lived at that time was extremely wicked and in violent opposition to Christianity. Naturally, the question would arise as to whether Christians owed allegiance of any kind to such higher powers. Apparently some Christians, as free men in Christ, assumed the right of insurrection if need be, in their new found independence. Then too, the kingdom of Christ was represented by its enemies as a hostile movement within the province of Roman conquered territory. Hence, the early church was exhorted to answer these false charges and persecutions by exhibiting the pure and peaceful nature of Christianity in their lives (Gal. 5:13; I Pet. 2:14-16; Tit. 3:1, 2 I Pet 3:8-16), even to the extent of suffering wrongfully.

Truth Between

The Christian owes allegiance to both God and government (Matt. 22:21). This service is compatible when and only when governments do not demand activities of the Christian which are in violation of God's word. In which case the Christian has no choice but to obey God (Acts 4:19-20). One, as a citizen of the country, cannot do what one is forbidden to do as a Christian.

For example: A Christian could not as an agent of the civil government, punish other

Christians for the practice of conscientiously refusing to participate in carnal warfare. Aside from the fact the Christian is forbidden such judicial violence toward his brother in Christ, God has not taught the persecution of Christians as an authorized governmental activity.

The limits of our obedience to the civil government are understood by the nature of Christianity itself (Luke 9:55, 56). The attitude and action which Christians are to maintain toward their brethren, friends and enemies forbids participation in capital punishment and combat service in carnal warfare (See: Matt. 28:19; 5:38ff; 7:12; Heb. 13:1; Rom. 2:18-21).

We are to be loyal citizens in obedience to all laws not contrary to God's law. The kind of obedience enjoined is given: "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready unto every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men" (Titus 3:1, 2; I Pet. 2: 13-24).

Truth Magazine VII: 7, pp. 15-16
April 1963