The Christian faith is not opposed to civil authority. For example, Scripture calls followers of Jesus to respect authority, pray for leaders in positions of authority, and live peaceful lives for the benefit of society. In fact, it is a proper interpretation of the fifth commandment to include obedience to those in authority over us. Martin Luther understood this when he gave instructions on the fifth commandment and civil government. Here’s a summary of what he said in light of that commandment and Romans 13:
[We owe the government] first, the payment of taxes, namely that each shall give the authorities such money and labor as is required of him.
Second, respect, that is, that we have sincere respect for government….
The third duty we owe government is honor. …This means, first, that we recognize that government is from God and that through it he gives us much greater benefits. For if God did not maintain government and justice in the world, the devil, who is a murderer, would everywhere bring about murder, so that none of us could be sure of life, wife, or children.
But God sustains government and through it gives peace and punishes and guards against the wicked, so that we may support wife and children, bring up children in the discipline and knowledge of God, have security in our homes and on the streets, that each may help the other, and communicate and live with another. Such gifts are altogether of heaven, and God desires that we consider and recognize them as gifts of God. He desires us to honor government as a servant of his and to show gratitude to it because through it God gives us such great benefits. …If you knew that someone had saved your child from death, you would thank him warmly. Why then are you not grateful to the government which saves you, your children, your wife, daily from murder? If the government did not restrain the wicked, when could we be secure?
Luther goes on to note how we should pray for the government. He also writes that it is true that some people abuse the ordinance of government, but government itself is not a bad thing since God instituted it. It’s similar to marriage: sometimes marriage is abused by the wicked, but marriage itself is not wicked since it is an ordinace of God.
I appreciate Luther’s perspective on government. It is true that no country is perfect. There are sinful people in every government and every government rules over sinful people – that’s not a good mix!! But when a government maintains even relative justice and relative peace in the land, we can thank God for that. It’s a common grace blessing. Here in the United States there are many aspects of our government’s policies and laws that I disagree with, but I’m very glad that my family can sleep safely every night. I’m also glad that I almost never have to worry about violent crime. Reminder to self: Thank God more often for the protection and safety our government provides!
[Of course, there are governments that are so crooked that people are constantly worried about violent crime. I don’t have time and space to expand upon that here and now, but Luther does talk about that as well in this context. You’ll have to find it on your own or perhaps I’ll come back to the topic later.]
The above quote is found in volume 40 of Luther’s Works, page 281-284.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015