Subjection to the Governing Authorities

 Romans 13 was one of those parts of Scripture that were formative for me in my later teenage years.  I had to think about it quite a bit since I served in the U.S. Army (Reserves).  And it’s still a text that I think about quite a bit since submitting to the civil government is part of God’s good and acceptable will for us (Rom 12:2). Speaking of being “subject to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1 NIV), here are some reflections on that theme from various helpful commentaries.

Chrysostom (d. 407 AD) wrote this – and I appreciate how he said that a Christian’s submission to the governing authorities will “stop the mouths of those that malign us”:

For lest the believers should say, You are making us very cheap and despicable, when you put us, who are to enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven, under subjection to rulers, he shows that it is not to rulers, but to God again that he makes them subject in doing this. For it is to Him, that he who subjects himself to authorities is obedient. Yet he does not say this—for instance that it is God to Whom a man who listens to authorities is obedient—but he uses the opposite case to awe them, and gives it a more precise form by saying, that he who listeneth not thereto is fighting with God, Who framed these laws.

…When then you show our common Master giving this in charge to all His, you will at once stop the mouths of those that malign us as revolutionists, and with great boldness will speak for the doctrines of truth. Be not then ashamed, he says, at such subjection.

 John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans,  (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 512.

John Stott mentions cooperation rather than subversion:

That church and state have different roles, and that Christians have duties to both God and the state was clearly implied in Jesus’ enigmatic epigram, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ Now Paul enlarges on the state’s God-appointed role and on the role of Christian people in relation to it, although his emphasis is on personal citizenship rather than on any particular theory of church—state relations. What he writes is specially remarkable when we recall that at that time there were no Christian authorities (global, regional or local). On the contrary, they were Roman or Jewish, and were therefore largely unfriendly and even hostile to the church. Yet Paul regarded them as having been established by God, who required Christians to submit to them and cooperate with them.

…The state is a divine institution with divine authority. Christians are not anarchists or subversives.

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 339–340.

Here’s F.F. Bruce, who also notes the role of conscience that Paul mentions in Rom. 13:5:

Christians of all people, then, ought to obey the laws, pay their taxes and respect the authorities—not because it will be the worse for them if they do not, but because this is one way of serving God.

The Christian has a higher motive for obeying the ruler than the unpleasantness of the consequences of disobedience; the Christian knows that such obedience is in accordance with God’s will, and by rendering it will preserve a good conscience in relation to God.

 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 237.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

We Honor the Governing Authorities (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.) The apostle Peter tells Christians that we must “honor” and “submit to” governing authorities like kings, presidents, governors, and other similar rulers (1 Pet. 2:13-14, 17).  Peter doesn’t say we should honor and submit to some governing authorities, but to all of them (1 Peter 2:13a).  One thing this means is that Christians should be law-abiding citizens.  It also means we should not slander those in authority, call them names, disrespect and rant about them on social media, or dishonor them in other ways (even if everyone else is doing it!).  In fact, Jesus’ call to love our neighbors includes those who rule over us.

Peter wrote those words about governing authorities when Nero was the head of the Roman state.  Therefore, we can’t say that Peter would’ve used other words if the government of his day was anti-Christian.  This is one reason why the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them” (WCF 23.4).  Here’s how Calvin said it in his comments on 1 Peter 2:13-14:

It may, however, be objected here and said, that kings and magistrates often abuse their power, and exercise tyrannical cruelty rather than justice. Such were almost all the magistrates, when this Epistle was written. To this I answer, that tyrants and those like them, do not produce such effects by their abuse, but that the ordinance of God ever remains in force, as the institution of marriage is not subverted though the wife and the husband were to act in a way not becoming them. However, therefore, men may go astray, yet the end fixed by God cannot be changed.

Were any one again to object and say, that we ought not to obey princes who, as far as they can, pervert the holy ordinance of God, and thus become savage wild beasts, while magistrates ought to bear the image of God. My reply is this, that government established by God ought to be so highly valued by us, as to honor even tyrants when in power. There is yet another reply still more evident — that there has never been a tyranny, (nor can one be imagined,) however cruel and unbridled, in which some portion of equity has not appeared; and further, some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy.

 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 82–83.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christians: Rebels Deserving Death (Schaeffer)

 Although I have read several books by Francis Schaeffer, I haven’t read one of his more popular ones called How Should We Then Live?  I’m around the halfway point and so far I’m enjoying it.  Right near the beginning, Schaeffer talked about Roman persecution of Christians in the early centuries of the church.  I like how he explained it; there are lessons here for Christians today!

“Rome was cruel, and its cruelty can perhaps be best pictured by the events which took place in the arena in Rome itself.  People seated above the arena floor watched gladiator contests and Christians thrown to the beasts.  Let us not forget why the Christians were killed.  They were not killed because they worshiped Jesus.  Various religions covered the whole Roman world.  One such was the cult of Mithras, a popular Persian form of Zoroastrianism which had reached Rome by 67 B.C.  Nobody cared who worshiped whom so long as the worshiper did not disrupt the unity of the state, centered in the formal worship of Caesar.  The reason the Christians were killed was because they were rebels.  This was especially so after their growing rejection by the Jewish synagogues lost for them the immunity granted to the Jews since Julius Caesar’s time.”

“We may express the nature of their rebellion in two ways, both of which are true.  First, we can say they worshiped Jesus as God and they worshiped the infinite-personal God only.  The Caesars would not tolerate this worshiping of the one God only.  It was counted as treason.  Thus their worship became a special threat to the unity of the state during the third century and during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), when people of the higher classes began to become Christians in larger numbers.  If they had worshiped Jesus and Caesar, they would have gone unharmed, but they rejected all forms of syncretism.  They worshiped the God who had revealed himself in the Old Testament, through Christ, and in the New Testament which had gradually been written.  And they worshiped him as the only God.  They allowed no mixture: All other gods were seen as false gods.”

“We can also express in a second way why the Christians were killed: No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions.  The Christians had that absolute in God’s revelation.  Because the Christians had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge not only personal morals but the state, they were counted as enemies of totalitarian Rome and were thrown to beasts.”

Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? p.25-6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

On Honoring Caesar (Tertullian)

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts       Tertullian’s (145-220 AD) Apology is an outstanding early defense of Christianity.  I’ve written on Tertullian before, but here and now I want to highlight a section (chap. 31-34) where Tertullian said that Christians neither hated Caesar nor dishonored him.  Rather, they prayed for him and gave him high honor, as the Scriptures commanded.

“[Do you think that we care nothing for the welfare of Caesar?] …Most clearly the Scripture says, ‘Pray for kings, and rulers, and powers, that all may be peace with you.’ …We respect in the emperors the ordinance of God, who has set them over the nations.”

“…Why dwell longer on the reverence and sacred respect of Christians to the emperor, whom we cannot but look up to as called by our Lord to his office?  So that on valid grounds I might say Caesar is more ours than yours, for  our God has appointed him.  Therefore, as having this propriety in him, I do more than you for his welfare, not merely because I ask it of Him who can give it…but also because, in keeping the majesty of Caesar within due limits, and putting it under the Most High, and making it less than divine, I commend him the more to the favor of Deity, to whom I make him alone inferior.”

“But I place him [Caesar] in subjection to one I regard as more glorious than himself.  Never will I call the emperor God….  If he is but a man, it is his interest as man to give God his higher place.  Let him think it enough to bear the name of the emperor.  That, too, is a great name of God’s giving.  To call him God, is to rob him of his title.  If he is not a man, emperor he could not be.  Even when, amid the honors of triumph, he sits on that lofty chariot, he is reminded that he is only human.  A voice at his back keeps whispering in his ear, ‘Look behind thee; remember thou art but a man.'”

“I am willing to give the emperor this designation [lord], and when I am not forced to call him Lord as in God’s place.  …For I have but one true Lord, the God omnipotent and eternal, who is Lord of the emperor as well.”

In other words, though early Christians absolutely refused to call Caesar Lord (as in “Most High God”), they did call him lord (as in “Your Majesty”), they did pray for him, and they did show him honor.  They did not mock him, ridicule him, or make jokes about him – instead they showed him respect.  Therefore, Tertullian argued, rather than be charged with treason, Christians should have been commended for showing such great honor to Caesar.  Indeed, Christians from the past can teach us lessons for today.

(This is a re-post from June 2014)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Excluding Religion From Government and Politics?

I recently purchased Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible at a local thrift store for just a few bucks.  Since I’m a pastor, I always keep my political opinions away from the pulpit and usually keep them to myself even in private discussions.  However, I am somewhat interested in things closely related to politics (i.e. American history, ethics, and of course texts like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2), so this book captured my attention.  After briefly looking through it, I realize the title is quite inaccurate; I also know I’ll disagree with some of it (stay tuned for a longer review in the future).  But what I’ve read so far has been helpful.

Here are Grudem’s [edited and summarized] arguments against the modern idea that government should completely exclude religion from the public square – the idea that there should be a radical and definite church/state separation.  Why is this modern idea incorrect?

“a) It fails to distinguish the reasons for a law from the content of the law.  There were religious reasons behind many of our [American] laws [in the past], but these laws do not ‘establish’ a religion.  All major religions have teachings against stealing, but laws against stealing do not ‘establish a religion.’  All religions have laws against murder, but laws against murder do not ‘establish a religion.’

b) It overrides the will of the people.  [Here Grudem talks about a few court cases where a majority vote about an ethical matter was overruled by the Supreme Court (i.e. Colorado’s 1996 Romer v. Evans, Iowa’s 2009 Varnum v. Brien, and California’s Proposition 8).]  This kind of decision is the natural outcome of the ‘exclude religion from government’ view, and it simply overrides the will of the people in amending their state’s constitution.

c) It changes freedom of religion into freedom from religion.  From the perspective of American history, another reason that ‘exclude religion’ is a wrong viewpoint is that it twists the positive ideal of ‘freedom of religion’ to mean ‘freedom from all religious influence’ – which is something entirely different and something the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the US Constitution never intended.

d) It wrongly restricts freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  The First Amendment also excluded any law ‘prohibiting the free exercise’ of religion.  Therefore the First Amendment is directly opposed to the ‘exclude religion from government’ view, which actually seeks to prohibit Christians and Jews and many other religious backgrounds from exercising their religious freedom when arguing for an amendment to the Colorado constitution, or when arguing for a certain jury verdict, or when speaking or giving a prayer at a public event.  Their free exercise of religion is taken away from them.

e) It was never adopted by the American people.  The ‘exclude religion’ view was never adopted by the American people through any democratic process, but it is being imposed on our nation by the exercise of ‘raw judicial power’ by our courts, and especially by the Supreme Court.  This has been an increasing problem for the last several decades in America.”

f) [There are] biblical examples of God’s people giving counsel to rulers.  The Bible gives several examples of faithful believers who gave clear witness to government officials about how they should govern.  [For example, Daniel 4:27, Luke 3:19, Acts 24:25]  In addition, many Old Testament prophets spoke to foreign nations about their sins.

g) The spiritual basis for the ‘exclude religion’ view.  …The final goal of the ‘exclude religion’ view is to make government completely secular and then, by extension, to make society completely secular.  …This view would tend to remove from the entire nation any sense of absolute moral standards or any sense that there is any clear way of knowing right from wrong.   Therefore the ultimate goal of this viewpoint is not only the destruction of all belief in God, but also the complete moral disintegration of a society.”

Now, I’m not saying that I perfectly agree with everything Grudem says in this section I’ve edited and posted here.  I might nuance things a bit differently, and some of our readers might not agree with all these points and explanations.  But I like this because it is thoughtful, reasonable, and written from the perspective of a Christian worldview.  Again, I hope to give a more detailed review of this book later.  For now, if you’re interested in the above topic, I also recommend Os Guinness, The Case For Civility.

Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 29-36.

shane lems

Luther: Finis Politiae et Finis Ecclesiae

 In an Advent sermon from 1532 preached at the stadtkirche,  Luther noted the difference between the Lord Christ’s kingdom and that of the lord Caesar.  Luther said it in Latin: finis politiae est pax mundi; finis ecclesiae est pax aeterna.  Here’s his explanation:

“The end purpose of the government is temporal peace, while the ultimate end of the church is not peace and comfort on earth, nice homes, wealth, power, and honor, but everlasting peace.  Caesar does not care whether I die a blessed death and come to everlasting life, nor can he be of help against death, but must himself die just like me.  Death comes to him as [it does] to the lowly beggar.  Caesar’s jurisdiction pertains to this temporal, transitory life; but where this temporal life ceases, there the rule of the Christian church intervenes.  Let this be the goal and purpose for which the Christian realm strives and aims: to proclaim the treasure for troubled and anguished consciences which Christ has earned for and committed to his church, namely, the forgiveness of sins and everlasting peace.”

Quotes taken from page 103 of volume 5 of the Baker set of Luther’s sermons.  For more info on Luther’s two kingdoms, along with the Lutheran confessions be sure to check out this book – (just released).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Reformed Scholastics on the Regnum Christi

The Christian's Reasonable Service, Vol. 1

Earlier, I noted Watson and Bavinck’s notes on the kingship of Christ, as well as Luther’s.  It was pretty “standard speak” in the Reformation and post-Reformation schools to talk about the reign of Christ (regnum Christi) in a threefold way.  Brakel (and the aforementioned Reformers) used these terms: Christ’s kingly office is threefold: 1) “He rules over the kingdom of power, to which all creatures belong,”  2) he rules “as Mediator over the kingdom of grace upon earth,” and 3) he rules “over the kingdom of glory in heaven.”  Of course the latter two are also what the Reformers referred to as the church militant and the church triumphant – one church existing in the “already/not yet” tension.  Again by way of reminder, Watson, Bavinck, Luther, and many others used these exact terms, including Ursinus (yes, you can think these thoughts when reading the Heidelberg).  See Muller’s fine Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms s.v. regnum Christi for more helpful info.

After making the threefold distinction, Brakel goes on to give some verses supporting these distinctions.  Interestingly, he also here has a subsection entitled, “The Separation Between Church and State.”  Here, not surprisingly, he sounds like Turretin.  Brakel writes this:

“The one is heavenly and the other earthly.  The one pertains to souls and the other to the body.  The one is characterized by servanthood…the other is characterized by authority and dominion.  The one is not to meddle in the affairs of the other.  …Thus must everyone function within his own sphere.   The church is not to rule over the state and the state may not rule over the church, but each must limit itself to its own domain” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, I.561-566)

This is fascinating, especially in Holland, where the “state church” was the order of Brakel’s day (c. 1700).  Brakel notes that governments should allow the church to preach the gospel so that the members of the church can submit to the government, but he also says the government cannot lord anything over the church as church, only her individual members as they must obey the magistrate.  It would be a fascinating study to draw some lines (political and theological) from Luther to Ursinus to Turretin to Brakel to Bavinck, throwing Watson in the mix as well.

shane lems

sunnyside wa