God and Government
Karen Pansler-Lam, J.D.
Should America have a Godly government?
For there is no power but of God:
the powers that be are ordained of God.
resisteth the ordinance of God:
and they that resist shall receive
to themselves damnation.
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:
But if thou do that which is evil,
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.
The Apostle Paul explains those in authority over us are ministers of God. Just as God ordained ministers of the Gospel, God ordained ministers of the government. In other words, a minister is an ambassador of Christ in any office. A minister is an agent appointed to transact or manage business under the authority of Christ. Civil rulers act as God’s agent and have God-given authority to administer justice. It is their God-given duty to protect life and property, repress crime, determine quarrels, right the wrongs, punish offenders, preserve national peace and order, and so forth.
In The Pulpit Commentary, Rev. C.H. Irwin explains our duty as Christian citizens:
The Christian as citizen.
The duty of Christians as citizens is in our day not sufficiently recognized. Many Christians keep aloof from public life and the duties of citizenship because of the political corruption and party strife which are so common. Others, again, enter into public duties, but seem to leave their religion behind them. The result is a sad want of Christian statesmanship and of Christian legislation.
I. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES THE NECESSITY OF GOVERNMENT. "There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1). This is not to be understood as meaning that every individual ruler is ordained of God. That would make the Divine Being responsible for many acts of despotism and oppression. We might as well say that every minister of religion who had received the form of ordination was therefore chosen of God, no matter what his personal character might be. The meaning rather is that government is an ordinance of God—that God has ordained or appointed it, that there should be authority and rulers. Government is necessary:
1. For the protection of life and property.
2. For the repression of crime. "Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil" (Romans 13:3). Governors, says St. Peter, are appointed "for the punishment of evil-doers" (1 Peter 2:14).
3. For the rewarding and encouraging of virtue. "Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same" (Romans 13:3). So St. Peter also speaks of governors as "a praise to them that do well." Wise rulers will not only repress crime, but they will seek to encourage well-doing. They will show special favour to those who, by their own character and efforts, promote morality and temperance and honesty, and thus help to make government easy. How often do rulers forget this! How often the Christian people of a nation are ignored or even discouraged, while the godless and the immoral are high in place and favour!
II. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF RULERS. Rulers are here called "ministers of God" (Romans 13:4, Romans 13:6). Our sovereign entitles herself "Victoria, by the grace of God." All who are concerned in government have a solemn responsibility, whether they be kings or queens, ministers of state, members of the legislature, judges, magistrates, or jurymen. All must appear one day before a higher tribunal. Then the judge will be asked, "Have you done justice as between man and man?" The juryman will be asked, "Have you rendered a verdict according to the evidence?" The sovereign will be asked. "Have you been faithful to your coronation vows?" Therefore the Christian should pray for rulers. "For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Timothy 2:2). The Christian should do all he can to secure good rulers. What we need in our day is less of party politics, and more of Christian politics. Christian people, Christian Churches, should band themselves together, laying aside all political and all ecclesiastical differences, to secure Christian representatives, Christian lawmakers for our professedly Christian nation.
III. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES HIS OWN RESPONSIBILITY. There are two duties distinctly specified here for the Christian citizen.
1. Obedience. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" (Romans 13:1); "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (Romans 13:2); "Wherefore ye must needs be subject" (Romans 13:5). If the law is to be upheld, there must be an obedient and submissive spirit on the part of every good citizen. Yet there are limits to all this. We are to interpret this passage in the light of other Bible teaching and the examples which it sets before us. The Bible does not teach the doctrine of passive obedience or non-resistance. At Babylon, Daniel resisted the reigning power. The royal mandate was issued, but Daniel did not obey it. "He kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." The Apostles Peter and John declined to obey the Jewish council at Jerusalem when they were commanded to speak no more in the Name of Jesus. They boldly answered, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot, but speak the things which we have seen and heard. Where the law of a nation or the command of an earthly ruler conflicts with the law of God, then it is clearly the Christian's duty to obey God rather than men. The English people in their past history have acted upon this principle. Twice under the reign of the Stuart sovereigns the subjects of the realm asserted, on conscientious grounds, their right of revolution and resistance. So also did the Covenanters of Scotland. Yet resistance to constituted authority should ever be a last resort, and is only to be resorted to when all more peaceful means have utterly failed to obtain justice and redress of wrongs.
2. Taxation. "For this cause pay ye tribute also" (verse 6). This also was the teaching of Christ. No government can be maintained without expense. National defences, public institutions, all of which have for their object the protection and the well-being of all the citizens, require to be kept up. Every citizen is responsible for bearing his share in meeting expenditure for the common good. He may not approve of every item of expenditure, but that is no valid reason for refusing to contribute his share of taxation, where the representatives of the nation have decreed that the expenditure is wise and necessary. This rule, of course, has its exception also in the case of any expenditure which would do violence to the individual conscience.
3. There are other practical duties. The Christian will ever cooperate with rulers in securing and promoting peace and temperance, morality and honesty, truthfulness and justice. All these virtues are necessary to national well-being. Government would be easy if every citizen was a Christian, and if every Christian would realize his duties as a citizen. The words of Sir Arthur Helps ('Friends in Council') may be fittingly quoted here: "He who does not bring into government, whether as governor or subject, some religious feeling, some higher motive than expediency, is likely to make but an indifferent governor or an indifferent subject. Without piety there will be no good government."—C.H.I.
The Pulpit Commentary was written by English ministers, therefore, Rev. Irwin did not refer to the American Revolution. Certainly, it is well-documented that it was only after much Bible study and prayer the American colonists resorted to resistance when all peaceful means utterly failed to obtain justice and redress of wrongs. The Declaration of Independence lists the oppressive actions by King George III and declares him unfit to rule them: “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
the Rock of Israel spake to me,
He that ruleth over men must be just,
ruling in the fear of God.
2 Samuel 23:3
knowing the time,
that now it is high time to awake out of sleep:
for now our salvation is nearer than we believed.
Christians must awake from their indifference.
Christians must awake from their idleness.
Christians must awake to the fact that because they are asleep our nation is destroyed.
It is time to put God back into government.
Highly Recommended Reading:
Sermon by Rev. Samuel Langdon: “The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States”