This is it, I promise!. This post is the fourth and final part in a 4 part series on a Biblical Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government. You will really be lost trying to read this post on its own without the context of the other posts. I strongly recommend getting caught up first.
In Part 1, I laid a foundation for the discussion, noting that my opponents and I share critical common ground and that we need to properly contextualize Romans 13 if we are to understand what it means to us as we stand in the place of the civil magistrate in the voting booth.
In Part 2, I discussed the foundational principle of human ethics: that each individual person is made by God and for God and in his image, which means that each individual person has inherent human dignity and the right to his life, liberty and property. It is with those things in mind that we turn our attention to Romans 13.
In Part 3, I analyzed Romans 13 and discovered that there are some Biblical commands for the civil magistrate that we ought to consider: namely that the civil magistrate is commanded to punish criminals and that he is commanded not to be a terror to good conduct.
In today’s post, I deal with a potential objection, discuss some additional concerns, like what light 1 Peter 2 and Titus 3 shed on this, and lay out my Conclusion. Thank you for reading!
OBJECTION! Surely the Government Can Do Things That Don’t Involve the Sword?
No, it can’t. The government is not a person in itself. It does not have property but that it was taken from a citizen. Everything the government does is therefore violent, a taking of life, liberty or property. I can’t necessarily support this claim with chapter and verse, but I do not believe I need to. It is true by definition. It is implied in Samuel’s description of the King’s reign in 1 Samuel 8, the restrictions placed on the King in the Mosaic Law, and the fact that the government’s activity is equated with the sword in Romans 13. Further, it is plainly observable in the record of history and in the nature of our current governments. Even simple well-meant positive ordinances are truly a matter of theft, slavery or murder at the core.
Suppose the government legislates a maximum height for grass. I am therefore bound by law to mow my grass. Now, Romans 13 tells me that I am to obey as unto the Lord. But let’s leave that aside for a moment. Suppose that I do not obey the law and mow my grass. What will the government do? It will start by fining me. It has stolen my money. If I refuse to pay, it will arrest me. It has kidnapped me. If I resist sufficiently, it will kill me. It has murdered me. All because it wanted to enslave me to the task of mowing my lawn. Consider whether I was doing anything wrong before the government tried to enslave me. Consider also whether there might be legitimate reasons to miss a mowing. Perhaps I was in the hospital or out-of-town. The government doesn’t care. I am their slave. Is this being a terror to good conduct? Yes. Yes, it is.
Now, again, Romans 13 says that I ought to obey. Why ought I to obey? Because if I don’t, I will be punished. I will be punished by the government to be sure, but Romans 13 also pretty strongly implies that I will deserve wrath from God, which will probably be carried out by the government. What is important to remember here is that rebellion is not a virtue. This is often confused when Christians see Libertarians, for many atheistic Libertarians actually believe that it is. It is not. Civil disobedience should only be over matters of conscience, i.e. matters in which the government’s laws conflict with God’s law. The Bible is clear that rebellion against human authority is rebellion against God. I do not advocate disobedience to government, or any kind of violent revolt. That is simply not the way.
But again, the fact that we are to submit to unjust government does not excuse the government from the responsibilities of morality and justice. Jesus commanded us to “turn the other cheek,” and “go the extra mile.” Paul says not to avenge ourselves in Romans 12 and to overcome evil with good. Hebrews 10:34 describes the believers as having willingly, and even joyfully submitted to being stolen from. But I really wish I didn’t have to labor so hard to prove that our commands to willingly and joyful endure the sinful persecution of men does not excuse their behavior so as make it moral, and it most certainly does not give us license to inflict these things on others! We must put ourselves in the shoes of the one voting for the lawn mowing ordinance. If I vote for this, then I am voting to enslave, rob, kidnap and murder my neighbor. It’s as simple as that!
We’ve had plenty of what. Now for the So What. What is the practical application of this?
Essentially, I look at things this way: at the voting booth, if I vote for a politician who will tax, I am a thief. If I vote for a politician who will make laws restricting, manipulating, and controlling the free choices of individuals, I am a slaver. If I vote for a politician who will wage unjust war and use drone strikes, I am a murderer. My conscience binds me to obey the Word of God and not do so.
I cannot vote for anyone who supports the income tax, individual welfare, corporate welfare, surveillance, drug prohibition, the TSA, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, PRISM, The NSA, homeland security, drone strikes, the police state, speeding/red light cameras, DUI checkpoints, gun control, no knock warrants, completely ignoring the need for a warrant, CPS taking kids without due process, and on and on and on. I cannot vote for anyone who ignores the Bill of Rights. I cannot vote for anyone who does not respect the individual’s right to life, liberty or property. I cannot vote for anyone who would use the sword of government to be a terror to good conduct!
So allowing for the possibility of incidental exceptions, like Ron Paul, I cannot, with a clear conscience, vote for any Republicans or Democrats! I either must abstain or vote for someone who opposes these policies.
Now comes the part about Christian Liberty. I believe that it is well within our freedom to support the politician of our choosing provided that we have observed these principles. I further believe that it is within our freedom to abstain altogether, so long as we are not throwing our support behind a tyrant. I do not believe that abstention or voting for third parties is a vote to empower another party. Abstaining is a vote against all candidates. Voting third-party is a vote for the third-party candidate. The fact that other parties often gain an advantage from third parties in the first-past-the-post voting system is irrelevant. Those who charged me with propping up Obama over Romney failed to realize that I had equal disdain for Romney as I did for Obama. Why? Because his policies were those of a thief, slaver, and murderer.
What about 1 Peter 2:13 and Titus 3:1?
Yes, we must indeed consult the whole counsel of God if we are to know his mind on these matters. Let us consider these passages.
1 Peter 2:13-17 says:Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Titus 3:1 says:Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.
Overall, these passages do not offer much to consider that was not already covered in our analysis of Romans 13, at least if you limit the 1 Peter passage to just verse 13. Verses 14-17 provide some nuggets to chew on. Here are my general observations:
- Christian citizens are called to obey as unto the Lord.
- Christian citizens are called to do good
- Christian citizens are called to use their freedom to serve God
- Christian citizens are called to honor their authority.
Really the only thing new here is this discussion in 1 Peter about freedom. Indeed it says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” This sounds an awful lot like Galatians 5:1,13 “For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery […] For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
The juxtaposition of such concepts is intriguing if nothing else. Surely Paul is speaking of freedom from the Law and the bondage to sin, right? Indeed I affirm this. So how, then does this translate to living as though we are free in the context of civil government?! Because freedom is freedom! Obviously, in a sinless world, there would be no need of civil government and men would be completely free. This is the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah, after all, that no one would need to instruct his neighbor saying, “Know the Lord.” (Jer 31:34) There was no civil government in the garden. They were completely free. It is only because of man’s fallen condition and only in order to provide human justice for civil crimes that require human justice (eye for eye… tooth for tooth) that the civil magistrate even exists! Beyond that, people are supposed to be free!
It’s especially intriguing to consider God’s purpose for this, to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” I’m not sure what Peter was referring to here, but I get the idea that in a free world, believers who use their freedom to serve God will be salt and light in the darkness. When this happens, the world will see our good works and glorify the Father. (Matt 5:13-16) In any case, I think liberty is seen to be a good thing in this passage – a thing that ought not be violated by the ruler.
Therefore, I conclude that the only Biblically justifiable task of the civil magistrate is to punish civil criminals. And that the only Biblically justifiable reason for taxation is to support the work of criminal justice. Even then, I would prefer a system of revenue for the civil magistrate that didn’t require him to steal in order to fund his activities. I would prefer, perhaps, a fee for service situation. In any case, while we are called as citizens to obey the law no matter what it is, we are called as voters to be obedient civil magistrates, staying within our Biblically defined parameters. We therefore must not vote in favor of anyone who would use the sword of government to be a terror to good conduct.
Having laid this foundation, we will necessarily digress into discussions over what constitutes a civil crime, but that is a matter for another post. Having made my case, I therefore rest.