The ideas we’re looking at today can be challenging for some because people often align themselves with their worldly identity far more than with their eternal identity. I am not here advocating for a Platonistic or gnostic view that favors the spiritual over the physical. I am merely saying that people frequently reverse their allegiances from Kingdom citizens first, to American citizens first. Reversing this will affect your way of living, whether you intend it to or not.Christians often align themselves with their worldly identity far more than with their eternal identity. Click To Tweet
Addressing the Questions
At this point (in the COVID-19 pandemic), many questions are being asked, and I personally love that! We need more people asking more questions or maybe I should say we need more people asking better questions.
Although every question being proposed may be coherent, they may not all be valid. What do I mean by valid? Numerous questions presuppose unsubstantiated ideas; therefore, they are not valid.
For example, if someone asked you what color you think alien space ships are, their question is invalid, it’s illogical. Why? Because it presupposes something that can’t be proven.
As Christians, the questions we need to be asking are 1. What does God’s word say? 2. What do we do about it? These questions will naturally lead to more questions, but we’ll get there as we go.
The goal today is to ask these better questions, and then I’ll offer “a” pastoral perspective. DISCLAIMER: This is simply “a” pastoral perspective, but like the Apostle, Paul said before me, “I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 7:40)
A Pastoral Perspective
[Rom 13:1-8 NASB] 1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due;] custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. 8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law.
[Heb 10:23-25 NASB] 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another;] and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
What does the word say, and what do we do about it?
Romans clearly communicates that God establishes all authorities, and we are to hypotasso (be subject to them). “1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God;”
And although this is as clear as the nose on all of our faces, there are nuances to our particular system as Americans. This, of course, leads to the ‘many other questions’ I mentioned:
Who or what are OUR governing authorities?
If we’re to be subjected to them, we should clearly define them, but first, note that the issues of faith and Government (for the Jew and Christian) are, in some sense, married together. People will no doubt ask the culturally conditioned question, “what about the separation of church and state?” The answer is that you are operating from a non-biblical paradigm. Whether people like it or not, the God of the Bible is the one who establishes all authorities that exist (Romans 13:1); so in this sense, there is no separation.
You can’t divorce the Bible from the Holy Spirit who inspired it. Likewise, you can’t divorce God from the governments He establishes. We also cannot separate the existence of said governments from God’s intended purpose for them.
In other words, God established the Government, and God set their job description. (We’ll get into that a bit later.) Governments would do well to remember that God set their job description. Remember what happened to Nebuchadnezzar when he got too big for his britches. (See Daniel 2) How about Pharaoh (Genesis and Exodus)?Christians can't divorce their obedience to God from their obedience to governments, which He established. Click To Tweet
Tomorrow we will look at the issues of Acts 4:19; 5:27-29 (and some stories from the book of Daniel). These have to do with “obeying God rather than man…” but remember, we mustn’t forget the Psalm 119:160 principle; “the sum of God’s word is truth.”
In looking at these passages (we can’t just cherry-pick), we have to consider the times when God’s people were imprisoned, held captive, and mistreated (i.e., Paul in Rome), and how they responded. Our current situation is far closer to these latter references than it is to Acts 4 and 5. And what do we find? People accepting their judgment.
In answering this question, “who or what are our governing authorities?” The answer is 1. God (as understood in His word) and 2. (for Americans this wording is important) the Government and structures established within our constitutional framework.
Now, before you run with this and assume you know what that means exhaustively, suffer my rambling a little more. As I said yesterday, I am not a constitutional scholar, but what I’m pointing to doesn’t require that level of expertise.
“Separation of powers is a doctrine of constitutional law under which the three branches of Government (executive, legislative, and judicial) are kept separate. This is also known as the system of checks and balances because each branch is given certain powers so as to check and balance the other branches. Each branch has separate powers, and generally, each branch is not allowed to exercise the powers of the other branches.
We obey the Constitution. The Constitution establishes our congress, president, and courts (with our vote, of course). This is a similar balance to what we just talked about in the Scripture. We obey God, but God said to obey the governing authorities. As Americans, we obey the Constitution, but the Constitution establishes these “checks and balances.”
Regarding the Bill of Rights, the National Archives website says,
“(The Bill of Rights) spells out Americans’ rights in relation to their Government. It guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual—like freedom of speech, press, and religion. It sets rules for due process of law (the sword) and reserves all powers not delegated to the Federal Government to the people or the States. And it specifies that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
So again, all of the above (in its proper place) is what we agree to as Americans. We’ve created a system of checks and balances, but when we disagree, we throw our hands up and say, “I only abide by the Constitution.” Do you see the problem? We don’t get to praise our system, and then when it doesn’t serve us, act as though it doesn’t matter.As Americans, we've created a system of checks and balances. When we disagree we don't get to throw our hands up and say, 'I only abide by the Constitution.' Click To Tweet
By the People for the People
We are “by the people for the people,” right? So, according to the Constitution, WE delegated certain powers to the Federal Government (the sword) and yet reserved all other powers for the people and state. When we have a problem, what do we do? According to Romans 13, within the American context, we can and should appeal. But remember we are majority rules.
For the Christian, this is where we face problems. What happens when we are no longer the majority? Does Romans 13 say we obey until power shifts, and then we can disobey? No! Take, for example, abortion (an absolute abomination!). Apparently, the majority of America believes this form of murder is a constitutional right.
What should we do? Try to change it? Sure! What if we can’t? Is this the Church’s fault? Maybe, maybe not. In so far as the Government doesn’t command you to kill your baby, you can live as an American, advocate for change, and obey God as understood in Romans 13.
Please entertain one of those “invalid/illogical questions” I mentioned above; what would happen if we were asked to do something like this? (This is illogical because we are not being asked to forsake our faith.)
In my opinion, I’m not sure we’re ready for the answer. We, like Paul in Rome, have a responsibility to refuse to comply respectfully, but then we take our jail time and allow vengeance to be God’s. But again, we are not there!
We’re in for a shocker Church. We’re facing a lot of changes in this “post-Christian” culture. One of the hardest things we have to prepare for is how are we going to live when we are no longer the majority?
Go the Extra Mile
Romans 13 gives us the playbook for this too. Remember whether it’s Paul’s instruction in Rome or Peter’s instruction in his epistles; neither was fortunate to be under a representative republic as we are. But God inspired these words all the same! When a Christian was forced to carry a soldier’s gear a mile, Jesus Himself said that we should go “the extra mile.” Why? Because this showed both love for neighbors, and love for an enemy.
[Romans 13:5-8 NASB] 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due;] custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. 8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law.
We are for the people, by the people, AND we are to love even those who outnumber us. Are we ready for this Church? When we’re not in the majority (and welcome to it), we must still love our neighbor. They will know us by our love… right?
If the Government prohibited our Christianity, if it was against the law to meet or we would be punished or fined, we would meet anyway. BUT WE ARE NOT THERE!When a Christian was forced to carry a soldier's gear a mile, Jesus Himself said that we should go the extra mile. It shows love for neighbors, and love for an enemy. Click To Tweet
In the next post we will take a look at how the early church handled obedience to governing authorities. Until then, how are you handling your obedience now? Does your heart need work? Are you asking the good questions? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.