Parableman (Jeremy) pondered the place of state authority and the stance and attitude of Christians toward it in his post, “What Should Christians Think of July 4th?“.
There are some areas, perhaps semantical misunderstandings or sloppy thinking in some, that are troubling. Because sometimes the little red flags, rather like the little foxes in the vineyard, pose a bigger threat for the issues harvested down the road than at first appears.
I want to look at a few things, like “When Jesus said “Render to Caesar what’s Caesar’s and to God what’s God’s” [..snip..], people usually take it to be citing these two as owning different things, but Paul makes quite clear that giving to Caesar is giving to God.”
The conclusions that were drawn from that (within Jeremy’s post) are a whole discussion thread in themselves, but there are more debatable statements sprinkled throughout.
The combination of these statements within their context: (1)”So what do we think about the 4th of July in light of this? First, I think a very good case can be made that the American Revolution was an unjust war.” (2) “Still, God instituted the American government just as he did every other government, including the British empire, the Roman empire, Japan’s current leadership, Cyrus’ overthrow of Babylon, the Saddam Hussein Iraq, the new Iraq government, and the reunited Germany.” (3) ” the U.S. Constitution is largely one of the best ways of humanly governing that the world has yet seen. There are some statements in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that I think are morally dangerous. Rights, for instance, are not a biblical way to think about moral or legal obligations.” is problematical.
There is much more, but this is enough to start with….
In our comments exchange I had protested the idea that God directly institutes all governments and gave my view that “When Jesus said “Render to Caesar what’s Caesar’s and to God what’s God’s” it didn’t give all of government’s activities an imprimatur, but stated the hierarchy of authority that is God-given and supported. Looking at it this way, rather than saying that all government is directly instituted by God in all cases, allows for the fact that power is usurped and not always upheld, although used in God’s plan, by God.”(-Ilona)
Jeremy made the comment to another poster,”The question of who will depose dictators is actually irrelevant.” which I find very disturbing since it is of great importance to Christians to know how to properly address injustice, especially injustice of the vast proportions that governments are capable of.
It is extremely relevant, throughout history, to find ones stance on the ground of right and righteousness….. for Christians.
My contention on the first point of origination of governments is not that they do not derive their power from what God has given, but that being God-given, power has limitations to its exercise. That is where the line of just and unjust comes about. And once the line of justice is sufficiently crossed, penalties incur. Even for kings. Even for governments. Lex Rex, baby.
There must be a way to discern right action in this case, and to simply sweep all governments into the “God Ordained” category will not serve that. God in His Sovereignty does choose to allow unjust things, He also does use things quite evil to turn evil on its head and work it all out for His purposes.
That doesn’t mean He upholds all those things and establishes them. And we need to tread carefully in these circumstances, I believe. Some things will be swept away, and we should not be swept away with them. A careful reading of the Bible shows a number of responses in these types of situations, but they usually begin with “appeal”. Appeal is made for right approach to those in authority, then there is defiance in the form of continuing acts that are obedience to God, sometimes fleeing evil, and sometimes standing ground. But there is a sequence of action.
If you are truly interested in this, Francis Schaeffer does an excellent job in “Christian Manifesto” and earlier in his work “What Ever Happened To The Human Race?” in outlining much of this course of action in the face of injustice.
I think much of Jeremy’s difficulty lays in this statement: “Rights, for instance, are not a biblical way to think about moral or legal obligations.”
I would say to Jeremy: rights are everything. They are fully Biblical in that the whole of the Law was to outline the demarcation of rights. God’s rights, your rights, my rights…. nations rights, the whole kit and caboodle. That is what law is, the line between rights of one man and another. Trespass is crossing the line.
If one would desire to transcend such rights, one must enter the realm of love, agape. In that law, we transcend rights and may say so because it will encompass more good than rights defined by laws can accomplish. It is the better way…. but government and obligation and duty is not within that scope.
Maybe that is why there can be no nation labeled “Christian” except the spiritual Kingdom of God.
I would like to end up with Jeremy’s parting comments: “Simply celebrating independence from the British empire when we’re our own empire with its own injustices is not just indequate. It’s morally blind. Yet simply focusing on the evils of our society is no better than speaking ill of what God has done, since that’s in effect what it is.”
While I agree that we should ” be thankful for the good, and to repent nationally for the evil”, I would ask ‘how may we repent properly, on the national scale, if we do not focus at times on the evil of our society…. that we have given the hand to, with silence if not approval? ‘
As a nation we are far too cavalier about authority and honor, we are prating fools when it comes to ripping our government and its officials. I agree that we are doing disservice to God in our excesses in this. But there are times to speak, and speak sharply, in the advocacy of what is right and true. That will sometimes be considered rebellion, and when action must accompany that, it will mean a revolution.
I, too, think I must hold my ground on this one. As I said in the last comment:
“I believe it is right for the God ordained government authority to wield the sword, and have no problem seeing the place for Capital Punishment ( all related subjects, I think), but I do not think that God gives established authority to all governments.
I think such a view is potentially dangerous, frankly. Whether it is used for or against our own system.”
I think that the whole reason that we can have this discussion so freely, at all, is because, at one point, others saw that danger, too.
Now the means….. the means, as I have previously commented, is something that I do not have a sure grasp of. I am still inwardly debating the means that Christians are given for their part in this matter.
2 thoughts on “July Fourth Leftovers”
I didn’t say that the question of who will depose dictators is unimportant. I said it’s irrelevant to the fact that those dictators have been placed there by God. The Bible repeatedly says this of Nebuchadnezzar, but it also says God ended his dynasty by instituting Cyrus.
I’m not sure why you think I’d be opposed to calling attention to the evil in our society or our governement. I was calling us to do exactly that.
As for rights, I just see that whole way of approaching moral questions as opposed to love. Rights are a way to assert our independence and have claims on what can and can’t be done to us. It’s at odds with submission to God and to God’s rights over us. If you see human rights as entirely derivative of God’s rights over us and of our being made in God’s image, then it’s not so bad, but that’s not how the American idea of rights is usually considered nowadays. It’s as if we deserve to have things the way we like them. That’s the basis of much rebellion against God and against good authorities, which I think you should agree is bad even if you think some bad authorities aren’t divinely ordained.
I have to say, Jeremy, that I do agree with much of what you say, but I think some things need to be clariified.
When you say “that’s not how the American idea of rights is usually considered nowadays” I consider that we are entering a whole different thread of discussion than what was addressed in the Fourth of July post. Maybe you don’t see it that way. I do agree with you on that point.
I’d have to say that the case of Nebuchadnezzar, while illustrative of how God intervenes in the affairs of men, also has its special points in the same way that Israel as a nation has special points of reference. Perhaps we are now getting to our place of intersection, you and I. Are you willing to say that Christians should depend upon miraculous interventions such as are cited in Daniel, for their deliverance from despots? Should we dispense with physical fighting and defenses and trust for angels to hold shut the lions mouths?
I am not being facetious. I feel that is where our points are taking us…. because I am not completely disposed against your idea that a Christian is called to walk harmlessly. I am willing to consider that this is exactly what God expects of us: to trust Him for miraculous deliverance… and leave it to Him whether He will or no, like the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace.
But is this what you are saying? And are you willing to theoretically go there?
And while I understand your point on rights, I know that Paul used his rights as a Roman Citizen to accomplish certain ends.
I saw your protest of the evil in our society. I am just not sure what you feel is the next step ( or whether there is one) in acting against such things. This is where I see the breakdown of the cohesion within the doctrine. If one accepts that something is the Will of God, there is no place to resist … and what is the purpose of the verbal protest then? Where does that go? What purpose does that serve?
I am being a bit rough on you, and I have another post in the works that will seem rough on you, as well, but it is not you- it is for the sakes of many conversations I have had with unbelievers. They ask the hard questions, Parableman. And they need to have the answers.
You and I are the anvils and the hammers to work that out…. as long as you have the patience.
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