Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Christians and the State

  On the issue of  the Christian, and  the  role of government, I have friends on both ends of  the spectrum and  most points in between. I am probably going to leave out various important nuances in their positions, inadvertently constructing straw men. This is not my intent. but here goes.
  I have friends that consider themselves stateless libertarians or will even go so far as to call themselves anarchists.  Their position (perhaps oversimplified) is that liberty is a gift from God and that since governments tend to curtail liberty, the government cannot also be a gift from God. These anarchists will  say that ,scripturally, the kingdoms of this world are satanically run, and satanically owned.  The state, they would say, is the  very citadel of Satan, and as such  so  we owe it no  allegiance.  They would  point to the power grabs and abuses of  the state (regardless of who is in charge) as proof of this  malfeasance, and say that  government power is the enemy of humanity.  They  oppose the initiation of force against any individual, and since that's pretty much all government does is make people do things by force, they  must oppose the government.  That's one extreme.
  I also have friends that consider themselves  'minarchists'.  They hold that government is a necessary evil and  begrudgingly support some basic government functions as long as those functions support and protect their natural God-given rights.  I personally think that Thomas Jefferson would probably qualify as a minarchist.
  I have friends who consider themselves 'constitutionalists' and think that a person who opposes the  government opposes God.  There is  some pretty significant  scripture for this position. And rounding out the  spectrum, I have friends who cite Romans 13 as their proof text that whatever the  government says goes, and  we ought to be happy about it.  Pay your taxes with a smile on your face and thank God it isn't any worse.  There is a subset of this group that don't even vote, since, by their logic, a vote against an  incumbent is in itself an act of rebellion against the  power God has placed in your life.  That would be, in my estimation, the other end of the spectrum.
  Perhaps its an intellectual glitch of mine that I  can  experience a certain amount of sympathy for all these positions.  It's an issue I think about  quite a bit, as a public minister, and  by the time I get done  exploring this, you may be as confused as I am about what I think, but here goes:
  Governments are instituted by God. Scripture is clear on this, and the pattern,  in scripture appears that  bad government is a punishment for  a wicked populace.  Liberty is indeed a gift from god, and when that liberty is misused, that liberty is withdrawn. In the meantime, barring some sort of  national repentance, we are commanded to  submit ourselves unto every ordinance of man for the  gospel's sake.  The  world systems and world governance are at the moment, satanically controlled, but even under those conditions,  the Holy Spirit wrote to the churches to obey them and pray for the human  representatives. It's a complicated idea, with  tricky applications that must be universal to be of any use whatsoever. What in the world is a freedom-loving  person who wants to obey the scriptures  supposed to do?
  I wont be doing a blow-by blow dissertation of Romans 13, which was the original idea for this post.  I won't  claim, as some have, that Romans 13 is mistranslated, but rather that Romans 13 must be understood in light of other scriptures. I won't waste  one minute of your time ( at least not today) bogging down into  the nuances of what is and is not legitimate government.  Instead,  I want to  highlight three principles that should  help establish what exactly our attitude and actions should be as citizens of heaven who are, for the time being, stuck here.

The First Principle: Non-Distraction
  I think the  first principle that needs to be covered is the principle of non-distraction.  I am a stranger, and a sojourner here; a pilgrim and an alien.  As the old song  says "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through". That doesn't relieve us from obligations to our fellow man, but you must understand that the world is horribly broken, and has been for quite some  time. Our emphasis has to be on the spiritual since our  ultimate accountability to God won't be based on whether we  got this ordinance  passed or this  law repealed; it will be based off of what we did  with the the  gospel of Jesus Christ. There is  no crown given out at the Judgement Seat of Christ for 'sticking it to the man'. Whether you live  in North Korea, or Hong Kong, or the United States, Jesus still saves, and long after the empires of the world have crumbled to dust, he will still be all that he claims to be.  Hundreds of thousands of Christians have  lived their entire lives under tyranny and have  fulfilled the Great Commission and  led very successful Christian lives despite never having owned an AK-47. We cannot lose our focus  squabbling over the things of this world. I could campaign to  dismantle the TSA and succeed, but if that's all I ever did and my neighbor never gets the gospel, I have wasted my  time. That's not a cop-out, that's a matter of keeping perspective, and keeping that principle in view will give us a  way to keep our perspective amidst the clamor of application..
  For example, let's say I'm opposed to taxation, which I am. Let's say  that I believe taxation to be theft, which I do. Let's say that I believe there to be  scant difference between the highwayman and the Congress, which I do. I do not gloss over that the state is stealing from me, but  the same state is stealing from  my co-worker who is lost.  My attitude should be that, as  abhorrent as the theft is, I may need to tolerate it for the bigger picture. In other words, it is  better to have had a portion of your income consistently and systematically stolen from you, than to rail against it and lose your testimony.  As  a reviewer of this post pointed out, life very rarely is an either/or scenario. If you can do both, then by all means proceed.
The Second Principle: For the Lord's Sake
  But in the meantime I  do still have to live here and I do have to function under a  government that is increasingly  restrictive and hostile. It's a common mistake in Bible exposition to  quote only part of verse, but the oft cited "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man" isn't the whole verse, and it certainly isn't the  whole sentence. Looking at the whole sentence gives us our second principle.1 Peter 2:13-16 says "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.  For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:  As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God"  There are caveats and  qualifiers given for your obedience to wit; you are to do it, not for your own sake, but for the Lord's sake. Paul  in 1 Corinthians 9  goes into various  inconveniences and restrictions he put on his  own life "for the gospel's sake".  You are required to obey the government and treat it as if it  was performing it's legitimate functions if doing so gives you more opportunities to  put the gospel out. If obeying the government hinders the gospel , it seems clear to me that you are free to disobey, and the Acts 5:29 principle ("We ought to obey God rather than men.") comes into play.  Paul went to prison and  never once complained that he was wrongly imprisoned, even though he was.  He suffered, and suffered well, and that  put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Paul understood that his imprisonment enabled him to reach men with the gospel that couldn't be reached any other way, so he endured tyranny for the Lord's sake.
  Here is an application. I despise the TSA. I  believe them to be  wicked, and a violation of all that used to be America.  I have, on purpose avoided flying because of them. But soon I hope to be traveling to the Philippines to preach.  I will probably have to submit myself to their  degradation, but I do it not because I think they are right or legitimate; I do it for the Lord's sake, and for the gospel's sake. I honestly can't see any way around it. I  also  maintain that , as I  will  give an account  to how I handled it as his representative, they will give account for being perverts and horrible instruments of a corrupt  state.

The Third Principle: Prayer
  Moving on to another oft-half-quoted passage of scripture, we arrive at 1 Tim 2.  It is often said that we are to pray for those in power, but looking at the whole passage ,we see once again, conditions and caveats.  1 Tim 2:1-4 says "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;  For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;  Who will have all men to be saved , and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.".   I am not obligated to pray for Mr. Obama' drone warfare to succeed or for the continued inculcation  of socialism. I am supposed to pray specifically to God that Mr. Obama will leave me alone. Left alone, I  can live a  quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Why would I want this?  According to  verse 4, I should want this so that the gospel can be put out!  There obviously are some other benefits to being free, but the main advantage of being free is not that I am free to do wrong, but that I am free to do  right!

 There are  obviously many facts to this, and I  don't purport to be  smart enough to explore them all, but let's take  these three principles and apply them to an extreme scenario.
  You are a Christian living in Nazi Germany  in the  the early 1940's. You are  commanded by the government to  turn in your Jewish  neighbors.  Are you obligated to obey? They are, after all, the government. If they take your neighbors and haul them off to  a death camp, they will probably never hear the gospel.  You are obligated by the gospel to disobey, and when the men  come with stick and guns to thump you in the head you will be suffering for righteousness sake.
  This same  Nazi  regime is taxing you to pay for the death camps.  I think you are justified in  hiding your income from them by any means  possible without lying, committing fraud or losing your testimony.   If you do any of these things, be aware that the men with  sticks and guns may come for you and put you in jail. You must weigh out if it is worth it and if you are going for the right reasons. If you must go to jail, go to jail for the gospel, not for tax evasion, but if a mugger  tells you to empty your wallet, you are under no obligation to tell them about the money hidden in your sock.
  You are  also allowed scripturally to  flee persecution if possible.  If Jesus' mom and stepdad can skip town to avoid  being killed by Herod, rest assured you can too.
  In the meantime you are to pray that God will  turn the hearts of the Nazi overlords  and  that they will leave you (and your neighbor ) alone so that you can continue to  get the gospel out.

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