To Whom Shall We Go? – Part 1
They say that if a person wants to avoid arguments and disagreements, one should never discuss religion or politics. Since I haven’t posted anything for awhile, I decided to write about both.
We are in an amazing time in the United States of America right now. History is about to be made again in this wonderful nation in which I call home. Every four years, the American people are allowed to give voice to their convictions and cast their vote for the candidate they believe will best represent their ideals and way of life. We will be given this opportunity in a few short months.
This is made possible because the style of government that was established by our founding fathers and is currently upheld by the people is a democracy. A democracy is a government by the people for the people. Those who are elected into office are to represent the wishes, will, and convictions of the individual, and not to lord their personal opinions over them such as the leadership in a monarchy or oligarchy would do.
While our form of democracy in America has deeply religious roots, it is not the same as a theocracy which is a government system that is governed directly by God. The nation of Israel in the Old Testament is the only example of a true theocracy that has existed in human history. That goes without saying that many nations have claimed to exist under false gods and therefore, are false theocracies. Examples of this would be ancient Egypt where Pharaoh was viewed as a god instead of a mere human. Or more recently, in the times of the early church, Caesar was not only the emperor of the Roman empire, but he was also to be worshipped because it was believed that he was a god in human form. Obviously, this must have caused great confusion for those nations when either Pharaoh or Caesar died and a new god had to be found to govern them. This is quite different from Christianity which, at the second coming of Jesus Christ a true and final theocracy will be established, for all eternity. But until then in the United States, we are left with a democracy which I am thankful for, even with its imperfections.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6-7 (NASB95)
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.'” Revelation 21:3-4 (NASB95)
Even though our current form of government has flaws and cannot even begin to come close to a government that will someday be led solely by our holy, all-powerful, all-wise Creator, it still carries a certain amount of authority. We obey this authority for different reasons. Some in society obey this authority simply out of fear for its ability to inflict strict consequences if its authority is not respected. For instance, how many people respect police officers because of their ability to give you a speeding ticket rather than the fact that they have been established by God to uphold justice and keep us safe? On the other hand, some in society who have given their lives to Christ and His ultimate authority, respect the government’s authority because they see it as an extension of God’s authority. Since the followers of Christ are committed to the pursuit of honoring God’s laws, we also find ourselves committed to honoring human governments, as scripture explains.
“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. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 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; 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. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” Romans 13:1-5 (NASB95)
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” 1 Peter 2:13-14 (NASB95)
As we look at the current political climate in our country, a person would have to be blind to not see that the winds of change are sweeping rapidly over our land concerning morality, ethics, and what constitutes good behavior. Because of the rapid and extreme nature of these changes, I believe there is an important question that every Christian must sooner or later ask themselves. Especially since, in a few months, we will elect a new leader of the Executive Branch of our democratic society who will be instrumental in the future of that moral climate. The stakes are very high. While I am praying and hoping for a godly, born again follower of Christ to take the helm of our country and lead it towards righteousness, we could very easily end up with a president who will take our nation further away from biblical morality.
Not to come across as being overly pessimistic, but even though most of the presidential candidates campaigning right now claim to be Christian at one level or another, the chances are pretty good that our new leader may not operate according to fundamental, orthodox, biblical Christian principles, just as we have seen from recent presidencies. There are many possible reasons for this.
First, there is the very real possibility that our next president may not be an authentic born-again believer. I believe we saw this with President Bill Clinton. Second, it is possible that our next president will find himself/herself under such intense pressures which the job inevitably brings that they will compromise their integrity or they will “evolve” in their convictions. We saw this with current President Barack Obama. A third possibility is that the state of our current political system has become so badly corrupted that it will not allow a president’s Christian values to lead our nation no matter how badly they may want to. I believe this was the case with President George W Bush.
And so, understanding the reality of the circumstances around us concerning government, the question we must ask is this:
If we continue to find ourselves (Christians) living in a climate where the government is antagonistic to God’s laws, hostile towards God’s people, and an advocate for evil instead of good, are we as Christians sinning if we refuse to subject ourselves to that government? If human governments are extensions of God’s authority, does disobeying a government that is producing evil equal disobeying God?
If we find ourselves in the next few months with a president who, for one reason or another, implements laws that are outside of Christian morals and ethics, further allowing our democracy to slide towards evil, is our eternal salvation at stake if we oppose and resist these laws?
Or what if we find ourselves in a government where the gospel is outlawed all together and Christianity is banned; believing that our society will be better off for it? Is it sin to go against the decree of governmental authority and continue to evangelize our neighbors whom God has called us to disciple?
These questions should not be new for believers because to a certain extent, we have already experienced in our day laws that are hostile to the kingdom; opposing the Christian faith. Abortion and gay marriage are two of these examples.
Francis A Schaeffer, in his book, A Christian Manifesto, deals with this sensitive topic with great wisdom and insight. I would highly recommend this book to any voting person or to anybody wanting to get a handle on the political climate of our times. Although it was originally written in 1982, it is still very applicable to our day.
In his book, Schaeffer approaches the question concerning corrupt government and its authority from a slightly different angle, like this:
“Has God set up an authority in the state that is autonomous from Himself? Are we to obey the state no matter what?” ¹
I appreciate the way he gets right at the heart of the issue. If we understand scripture accurately which states that government authority is established by God, then, upon that premise, did God set up governments, including our American democracy, to be autonomous; independently operating outside of God’s law although still maintaining His authority and therefore, to be obeyed no matter what they do? Just as I appreciate the way he forms the question, I also appreciate the way he responds:
“And I would answer, not at all, not at all.” ¹
“The civil government, as all of life, stands under the Law of God. In this fallen world God has given us certain offices to protect us from the chaos which is the natural result of that fallenness. But when any office commands that which is contrary to the Word of God, those who hold that office abrogates their authority and they are not to be obeyed.” ¹
Schaeffer’s argument is that yes, governments are established by God for the purpose of upholding justice, promoting goodness, and providing protection from chaos. But when a government ceases to operate this way and instead becomes a promulgator of evil, itself becoming a source of chaos, then Schaeffer says they abrogate their God-given authority. In other words, they give up the privilege of their authority, and it becomes invalid as God repeals it.
While I highly respect the teachings of Francis Schaeffer, we must ask ourselves, as always, does this answer have biblical merit? Furthermore, what can we learn from history concerning mankind’s dealings with governmental authority when it has opposed God’s ways? I believe there are acres of biblical proof along with a long line of historical evidence to consider in the lives of those who were forced to ask this difficult question. What we will find is that time and time again, we are shown that above all else we must obey the Lord. Even if it means God’s people find themselves in the lion’s den because a government has failed our Creator’s intentions.
We will confirm this answer as we look at the biblical and historical evidence in upcoming posts.
¹Schaeffer, F. A. (1982). The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.