Christians and the State

Let evst paulery soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Romans 13:1

Paul really could not be any clearer writing in Romans. However, his clarity does not necessarily make him right. Let’s re-wind.

And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give you, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. Luke 4:6

True, it is the devil speaking, but if you read on you will see clearly that Christ does not contradict Lucifer on this point. But, still the father of lies, so cant be trusted. However, later passages affirm Lucifer’s claim in this regard. John 12:31 refers to the Devil as the “prince” of this world, Paul himself calls Lucifer the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and John states:

“We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19)

Obviously, as the Book of Job tells us, Lucifer can only exercise power within the constraints placed upon him by God’s Law however, at the very least, the above totally undermines the central claim made by Paul that God always ‘has the casting vote’ and that government can only come from God, furthermore, his view that the state always acts as a constraint on wickedness is patently disproved by history – unless someone is seriously willing to contend that the Nazi state played this role. Indeed, in so many instances, the state has been the principle vehicle of wickedness. If we are to apply the ‘acid test’ of judging a position by its fruits then we should look no further than the infamous Catholic appeasement of Nazism to see the road that accepting Paul’s injunction without question will take us down.

The only ‘pro-state’ comment attributed to Jesus is the directive to ‘Render unto Cesar that which is his’ (Matthew 22:21) BUT nowhere is it said that ‘you must obey Cesar’ nor you ‘must agree with Cesar’ and I think we all know what Jesus would have had to say to the prospect of worshipping Cesar. All that is being said is that since the coin was rightfully his it should be returned – yes, you should pay your taxes, BUT this has nothing to do with blindly serving the state in fact, it is consistent with biblical injunctions against debt and being in debt.

I believe that the Church has made much of Paul’s passage in Romans to conceal and alibi its fundamental closeness too and desire for temporal political power – something that is counter to the living spirit and letter of Scripture. Elsewhere a different, more nuanced approach is to be found:

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29

In other words, Peter is calling for, rather than blind obedience the use of the gift of discernment when deciding what attitude we should take. As opposed to Paul, whose presupposition is that the state is always benign and always sent from God, Peter is clearly showing an awareness that this is far from being always the case (though sometimes it will be) and that indeed the state can set itself up as an active enemy of God.

 

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