Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Beyond "Submit to the Authorities" part 5
Dear Courteous Reader,
Thanks be to God that He has given believers the benefit of counsel among ourselves. No one has a complete understanding of all things, and so we benefit from the fellowship of other Christians. Sometimes other believers can add their learning to our own, so filling gaps in our theology. Other times they can critique our doctrine, so helping us separate the dross from the silver
In this case, God has provided two brothers, who have taken issue with the doctrine presented in this series of articles. One is “Eklektos,” who commented on the blog. Another is a very dear and respected fellow pastor, who sent an e-mail. These two men's objections to my interpretation of Romans 13 have been given so strongly, so reasonably, and with such obvious love for Christ and His church, that I must now pause to answer their objections.
Please bear with me patiently. For my part, answering objections is harder than simply teaching, and requires more time in study. For your part, following all the arguments and their supporting points is harder than simply reading an article. The task of understanding and obeying the Bible, however, is well worth the hard work. These brothers who have studied the issue and put their objections to my interpretation in writing have sacrificed time and effort to do so. Likewise, it will be an additional commitment of time and attention for me to answer. It's springtime outside. The seeds, the soil, and the sunshine are calling for my attention out there. This matter of submission to the government is of great importance, however, and also increasing urgency.
Please pray for me, dear ones, as I work on this. I am a frail creature of dust, and feeble as frail. Only by the work of the Holy Spirit on my mind will I be able rightly to interpret the scriptures, rightly to apply them, and effectively to express them in writing.
Love in Christ,
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Beyond "Submit to the Authorities" part 4
In the last article, we considered how some of God's commands are given in such a way that if we obey the command in its bare form in certain crisis situations, we actually disobey rather than obey the spirit of the commandment. Let us study this principle further by considering the concept of a proviso.
The word “proviso” has passed into English from the Latin phrase proviso quod, which means “provided that.” We are all familiar with this concept, because we use it often. Here are some examples:
- “This engine is guaranteed for 36 months or 36,000 miles, provided that the owner performs regular oil and filter changes.”
- “I will pay you $600 for those wheels, provided that they fit my truck.”
- “I will keep my side of the bargain, provided that you keep your side of it.”
- “You may borrow my car if you will take good care of it.”
- “You may go over to his house if you will be home by supper time.”
- “Make another sandwich if Uncle Jeff is coming for lunch.” (Would that be enough?)
- “Lord willing and the Creek don't rise.”
In these examples, the proviso is stated. But the concept of proviso is almost always understood, even if not stated. When the proviso is not stated, if it were stated, it would be something like, “provided that things go as they should, and normally do.” Consider these examples:
- “I'll be home by about 8:00” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that I don't have a car wreck or a heart attack, and that I am not murdered, and that no asteroids hit the earth, etc.).
- “Put on your pajamas and go to bed” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that no pipe has broken and flooded your bedroom, that your pajama drawer is not on fire, and that no rattlesnakes are in your bed).
- “Children, do not leave this house until I get home” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that the house does not catch fire).
- “On the Sabbath you shall do no work” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that your neighbor does not have an accident and need you to save his life).
- “Slaves, obey your masters” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that they do not order you to commit murder).
- “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that they do not tell you to steal for them).
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities, provided that these authorities generally govern as they should, within the bounds of what citizens should rightfully expect from their government.”Please accept also this paraphrase of the command, with a fuller statement of the understood proviso:
Citizens of a country should pay their taxes, respect the governing official (or body), and obey his laws, provided that he rightfully holds his office and does not exceed his authority (is not a usurper), that he rules according to the constitution, the laws, the long-standing traditions, and ultimate morality (is not a despot), and that he refrains from cruelty and excessive use of force (is not a tyrant).This principle of the unstated but understood proviso helps us interpret and apply this command correctly, and should help us with other commands as well, both human and divine.
As always, you are very welcome to send this article to others, if you think it would be helpful to them. You are also welcome to ask questions, and to add your ideas.
Love in Christ,
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I hope you enjoy this letter, which I wrote to Dr. Walter Williams, a college professor and conservative political columnist.
Love in Christ,
Dear Dr. Williams,
Despite the fact that I appreciate your March 11 article on "general welfare" very much, and despite the fact that I usually agree with your ideas, I must say that I find your use of the split infinitive "to regularly exercise" very unpatriotic.
Some social commentators see the court decisions outlawing school prayer, but legalizing abortion, or the laws granting no-fault divorce, or the hippie movement violating sexual norms and undermining authority structures, as the social developments that have led our country into such dire straits today. But the real culprit in the slide of America from our past greatness to our present weakness is the use, even by good men such as you, Dr. Williams, of the grammar construct known as the "split infinitive."
Consider that ever since 1966, when Captain Kirk decided "to boldly go" beyond the traditional grammar structures of our language, our citizens have become less and less familiar with proper modification of the infinitive. True, we have retained the post-infinitive adverb, as "to think creatively," but the mid-infinitive adverb has come "to mostly replace" the traditional pre-infinitive adverb of our founding fathers.
Aye, there's the rub! Today, our citizens have more need of the Constitution than ever. Yet, many of the citizens see it as ancient, outdated, irrelevant. Why? We have become so accustomed to the carelessly-split infinitive, that we no longer appreciate the beauty of such a carefully-crafted phrase as "peaceably to assemble." Instead, the unfamiliarity of such a phrase leaves the young American with the impression that the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the related writings of the time must be mere museum pieces.
Certainly the lack of attention to traditional morality, especially the Ten Commandments has played a role; probably the tolerance of rampant political corruption has contributed; undoubtedly the exchange of the Great Awakening's vibrant religion for today's shallow pseudo-spirituality has done it's part; but the abandment of the grammar of our founding fathers is proving to be our nation's undoing.
Therefore, Dr. Williams, I hope you will, in the future, for the good of our posterity, structure your sentences in a more patriotic way, and so do your part faithfully to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and grammatical.
Jeff Richard Young
Friday, March 06, 2009
Beyond "Submit to the Authorities" part 3
May the grace of God given us by His Son be foremost in your minds today!
God's commands, given to us in the Bible, are given both for His glory and for our benefit. Every command of God is good, and in fact is perfect!
But some of His commands come to us in such a way that the general statement of the command is not to be applied in its bare form to every conceivable circumstance. Sometimes, because of the sinfulness of mankind, circumstances are so reversed from how they should be, that, to do what is right, you actually seem to disobey a commandment.
Let me present an example of a human commandment that is given in such a form, followed by an example of such a scriptural commandment. With both of those examples in mind, I will then suggest how this principle applies to Romans chapter 13 and the command to submit to the authorities.
A mother commands her children, “Do not go outside the house while your father and I are gone this evening.” When the children are tempted to go outside for a game of hide-and-seek in the dark, they will do well to obey their mother's command and stay inside. But if the house catches fire, the children should NOT stay in the house, but should run outside. Because of the sinfulness of man, and the fallen state of creation, the situation has become utterly reversed from how it should be. The house should be a safe haven from danger for the children, but has in fact become a danger to their lives. So, to obey the commandment in its basic form will not honor the mother's intention, but will violate it.
God commanded, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.” Take the case, then, of a Jew in the days of John the Baptist. When he is temped to work in his business on the Sabbath, he will do well to obey the Lord's command, putting aside his work for one day, in order to rest and worship. But if, on his way into Jerusalem on the Sabbath, he sees that an archway has caved in, trapping two people under the rubble, he should NOT refrain from work. Because of the sinfulness of man, and the fallen state of creation, the situation has become utterly reversed from how it should be. In such a circumstance, if the man will not help lift the fallen stones off the people who are trapped, this will be sin. So, to obey the commandment in its bare form would not honor God's intent, but would instead violate it.
Examples could be multiplied, and perhaps you will do so as you meditate on this concept. One believer suggested the case of the boy with his finger in the dike.
Of course, some commandments of God are not stated in such a way that this principle applies. For example, it is never right not to love God with all your heart. It is never good not to love your neighbor as yourself. It is never right to commit murder or adultery. But many of God's commands do come to us in this form.
Romans chapter 13 opens with the command, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” If a believer is tempted to stop paying his taxes, or stop getting licenses, or stop obeying the traffic laws, because he is ultimately a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, not an earthly country, or because Jesus is his Lawgiver, King, Judge, not the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court, he will do well to obey this command, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.”
But what if a Christian citizen of the United States of America, a constitutional republic, finds himself living in a time when the office of President is usurped by a foreigner, unconstitutional powers are assumed by the Congress, and immoral rulings are given by the Supreme Court? What if the government rewards the wicked and punishes the righteous? What if the government, instead of insuring justice is done, becomes itself the doer of injustice. What if, instead of securing the rights of the people, the government itself infringes the people's rights?
If a Christian in such circumstances reflects on this command, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities,” and so passively submits to every abuse and injury dished out by a usurping, despotic, even tyrannical government, allowing his fellow citizens, as well as yet-unborn future citizens to suffer the same, he has NOT obeyed God's command rightly. He has instead acted with the foolishness of children who would die in a burning house because their mother had told them not to go outside, or of a man who would not lift a stone off of his fellow man because it was the Sabbath.
This principle is a key to right interpretation and application of the commands in Romans chapter 13. I urge you to consider this, and see the rightness of it. Please feel free to add your comments and ask your questions.
Love in Christ,
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Beyond "Submit to the Authorities" part 2
Dear Courteous Reader,
No matter what is happening in your life, whether pleasant or unpleasant, easy or difficult, I pray that your hope is not in your circumstances, but in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Bible talks of Christian citizenship in several passages, but the central one is Romans chapter 13, so let's work on that for a bit. How about just one concept for now?
The apostle gives this doctrine to those believers who had the wrong idea that God's people do not have to submit to earthly government. In the case of Jewish believers, perhaps some of them claimed their special status as God's nation, and so had the same sentiment reflected in the question asked of Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17) In the case of gentile believers, perhaps a misapplication of the glorious truth that Jesus is the King of kings led them to reject all human government. Certainly some unruly professors were acting disrespectful toward officials (2 Peter 2:10). But the fact that both Paul and Peter commanded submission to government in their letters indicates that some of the Christians of their day held that they did not have to submit to kings and to lower levels of governors.
In answer to this wrong idea, the apostles command that believers be in submission to the governing authorities.
This is tender, easy stuff, I know, so let me give you something tougher to chew.
This doctrine was given to correct those believers who wrongly thought that they did not have to submit to the government, to bring them over to the truth that they did have to submit to the government.
It was NOT given to those believers who were already cheerfully submitting to the government, to help them know what to do as citizens of a republic when dealing with a usurping, despotic, and tyrannical government.
To put it another way,
Paul IS saying, “Those of you who are not submitting to the government must begin to submit.”
Paul is NOT saying, “Those of you who are faithful citizens of a republic, whose laws are being violated by a tyrant, must do nothing but submit to the tyrant's violence.”
I invite you to chew on that, and I hope it doesn't give you indigestion!
Love in Christ,
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Beyond "Submit to the Authorities"
May you rejoice today in the grace given you freely by the Lord Jesus Christ!
Please consider this word I offer you in love.
As Christians, we are ultimately citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, not of any earthly country. While we live this earthly life, however, we are indeed citizens of our earthly countries, which in my case is the United States of America. As part of our discipleship, then, we must act rightly toward our government and our fellow citizens.
The Bible's basic commandment in this regard is to be found in Romans chapter 13, among other places, and it is that we are to submit to the government, rendering both taxes and honor to those government officials to whom it is due. We must never forget this basic principle, nor fail to live by it.
HOWEVER, we must not allow this one principle to be our whole understanding of the Lord's teaching on government and citizenship, either. There is much more to learn from the Bible about Christian duty, about good citizenship.
Please join me as I inquire into the Bible's teachings on this matter. At the same time, please join me in praying for our government officials, for each other, our fellow Christian citizens, and for me as a pastor/teacher.
If you find anything I write helpful, you are most welcome to send it around in whatever way seems best to you. Please feel free to contact me personally for more information.
In the thoughts I offer here, I will be leaning heavily on the text of the Bible, of course, but also a book of old sermons. It is available to read free of charge on Google Books, and is available for purchase on Amazon, and I suppose from other book sellers as well. The title is The Pulpit of the American Revolution, or The Political Sermons of the Period of 1776. The editor is John Wingate Thornton. It was published in 1860, and there is a recent new printing as well.
Click here to view on Google books.
Love in Christ,
P.S. I am including here at the bottom of this article a few key words, so that those who are searching for information on these topics can find their way here. By seeing these words together, you may also be able to guess where I am headed with this teaching.
Barack Obama, president, usurper, usurpation, constitution, natural-born citizen, Declaration of Independence, despotism, tyranny
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