Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Romans 13 Charade...Again

1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1

A Christian’s relationship to the government is a source of heated debate. Should a Christian participate in the affairs of government or does he or she abstain from it? The affairs of government can range from enlisting in the military which entails participating in war to participating in public office. This debate did not exist for the first century church. The persecuted church had to meet in secret to avoid capture and death from the government. Christianity became a legal religion under Constantine and was later made the official religion under Theodcides (probably misspelled), and thus the debate was born. As you can see that in a relatively short time span Christianity went from being a small secret religion under the radar of the Empire to point where everyone, adult and infant, is being baptized into the Roman church and deemed to be “Christian”. So if we can agree Christianity is not just a title, but a lifestyle that is the essence of who we are; then could a Christian or should a Christian participate in a government that typically behaves in contradiction to the will of God?

Romans 13 is a common defense for those who believe it is legitimate for Christians to participate in military/war and public office. A closer look at Romans 13, however, reveals many holes which make it a weak and invalid defense. First, Who are the governing authorities Paul is speaking of? Since Paul is not specific in naming a government, like Rome, the term “governing authorities” would have to be applied to all governments that have come before and those still to come. You cannot pick and choose which governments are established by God and those that are not. This general term would apply to the best and the worst the world has seen. This “governing authorities” would include not only America, but also the governments of Nazi Germany and Saddam Hussein himself. If all governments have been established by God, then America shouldn’t exist since the English government was a governing authority established by God.

Second, how does the Romans 13 defense stand up in the light of the preceding chapter of Romans 12?

It says, “ 9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

How does one overcome evil with good in war? If you feed the enemy, it is considered an act of treason. How can one cling to what is good in midst of the greed and corruption that governments feed on? How can one leave room for God’s wrath when too often we take revenge for ourselves? It seems that in the face of Romans 12, one can not so easily swallow Romans 13.

Third, where is Paul writing Romans 13? In JAIL. Good, upstanding citizens don't get thrown into jail. Only one who stands in opposition to the Empire and refuses to participate in its pursuit for power is thrown in jail. Paul does not submit to the unjust and unGodly law of the governing authority, but he rather submits to the consequences that come with being a disciple of Christ. If it is illegal to proclaim Christ as Lord, Paul does not run away from his captors or allude the government. He instead comes to the government and submits his hands to be chained.

Fourth, sometime over Christmas I was discussing with a friend the history of the Church of Christ. He made a profound observation of how in matters of doctrine and faith the Church of Christ almost always goes first to the letters of Paul before going to the gospel of Jesus. Whether it be women’s roles, homosexuality, musical instruments or communion; the Church of Christ tends to give Paul the authority. It seems as though the gospel is just as scandalous today as it was when Jesus as preaching it. We still wonder if Jesus actually meant for us to love our enemies and eat with sinners. We avoid looking to the gospel with our questions because we are scared to death of the answers we might find. I find it interesting that we would rather give authority to a man who is lord of nothing than Christ who is lord of everything.

All I ask is that we think critically about the Romans 13 defense. For myself, I am always seeking to make a solid defense for my beliefs with solid evidence. There are just too many holes and contradictions for me to accept the Romans 13 defense as a valid argument for the Christian participating government. If you genuinely believe it is legitimate for a Christian to participate in government, then I ask you to provide a better defense than Romans 13 which has more holes than a block of swiss cheese. The Romans 13 defense is a merely a charade we sometimes substitute for the authentic call of the gospel that all of us, myself included, are afraid to answer.


Coming Next Week: The Economic Consequences of Jubilee


J-Wild 7:48 PM  

Chris, this is a very interesting post, and one that is particuarly timely. I do believe that Christians should live out their faith in any capacity they can. That includes politics and government. However, the great the power and influence a person gains in the politicle arena the lesser a "God view" a person can take. Intead they must take a "people view" and reflect the will of people rather than the will of God.
What I can't stand is the people who believe GWB is somehow channeling the righteousness of God through the White House. If we take the Gospel seriously that couldn't be further from the truth, and that's not GWB fault. As I said before "the will of the people" is often at odds with "the will of God." We don't elect a prophet we elect an executive of our national interest and will.
It's important for Christians to be involved in the process so as to highlight the plight of the poor, victimized, widowed, and children. If we weren't then we would have a contempt for our world that God does not share. I mean to say that God is interested in what we can do for the Kingdom here now not at the rapture.

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