Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Romans 13 and Government 4

Rebelling against authorities is rebellion against God — so Paul at Romans 13:2-4. Tom Wright contends that Paul is looking at the authorities as part of “God’s intended order” and “not its corruputions.” Paul, of course, would learn the rough side of “authority” for before long he will be hauled before the magistrates in Israel and will end up in Rome — just off the Capitoline in a small dungeon of a prison, overlooking the famed Forum.
Of course, Paul’s words provoke response, reaction and at least some comment. Do you think this is how every Christian in every government should respond? And, as we will try to show below, how tightly has Paul enveloped “authority” into a system and a leader who does what is right and what is just? And, if the authority begins to do what is wrong and what is unjust, does that not also mean “authority” has changed? And therefore “submission” to authorities?
Notice Paul’s points — which, in my estimation — do some internal deconstructing or at least put some conditions on what Paul is saying:
Rom 13:4: The authority figure is “God’s servant to do you good.” What if he (or she) is not doing good but is doing evil and creating piles of systemic violence and injustice?
Rom 13:3: “For rulers old no terror for those who do right…” But what if they do hold terror for those who do right? Did they do right by Paul in Jerusalem? Did Paul do right with the Christians he hailed into judgment and had put to death?
Rom 13:3: “Do you want to be free from fear…?” Is not Paul assuming that the authority figures will do right and, if his readers do right, they will be protected? What happens if they turn against those who are doing right?
Rom 13:4: “He is God’s agent of justice” — but what if he is doing injustice?
For these reasons, then, I think Paul meshes “authority” as God’s creation with “authority” as doing, in general — Rome, after all, was hardly Christian or Jewish, what is right and what is just.

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posted September 28, 2006 at 4:22 am

These are tight constraints. If a legitimate government must be God’s servant doing us good, doing no terror for those doing right, and be an agent of God’s justice, then there are not many legitimate governments.

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Scott M

posted September 28, 2006 at 4:28 am

Exactly. Though I think Ron and I were mostly talking past each other, that’s pretty much what I was trying to say. Christians would not bow to Caesar and abandon their Lord. But at the same time, they were better citizens than anyone. We have the bemused comments and actions of Roman procurators in the second century especially bearing that out.
Where it does good and serves God’s purpose of order, work alongside the government. Where it fails in its responsibility, resist it. However, then we have the question of what ‘Christian’ resistance to a government looks like. And most of the time I think this needs to look like the way of love, the way of Jesus, and sometimes the way of the cross, certainly on an individual level. When Christians also wield the power of the state, we face the quandary Augustine faced. But that’s a different issue altogether.

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Ed Chinn

posted September 28, 2006 at 6:36 am

Scott asks “What if [authority] is not doing good…?”
Most of us earthlings tend to take such an earthbound, short-term view of “good” (usually in a consumerist sense). But, as He did with Joseph in Egypt, God has a way of taking a transcendent and VERY long-term perspective on “good.”

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posted September 28, 2006 at 7:27 am

These “tensions” point to the distinction between authority and power. Governments only have authority within the envelope, but they usually excercise their power outside of envelope when it suits their purposes. I don’t sense any compulsion to obey the “clearly outside the envelope” laws (except fear of punishment).
Depending on how one defines “good”, this could almost be seen to justify some of the Chrisitan Reconstructionism principles. One of the beauties of the American Constitution is that it’s primarily a set of limits on government authority, which runs contrary to Reconstructionism.

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posted September 28, 2006 at 8:14 am

Interesting view (#4). I wonder if the seperation of church and state line then follows the constitutional “balance of powers”. It could be construed then that because of the Passage in Romans 13 Christians have a tenable position to want the least amount of “governmental” authority, rather than the traditional Imperial, monarchal, dictatorial, or even representative forms of government that always seem to want to accrue amounts of control.

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posted September 28, 2006 at 8:33 am

i don’t think we could ever look at a government and see something that is “good” or “just” in anywhere near a complete sense. Even Paul, though he has not been arrested and taken to Rome yet, still must know this. As a Jew in the 1st century, the Romans occupied his country and were overall not a very welcomed force in the land. I can’t imagine Paul would look at Rome and see a “just” or “good” situation.
I say this to point out that as Chrisitans we could point to any and every governing body (even “governing bodies of local churches…but that’s another story) and find instances of injustice and unrighteousness, etc.
I think that if we only submit when they are being just, it would be hard to find any government that was worthy of our submission at any length of time…

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posted September 28, 2006 at 8:49 am

Hi Scot and Folks: Terri Erwin last night on Barbera Walters said this about her husband that “he lived life intensely taking advantage of every single moment with a sense of urgency.” Shouldn’t we have that as well? Was Paul penning a style of life for the followers he knew so well? In which instance doesn’t his overarching “against such there is no law” take prominence, which would mean Scots right on the money about resistance under the Christian principle of love and forgiving of those who aren’t toward us?

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posted September 28, 2006 at 10:18 am

I think the authors of the Constitution recognized the problems with increasing power in government and incorporated the “separation of powers”. The adage about power corrupting seems to be true in a variety of forms of government, and shouldn’t surprise us as Christians. I take exception to the “separation of church and state” as it’s currently debated since the Constitution only prohibits the establishment of a “state church” and limits what the government can legislate regarding religious organizations.
Regarding a “tenable position” for Christians supporting limited government there’s a few things that come together. First, a Christian view of humanity (recognizing mankind’s corrupted nature), Second, Romans 13 driving American believers to “submit” to the Constitution as the binding document over the Federal government. Third, the history of how powerful governments become abusive. Given these three, I don’t think there’s a tenable option for the Christian. Of course we submit within the envelope of proper authority regardless, but we should all be somewhat Libertarian in terms of the Federal government (IMO).

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posted September 28, 2006 at 1:42 pm

What does looking at the example of the martyrs indicate along these lines? Did they reject the authority of the Roman government to kill them? My impression is that they didn’t, and that sort of submission while resisting certain demands of the government may be very much in line with Paul’s injunction to submit to authority while recognizing that only Jesus is truly Lord.

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posted September 29, 2006 at 12:33 am

I think that you hit a great point. I appreciate the comment that God sees his authority meshed with that of humanity. God very well could see that authority on earth, although at times destructive, is integral part of the world. We could say that God does not work “unilaterally” but he works with other people to accomplish his will. People, especially those in authority, play that major role in the coming of God’s Kingdom. Although I would argue that no human has true authority in themselves, but they are allowed to borrow it, until “the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ”.

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