Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Tragedy of Lawlessness

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” - St. Paul

One of the most common errors of human life is becoming so fearful of extreme vice or radical philosophy, that one falls into the arms of the opposite. People who are running from lust can become cold and inhuman. Those running from laziness can become workaholics. When we run from intellectual arrogance we often embrace stupidity.

Running from tyranny we can become slaves of anarchy.

Many good people in our nation – Christians, in fact -- are falling into the pit of lawlessness. In the name of preserving freedom, they are running headlong into varieties of libertarianism and antinomianism. (The latter is what the Bible calls “the spirit of the anti-Christ.”)

Lately, I hear believers saying the most hateful things about our nation’s leaders and our structures of government. Evidently people making these statements have no understanding about how the Bible forbids such attitudes towards human government, parents, policeman, pastors – toward anyone in authority.

Certainly, we are not obliged to agree with (or in extreme cases, even obey) those in authority. As Gandhi once said, “there are unjust laws just as there are unjust men.”


But what does a Christian do about unjust laws?

Well, a Christian exposes the errors of those laws and tries to offer to the rulers of his nation a better way. However, a Christian never rails against his rulers. He never forgets that human government represents God. Law does this imperfectly, of course; for alas, we are fallen creatures. Get millions of us together in one place and then create structures of governance to order our social life...then our collective fallenness become immediately apparent!

Government’s flaws are an easy target but they are merely the multiplied faults of its citizens. A little mole on a beautiful face doesn’t bother us. Put the same mole on a big screen and it becomes unavoidable. An angry boss is upsetting to a few; an angry judge or president can be dangerous to millions.

Schools, hospitals, churches and religious denominations are no different, by the way. They too are human institutions and they are ruled by fallen human beings.

Having worked in churches all my life, I can’t imagine a more horrible idea than asking church leaders to rule a state. We tried that once or twice; it never turns out right.

When Roman Catholics ruled Europe, it was not a pleasant place for Baptists, Calvinists or Lutherans.

When Calvinists ruled Geneva, it was a downright hellish place for the likes of Servetus.

When the Puritans ruled England (and New England), it was a hostile place for Christmas, art, music, leisure, laughter, romance, or any kind of Christianity other than Puritanism.

As it turns out, we Christians are fallen creatures too. We have a very difficult time extending liberty to those who differ from us when we are responsible for justice. Put us in charge of a state and sooner or later we will outlaw everything we don’t like. At least, that is what we have done whenever we have had the chance.

Law is a messy business. That’s because humans are messy creatures, including Christian ones.

The unavoidable messiness of humanity is the reason God established different realms of authority for the leaders of family, church, and state. American believers seem to have momentarily forgotten this. The Protestant Reformers were the ones that insisted upon separating religious authority from political power. The separation of church from state, then, was not the product of politicians who were afraid of pastors; it was the product of pastors who were afraid of politicians—especially of politicians who were also pastors.

Not only that, the Protestants insisted on a separation of power within government. We derived our three branches of government from the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. (“One government in three branches, so to speak; “neither dividing the substance nor confusing the branches.”) Protestantism both honored and distrusted authority. They wanted to submit to authority while limiting its reach.

In the view of the reformers, parents were to govern their families. Churches were to govern their disciples. The state was to govern the civic life of its citizens. Each type of authority had its proper realm of governance, and each served as a structure of accountability to protect its people against the usurpation of power by any of the other authorities.

This is a biblical view of law and authority. Libertarianism, on the other hand, is resentment (and a type of rebellion) against authority. It is forbidden by scripture.

Consider this quote from my son-in-law, Austin Cagle, in his commentary on James, chapter 5:

“We Christians are called to proclaim justice and to suffer at the hands of those for whom the structures of injustice are profitable. We are not called to establish justice by force. Rather, God asks us to wait patiently for justice, as a farmer waits for the harvest. Proclaiming justice is the responsibility of the church. Establishing justice is the responsibility of the state.”

(A policeman pulled him over on the way home from preaching this sermon by the way, while he was waxing eloquent to his mother about the biblical foundations of governmental authority!)

The state then does not exist merely to protect the citizens “from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” God appoints government to do what our constitution fathers articulated as “provide for the general welfare, and establish domestic tranquility.”

Streets, roads, sewerage, mass transit systems, parks, education, a trusteeship of a nation’s arts and cultural gifts, a humane concern for the physical health of the citizenry, the encouragement of commerce and the economic well being of the nation, the protection of the powerless against the caprice of the powerful – justice! – is the proper and biblical role of human government.

The Ann Rynd, Friedrich Nietzsche, every-man-for-himself-as-the-suckers-perish kinds of philosophies are simply incompatible with Christian faith. And believe me, if you don’t know who these people are and what they stood for, then you need to know. Their disciples are catechizing Americans daily. If you don’t want catechized by their ideas, you had better learn how to recognize them.

Marxism usurped the authority of both the family and the church. It appointed itself to a messianic role. In so doing, the peoples of the world have justifiably thrown it into the waste can of history.

So if you are running away from Marxism, let me join you. Marx made an idol of government and the sovereign God destroyed it. Only a few miserable and crotchety old professors at Berkley are still grieving about that. However, while you are running from Marxism, don’t forget to watch where you’re going. Otherwise you might fall into the ditch of Cain, who had no allegiance or obligation to anyone.

That ditch is the disastrous and culturally devastating philosophy and attitude of lawlessness, the resentment and disrespect for government and human authority. Fall into that ditch and you will soon become Godless.

St. Paul said all this a long time ago, in Romans, Chapter 13:

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.
3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.
4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.
5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do.
7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.


Bill Whites said...

Hello Pastor,

I know that when I see a political figure on TV, or in some other venue giving a speech or avoiding questions rather than answering them, that I get sarcastic and perhaps put them down. I know that I probably do this too often in front of my children. I need to heed your counsel and when I feel that urge I should pray for them instead.

Don't get me wrong I do pray also, but I know that I don't do it enough and sometimes it is easier to criticize than to pray.

I have been praying much more with the current administration as they scare me. They appear to be trying to take away freedoms and I believe that maybe they are ignoring history here in what they are doing. Perhaps they learned under the crotchety old Marxist professors you speak of and are trying to get back to their "glory days". I don't know. What I do know is that they seem to be trying to undermine our "trinity" form of government by running things through appointed people that aren't accountable to anybody and taking over private industries.

I know you didn't mean for this to be a political debate, so I will stop, but I have a problem respecting a liar and a cheat even if it is somebody who is supposed to be appointed by God. God obviously has a purpose in this appointment that I don't understand, but it is frustrating and difficult not to passionately decry what is going on. Sometimes that comes out as negativity, or sarcasm, after all I am a fallen human being as well.

Thank you for the message, I will keep trying to hold them up to God, rather than tear them down.

Eric Martin said...


Just curious on how you view the American revolution in this context.


Anonymous said...

In response to comment #2:

After failed attempts to be a free and independent country, "lawlessness" was not the framers' first intent:

"In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

"Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America."

—Thomas Jefferson, November 29, 1775