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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Civil Liberty and The Powers that Be

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. 
For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

There are several ways that this verse could be interpreted. This verse is only a part of a larger passage from which is gleaned the accepted ( among most Christians ) understanding of the authority of the civil magistrate. As accepted by most Christians, this passage is usually understood as saying, at the very least, that we must obey all civil authorities, as long as what they command does not contradict what God commands. As the apostle Peter once said, 'We ought to obey God rather than men'. This is true; we ought to obey God rather than men! God has given us a list of commands, or laws to live by, and when we follow those laws rather than the laws of men, we have the peace that passes beyond all understanding and blessed communion with our Creator. These Christians argue that if the civil government orders us to do something which is contrary to the laws of God, we most surely should disobey, though usually in a pacifistic manner, their orders. At the worst, I believe, other Christians will blindly obey the civil 'authorities', even acting contrary to the laws of God, either out of pure or even willful ignorance.

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.

Beyond the clearly eschatological nature of these statements, they hold a very clear and blatant message for us today; 'True rulers, those ordained by God, do not, as many today, 'call evil good, and good evil', but rather execute ( God's ) 'wrath on him who practices evil'! Those 'authorities' who do not this are no authority at all, and should not be obeyed as such!

For because of this you also pay taxes, 
for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.

As before, many Christians believe that we should dutifully pay every little tax that our governmental 'authority' levies on us, and will vilify anyone, especially another Christian, who doesn't do the same. I'm not a tax lawyer, and neither will I make this all about dutifully or not paying any taxes, because I believe that some taxes should be paid, especially with the system we have set up in this country. The road tax would be one of those taxes; 'somebody has to pay for it!'

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

The verse above, though it may seem  to have nothing much to do with Paul's little sermon earlier in Romans 13, has *everything* to do with it!  Love, as we can see throughout the Greek, or New Testament Scriptures, 'is the bond of perfection' love is what it's all about, and when Paul speaks of love here, it's not the 'touchy-feely' kind of love that we are most familiar with today, a 'love' that can enrapture to people one minute, and the next minute fall crashing to the floor! No; this love fulfills, or fulfilled, rather, the law; it is active, not doing harm to another, respecting their liberties as you would your own!

Paul was reminding the Roman Christians of their bounden duty before God to love those whom God had put in authority over them, as Peter said later, 'whether to the king as supreme' ( I Peter 2:13 ) or to governors, 'those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and [ for the ] praise of those who do good'. These were not commands to obey all authority,even that which only claimed the authority, but only that true authority which acknowledged that higher Authority, the authority which God alone has, Absolute Authority! Any earthly power who claims to have or tries to wield absolute authority is not of God!

In conclusion; a quick note on the eschatological nature of the verses above. If, as some suppose, the 'governing authorities' of which Paul writes were indeed the Roman, or civil authorities; it could truly be said that they had been ordained of God, but for the annihilation of the ministry of death, the punishing of the evils that Judaism had brought upon God's covenant people. On the other hand though, 'God’s minister to you for good' might well refer to that same ministry of death, or the commandment, rather, which, as Paul wrote elsewhere, 'which [ was ] to [ bring ] life', for although they ( the Jews ) failed to fulfill God's purpose for them, which was to bring life to His greater creation; they were still the 'Keepers of the Commandments', so to speak!

So, as we continue to see our civil liberties go down the drain, let's keep in mind that, first; Paul was addressing a particular situation that a certain people faced, in a time long ago and a land far away. Secondly; let's keep in mind that these words, though certainly applicable to us today, are not a command to obey just anyone who claims the authority over us. There is only One who truly has authority over us, and He has ordained certain ministers to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil!

Let us not just simply watch our liberties, civil or otherwise, go down the drain; let us stop using a misinterpretation of Scripture as an excuse to sit on our laurels and then complain when nothing good comes of it!

Charles Haddon Shank

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