As usual, Tim has posed a number of thoughtful, challenging questions. I post my answers here because he’s pushed me to address some questions I was planning on getting to in future posts. I add my answer to Guy’s post on lobbying the government at the end because of the importance of the topic.
[PS -- I've been very impressed with quality and spirit of nearly all the comments. This has been a much better discussion than I'd ever imagined. I'm being pushed to figure out stuff every day.]
I still believe that the defensive wars of the times of the judges had to do with the Promised Land.
The examples from the Old Testament were intended to be illustrative of what God created government — all government — to do. If government doesn’t defend us from invaders and protect us from criminals, it’s not performing its God-ordained task (Rom 13:1-7).
I can’t imagine that God meant for his children to allow non-Christians to risk their lives to defend Christians. It would seem very unfair for the Christians to let others do their dirty work for them.
(Rom 13:4) For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
And in a democracy where there’s a Christian majority, I can’t see the Christians voting to disband the military entirely, leaving the rest to die as martyrs along with the Christians. But then, how could the Christians vote to have a military if they consider the military wicked. Even if the Christians see the military as permissible, but not for Christians, how could a majority ask the unbelieving minority to die for the protection of the Christians?
You see, I can’t help but think that much (not all) of pacifistic thought presumes that Christians will always be in the minority, which is just not true unless you proceed on the highly sectarian assumption that most believers aren’t really Christians.
Therefore, because the government is permitted by God to use the sword for proper purposes, I think God permits Christians, in government, to do what governments were made to do.
This is not the same as saying that Christians should rise up in rebellion against the government, which is plainly prohibited in Rom 13:2. Rather, it’s to say that we honor God by working within the structures he created so that they better do what God meant for them to do.
The human monarchy never worked.
No government has ever worked perfectly. But then, no congregation of the church has ever worked perfectly. But some monarchies have worked extremely well, as have some churches. God plainly blessed David’s and Solomon’s kingships until they were caught up in sin.
When our loyalty to an earthly kingdom can cause us to do harm to a brother in Christ, we need to question that loyalty.
Agreed. In fact, we need to not do that. Our loyalty is to the kingdom of heaven. When that loyalty comes into conflict with our loyalty to a human institution — a nation, a government, an employer, even a congregation — we have to be loyal first and only to the kingdom of God.
[Abraham] didn’t try to solve every injustice in the world. He considered Lot to be his responsibility.
If you’re arguing that the church shouldn’t oppose injustice, I disagree very strongly. If you’re arguing that the church should only take on what it can handle — with God’s help — I agree that we have to pick our battles.
(Gen 14:16) He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
Abraham did much more than rescue Lot. He rescued all who’d been captured and all the goods that had been stolen. He helped strangers as well as family, which to me is very godly indeed. Helping only family would be completely contrary to the nature of God and who he wants us to be.
Why is the lesson of Revelation one of enduring persecution rather than one of rising up and conquering the persecutors?
I think the answer is in Romans 12 – 13.
(Rom 12:19-21) Do 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. 20 On 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Rom 13:1-4) Everyone 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. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Christians are banned from taking vengeance but must allow God to punish wrongdoers. However, the government is God’s agent for doing just that.
Therefore, while it’s wrong for an individual Christian to take vengeance, it’s not only right, but in fulfillment of God’s purpose for government for the government to punish the wrongdoer — with the sword.
Either we are to leave doing God’s will for government to unbelievers, who don’t know God’s will, or else we are to participate in government so that government comes closer to being what God meant for it to be.
I’ve seen both kinds of government. I fail to see any advantage in a Godless government in which Christians refuse to participate. Why would God tell us that the government is his agent and yet we, the body of Christ on earth, refuse to be involved in the doing of God’s will?
As noted before, the argument can be made from —
(Heb 11:13) All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
The writer is speaking of the great heroes of the Bible, and they evidently succeeded in living as “aliens and strangers on earth.” And yet David, for example, was a king, and Joseph was second in Egypt only to Pharaoh. Serving in government does not contradict living as an alien and stranger — so long as you serve God where you are.
As Terry pointed out, Mordecai (Est 10:3) and Daniel are examples of other men of God who served in governments other than Israel’s. They are praised for being men of God in pagan governments — and they did great good for God’s people.
Finally, recall that Joseph, as an officer of the Egyptian government, required the Egyptian people to pay 1/7th of their farming produce to the government as a reserve for the coming years of famine. Had he taken their food as a private citizen, he’d be a thief. As a government official, acting responsibly for the people, he’s a hero.
God gives people who serve in the government privileges that he doesn’t allow the very same people when acting as private citizens.
My answer: The solution is for the church to stop worrying about changing laws, and start practicing and providing the justice ourselves. Offer tutoring programs to the community and make benevolence-ministries a bigger part of daily work. Aim for the congregation’s community not to be dependent upon whether laws or just or not.
I could not disagree more. It’s a false dichotomy. We should do both because love compels us to do both.
I’m a great fan of William Wilberforce, who crusaded for years against the slave trade — and finally persuaded England not only to stop trading in slaves but also to use its naval might to keep anyone else from shipping slaves over sea.
He was a member of Parliament, and the Royal Navy used cannons to end the slave trade. I think what he did was utterly holy.
[The movie "Amazing Grace" tells the story and should be viewed in every church.]
On the other hand, if what you mean is that the church should not ask the government to do its good works for it, I entirely agree. We need to stop expecting the schools to raise our children for us or to teach our children to pray for us. That’s our job. And we should not fool ourselves into thinking that voting for good things replaces doing good things.
While government aid to the needy, for example, is a good thing when done wisely, if the church abandons the poor, figuring the government is handling their needs, their spiritual needs will not be met. Indeed, there is no better way to assure that someone remains financially poor than to make him spiritually poor. I believe the church largely abandoned the poor during the last century, resulting in many of the severe problems we have today.