Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What ever happened to context?

I received an email recently that made strong statements about how Christians are misinformed concerning their relation to government. It is always amazing to me how people twist Scripture to validate their own motives or desires. Instead of posting the entire email I have included a link to an archive copy.

As I read through the email I find it somewhat disturbing because Mr. Baldwin is attempting to present a case for political rebellion by taking Scripture out of context. Please don't get me wrong, I feel that we need radical reform in our government; but I will not twist Scripture to present a political agenda. I fear God too much to distort His precious Word.

Please allow me to comment on his remarks. First it appears that Mr. Baldwin only holds to a position that many who teach submission to government by Romans 13 are in error. He quotes Romans 13:1-7 from the King James text and then comments on governmental unlimited authority. We must keep in mind that government was established by God for the purpose of order and to uphold God's laws. Here is a Biblical list of God's governmental standard:

1. Are appointed by God. Ro 13:1.
2. Are ministers of God. Ro 13:4,6.
3. Purpose of their appointment. Ro 13:4; 1Pe 2:14.
4. Their office to be respected. Ac 23:5.
5. Are not a terror to the good, but to the evil. Ro 13:3.
6. To be wisely selected and appointed. Ex 18:21; Ezr 7:25.
7. To be prayed for. 1Ti 2:1,2.
8. Should
     a. Seek wisdom from God. 1Ki 3:9.
     b. Rule in the fear of God. 2Sa 23:3; 2Ch 19:7.
     c. Know the law of God. Ezr 7:25.
     d. Be faithful to the Sovereign. Da 6:4.
     e. Enforce the laws. Ezr 7:26.
     f. Judge wisely. 1Ki 3:16-28.
     g. Hate covetousness. Ex 18:21.
     h. Not take bribes. Ex 23:8; De 16:19.
     i. Defend the poor. Job 29:12,16.
     j. Judge for God, not for man. 2Ch 19:6.
     k. Judge righteously. De 1:16; 16:18; 25:1.
     l. Be impartial. Ex 23:6; De 1:17.
     m. Be diligent in ruling. Ro 12:8.
     n. Subjection to their authority enjoined. Mt 23:2,3; Ro 13:1; 1Pe 2:13,14.
     [R.A. Torrey, The New Topical Text Book : A Scriptural Text Book for the Use of Ministers, Teachers, and All Christian Workers (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos research Systems, Inc., 1995, c1897).]

This list gives the Christian the standard of God's establishment of government. From this list we can determine if any government is within the boundaries of its God-ordained position. I would have to say that not too many (if any) establishments of government would fit the above bill. Does that mean that we should overthrow them? Should we attempt to create a condition of anarchy? By no means! Christianity and anarchy cannot coexist. There is no Biblical mandate for those types of actions.

Next, Mr. Baldwin presents examples of the old monarchal custom of Jus Primae Noctis, a father's authority in his home, an employer's authority on the job, and a pastor's authority in the church. Never forget God has established three institutions: the home (Gen. 2:18–25), government (Gen. 9:1–17), and the church (Acts 2). Guidelines for each of these institutions are presented in Scripture and are not identical. A pastor, a business manager, a father/husband cannot be considered within the same guidelines God has set out for government. I agree that people cannot be abusive, and business owners cannot take advantage of their employees but what does that have to do with government. If we remove the government body or promote anti-government means then there will be a tragically greater opportunity for abuse and neglect and corporate fraud. People will have the notion "if it doesn't affect me, then I don't care".

Next, Mr. Baldwin takes verse 3 slightly out of context. Mr. Baldwin says that a government body "must" not be a terror to good works. The text says "rulers are not a terror to good works". This is not a command motivating response when government actions are contrary. If that were the case, 1st and 2nd Peter would have been written differently because he was under the persecution of Nero for his works. Peter said if you are punished for doing good, then it brings glory to God.

Further, most of the Old Testament questions Mr. Baldwin poses are different in respect to what he is trying to accomplish. Most of the rebellion posed in his questions are in reaction to a government command to disobey or turn against God's command. That is the only case Scripture gives for rebellion to government authority. If man's law tells one to disobey God's law then God's law must be followed. In most of the examples that he listed that is what happened. They stood for what they believed and either God delivered them or they became martyrs.

Mr. Baldwin further states (completely out of Scriptural context):

Plus, Paul makes it clear that our submission to civil authority must be predicated on more than fear of governmental retaliation. Notice, he said, "Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." Meaning, our obedience to civil authority is more than just "because they said so." It is also a matter of conscience. This means we must think and reason for ourselves regarding the justness and rightness of our government's laws. Obedience is not automatic or robotic. It is a result of both rational deliberation and moral approbation.

Paul is saying that Christians should do our good works because of our conscious. We don't do the things that we must out of fear of government wrath. We do it because we love the Lord and our conscious demands it. This passage is NOT saying that we must reason whether or not government is doing the right thing. It is directly talking about our actions in society. We should do the right things because of who we are not because of government punishment.

I agree that we must demand that all who we elect into office must maintain the standards that we so dearly love. Yes, there may be a day that we are commanded by government to go against God's laws and then we MUST stand and say no. In the meantime, we must work to put honest Christian people in places of government who hold God's laws at the highest of standards.

For further reasearch on the topic of Romans 13, I believe Warren Wiersbe's "The Bible Exposition Commentary" sums Paul's verses quite well. ["An Exposition of the New Testament Comprising the Entire 'BE' Series"--Jkt. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989), Ro 13:1.]

It is time for political change in all levels of government. However, we must be careful not to rally behind a twisted context of Scripture in the process.

In Christ,

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