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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

God and Government Pt. 3 : The Limits of Temporal Authority By Chris White

“ Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah;  and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.”  But the midwives  feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.”   --Exodus 1:15-16

“So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:18-20

Last time we considered the idea that human government is part of God’s plan for restraining evil in the world and protecting human life.  We also considered the idea that government by nature must be coercive to actually be effective but this should be of no consequence to the Christian because as Christ-followers we follow a higher standard than human law requires us.  But this does bring up a question that every Christian must grapple with: if I am to follow and obey the government God has put me under (through the circumstance of birth,  immigration, or travel), is there ever a time for civil-disobedience or dissent?  The short answer here is yes, but only under limited circumstances. 
Martin Luther King Jr.

I recently heard a congressional leader who is known to be a Christian suggest on a television show that it was time for civil disobedience regarding some government licensing and regulations (and no, he wasn’t talking about any of our rights enshrined in the constitution).  Admittedly, there are way too many regulations out there and this does need some reforming, but his advocacy for ignoring or disobeying the government is wrong in every way.  As Christians we are not free to disobey the government just because we genuinely dislike a law or regulation.  The circumstance that permits civil disobedience by a Christian is when our government requires us to violate God’s higher law. 
Tiannaman Square

A scriptural example of this is the Egyptian mid-wives who were commanded by pharaoh to kill all Hebrew baby boys.  They ignored this command and actually lied to pharaoh about their attempts at compliance.  And God blessed these women for doing so.  God’s law is to take precedence over human law when human law commands us to break God’s law.  Another example of this is when human government prohibits the preaching of the gospel. 

Many years ago I had a conversation with someone who was concerned that our church was involved in Bible smuggling missions serving then communist Eastern Europe and the People’s Republic of China.  “It is a bad testimony for Christians to break the laws of another country.  God is not honored when we break the law,” I was told.  Ethically a Christian may break the law of another land in good conscience because God has not given any government the right to rule a man’s soul.  That is the place of Christ alone.  Such disobedience in some settings may earn severe consequences (think Iran or Saudi Arabia) from the government, nevertheless one is not an evil-doer in the eyes of God.  To sum up our obligations to obey human government are real and binding but only insofar as they relate to the temporal affairs of life and not the spiritual.

Read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail here
Lunch counter sit-in

Monday, December 22, 2014

God and Government Pt. 2 : Why Government Exists in the First Place? By Chris White

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. 
                                                                                        --Is. 9:7
Last time we considered God’s purpose for human government in the world from what I would call a negative perspective.  In short, because of human depravity man is not always going to be inclined to love his neighbor as himself.  In fact, he may love himself at the expense of his neighbor or murder his neighbor under the right circumstances.  As with individuals, so with neighborhoods and nations.  Basically government is one of God’s tools to ensure that our troubled world doesn’t break out into utter chaos and lawlessness.  This is not to say this doesn’t happen from time to time (and sometimes at the instigation of the government) but things are not as bad as they could be if man were left alone to his own devices.

But there is a more positive side to this government equation as well.  We see glimpses of it now and then in this present age but it will be fully realized in the government of the Messiah.  What I am talking about is the dispensing of justice and righteousness.  In the Lord’s government this shall mean the world will be ruled by the principles and procedures of God’s perfect law.   In this instance there really will be social progress because problems will be addressed with the wisdom of Him who knows how things are supposed to work not band-aided over with human ideas resourced in fear, greed, and folly.  But that said, human governments when they are at their best will promote justice and even support a moral climate that is at least friendly to the Ten Commandments if not explicitly directed by them.  

If this is in the heart of God for our future, it is in the heart of God for now as well and we who are believers in America who participate in the forming of governments through elections should be giving attention to whether the man or woman we are supporting is inclined towards justice and righteousness as well.  It strikes me that if a leader has a moral compass guided by these, the other concerns of law and order, the economy, and national security will be addressed in a positive fashion as well.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

God and Government Pt. 1 : Why Government Exists in the First Place? By Chris White

“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. “
                                                                                              --Gen. 8:20-21

“  In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
                                                                                                --Judges 21:25

As I write these words I know that I am entering into one of the ‘danger zones’ of polite company but probably even more so in the church where political preferences easily erupt into passions quickly mistaken for actual articles of faith.  I assure you I do have political points of view and preferences but have little interest in promoting them this context.  What I do wish to accomplish in this series is actually quite simple.  In light of this being an election year and all that it entails (the good, the bad, and the downright ugly!),  I would humbly submit to you several short articles that consider what Scripture says about the role of government in our lives with the hope that as Christians our thinking and decision-making will in some way be shaped by the mind and spirit of Christ.  

As an avid listener to “Talk-Radio” one of the common themes I hear is the need for less government or limited government.  For the most part I agree with this idea if for no other reason than their opposites, more government and unlimited government, definitely would not make any of our lives better and probably would make them worse.  But something that is missing in our discourse on the topic is the spiritual reality of man.  The Bible teaches three important truths about humanity.  First man is the highest creation on this planet because he is “made in the image of God.”  Second, man is so loved by God that God sent His Son to redeem our lives. And finally, man is a fallen creature and therefore totally depraved.  As such, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that men are totally evil and incapable of good and noble things.  What it does mean is that all of us are broken in our thinking, values, and wills.  At core, apart from Christ, we want to be our own god and be a law unto ourselves.
Thus to be able to reduce the amount of laws we have and hence the amount of government and to not fall into total chaos and lawlessness would actually require more than electing the “right” candidates, it would require a massive improvement in everyone’s character.  Given the state of human society today, I suspect you won’t being seeing the need for any prisons to close, armies to disband, or police forces going out of business any time soon.

And so as we think about why government exists in the first place we must understand that it is actually a servant of God that is there to serve as check and balance against human depravity and lawlessness.  When we consider our own capacity to sin, we should recognize right away that God has made provision for humanity in this way that is neither overly optimistic or pessimistic, just realistic.  Man needs something outside of himself to help him do the right thing and failing that to stop him from doing the wrong thing.