Now, onto Lens #2: Christians believe in obeying the law of civil authorities, as long as those authorities don't command us to ignore God's will for human beings. Christians, for the most part, believe in upholding the laws of their society, even when they're not completely in agreement with them. We've believed this, as I mentioned yesterday, even when civil authorities were hostile to Christian faith.
In spite of the enmity or malignant indifference of the Roman Empire toward Christianity, for example, Paul wrote to the band of Christians in ancient Rome:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing.Martin Luther said that God rules in two ways, through two kingdoms:
Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7)
- First, there's God's kingdom of grace. This is the kingdom under which Christians live. Christians believe that they've been given a new relationship with God, with others, and with themselves. Their old sinful selves have been crucified with Christ and by God's charity--His grace, they know that all believers in Christ live with God forever. That new status begins now, in this life. In the kingdom of grace, God doesn't have to coerce His people to love God or love neighbor. They seek to do so voluntarily.
- Second, there's God's kingdom of laws. Luther says that because not all will want to voluntarily surrender to Christ, God also establishes coercive government authority. Governments exist in order to establish a baseline of mutual expectations and a modicum of order among people who live in any country or community. Governments are authorized by God to levy taxes, create police and military forces, and impose fines, all to coerce those who would otherwise "go their own way" (Acts 14:16) into involuntarily acceding to respect for God and respect for neighbor.
Of course, whenever a governing authority commands people to do what they know is contrary to God's will for us--to love God and love neighbor, Christians are obliged to resist civil authorities in whatever way is appropriate. Means of resistance could include everything from an email to a member of Congress to overt acts of rebellion, depending on the egregiousness of the command. Whether in the face of mere peer pressure or government authority, Christians are also told in God's Word:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)When confronted with the choice of either conforming to God's will or to the will of those who command us to do something against God's will, Christians know that we're called to go with God and His call to love God and neighbor every time.
Christians then, believe in obeying the law of civil authorities, so long as they don't command us to violate God's command to love God and neighbor. Upholding the rule of law for the sake of our neighbor is an important reason for paying attention to the 2008 presidential election.
[This post is largely a reworking of a previous post on another topic. So will the next installment. I'll introduce all new material in subsequent posts. In this, the second, and in tomorrow's, the third, installments, I wanted to lay a foundation for all that follows.]