Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More on the Christian's Relationship with the State

Please allow me to clarify some of my points (comments on the earlier blog posting entitled “On the Christian's Relationship with the State”) and to decline (at present) your invitation for a word-for-word exposition of Romans 13. I would like to see such an exposition myself, and may write one in the future. Currently, my thoughts on this text are far from “congealed.”

I am, however, resolutely convinced that the powers have benefited greatly by encouraging an exposition which leads Christians (liberated souls) to bow and scrape before principalities and powers with which they should be wrestling. A dominant function of religion in the history of states and cultures has been to maintain an oppressive status quo.

If anything useful can be gained from Michel Foucault’s “queer Marxist” (this is my characterization) analysis of history, it may be (in my opinion) that “Christendom” (and this would include 90%+ of “Calvinists”) has sought “power” over people – by the sword – just like every other major world religion.

This is NOT the teaching of Jesus. If Jesus truly inaugurated a new kingdom –then (with Jesus) we are dealing with a radically new phenomenon – a phenomenon which often does not seem to accord with Aristotelian logic. My point here is that the teachings of Jesus often seem to be at odds with what seems “reasonable,” “practical,” and “expedient.”

Clearly, a man would be a fool to slander Calvin. However, as a convinced baptist, I disdain to quote Calvin as an “authority” on anything [read whichever biography you please – but Calvin either presided over, or stood by for the torture and execution of a professing Christian who had a different opinion than he (Calvin) did]. I am convinced of the soundness of “Calvinist” soteriology (i.e., TULIP), not because of Calvin, but because of Paul (i.e., by the NT scriptures). Hence, I will ever (only) use the title “Calvinist” for convenience – though it pains me.

All of this to say – forget Calvin, forget Luther, forget Zwingli (and realize that their writings – which we possess today – were always published with a glittering sword in the ‘background’). And remember – all of these men sought the protection of state power (understandably), and none of these men died as martyrs at the hands of a wicked state (as did James, Paul and Jesus).

The point is (from my perspective) when it comes to the relationship between the Christian and the state – these men (the magisterial reformers) have little to tell us. If you want to read what the Presbyterian power brokers (intoxicated by the possibility of having the state “sword” on “their side”) thought about this – read Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXIII. They were supporters of the state power status quo.

The Baptist Confession of 1644’s language (see chapter LI) is more tentative than Westminster’s. I wish it were even more tentative – but in 1644 the Brits were still struggling under the “Divine Right of Kings” deception.

Historically (at least until the flag-wrapped crosses of the 20th century), baptists and anabaptists have not been big state supporters. Maybe this is because states and state-churches have imprisoned, tortured and killed a lot more baptists and anabaptists than other “Protestants.”

You are correct in understanding that it is my position that Paul would never teach Christians to submit to evil powers. My position (which I believe is also Paul’s) is that Christians should always resist evil, but that their resistance should be non-violent (i.e., not physically violent).

This position has historically been characterized by some as “non-resistance,” but I believe this characterization to be an inappropriate denigration of the spiritual weaponry with which Christ has equipped His brethren.

Since I hold the aforementioned presupposition (i.e., that Paul would never teach submission to evil powers), I must seek some intelligible interpretation of the Romans 13 language that upholds my presupposition – or (I believe) I should abandon it.

I do believe that Jesus Christ (God) ordains all things (though when I state this, I must confess that faith has surpassed understanding). Since I believe that God ordains all things - I believe that this “all things” must include evil governments.

So, if Paul’s language appears to say that Christians should submit to evil powers, (with my presupposition in place) I cannot grant this. Since this is my position – I am forced to seek an alternate explanation, exposition or qualification, for the meaning of his words.

Hence, my earlier note (comment to an earlier post in this blog) that while Rome could not have existed had not God ordained it – He must have disapproved of it, because it (Rome) was an evil power.

You say, “If Paul was telling the Romans to only submit to good governments, and all earthly governments are evil governments, then Christians must be disobedient to all earthly government.”

I think you have clearly understood my point. If you have the presupposition that I hold, then it is inevitable that Paul is forcing all Christians to (at some point) be disobedient to earthly government(s) – because they are all evil.

If this seems paradoxical, then just imagine that your name is Abram – and the God whom you serve (a God who prohibits murder) has just told you (you think) to make a human sacrifice out of your only son.

What do you do? Well, I think that you (humbly) do the best that you can.

In your last response, you wondered (because of my musings), “what [do] you do if you're simply a subject.” Honestly, I don’t have this all “worked out” yet, but I do think about it a lot and I do read about it a lot.

I can say that I’m confident that as a “subject” and a Christian, you should “live like Jesus” to the best of your ability.

The Lord Jesus Christ embodied a countercultural existence in almost every one of His acts and words. We know that the early Christians saw Jesus as the antithesis of Caesar and as victorious over Caesar - not through physical violence, but by “making peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20).”

They understood Christ to have “spoiled [the] principalities and powers, [and that] he [had] made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15).” Roman converts to Christianity could no longer participate in the emperor worship cult – they had bowed to a new master; their relationship to the old master became, of necessity, “tentative.”

In very practical terms, what does this mean (i.e., what do I do?)

Maybe it means: just be at peace, and “ignore” the state as much as possible.

As I said, I don’t have this all “worked out” yet.

I do want to quibble with what I perceive to be an unexamined presupposition of yours. In part II of your argument/essay you list four government employees mentioned in the New Testament (a centurion, Zaccheus, Cornelius, and Sergius Paulus) and then you argue that their professions were acceptable because scripture does not mention that their professions were unacceptable.

I believe that this is an argumentum ex silentio, which does not warrant the deductive leap to the conclusion that Christ or the Apostles approved of these professions.

Your contention that a Christian may righteously serve as a soldier is not by any means a “given.” This notion may be uncomfortable for some who have either served in the military, or had beloved relatives whom they have considered heroic because they served in the military. Be that as it may - let truth reign.

Of course there is the matter of unchristian oath taking, which would forbid some (of sensitive conscience) from swearing to defend the constitution (in today’s American political climate this has denigrated into a promise to invade whatever country the current administration has a beef with).

I have commented on oaths and pledges here, but I believe there is a stronger reason why the notion that a Christian may righteously serve as a soldier is not a “given.”

You have intimated that Jesus (i.e., God) did not forbid service in the killer corps, but the analysis may be shortsighted.

There was a prophet (John, the baptizer) of whom God (Jesus Christ) said “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).” Apparently, the Lord Jesus Christ had a very high regard for John.

One day some soldiers came to John and asked him, “what shall we do? (Luke 13:14).”

John’s answer is instructive. He answers them, “do violence to no man.”

Violence is the soldier’s business, so what he (John) is really saying to them is “find another job.”

Major Premise: Christians should not be violent
Minor Premise: The ultimate job of a soldier is to do violence
Conclusion: A Christian should not be a soldier

This was the consensus of the Church fathers and the practice of Christians until the Constantinian creation of “Christendom” (for more on this, see here).

As I stated in a comment to an earlier post on this blog, I believe you may be neglecting a significant wing of Christian thought (a wing I believe is much more attuned to the ethic of Jesus) when you focus on the majority protestant corpus to the neglect of the anabaptists (generally, their older works were not in large circulation because they were being persecuted by the “protestants” [God will judge them]).

A note to younger readers – if I stop voting, it will not be because of “intellectually void regurgitations.” If I stop voting, it will be because that is where my rational contemplation has led me.


Hippie Fringe said...

A procedural suggestion: I recommend that the authors here limit themselves to one post per topic. It is distracting to readers to spread what is essentially a discussion across several posts (as opposed to multiple comments under the same initial post) and suggests a lack of discipline and organization, at least that's my impression.

Shane said...

MP, I think the horse is beaten to death.

In short, I accept your apology, and appreciate you recognizing your theological and interpretive errors.

Hippie Fringe said...

I do not detect any bruising yet Shane. That was a wonderful post MP.

If pressed, I would have to admit that I am an American under the skin too. I am connected to this country physically, emotionally and intellectually. I contend that I am more Christian than American because the spiritual can easily outweigh these other concerns and supersede the natural inclinations, but if I am honest about it, I may be more American than Christian.
I am connected to this country materially. I own property, conduct business and pay taxes. I have worked hard to build “all the things” that are affixed to this country and am deeply interested in maintaining them and my ownership and enjoyment of them.
I am connected to this country emotionally. The smell of tilled blackland or the first morning breeze that brings the faint must of dew and tall grasses from the fields will always be with me. A bluebird sky looks different in Texas than anywhere else. The mountains where I now live have become a daily comfort which I would sorely miss.
I am connected to this country intellectually. I agree with many of the concepts that began this great experiment and am deeply concerned that they be protected/restored. I care about how my neighbors are treated and how they are encouraged and allowed to treat others. I care about the freedoms we enjoy and those we do not. I care about how the benefits and burden of government are distributed among the people. I care about the influence/action of our government throughout the world and how it impacts other people. I care about all these things in other countries too, but this is my home and I am most invested in them here.
When I vote, I do not vote as a Christian American; I vote as an American, or more accurately an American secular humanist. My vote is often contrary to my personal beliefs. My goal in voting is not to advance a Christian agenda but rather to protect/direct a humanistic government that is equally tolerant of all religions. For instance, I strongly disagree with the homosexual agenda and am admittedly repulsed by homosexuality (If men are attracted to men and women are attracted to women, why do homosexuals spend so much effort attempting to emulate the opposite sex). However, I feel just as strongly that the fruit cake in the tutu should have the same benefits and burdens of citizenship I do. I tremble with both fear and anger every time the storm troopers raid a religious compound, a home school is drug into court, or child services decide whether or not a parent is worthy to raise the states children. However, I have the same reaction when I hear of polygamist cults where children are brainwashed and raised to be sex slaves under the spectacle of false prophets or women are forced into arranged marriages and treated as chattel under the veil of religion. I want a government that protects the rights of all its citizens equally and is willing to confront any subset that attempts to withhold these. I vote for a government that tolerates the church, mosque, temple, synagogue or compound equally but holds them all accountable to a basic ethic of humanity.
I vote as an American/humanist but I equally respect the Christian/American’s refusal to participate in what is essentially (regardless of vote cast) the perpetuation of a humanistic system. I believe the fundamentalist Muslims are correct in assessing that democracy and theocracy can not coexist as participation in one is ultimately at the expense of the other. We are faced with the dilemma of serving two masters; one with our land and the other with their heart.

Hal Brunson said...


I think that's probably a good suggestion.

Are you really a secular humanist?

The Militant Pacifist said...


Fear not, equus vivere!

I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to start an apologetic for my position. Thanks for the acceptance!

I like to be accepted; however, if I have theological and/or interpretive errors, I sincerely want to correct those. So, if you spotted some – please point them out.

No rush!

Hippie Fringe said...

Hal, 364 day of the year I would say that I am not.

Hal Brunson said...

I understand; fundies liberalize me perhaps more often than 1/365, although I prefer the tag (actually, I don't prefer tags) "Christian humanist."


Shane said...


I would enjoy reading, though I would thoroughly disagree with you, a well organized essay on your views regarding the state.

If I may suggest, I think the first part of your essay should address O.T. Jews' relationships within Israel.

Section two could be O.T. Jews' relationships with the state within pagan governments. How did they seek to effect change? How close could they be to the government? (Pretty darn close if you're Esther!) Addressing Joseph in this section would be great, and also the midwives as Hippie suggested. Then stating what conclusions can be drawn.

Section three could be a discussion regarding what the gospels have to say on this issue. You mentioned John the Baptist, but you'd also have to address Jesus telling the disciples to make sure they have some swords (not too many though). I think it's significant that Jesus praised the faith of the centurion with the sick servant; that militates (punny) in favor of soldiering for a pagan government being okay since Jesus didn't say otherwise. (I know it's an argument from silence, but it is an example of a man faithful to Christ who was a soldier for Rome, therefore, it must be addressed.)

Part four (I'm writing your paper here!) could focus on Acts and the epistles. What of the "devout" centurion? Is it oxymoronic to say there was a devout centurion? Hit Stephen's martyrdom as well.

Then go to Paul and Peter, and their statements to submit to authorities. Why did they never state anything in the negative, such as, "don't submit to XYZ," or "when an authority does XYZ, you must resist"?

Then, in your conclusion, when you realize that you agree with me, you may feel free to cite my previous blog post.

Regarding Calvin and Servetus: Three things must be remembered about this: (1) Servetus was an active (as in he wrote a lot about it) denier of the Trinity; (2) Calvin was not the civil magistrate of Geneva, but the religious leader, and didn't always see eye to eye with the magistrates; and (3) Servetus knew, and had been informed, of what he faced if he went to Geneva. In the law, it's called coming to the nuisance.

Also, you must, and I do mean MUST come up with an intelligible and reasonable explanation for what governmental authorities Peter and Paul were telling their readers to submit to. You answered my little syllogism by stating that you agree that all governments are evil and we shouldn't submit to evil governments. Well, what governments were Peter and Paul discussing? They were not wasted words, and they were meant for readers (and later us) who were living under pagan, persecuting regimes.

You're wise to note that it is a presupposition that Paul would not have you submit to evil powers. But you have to (1) defend that presupposition and (2) define submit. It appears to me, that submit means to obey the law of the land unless it conflicts with God's law, then you may disobey but accept the punishment. That seems to be what Paul, Peter, Stephen, etc. did. If you have a different definition of "submit," you must alert the reader to that.

You also note in your blog that Paul's language telling his readers to be obedient to government necessitates a view that he implies that the people must also be disobedient. You must defend that argument from silence, and you must also address this: how was a Christian in Rome supposed to know how and when to disobey if they weren't told?

With regard to John the Baptist telling the soldiers to do no violence---remember that we can all find proof texts. But consider the following.
God is immutable.
God sanctions violence in the Old Testament as, at least sometimes, being not a sin.
If God is immutable, and violation of pacifism is now a sin, then how is it that you can explain that antinomy? When and how did all violence become sinful? Explain in the context of the Temple cleansing, and Jesus telling Peter and the boys to pick up swords, few though they were?

Lastly, all men view their contemplations as rational.

Hippie Fringe said...

Hal, when dealing with fundies, I am safest just claiming to be a humanist.

MP, I love your conclusion that a Christian must “do their best”. I admire you for stating this and find it much wiser than the position that assumes to know what that best is. I am impressed at the care each of you have taken to discern the correct meaning of the texts and divine some continuity to determine your own governance. I have often thought how strange it is that Jesus, who could read and write proficiently at an early age, entrusted the most critical lessons the world has ever received to an oral history and that to illiterate fishermen. I do not believe we must reconcile Paul’s conscience with God or that we must reconcile our own with Paul’s. Each man must reconcile his own conscience with God. I do not believe that the mind of Jesus is exclusive to either pacifists or revolutionaries. My best understanding of Christianity is that the conscience is not just subordinated to Jesus but rather transformed by Jesus. My conscience on the matter sides with the Christian that takes up a sword to defend the oppressed but not with the one that wields it to defend the government or “the faith”. Hopefully though, my conscience on the mater is still subject to transformation.

The Militant Pacifist said...

“Transformed by Jesus” – what a beautiful phrase.

I have had the blessed experience to be in close quarters for long periods of time with Christians who have had their minds “transformed by Jesus” (the living word) and by the bible (the written word).

Something happens to a mind so changed. It becomes more loving, more compassionate, more genteel, more wise – more like “the mind of Christ.”

It is indeed scandalous (to human pretension) that Christ entrusted the mysteries of His gospel to the twelve.

But then, it seems like He delights to hide treasures where we least expect to find them.