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.