Dan Popp
Are there two Christian views of government, per Sean Parr?
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By Dan Popp
April 19, 2015

When Sean Parr first objected to my essay Is libertarianism anti-Christian?, he insisted that we define libertarianism very narrowly. The term would exclude a score of variations and refer only to the one specific kind of libertarianism that Mr. Parr chooses. But in his latest piece, Sean reveals that his definition of Christianity is, in contrast, very wide – so wide as to include things that are inherently anti-Christian (which is now my task to show). It's easy to make Day equal Night if we're allowed to define at least one of them so broadly as to include the other.

Since the only fair thing is to define Christianity just as exclusively as Parr defined libertarianism, I'll provide that definition: Christianity is the belief system centered on Jesus Christ; its doctrines, prescriptions and proscriptions being found in the Holy Bible, the Old Testament being interpreted by the New Testament.

This definition will bring us to the point of my more recent article, which shows the hostility between the Christian view of government and the libertarian view. But Mr. Parr tells us that there are two, mutually exclusive "Christian" views. He quotes Laurence Vance:
    the two historical schools of thought regarding this matter are the Integrated Authority School and the Competing Kingdom School. The former school of thought regards the state as "a potential ally of the family and church in establishing or advancing God's kingdom in the world." The latter school regards the state as on "a course antithetical to God's."
Parr's own phrase is, "competing Christian comprehensions of the state." But is this true? Are there two Christian views of government?

We know that Christians may disagree about some things – whether to eat meat sacrificed to idols (a first-century debate), whether to send our children to government schools, and others. But there are some things about which Christians may not disagree. The divinity of Christ. His resurrection as a real, physical event. And, to my point, the truthfulness of the Bible.

Everything that Christians know about our Lord comes ultimately from Scripture. Without the Bible, there is no Christianity, because we could not know who Christ is. A view that contradicts Scripture is an anti-Christian view.

But there are some issues to wade through. Are the Bible passages in question clear? Some parts of the Bible are, frankly, puzzling, or open to different interpretations. Secondly, has the passage been translated correctly? Heretics often bring up this canard, as if there were lots and lots of mistakes in the popular English translations. There are not. Thirdly, are we giving the passage its correct application? In my experience, most cries of different "interpretation" are really issues of application. Finally, how does context affect the meaning?

Let's look again at the first scripture I cited.
    Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-7, NKJV)
Now let's make sure we're not falling afoul of the four main errors I listed. First of all, is it clear? I don't think there's any problem there! How could this section be any clearer? These short, imperative and declarative statements are easy enough for a child to understand. Sean Parr says that he "interprets" this passage differently than I do. But there is no "interpretation" necessary. This is no parable or prophesy loaded with symbolism and poetic language. Pretending that the words of God are ambiguous when they're not is a tactic of Satan (See Genesis 3:1ff).

Well, then, can we fault the translation? I've looked at a couple-dozen translations of this, all in agreement. [1] Short of learning koine Greek, we've ascertained to the best of our ability that there is no translation error.

Maybe we are misapplying the verses – say, to civil government when they are really directed to family government or church government. No, not even slightly plausible.

So the passage is clear and unambiguous; it is translated correctly; it is applied correctly to our relationship with civil authorities. Then is it taken out of context? As I wrote in my series on the book of Romans, this passage couples the thoughts at the end of Chapter 12 (not avenging yourselves, but give place to the wrath [of God]) to Chapter 13's avenger of the wrath (government), leading directly to exhortations to good conduct in public and private. It is not only "in context," it is the centerpiece of the context.

We could go through this exercise with 1 Peter 2 and even, as Mr. Parr offered, Titus 3:1. The results would be the same. The standard of Christian faith and practice, the Bible, clearly states in several places that government is good; that it is ordained of God; and that its purpose is to do true (that is, godly) justice on the earth.

But it isn't from the New Testament alone that we learn God's view of temporal government. From the Genesis account of Joseph rising to political power to save Egypt and the entire area, to God's manipulation of Pharaoh to work His will in Exodus, to Nebuchadnezzar's humiliations with the prophet Daniel, to Cyrus, king of Persia, unknowing instrument of YHWH to restore His people to their land and their temple, we're treated to a heaven's-eye view of how the Lord of Heaven and Earth uses both compliant and rebellious rulers to work His will.

If we're loath to believe the plain words of the Bible, we have 2,000 years of history we can examine. I've read the early Christian writers and (though my memory is far from perfect) I don't recall Irenaeus or Ignatius or any other early "Father" writing that government is evil. Most of the time civil rulers were hounding these Christians, rounding them up, imprisoning them, burning their Scriptures, torturing and even killing them. Yet our ancient brothers and sisters did not write that government was evil.

To the contrary, this quote from Justin's First Apology seems typical of Christian protestations that they are obedient to the civil government and pray for its magistrates:
    And everywhere we [Christians], more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him; for at that time some came to Him and asked Him, if one ought to pay tribute to Caesar; and He answered, "Tell Me, whose image does the coin bear?" And they said, "Caesar's." And again He answered them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment.
Justin wrote that around AD 150. Half a century later, Tertullian penned his own Apology, in which he said,
    There is also another and a greater necessity for our offering prayer in behalf of the emperors, nay, for the complete stability of the empire, and for Roman interests in general. For we know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth – in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes – is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire.
Hardly a "government is evil" rant! To jump forward in time, John Calvin wrote, "The authority possessed by kings and other governors over all things upon earth is not a consequence of the perverseness of men but of the providence and holy ordinance of God."

In American history it was the atheist Thomas Paine who opined that, "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, and intolerable one." The Christian James Madison countered,
    It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune. This necessity however exists; and the problem to be solved is, not what form of Government is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect.
The singular Christian view has always been that government, as an institution, is a divine gift to mitigate injustice done on earth. Specific governments and governors may do evil, but even this was seen as a scourge for our sins.

Now to address a couple of other statements by Mr. Parr before I bow out of this discussion. He writes, "A Christian cannot initiate violence in the name of the Lord Jesus (to lawfully prohibit a nonviolent action – consensual sodomy between adults, say – is, "by the rules of logic and by definition," to initiate violence)...." But this is question-begging. He has begun with his conclusion. Certainly the violence/force/coercion of the state was not only allowed but commanded by God – and Christ is God – for exactly the kind of offense Mr. Parr mentioned.

Mr. Parr refers to this scripture:
    Matthew 7:12's Golden Rule, though by no means identical to it, is very similar to the non-aggression principle, or NAP (described below). Further, it has been noted that "scripture [sic] is consistently skeptical toward power concentrated into the hands of rulers (cf. 1 Samuel 7)," and that "the 'Kingdom of God' is never characterized with the aggression of the state."
Skeptics sometimes attack the Golden Rule because it was not an entirely new invention by Jesus. He merely reversed an earlier aphorism, "Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you." I mention this because the pre-Christ version, the "Silver Rule," is the actual phrase what would correspond with Mr. Parr's libertarianism. I will keep my hands off you because I want you to keep your hands off me. Jesus' saying, instructing His followers to positively act, rather than to refrain from acting, not only does not support Parr's view, but Mr. Parr would be making a very un-libertarian argument indeed if he would apply the Golden Rule to government!

In that citation, Mr. Parr has given us both a non sequitur and an error in the application of Scripture.

Yes, "scripture [sic] is consistently skeptical toward power concentrated into the hands of rulers..." but, as I have said from the beginning, libertarians and Christians agree on some things, such as limited government. I'm sure that Christians and Marxists also agree on a point or two, and Christians and Satanists agree, at least, that the devil exists. These points of overlap do not make the two views compatible as a governing philosophy.

There are not two Christian views of government, only one. What Mr. Parr has managed to prove is that heresy is compatible with libertarianism. This is very close to the opposite of what he intended to show.

NOTES:

[1] For example, here is the Darby literal translation:

13 Let every soul be subject to the authorities that are above [him]. For there is no authority except from God; and those that exist are set up by God.

2 So that he that sets himself in opposition to the authority resists the ordinance of God; and they who [thus] resist shall bring sentence of guilt on themselves.

3 For rulers are not a terror to a good work, but to an evil [one]. Dost thou desire then not to be afraid of the authority? practise [what is] good, and thou shalt have praise from it;

4 for it is God's minister to thee for good. But if thou practisest evil, fear; for it bears not the sword in vain; for it is God's minister, an avenger for wrath to him that does evil.

5 Wherefore it is necessary to be subject, not only on account of wrath, but also on account of conscience.

6 For on this account ye pay tribute also; for they are God's officers, attending continually on this very thing.

7 Render to all their dues: to whom tribute [is due], tribute; to whom custom, custom; to whom fear, fear; to whom honour, honour.

And here is Young's Literal Translation:

13 Let every soul to the higher authorities be subject, for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities existing are appointed by God,

2 so that he who is setting himself against the authority, against God's ordinance hath resisted; and those resisting, to themselves shall receive judgment.

3 For those ruling are not a terror to the good works, but to the evil; and dost thou wish not to be afraid of the authority? that which is good be doing, and thou shalt have praise from it,

4 for of God it is a ministrant to thee for good; and if that which is evil thou mayest do, be fearing, for not in vain doth it bear the sword; for of God it is a ministrant, an avenger for wrath to him who is doing that which is evil.

5 Wherefore it is necessary to be subject, not only because of the wrath, but also because of the conscience,

6 for because of this also pay ye tribute; for servants of God they are, on this very thing attending continually;

7 render, therefore, to all [their] dues; to whom tribute, the tribute; to whom custom, the custom; to whom fear, the fear; to whom honour, the honour.

www.biblegateway.com is a good, free way to compare different translations.

© Dan Popp

 

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