Magistrates Must Be Well-Governed, To Govern Well

“Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home” (1 Samuel 10:25).

In keeping with the stipulations set forth in the books of Moses, Samuel the Levite, makes available to the new king a copy of the law.

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18–20). 

Israel’s king is not a king like the other nations, from the very beginning. Israel’s king is a vice-regent, under the law of Yahweh, Israel’s true King. Royal submission to God’s law should protect Israel from tyranny and abuse. The Law establishes the longevity of the throne. Saul is under a law, that governs the kingship, not to destroy his kingship but to allow it to function properly.

A constitutional Monarchy was the form of government in Israel from the beginning. This understanding of law and authority was expressed in a theological work called, Lex Rex – The Law is King – by theologian Samuel Rutherford, who helped shape the Christian conception of republican government as a protection against sinful men, who seek absolute authority over their fellow men. Men are sinners and must be governed well by law, to govern well. What kind of tyrant is a father or husband or pastor or boss or government official, if there is not some law to govern their actions?

Men must be governed well to govern well.  

The belief that the magistrate, the person, is the law, is not an uncommon belief throughout history and is the common political view of many evangelicals.  But it is false. Law establishes the authority of men and acts as a final appeal. This is the biblical understanding of government. A man’s government of his home is not above God’s law or state law. Neither is a pastor’s, president’s, governor’s, County Sherriff, etc. The Law of God and the Law of the land establish authority. Like the scriptures amongst Christians, the law is the final arbiter. 

Twice the disciples, under the pagan roman rule and Israelite religious leadership, demonstrated that the laws were above men, no matter the office of the man. Passages like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 exist within a context in which no authority is absolute. 

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27–29).

The apostles owed obedience to God over men, when the magistrate’s orders were contrary to God’s law.

Furthermore, Paul appealed to the Roman Law as a Citizen of Rome. “But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25). The centurion’s authority was not absolute. It was subject to Roman law. Paul had a right to due process. No roman magistrate was above the Corpus Juris Civilis, or the twelve tables.  Paul did not say, “well you’re the magistrate so have at my back with that whip.” He appealed beyond the man to the law of the land. 

Texts like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 cannot be isolated from the rest of the Old and New Testament, which teach that no human institution is absolute. Everyone is governed by Law, Christian or Pagan. Israel was a kingdom of laws, not men. The reason for this, is that magistrates must be well-governed to govern well.  

All Authority Descends From Above

Derived Authority

Why are so many Christians making such a big deal out of having to wear masks? Why are so many Christians talking about defying the government’s orders to not gather indoors for worship? 

They argue that, “Jesus told us to love our neighbor and obey the government, rendering unto Caesar his due.”

These are reasonable questions by well-meaning Christians. Does the government have the authority to limit worship? Does the word of God give unlimited authority to the civil government in every area of or lives? 

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Romans 13:1 “…For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…”

Jesus was shaping the New Covenant mission of God’s people and taught his disciples that Jesus was the highest authority in heaven and earth, so that the Apostles would be equipped to address the lesser authorities in their evangelism and conflict with pagan cultures. 

Paul understood this, and therefore encouraged the embattled Roman Church in their proper responsibility to authority, even pagan civil authority is derived by God. Authority is always derived and is therefore limited.  

Anyone in a position of authority receives that authority from God. It is similar to Jesus’ instruction about receiving the one whom He sends; by receiving the one Jesus sent, you receive Jesus. If you reject the one Jesus sent, you reject Jesus. 

The same principle applies to authority. Positions of authority are not autonomous, and neither are they to be ignored and scoffed at. God rules a world with hierarchies, therefore, to live faithfully in God’s world, we must avoid both being scofflaws or treating authorities as if they are absolute. 

All authority in heaven and earth is the Lord’s, who appoints people to positions of authority by His sovereign and wise will, who are therefore required to obey His rule.

Some would argue that Romans 13:1-5 makes no qualification to our obedience to authorities and that authority is autonomous and absolute. And that is true, there is no explicit qualification, but an implicit qualification.  We see, by good and necessary consequence, that there is a qualification given in v. 3 “rulers are not a terror to good conduct.” So, what happens if they are a terror to good conduct? Has God left us with no recourse? 

No, our defense for such a wickedness is found in sphere sovereignty; authority is given to different leaders that overlap and correct corruptions, protecting us from one another’s wickedness. Such as fathers and policemen, Congress and the President or State Governors and County Sheriffs. A biblical example of the protection provided by Sphere sovereignty is found in the coup committed by the High Priest Jehoiada in 2 Kings 11. Jehoiada led a violent overthrow of the evil Queen and the installment of the true King of Israel. 

Imagine a Pastor who wants to dictate exactly what his parishioners can and cannot watch on TV or how they must brush their teeth. Both of these are things outside his authority and the elders of the church, and the fathers within the community, should protect those parishioners from that overreach. Imagine a wife whose husband demands his wife wear only red, or dictates who she can and cannot be friends with or he gives her a bedtime – all appealing to his authority as her husband. The elders of their church should intervene and protect her from her husband’s tyranny. These varying authorities are not autonomous or absolute. The overlapping authorities protect us from one another’s wickedness and tyranny.

Currently, civil governments in the United States are violating the Fist Amendment of the Constitution by restricting whether the church can gather for worship or not, whether they can sing or take communion in that service, or not. But the worship of the church is regulated by God’s word and God alone. The authority to determine when, where and how the church worships is delegated to the authority of the Church, not the civil Government. As American citizens, we do not obey men, we obey the Constitution and the elected officials enforcing the constitution. Once those authorities are violating the constitution, then they have become tyrannical. 

As Pastor Trewhella wrote “America’s founders understood that the civil government’s authority was delegated, and therefore, limited. They state in the Declaration of Independence that all men are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They understood that rights did not originate from the State, but rather were given to men by God, and it is the Government’s respnsiblity to protect those God-given rights. 

Authority is derived from God. God has appointed different kinds of authority to different governing bodies. Therefore, those authorities must recognize the objective and absolute authority of God and operate submissive to the law of the Land and the Law of God. No authority is absolute or autonomous. 

The Church needs to consider the different spheres of authority and exactly what is within each of their purviews to do and not do. We are commanded by God’s word to respect, pray for, honor and obey all rightful authority. This requires us to know the difference between properly exercised authority and tyranny. 

All authority is derived from God and is therefore not absolute. 

Just War Theory

Justifying war is almost always difficult.  It is not easy to weigh the intentions and facts in the sordid situations of international politics. Throughout history many philosophers have attempted to outline the just causes and proper means of fighting international disputes. In Western thought the development of these doctrines are marked out by Augustine and Aquinas, who were Christian philosophers and later the modern theory was developed by a Remonstrant Dutchman; Hugo Grotius (der Groot). Grotius was a scholastic and developed the modern view of the just war theory in the 16th -17th   centuries through his book; De jure belli ac pacis libri tres (On the Law of War and Peace: Three books). He outlined the parameters in determining the legality and behavior of just war.

There are two important philosophical principles used when discussing just war. Jus ad bellum means Justice of war and jus in bello means justice in war. Essentially, these terms refer to the two distinct but interconnected measures of the justness in war. The questions he sought to answer were whether going to war is ever justifiable (justice of war), and once engaged in war how should war be conducted in a humane way (justice in war).” Continue reading “Just War Theory”