Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Civil Government

"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you" (Romans 13:3).

Augustine of Hippo viewed the institution of civil government as a result of the fall of man. Because of man’s sinfulness, God instituted the use of the sword as a restraint. Augustine pointed to the flaming sword of the cherubim in Genesis 3:24 as the origin of the use of the sword as a scourge upon the sinfulness of man. Certainly, there is much truth to this view, in that Paul himself says that the civil magistrate is to be a terror to evildoers.

But is there more to it than that? Would there still have been some kind of civil government even if man had not fallen? Thomas Aquinas believed so. He argued that God makes each person different, with different callings. Abel manages flocks, while Cain manages fields. Because of this division of labor, there must be trade. Man, created in God’s image, is a creature of dominion and stewardship, and thus the economic activity is essential to human affairs. Aquinas argued that even apart from sin there would be occasions where legal arrangements would be necessary to protect property and facilitate trade.

In understanding verse 3, there are two perspectives to bear in mind. First, Paul can be seen as speaking in terms of the ideal purpose of civil government. The magistrate is to be a terror to the wicked and a rewarder of the good.

But second, Paul also has to be taken realistically. The fact is that bad government is better than no government at all. This is clear in verse 4, “For he is God’s servant to do you good.” God ordained government for our good, thus government is necessary for us. Anarchy is always worse. Even the worst governments punish some evil and reward some good. Stalin’s U.S.S.R. and Hitler’s Germany punished murderers and rapists and left alone many law-abiding citizens—unless they were Jews or devout Christians. I am of course in no way suggesting these government's ultimate actions were excusable, but they serve to make the point.

When we see innocent people suffer horribly, it is hard sometimes to realize that even bad governments are ordained by God. Millions of Christians today live under the oppression of governments which restrict their freedom. Daily decisions about the practice of their faith jeopardize their lives. Pray for these brothers and sisters in Christ today.