Friday, January 26, 2018

The Exercise of Force

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1).

Romans 13 is a pivotal chapter both in Romans and in the history of theology because in Romans 13 we find the clearest statement in all of Scripture concerning the role, function, and origin of civil government. Particularly in our age, when the question of the relationship between church and state is a burning issue, we need to be aware of the content of Romans 13.

The word for authority here is the Greek term exousia, which is also translated “power.” It connotes a powerful authority, or an authoritative power. There are other Greek words that mean simply “judicial authority” and “powerful force.” Here the two are joined together. The bottom line, elementary understanding of government is this: Government is force. Christians must understand this. We don’t always think of government as force because we see it functioning in various ways. When we look at Congress discussing various issues, we don’t see tanks and guns. Government is not just laws, it is also law-enforcement.

We often hear of the “tyranny of the majority.” In our society, the majority groups control the authority and the power. They have the force to make everyone else get into line. Christians need to be aware of that for two reasons. First, Christians are a minority in our societies, and thus we need to bear in mind that the majority may choose to exercise force against us.

Second, though, in a democracy, Christians have the right to vote. We need to take this right seriously, and never misuse it, lest we vote with an evil majority and become guilty of imposing wrongful force upon some helpless minority. There are legitimate kinds of force that we can vote for, but there are also wrong kinds of force, and it is God’s Word that teaches us what these are.

The proper exercise of authority is a balance between the use of power and judicial restraint. Where in our society today has this balance been lost? Should the war on drugs be restricted to the courtroom? To what extent should the government protect the rights of homosexuals? How long will abortion on demand be available? Recognize your role as a citizen in deciding these and other issues.