By Ruxandra Ionce | TRINICY.org
Photo by slon_dot_pics
Abstract: The present essay concludes the first series of essays meant to define and develop the concept of the “Christian Imperative,” focusing on the Biblical view of civil authorities and the necessity of a government, as a condition of the fallen state of mankind. As in the previous essays, the subject cannot be treated in an exhaustive manner; however, the points made should offer enough information for the reader to form an opinion and pursue further study, being aware of the overwhelming amount of resources and rich Christian history.
Understanding the ontology of the state and nations has been the subject of intense study which, under the paradigm of evolutionary theory, has created more problems than has offered solutions. A lot of questions were raised regarding the evolution of languages and a state’s raisons d'être with various answers that often raise even more questions. It is, however, sensible to assume people have organised themselves into groups based on criteria that separated them from the rest; the naturally emerging collective identity, which in the course of time will often develop into a national identity. The walls of the citadel primarily served the purpose of protection and security in a fallen world. Since this topic, as the previous ones, can be subject to hundreds of pages, this essay will offer a schematic approach to the biblical view on statehood.
Fortunately, the Bible offers a clear historical account regarding the beginning of nationhood: the Tower of Babel. We can, therefore, draw the conclusion the separation of mankind into groups is a part of God’s sovereign design for humanity. Based on Genesis 11:6, we can also conclude language is the first cause of the appearance of nations:
And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
This powerful verse presents the dangers mankind would pose to itself if there are no barriers of language:
A state exists for a number of different reasons, which can easily be derived both from reading the Bible or other historical documents:
Because of sin, a defined hierarchy and subjection have become necessary in order to keep people accountable for their behaviours and deeds. Anarchy is neither biblical nor logical, since it offers no accountability to the individual behaviour. To deny this fact means to deny the existence of rebelliousness, one of the most obvious truths about human nature.
The apparent dichotomy between God’s chosen people and the rest of the world, to which many may raise the objection of discrimination, is they are only to show and portray God’s relationship with His church, His sovereign choice, and to prepare the way for His Son to come. Moreover, there are numerous biblical heroes of non-Hebrew origins such as Rahab, Ruth, Uriah the Hittite, the faithful centurion, and many others who are there to show even before Christ, God did not withhold His grace from anybody who would turn to Him. Through Christ’s resurrection, the walls between the Gentiles and Jews have been completely demolished:
It might come as a surprise to recognize the main political systems we know today are not a modern invention, but have already been tested in the ancient Hebrew society. Extrapolating political teachings from the Old Testament has been subject of study to many biblical scholars. The books of Joshua, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, and II Kings deal with the topic of state administration within the Israelite nation under the keter torah (meaning the crown of the Torah and also the crown used to adorn the Torah scroll in the synagogue). Based on Deuteronomy 16:18, one could say, the ideal form of administration was a form of “proto-federalism” under the judges:
“‘You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment.’”
The ideal form of state administration is illustrated in the book of Joshua, the highest authority being divided, albeit not equally in importance, between the Eved Adonai (God’s prime minister) and Kohen Gadol (the high priest). Because of the persistent demand from the people to emulate the surrounding nations, it was only reluctantly God allowed their transition to rule by monarchy. This transition came not without warning, as God specifically instructed Samuel to show the people the compromises necessary for this new regime (1 Samuel 8:10-17). We can already notice the Bible offers us examples of political and administrative forms that perfectly resonate with our modern reality.
In the New Testament, the central theme becomes the respect and submission to civil authorities. It is important to notice this submission is not qualified and so it is due even to pagan authorities. Submission to authorities is made clear through numerous Bible verses including: Ephesians 5:22, Ephesians 6:5-9, 1 Peter 2:13-17, Romans 13:1-7, and 1 Corinthians 10:3-33.
According to Romans 13:1-3, governments exist to punish evildoers and reward those who do right; no authority is beyond God’s will - He either appoints it or allows it. The Apostle Peter emphasized the importance of submission to human institutions so that Christians can be clearly distinguished from rebels and instigators and therefore to be good witnesses of Christ:
Even though so many great Christian minds have considered the necessity of the state and the purpose of civil authority (suggestions for further reading will be listed at the end of the article), I am particularly fond of St. John Chrysostom’s writings on the matter, specifically in his 29th Homily together with his 4th discourse on Genesis. According to Chrysostom, subjection is necessary as a remedy to sin since the Fall. Sin has stained the image of Christ in humankind and human nature, and, if uncontrolled, will lead to destruction and chaos. A state is merely a necessary condition of the present state of humanity. An act of God’s mercy and authority is seen as a “medicine” so people can live together in order without chaos or anarchy. Authorities are the “doctors” and can become instruments of God’s providence.
It is important not to confuse the position of authority, the institution itself, with a temporary, corrupt leader. A corrupt leader does not affect the necessity of the position, and he is himself responsible for governing himself above everything else. Leadership is in itself a position of submission, where leaders are meant to serve and make sacrifices.
The beauty of the doctrine of submission is shown in its circularity. We submit and respect authorities, while those same authorities are meant to serve and submit for the greater good. The perfection of submission is accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ at the last supper: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
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