Keep and bear arms

The Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment gives individuals–not militias–the personal right to keep and bear arms, a right that state and local governments may not abridge:

The Second Amendment provides Americans a fundamental right to bear arms that cannot be violated by state and local governments, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates.

The 5 to 4 decision does not strike down any gun-control laws, nor does it elaborate on what kind of laws would offend the Constitution. One justice predicted that an “avalanche” of lawsuits would be filed across the country asking federal judges to define the boundaries of gun ownership and government regulation.

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the opinion for the court’s dominant conservatives, said: “It is clear that the Framers . . . counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.”

The decision extended the court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that “the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home.” That decision applied only to federal laws and federal enclaves such as Washington; it was the first time the court had said there was an individual right to gun ownership rather than one related to military service.

via Supreme Court affirms fundamental right to bear arms.

I don’t see how the Second Amendment could be read in any other way.  For those who only think that it refers to militias, I would think they would have to support militias as constitutionally-mandated.  At the time of the founding and extending through the Civil War, America had no large standing army.  Just local and state militias consisting of ordinary citizens.  Who kept their weapons at home.

The National Guard is not equivalent to those militias (note the “national” in the name and its connection to the standing military forces).  Nor are the radical groups that call themselves militias but operate under no governmental chain-of-command.   But since the Constitution calls for them, shouldn’t we have them?  Could they, properly trained and equipped, offer an alternative military system to what we have today?

ANOTHER THOUGHT: Those who think the Second Amendment applies primarily to militias should, therefore, support the possession of military weapons, such as assault rifles. Clearly, the amendment is not talking about the right to hunt but the right to “security.” That certainly has to include the keeping of weapons for self defense.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dan Kempin

    Some might suggest that this issue was “decided” by the civil war. Since that time, as you point out, the federal government has had a standing federal army, and since that time the federal government has (arguably) increasingly dominated states’ rights.

    Blame Mr. Lincoln.

  • Dan Kempin

    Some might suggest that this issue was “decided” by the civil war. Since that time, as you point out, the federal government has had a standing federal army, and since that time the federal government has (arguably) increasingly dominated states’ rights.

    Blame Mr. Lincoln.

  • Joe

    I have always wondered how this issue plays out in minority communities. Modern gun-control laws in the US have there origins in segregation and Jim Crow. At least according to Al Sharpton’s, listeners the minority community seems to support the ruling:

    http://radioequalizer.blogspot.com/2010/06/al-sharpton-my-listeners-overwhelmingly.html

  • Joe

    I have always wondered how this issue plays out in minority communities. Modern gun-control laws in the US have there origins in segregation and Jim Crow. At least according to Al Sharpton’s, listeners the minority community seems to support the ruling:

    http://radioequalizer.blogspot.com/2010/06/al-sharpton-my-listeners-overwhelmingly.html

  • Joe

    Dan – interesting point. I do blame Lincoln for the loss of federalism. In my mind there is a direct line that starts with Abe and runs through FDR and Johnson. (not to exclude those who came in between, but these three men were the main actors in the destruction of the actual constitutional compact that was entered into between the Several States in 1789.

  • Joe

    Dan – interesting point. I do blame Lincoln for the loss of federalism. In my mind there is a direct line that starts with Abe and runs through FDR and Johnson. (not to exclude those who came in between, but these three men were the main actors in the destruction of the actual constitutional compact that was entered into between the Several States in 1789.

  • Joe

    Also, if you are one of the many who think that Justice Thomas is a subpar jurist read his concurrence.

  • Joe

    Also, if you are one of the many who think that Justice Thomas is a subpar jurist read his concurrence.

  • sg

    Texas has a State Guard in addition to the Texas National Guard.

    http://www.txsg.state.tx.us/

  • sg

    Texas has a State Guard in addition to the Texas National Guard.

    http://www.txsg.state.tx.us/

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    It has been interesting to follow the reaction of the Chicago city government. They are already working to see if there is a way they can effectively maintain their gun ban without actually banning guns. Never mind the fact Chicago is a case study in how gun bans only keep guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens. They are shooting each other on a daily basis in Chicago.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    It has been interesting to follow the reaction of the Chicago city government. They are already working to see if there is a way they can effectively maintain their gun ban without actually banning guns. Never mind the fact Chicago is a case study in how gun bans only keep guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens. They are shooting each other on a daily basis in Chicago.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Look for a big push to ban bullets now, by whatever means necessary. Including for “environmental” reasons (hey, they’re made out of that toxic substance lead that kills thousands of babies every year, you know).

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Look for a big push to ban bullets now, by whatever means necessary. Including for “environmental” reasons (hey, they’re made out of that toxic substance lead that kills thousands of babies every year, you know).

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    They won’t be able to ban bullets, because an outright ban would be to easy to argue against in SCOTUS. What they can do is impose regulations that make it difficult and expensive to obtain and maintain a gun.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    They won’t be able to ban bullets, because an outright ban would be to easy to argue against in SCOTUS. What they can do is impose regulations that make it difficult and expensive to obtain and maintain a gun.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I’d favor state militias….and of course the chance to train with fully automatic rifles as a man of militia age has NOTHING to do with this…nothing…..nothing….OK, something.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I’d favor state militias….and of course the chance to train with fully automatic rifles as a man of militia age has NOTHING to do with this…nothing…..nothing….OK, something.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    I would join a state or locally sanctioned militia.

    As to Chicago’s efforts to further hinder gun ownership, and other efforts to ban or restrict ammo, I suggest participating in the old and venerable tradition of quietly and discreetly ignoring and disobeying efforts to hinder your Second Amendment rights.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    I would join a state or locally sanctioned militia.

    As to Chicago’s efforts to further hinder gun ownership, and other efforts to ban or restrict ammo, I suggest participating in the old and venerable tradition of quietly and discreetly ignoring and disobeying efforts to hinder your Second Amendment rights.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The Second Amendment allows the right to bear arms in order to support “well regulated” militia. These self-styled “militias” are illegal.

    Scalia’s opinion is tightly reasoned on grounds of both Second Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Alito is emerging as an excellent Supreme Court analyst and writer.

    These fundamental national constitutional rights are important. American federalism allows for both a strong federal government coupled with certain state’s tights. Lincoln’s greatest accomplishment was to secure the Union that was threatened by the renegade South over the issue of slavery. Today the South is a thriving part of the Union. Prior to the Civil War it was mainly an agricultural backwater mired by an autocratic system of slavery and rural poverty.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The Second Amendment allows the right to bear arms in order to support “well regulated” militia. These self-styled “militias” are illegal.

    Scalia’s opinion is tightly reasoned on grounds of both Second Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Alito is emerging as an excellent Supreme Court analyst and writer.

    These fundamental national constitutional rights are important. American federalism allows for both a strong federal government coupled with certain state’s tights. Lincoln’s greatest accomplishment was to secure the Union that was threatened by the renegade South over the issue of slavery. Today the South is a thriving part of the Union. Prior to the Civil War it was mainly an agricultural backwater mired by an autocratic system of slavery and rural poverty.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Pardon me, in the above it should have been Alito’s opinion…
    at the beginning of the second para.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Pardon me, in the above it should have been Alito’s opinion…
    at the beginning of the second para.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Does the constitution mandate militias? Not sure. It does support them though.
    I would join one. But back then, I think Militias were basically a call for men to come with weapons and assemble in town square.
    Not sure how effective that would be today. Most likely would not stand up well to a trained military force of the modern type. But then that is what the English thought too. The English probably would have been right though, had America not received the help it did from elsewhere.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Does the constitution mandate militias? Not sure. It does support them though.
    I would join one. But back then, I think Militias were basically a call for men to come with weapons and assemble in town square.
    Not sure how effective that would be today. Most likely would not stand up well to a trained military force of the modern type. But then that is what the English thought too. The English probably would have been right though, had America not received the help it did from elsewhere.

  • DonS

    Four justices rejected the notion of an individual right to bear arms, applied to the states, even though to most of us this decision affirmed what we all knew was clearly the intent of the Founders. This is why elections matter — we need justices who appreciate the Constitution and will vote to uphold it regardless of their personal political preferences. One of the most important reasons to have a conservative President is to ensure the appointment of relatively conservative judges.

    As for the practical impact of the decision, the action now will center around what kind of gun regulation is reasonable. Expect these battles to rage for years.

  • DonS

    Four justices rejected the notion of an individual right to bear arms, applied to the states, even though to most of us this decision affirmed what we all knew was clearly the intent of the Founders. This is why elections matter — we need justices who appreciate the Constitution and will vote to uphold it regardless of their personal political preferences. One of the most important reasons to have a conservative President is to ensure the appointment of relatively conservative judges.

    As for the practical impact of the decision, the action now will center around what kind of gun regulation is reasonable. Expect these battles to rage for years.

  • http://www.scribe-nootherfoundation.blogspot.com Scribe

    This is very interesting. I most definitely support the right to keep and bear arms. And militias might not be such a bad idea…

    Just my two cents worth.

  • http://www.scribe-nootherfoundation.blogspot.com Scribe

    This is very interesting. I most definitely support the right to keep and bear arms. And militias might not be such a bad idea…

    Just my two cents worth.

  • John C

    What about the right to bear explosives, Mike?

  • John C

    What about the right to bear explosives, Mike?

  • ELB

    One of the most interesting features of the Chicago and DC cases is the determination of the cities to avoid obeying the law by means of technicality on the one hand and legal thugery on the other (Our lawyers can outlast your lawyers.) One of the aldermen just today called upon MacDonald and the other plaintiffs to submit to the next wave of regulations, and not take them to the Supreme Court where they would be struck down, because the city would just pass more of them.

    When one of the aldermen forgot to register his shotgun (they have to be registered annually or forfeited as contraband) these hypcrites created an amnesty just so this member of the elite could keep his.

    The 7th Circuit is likely to aid and abet Chicago in this, upholding anything they pass without regard to the Supreme Court.

    Similar unlawful activity was carried out by mayor Bloomberg of New York, trying to circumvent the law that prevents making your firearms purchase documents public information. They want to mine the info in order to sue gun manufacturers, dealers, and owners who have had guns stolen for every crime committed with a firearm.

    If these people are unwilling to obey the law themselves, why do they think that anybody is bound to obey the laws they pass outlawing guns?

    By contrast, your average gun owner is far more observant of the law. Firearms are among the most regulated items in the country. Gun owners go to great lengths of expense and bureaucracy to obey the law. They buy and use guides to firearms laws just to navigate the maze. If you make so much as a sling swivel, you have to register with the State Department in case someone would buy it and sell it overseas. If Mayor Daly were half as observant of the law as the people he has disarmed, we would have a different Chicago!

  • ELB

    One of the most interesting features of the Chicago and DC cases is the determination of the cities to avoid obeying the law by means of technicality on the one hand and legal thugery on the other (Our lawyers can outlast your lawyers.) One of the aldermen just today called upon MacDonald and the other plaintiffs to submit to the next wave of regulations, and not take them to the Supreme Court where they would be struck down, because the city would just pass more of them.

    When one of the aldermen forgot to register his shotgun (they have to be registered annually or forfeited as contraband) these hypcrites created an amnesty just so this member of the elite could keep his.

    The 7th Circuit is likely to aid and abet Chicago in this, upholding anything they pass without regard to the Supreme Court.

    Similar unlawful activity was carried out by mayor Bloomberg of New York, trying to circumvent the law that prevents making your firearms purchase documents public information. They want to mine the info in order to sue gun manufacturers, dealers, and owners who have had guns stolen for every crime committed with a firearm.

    If these people are unwilling to obey the law themselves, why do they think that anybody is bound to obey the laws they pass outlawing guns?

    By contrast, your average gun owner is far more observant of the law. Firearms are among the most regulated items in the country. Gun owners go to great lengths of expense and bureaucracy to obey the law. They buy and use guides to firearms laws just to navigate the maze. If you make so much as a sling swivel, you have to register with the State Department in case someone would buy it and sell it overseas. If Mayor Daly were half as observant of the law as the people he has disarmed, we would have a different Chicago!

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Explosives, huh? Hmm.

    One would think the the right to keep and bear arms presupposes that such arms are actually useful for their intended purpose. The ability to fire bullets from arms is essential to the usefulness of arms, and explosives are essential to the ability to fire bullets.

    My opinion is that if the possession of explosives is regulated such that it makes arms useless, then the right to keep and bear arms has been infringed.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Explosives, huh? Hmm.

    One would think the the right to keep and bear arms presupposes that such arms are actually useful for their intended purpose. The ability to fire bullets from arms is essential to the usefulness of arms, and explosives are essential to the ability to fire bullets.

    My opinion is that if the possession of explosives is regulated such that it makes arms useless, then the right to keep and bear arms has been infringed.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Regarding explosives, technically gunpowder (black or smokeless) is not classified as an explosive until you assemble it with a fuse into a bomb. Weird, yes, but true.

    Regarding the right to keep and bear nukes, well, exactly how do you carry it? A strict interpretation of the 2nd might limit RKBA to weapons that can be carried.

    (that said, many people did own cannon….the Mormons had a couple on their trek west after some of my ancestors helped chase them out of Nauvoo)

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Regarding explosives, technically gunpowder (black or smokeless) is not classified as an explosive until you assemble it with a fuse into a bomb. Weird, yes, but true.

    Regarding the right to keep and bear nukes, well, exactly how do you carry it? A strict interpretation of the 2nd might limit RKBA to weapons that can be carried.

    (that said, many people did own cannon….the Mormons had a couple on their trek west after some of my ancestors helped chase them out of Nauvoo)

  • Joe

    Peter – your limitation of 2nd amendment by reference to the “well regulated militia” clause is just wrong. The one of the main take aways from Heller is the explanation that that clause is not a limitation on the right to bear arms. If your reading of that clause were correct then Heller would have come out the other way.

    The definition of militia commonly understood in the founding period was – all able bodied men. You were a member of it as a matter of age and biology. It had nothing to do with governmental control. The states did not create militias, they “called out” the already existing militias of citizens. In other words, in times of war the state government would take control of the militia for purpose of fighting the war and then relinquish control of it when the war was over. You can analogize it to a draft.

  • Joe

    Peter – your limitation of 2nd amendment by reference to the “well regulated militia” clause is just wrong. The one of the main take aways from Heller is the explanation that that clause is not a limitation on the right to bear arms. If your reading of that clause were correct then Heller would have come out the other way.

    The definition of militia commonly understood in the founding period was – all able bodied men. You were a member of it as a matter of age and biology. It had nothing to do with governmental control. The states did not create militias, they “called out” the already existing militias of citizens. In other words, in times of war the state government would take control of the militia for purpose of fighting the war and then relinquish control of it when the war was over. You can analogize it to a draft.

  • Dan Kempin

    Mike and Bike,

    Black powder is technically an explosive, but smokeless powder is not. It is a propellant. It does not explode.

  • Dan Kempin

    Mike and Bike,

    Black powder is technically an explosive, but smokeless powder is not. It is a propellant. It does not explode.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Dan–doesn’t the BATFE regulate black powder (standard and synthetic) as a propellant, though? (difference for the uninitiated; explosives detonate–supersonic ignition through shock , propellants deflagrate–subsonic conduction of heat)

    And of course, either will make a great bomb. Go figure.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Dan–doesn’t the BATFE regulate black powder (standard and synthetic) as a propellant, though? (difference for the uninitiated; explosives detonate–supersonic ignition through shock , propellants deflagrate–subsonic conduction of heat)

    And of course, either will make a great bomb. Go figure.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ тОДД

    Fascinating. Patrick (@10) “suggest[s] participating in the old and venerable tradition of quietly and discreetly ignoring and disobeying efforts to hinder your Second Amendment rights.” That is to say, he suggests disobeying the authorities that God has instituted.

    So, when the Bible and the Constitution come into conflict, go with what the Constitution says?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ тОДД

    Fascinating. Patrick (@10) “suggest[s] participating in the old and venerable tradition of quietly and discreetly ignoring and disobeying efforts to hinder your Second Amendment rights.” That is to say, he suggests disobeying the authorities that God has instituted.

    So, when the Bible and the Constitution come into conflict, go with what the Constitution says?

  • Dan Kempin

    Bike, #22,

    I’m afraid my knowledge of BATFE regulation is somewhat limited. I just know a little about the function and storage.

    As far as I know, though, you are right that black powder is treated legally as a propellant rather than an explosive because of its firearms usage and relatively poor quality as an explosive. Chemically, though, it is quite different from smokeless. That was my only point.

  • Dan Kempin

    Bike, #22,

    I’m afraid my knowledge of BATFE regulation is somewhat limited. I just know a little about the function and storage.

    As far as I know, though, you are right that black powder is treated legally as a propellant rather than an explosive because of its firearms usage and relatively poor quality as an explosive. Chemically, though, it is quite different from smokeless. That was my only point.

  • Dan Kempin

    Oh, and Bike (re:#9),

    I seem to recall that you’re from Minnesota. If you are anywhere near Robbinsdale, you should check out Bill’s. They rent what you need.

  • Dan Kempin

    Oh, and Bike (re:#9),

    I seem to recall that you’re from Minnesota. If you are anywhere near Robbinsdale, you should check out Bill’s. They rent what you need.

  • Random Lutheran

    Perhaps the commas tell the story. Consider:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    This is not about establishing militias, but regulating militias (whether public or private). Consider that this was written by men who had been under the thumb of an army; without guns of their own, they would have been in no position to “regulate” that army. They understood that the people must be able to stand against any governmental force, whether it is homegrown or invading. Thus this amendment is fundamentally about individuals keeping and bearing arms. The point is not a “free State”, one which is not under foreign domination; rather, the point is to allow for a “free State”, i.e., one in which liberty abides.

    Anyone out there familiar with 18th century punctuation habits? Would this be a possible reading back in the day?

  • Random Lutheran

    Perhaps the commas tell the story. Consider:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    This is not about establishing militias, but regulating militias (whether public or private). Consider that this was written by men who had been under the thumb of an army; without guns of their own, they would have been in no position to “regulate” that army. They understood that the people must be able to stand against any governmental force, whether it is homegrown or invading. Thus this amendment is fundamentally about individuals keeping and bearing arms. The point is not a “free State”, one which is not under foreign domination; rather, the point is to allow for a “free State”, i.e., one in which liberty abides.

    Anyone out there familiar with 18th century punctuation habits? Would this be a possible reading back in the day?

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Todd,
    Lutherans, especially German ones, need to be extremely careful using Romans as justification for blind and unreasoned allegiance to the state, lest we find ourselves pleading ‘ I am only following orders’ as we fire up the ovens at the behest of our ‘leaders.’

    The time has come when every person is left to navigate a very complicated and technical morass of semi laws (rules that don’t apply equally to everyone, because of their money, lack thereof , or their position) created by the ruling classes, designed to impoverish and keep under foot the majority of the American people.
    Though I vote regularly and am politically active, none of my duly elected ‘representatives’ represent me, or many of people who sent them to congress. They are out of control, and legislate only to enrich themselves and their friends, or to try to keep their jobs and increase their power. They have basically looted the economic future of this country.
    Therefore, I quietly pick and choose my ‘areas of compliance’ with
    their crazy quilt laws based on what is best for me and my family.
    That being said, I follow the law as best I can within the bounds of my conscience, and plead God’s grace, I am incapable of doing anything else.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Todd,
    Lutherans, especially German ones, need to be extremely careful using Romans as justification for blind and unreasoned allegiance to the state, lest we find ourselves pleading ‘ I am only following orders’ as we fire up the ovens at the behest of our ‘leaders.’

    The time has come when every person is left to navigate a very complicated and technical morass of semi laws (rules that don’t apply equally to everyone, because of their money, lack thereof , or their position) created by the ruling classes, designed to impoverish and keep under foot the majority of the American people.
    Though I vote regularly and am politically active, none of my duly elected ‘representatives’ represent me, or many of people who sent them to congress. They are out of control, and legislate only to enrich themselves and their friends, or to try to keep their jobs and increase their power. They have basically looted the economic future of this country.
    Therefore, I quietly pick and choose my ‘areas of compliance’ with
    their crazy quilt laws based on what is best for me and my family.
    That being said, I follow the law as best I can within the bounds of my conscience, and plead God’s grace, I am incapable of doing anything else.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Random,
    I have heard the term ‘regulated’ means ‘equipped’ so it may read ‘a well equipped militia..’ Maybe some one acquainted with the etymology of the word ‘regulate’ can shed some light on this.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Random,
    I have heard the term ‘regulated’ means ‘equipped’ so it may read ‘a well equipped militia..’ Maybe some one acquainted with the etymology of the word ‘regulate’ can shed some light on this.

  • Random Lutheran

    Patrick,

    Could well be. Will have to look…

  • Random Lutheran

    Patrick,

    Could well be. Will have to look…

  • Joe

    Todd – I often struggle with Romans. Here is my question and I would appreciate your thoughts. We are to submit to government because it is ordained by God. No, issue with that general proposition. Romans is pretty darn clear on that point. My question is what is a Christian supposed to do when the men charged with running the government that God ordained act in clear violation of the limits of that gov’t?

    Applied to the US, we have a constitutional republic with limited enumerated powers that employs some democratic and quasi-democratic methods for selecting the people to hold offices. We vote and get to have input into who the leaders will be. But our constitution lays out some pretty clear lines and officials (of all stripes) have/will act outside the bounds of their legitimate authority. As a Christian how do we submit and what do we submit to? Are we required to do whatever the leaders say even if it conflicts with the form of gov’t that was established by God? Or is it by resisting the decrees, acts, etc. that go beyond the legitimate powers of the gov’t that we are properly submitting to the gov’t that God ordained?

    note – my question is not aimed at situations when the gov’t attempts to force to do something that is commanded by God. I have no issue with that situation. The Bible is equally clear on that point.

  • Joe

    Todd – I often struggle with Romans. Here is my question and I would appreciate your thoughts. We are to submit to government because it is ordained by God. No, issue with that general proposition. Romans is pretty darn clear on that point. My question is what is a Christian supposed to do when the men charged with running the government that God ordained act in clear violation of the limits of that gov’t?

    Applied to the US, we have a constitutional republic with limited enumerated powers that employs some democratic and quasi-democratic methods for selecting the people to hold offices. We vote and get to have input into who the leaders will be. But our constitution lays out some pretty clear lines and officials (of all stripes) have/will act outside the bounds of their legitimate authority. As a Christian how do we submit and what do we submit to? Are we required to do whatever the leaders say even if it conflicts with the form of gov’t that was established by God? Or is it by resisting the decrees, acts, etc. that go beyond the legitimate powers of the gov’t that we are properly submitting to the gov’t that God ordained?

    note – my question is not aimed at situations when the gov’t attempts to force to do something that is commanded by God. I have no issue with that situation. The Bible is equally clear on that point.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe (@30), I think a lot of American Christians struggle with Romans 13, because our culture is not in line with what the Bible says, and really hasn’t been from the get-go. Simply put, submission and revolutions really don’t go together well.

    That said, I couldn’t help but notice that you referred to “the form of gov’t that was established by God.” But the Bible doesn’t merely talk about the form of government, it tells us to “submit himself to the governing authorities.”

    Now, you ask what a Christian should do in a case where various levels of the authorities placed by God over the Christian appear to be in conflict. Regardless what the particulars of a situation are, the answer must ultimately involve an attitude of submission, for that is what we are commanded to do.

    Consider a different situation involving a boy and his parents. Now, the boy has been commanded by God to submit to his parents in a manner similar to the citizen and his government. Let’s say the boy wants ice cream and he asks his mom, who is in the kitchen, if he can have some. She says no and gives her reason. The boy does not like this answer, so he goes and finds his father, who is out doing yardwork. Knowing that the father did not hear the mother’s response, the boy asks him if he can have some ice cream. The father says, sure, why not. The boy then reasons that, since the father is the head of the family, it is therefore in keeping with his godly submission to his father for him to have some ice cream. Do you think he reasoned correctly? By eating the ice cream, did he obey his parents and submit to their will?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe (@30), I think a lot of American Christians struggle with Romans 13, because our culture is not in line with what the Bible says, and really hasn’t been from the get-go. Simply put, submission and revolutions really don’t go together well.

    That said, I couldn’t help but notice that you referred to “the form of gov’t that was established by God.” But the Bible doesn’t merely talk about the form of government, it tells us to “submit himself to the governing authorities.”

    Now, you ask what a Christian should do in a case where various levels of the authorities placed by God over the Christian appear to be in conflict. Regardless what the particulars of a situation are, the answer must ultimately involve an attitude of submission, for that is what we are commanded to do.

    Consider a different situation involving a boy and his parents. Now, the boy has been commanded by God to submit to his parents in a manner similar to the citizen and his government. Let’s say the boy wants ice cream and he asks his mom, who is in the kitchen, if he can have some. She says no and gives her reason. The boy does not like this answer, so he goes and finds his father, who is out doing yardwork. Knowing that the father did not hear the mother’s response, the boy asks him if he can have some ice cream. The father says, sure, why not. The boy then reasons that, since the father is the head of the family, it is therefore in keeping with his godly submission to his father for him to have some ice cream. Do you think he reasoned correctly? By eating the ice cream, did he obey his parents and submit to their will?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Patrick, that’s quite a straw man you opened your reply (@27) with! Much as I appreciate the efficiency with which you have applied Godwin’s Law, I’m having a hard time figuring out who here, exactly, advocated “blind and unreasoned allegiance to the state.”

    I am a little surprised, however, to see a conservative Christian so fervently co-opting Marxist language, with the oppression of the have-nots by the elite ruling classes and all, requiring, what, revolution by the working class?

    The degree to which your representatives represent you, or are in “control”, or are greedy, or power-hungry, or pass bad laws — all of that has no bearing on God’s command to you to submit to those authorities.

    In the conflict at hand, it is entirely possible to submit to all the different authorities. If one authority says you can do something, and another says you can’t, the obvious solution is to not do that thing, as this would be submitting — outwardly, at least.

    You, however, are advocating submitting only to some authorities, and rebelling against others, based on what is best for you. It is difficult to see how this fits with an attitude of submission.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Patrick, that’s quite a straw man you opened your reply (@27) with! Much as I appreciate the efficiency with which you have applied Godwin’s Law, I’m having a hard time figuring out who here, exactly, advocated “blind and unreasoned allegiance to the state.”

    I am a little surprised, however, to see a conservative Christian so fervently co-opting Marxist language, with the oppression of the have-nots by the elite ruling classes and all, requiring, what, revolution by the working class?

    The degree to which your representatives represent you, or are in “control”, or are greedy, or power-hungry, or pass bad laws — all of that has no bearing on God’s command to you to submit to those authorities.

    In the conflict at hand, it is entirely possible to submit to all the different authorities. If one authority says you can do something, and another says you can’t, the obvious solution is to not do that thing, as this would be submitting — outwardly, at least.

    You, however, are advocating submitting only to some authorities, and rebelling against others, based on what is best for you. It is difficult to see how this fits with an attitude of submission.

  • Dan Kempin

    Regarding “Another Point,”

    I completely agree, and frankly don’t see how the fully automatic weapons ban (the one from 1986, not 1934) can be considered constitutional. Weapons for defense and for use in militia service should not logically be limited to obsolete or sporting weapons.

  • Dan Kempin

    Regarding “Another Point,”

    I completely agree, and frankly don’t see how the fully automatic weapons ban (the one from 1986, not 1934) can be considered constitutional. Weapons for defense and for use in militia service should not logically be limited to obsolete or sporting weapons.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Todd,
    “Patrick, that’s quite a straw man you opened your reply (@27) with! Much as I appreciate the efficiency with which you have applied Godwin’s Law…”

    Yeah, yeah… Its no straw man. Many Germans justified their conduct during the war by citing the Romans passage. Wasn’t there a big disagreement in the church in Germany during that time over this exact issue? So when I hear Lutherans trumpet the ‘submission to authority’ line, I also expect a clarification or a caveat given our history, but it is seldom offered. Usually the reference to Romans is used as a cudgel to bring to heel those unruly souls that question or reject various edicts of our rulers, without any further explanation of what the scriptures teach.

    “I am a little surprised, however, to see a conservative Christian so fervently co-opting Marxist language, with the oppression of the have-nots by the elite ruling classes and all, requiring, what, revolution by the working class?”

    I am no Marxist. When government officials arrange bailouts of their previous employers at our expense, and banks (Wachovia and Citi Bank) launder drug money for Mexican drug cartels and get off with some ‘fines’ and no one goes to jail, the laws are not being applied equally, and it doesn’t take a degree in Economics or Law to see who is on the short end of the stick. Forgive my imprecise ‘borrowing’ of Marxist terms.

    “The degree to which your representatives represent you, or are in “control”, or are greedy, or power-hungry, or pass bad laws — all of that has no bearing on God’s command to you to submit to those authorities.”

    To the degree that the above listed failings of the government harm my family and my neighbors, is the degree to which I cannot submit.

    “You, however, are advocating submitting only to some authorities, and rebelling against others, based on what is best for you. It is difficult to see how this fits with an attitude of submission.”

    At last, after the name calling you arrive at the heart of the matter.
    I submit every day, but not according to your blanket definition of what submission is. I really suck at that kind of ‘lay- there -and just- take- it- no- matter- what’ attitude.

    (C’mon, whats with this “attitude of submission” stuff? I can almost hear a camp meeting organ playing an altar call. In the evangelical world from which I came, this was always code for ‘You aren’t doing what we want, and God is displeased.”)

    Really, why don’t you tell us what submission entails in your view. How far does it go? Are there any limits to it? Is outright resistance wrong, but passive aggression is OK? Or do we just passively accept it all and let the chips fall where they may?

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Todd,
    “Patrick, that’s quite a straw man you opened your reply (@27) with! Much as I appreciate the efficiency with which you have applied Godwin’s Law…”

    Yeah, yeah… Its no straw man. Many Germans justified their conduct during the war by citing the Romans passage. Wasn’t there a big disagreement in the church in Germany during that time over this exact issue? So when I hear Lutherans trumpet the ‘submission to authority’ line, I also expect a clarification or a caveat given our history, but it is seldom offered. Usually the reference to Romans is used as a cudgel to bring to heel those unruly souls that question or reject various edicts of our rulers, without any further explanation of what the scriptures teach.

    “I am a little surprised, however, to see a conservative Christian so fervently co-opting Marxist language, with the oppression of the have-nots by the elite ruling classes and all, requiring, what, revolution by the working class?”

    I am no Marxist. When government officials arrange bailouts of their previous employers at our expense, and banks (Wachovia and Citi Bank) launder drug money for Mexican drug cartels and get off with some ‘fines’ and no one goes to jail, the laws are not being applied equally, and it doesn’t take a degree in Economics or Law to see who is on the short end of the stick. Forgive my imprecise ‘borrowing’ of Marxist terms.

    “The degree to which your representatives represent you, or are in “control”, or are greedy, or power-hungry, or pass bad laws — all of that has no bearing on God’s command to you to submit to those authorities.”

    To the degree that the above listed failings of the government harm my family and my neighbors, is the degree to which I cannot submit.

    “You, however, are advocating submitting only to some authorities, and rebelling against others, based on what is best for you. It is difficult to see how this fits with an attitude of submission.”

    At last, after the name calling you arrive at the heart of the matter.
    I submit every day, but not according to your blanket definition of what submission is. I really suck at that kind of ‘lay- there -and just- take- it- no- matter- what’ attitude.

    (C’mon, whats with this “attitude of submission” stuff? I can almost hear a camp meeting organ playing an altar call. In the evangelical world from which I came, this was always code for ‘You aren’t doing what we want, and God is displeased.”)

    Really, why don’t you tell us what submission entails in your view. How far does it go? Are there any limits to it? Is outright resistance wrong, but passive aggression is OK? Or do we just passively accept it all and let the chips fall where they may?

  • kerner

    I am commenting without first researching, so I may later have to backtrack, but I think Romans13 has to be read in concert with other passages on human authority (Luther, in the small catechism lumps all human authority under the 4th commandment, and I agree that human authority ought to be treated as a general category).

    Anyway, my reading of Biblical pronouncements re human authority is that all human authority is limited.

    For example, wives are to submit to their husbands, but husbands are to love their wives and sacrifice themselves for their wives as Christ did for the Church. Children are to obey parents, but parents are not to “provoke their children to wrath”. We are to obey our government, but when push comes to shove, I seem to recall reading that there comes a point when we ought to obey God rather than man.

    My point is that all human authority is bestowed by God for a purpose and imposes on the one in authority the duty to effect that purpose. When the one in authority fails in that responsibility, I think there comes a point when Christians need no longer submit.

    So, when husbands do not love their wives, when parents provoke (rather than guide) their children, or when the government punishes the good and rewards the evil-doer (instead of the other way around), I believe that, in extreme cases at least, there will be times when Christians may be justified in disobeying or even overthrowing those in authority, and establishing a new authority that will do a better job of effecting the responsibilities God has given.

    Point 2:

    The American Revolution was not a struggle between “Authority” and “No Authority”. It was a struggle between two authorities each claiming to be the right one. In such cases, I am hard pressed to believe that the Christian’s duty is to ignore which side seems to be taking its God bestowed responsibilities the most seriously and focus solely on who has the most power at the moment. For example, in 1939 when the Germans invaded France, would it have been the Christian thing to do to decide that the Nazis had been ordained by God to rule France, thus requiring all Frenchmen to support the Nazis, even to the extent of fighting the allies until the Allies invaded France, then deciding that the allies were ordained by God and fighting the Nazis? Surely Romans 13 is not simply a requirement that Christians to always support the winning, or the apparently strongest, side?

    Are there not times when Christians can, with clear consciences, support the apparently weaker, not yet ordained, side, because it is the right side? Or do we always simply support the most powerful bully we can see with no consideration of other factors?

  • kerner

    I am commenting without first researching, so I may later have to backtrack, but I think Romans13 has to be read in concert with other passages on human authority (Luther, in the small catechism lumps all human authority under the 4th commandment, and I agree that human authority ought to be treated as a general category).

    Anyway, my reading of Biblical pronouncements re human authority is that all human authority is limited.

    For example, wives are to submit to their husbands, but husbands are to love their wives and sacrifice themselves for their wives as Christ did for the Church. Children are to obey parents, but parents are not to “provoke their children to wrath”. We are to obey our government, but when push comes to shove, I seem to recall reading that there comes a point when we ought to obey God rather than man.

    My point is that all human authority is bestowed by God for a purpose and imposes on the one in authority the duty to effect that purpose. When the one in authority fails in that responsibility, I think there comes a point when Christians need no longer submit.

    So, when husbands do not love their wives, when parents provoke (rather than guide) their children, or when the government punishes the good and rewards the evil-doer (instead of the other way around), I believe that, in extreme cases at least, there will be times when Christians may be justified in disobeying or even overthrowing those in authority, and establishing a new authority that will do a better job of effecting the responsibilities God has given.

    Point 2:

    The American Revolution was not a struggle between “Authority” and “No Authority”. It was a struggle between two authorities each claiming to be the right one. In such cases, I am hard pressed to believe that the Christian’s duty is to ignore which side seems to be taking its God bestowed responsibilities the most seriously and focus solely on who has the most power at the moment. For example, in 1939 when the Germans invaded France, would it have been the Christian thing to do to decide that the Nazis had been ordained by God to rule France, thus requiring all Frenchmen to support the Nazis, even to the extent of fighting the allies until the Allies invaded France, then deciding that the allies were ordained by God and fighting the Nazis? Surely Romans 13 is not simply a requirement that Christians to always support the winning, or the apparently strongest, side?

    Are there not times when Christians can, with clear consciences, support the apparently weaker, not yet ordained, side, because it is the right side? Or do we always simply support the most powerful bully we can see with no consideration of other factors?

  • kerner

    Dan @ 33:

    Good point. In the 18th century, private citizens who owned rifles (as many did) were actually better armed than the average soldier. Privately owned rifles were far more accurate than than the unrifled muskets routinely issued to professional troops (unrifled muskets were a lot cheaper). So, the 2nd Ammendment was written at a time when the best weapons were in private, not military, hands. Maybe there are reasons why things should be different today, but back then nobody thought it unusual for a citizen to be better armed than the military.

  • kerner

    Dan @ 33:

    Good point. In the 18th century, private citizens who owned rifles (as many did) were actually better armed than the average soldier. Privately owned rifles were far more accurate than than the unrifled muskets routinely issued to professional troops (unrifled muskets were a lot cheaper). So, the 2nd Ammendment was written at a time when the best weapons were in private, not military, hands. Maybe there are reasons why things should be different today, but back then nobody thought it unusual for a citizen to be better armed than the military.

  • Joe

    Patrick – the Nazi example is not a good example. No Lutheran thinks that you must submit to the gov’t when they are telling you to violate an express command of God. Thus, no Lutheran could or should justify going along with the Nazi’s murder of Jews, gays, handicapped, Christians and pagans of Slavic descent. etc. based on Romans 13 because that is when you must obey God rather than man.

    So the question is, when a gov’t is exceeding its legitimate power (but not telling you to violate a command of God) must you submit? And, if not, under what circumstances?

    tODD points out that Romans speaks of “Authorities” and not the form of gov’t and argues that we must submit to the folks who are in office even if they are acting outside the constitutional limits of the offices they were elected to. I am not convinced at this point. I don’t read authorities to mean the people holding the office. They are not “governing authorities.” The governing authorities are the offices, the established institutions – the Presidency, the Congress, the Courts, etc. The people who hold office are just functionaries/caretakers or executors of what the office is entrusted to do (and not do)? Other English translations translate “governing authorities” as “higher powers” and I don’t think “powers” can be read to mean “men.” Does anyone know the Greek and what its literal translation is? I have also read Luther on this topic and it is helpful, but he was writing at a time when the office and the man who held it were not divisible (a prince is the authority; a president is a caretaker of the institutional authority). I have not found anything written by a Lutheran that discusses this in the context of a constitutional government that places limits upon the officers. That to me is the interesting question.

    This is hard to discuss in the abstract, so let me ask this: was the civil rights movement anti-biblical? The Jim Crow laws (I don’t think) did not force anyone to violate a command of God. No one was required to kill a black man, etc. Should all of those folks have just submitted to the gov’t despite the fact that the 14th Amendment proscribed the conduct of the local gov’ts? I think we can all agree that they could have taken legal action to try to have the laws stricken down, but what about the civil disobedience, the marches, etc.?

  • Joe

    Patrick – the Nazi example is not a good example. No Lutheran thinks that you must submit to the gov’t when they are telling you to violate an express command of God. Thus, no Lutheran could or should justify going along with the Nazi’s murder of Jews, gays, handicapped, Christians and pagans of Slavic descent. etc. based on Romans 13 because that is when you must obey God rather than man.

    So the question is, when a gov’t is exceeding its legitimate power (but not telling you to violate a command of God) must you submit? And, if not, under what circumstances?

    tODD points out that Romans speaks of “Authorities” and not the form of gov’t and argues that we must submit to the folks who are in office even if they are acting outside the constitutional limits of the offices they were elected to. I am not convinced at this point. I don’t read authorities to mean the people holding the office. They are not “governing authorities.” The governing authorities are the offices, the established institutions – the Presidency, the Congress, the Courts, etc. The people who hold office are just functionaries/caretakers or executors of what the office is entrusted to do (and not do)? Other English translations translate “governing authorities” as “higher powers” and I don’t think “powers” can be read to mean “men.” Does anyone know the Greek and what its literal translation is? I have also read Luther on this topic and it is helpful, but he was writing at a time when the office and the man who held it were not divisible (a prince is the authority; a president is a caretaker of the institutional authority). I have not found anything written by a Lutheran that discusses this in the context of a constitutional government that places limits upon the officers. That to me is the interesting question.

    This is hard to discuss in the abstract, so let me ask this: was the civil rights movement anti-biblical? The Jim Crow laws (I don’t think) did not force anyone to violate a command of God. No one was required to kill a black man, etc. Should all of those folks have just submitted to the gov’t despite the fact that the 14th Amendment proscribed the conduct of the local gov’ts? I think we can all agree that they could have taken legal action to try to have the laws stricken down, but what about the civil disobedience, the marches, etc.?

  • Random Lutheran

    Here’s a great link to a set of Chinese reactions to gun sales at WarMart in the US: http://www.chinasmack.com/2010/pictures/guns-in-america-wal-marts-chinese-netizen-reactions.html (I pasted the whole link so it would be clear where this leads).

    One quote from the post:

    Only with citizens who have high restraint and a society with relatively few injustices would [a country] dare be like this.

  • Random Lutheran

    Here’s a great link to a set of Chinese reactions to gun sales at WarMart in the US: http://www.chinasmack.com/2010/pictures/guns-in-america-wal-marts-chinese-netizen-reactions.html (I pasted the whole link so it would be clear where this leads).

    One quote from the post:

    Only with citizens who have high restraint and a society with relatively few injustices would [a country] dare be like this.

  • ELB

    The discussion of Romans 13 is not really the main point here. In fact, if you read the gun press you will find frequent reminders that American gun owners are among the most law-abiding of our citizens – sometimes at great difficulty and expense.

    The real issue here is the determination of Mayor Daley and the Aldermen to violate the law (constitution) and put the onus on citizens to come up with the millions needed to fight it in the courts. Our elected officials take an oath to uphold the constitution, and when they don’t there is no penalty. Yet if we were to violate the laws they pass, they rule with the sword. Daley just reminded us this week that any otherwise law-abiding citizen caught with a handgun in their home for protection will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Even though he knows the law is unconstitutional it has not technically been struck down, so he will unconstitutionally enforce it anyway. You might win a defense, but your arrest record would keep you from getting the FOID card (permission from the state to own a gun in IL).

    A Christian looks at this, knows what the law is, and wonders if he must obey the “law” when it is illegal, and is enforced just because in Chicago the Mayor has police who will do it.

  • ELB

    The discussion of Romans 13 is not really the main point here. In fact, if you read the gun press you will find frequent reminders that American gun owners are among the most law-abiding of our citizens – sometimes at great difficulty and expense.

    The real issue here is the determination of Mayor Daley and the Aldermen to violate the law (constitution) and put the onus on citizens to come up with the millions needed to fight it in the courts. Our elected officials take an oath to uphold the constitution, and when they don’t there is no penalty. Yet if we were to violate the laws they pass, they rule with the sword. Daley just reminded us this week that any otherwise law-abiding citizen caught with a handgun in their home for protection will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Even though he knows the law is unconstitutional it has not technically been struck down, so he will unconstitutionally enforce it anyway. You might win a defense, but your arrest record would keep you from getting the FOID card (permission from the state to own a gun in IL).

    A Christian looks at this, knows what the law is, and wonders if he must obey the “law” when it is illegal, and is enforced just because in Chicago the Mayor has police who will do it.

  • Random Lutheran

    Oops…WalMart.

  • Random Lutheran

    Oops…WalMart.

  • kerner

    Good points, Joe @37. We live in a constitutional republic whose constitution recognises substantial power and authority in the people. In other words, you, I, and all of us here are, to some extent, the “powers that be”. When those in the government try to diminish our power and authority (a very practical method of doing this is disarming us) it can be argued that they, not we, are in rebellion against the authority vested in individual citizens, and that we, not they, would be “punishing the evil doer” by stopping them from doing so. As I say this, I hope I am not misunderstood. Despite quite a bit of emoting by factions in the media, I do not believe we are anywhere near the point at which armed resistance would be necessary in the United States.

    But I second your concern about Lutheran theologians on Romans 13. They tend to consider the president as though he were the emperor, and expect Christians to submit to him as though his legitimate power were absolute. They ignore the fact that the power and authority God has given to the government in the United States is not the same as the power God gave to Caesar Augustus.

    But nobody has answered my question, which is more fumdamental. Can someone to whom God has given power and authority ever abuse that authority sufficiently such that those over whom he has authority may legitimately overthrow him? Is merely being “in authority” for the moment the only factor to consider, and does that fact alone require unqualified submission?

  • kerner

    Good points, Joe @37. We live in a constitutional republic whose constitution recognises substantial power and authority in the people. In other words, you, I, and all of us here are, to some extent, the “powers that be”. When those in the government try to diminish our power and authority (a very practical method of doing this is disarming us) it can be argued that they, not we, are in rebellion against the authority vested in individual citizens, and that we, not they, would be “punishing the evil doer” by stopping them from doing so. As I say this, I hope I am not misunderstood. Despite quite a bit of emoting by factions in the media, I do not believe we are anywhere near the point at which armed resistance would be necessary in the United States.

    But I second your concern about Lutheran theologians on Romans 13. They tend to consider the president as though he were the emperor, and expect Christians to submit to him as though his legitimate power were absolute. They ignore the fact that the power and authority God has given to the government in the United States is not the same as the power God gave to Caesar Augustus.

    But nobody has answered my question, which is more fumdamental. Can someone to whom God has given power and authority ever abuse that authority sufficiently such that those over whom he has authority may legitimately overthrow him? Is merely being “in authority” for the moment the only factor to consider, and does that fact alone require unqualified submission?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I am supremely disappointed to see so many Christians — Lutherans, no less — attempting to find escape valves in God’s Law where God has not placed them. Indeed, it’s hard not to see these as variations on “Did God really say, ‘You must submit yourself to the governing authorities’?”

    Everyone here wants to make Romans 13 conditional. You only have to submit if … ! If it’s “best for me and my family”. If it doesn’t “harm my family and my neighbors”. If the “authority fails in that responsibility”. If there are so many conditions that a government must meet in order to merit your submission, how exactly can you even be said to submit? By these arguments, I can ignore taxes and laws that I consider not “best for me” or that “harm my family”, and yet still completely keep this part of God’s law. I’m “submitting”, as long as the government is “good”! I’m “submitting”, as long as the government meets my expectations.

    Kerner (@35) even takes it further and says this doesn’t only apply to governments, but even in marriages and families! “So, when husbands do not love their wives, when parents provoke (rather than guide) their children, … there will be times when Christians may be justified in disobeying or even overthrowing those in authority, and establishing a new authority that will do a better job of effecting the responsibilities God has given.” So wives need not submit to their husbands unless they truly “love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. One supposes, by this same logic, that husbands hardly need worry about loving their wives fully, since what wife is in complete submission to her husband in the first place? What child needs to obey his parents, given that parents are sinful and, in spite of themselves, provoke their children? And, of course, what citizen needs to submit to the civil authorities over him? You see how it goes. Not a lick of it is Biblical, but there it is.

    And, of course, the expected American argument that Presidents, Congressmen, governors, mayors, policemen — none of these are authorities. Why, of course not! We the people are the authority. (Which always turns into “I am!”, as we see in Patrick’s suggestion that individuals decide for themselves what the law is regarding guns.) And it is, of course, by this logic that Americans note that the power of the sword isn’t given to men in authority, but, again, to all of us, since we are all in authority. Which is why armed rebellion against the government — at least in some cases, the cautious may add — is okay, and in no way contradicts Paul’s statement that “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.” Up is down, black is white, and God doesn’t want me submitting to the people placed in authority by God. QED.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I am supremely disappointed to see so many Christians — Lutherans, no less — attempting to find escape valves in God’s Law where God has not placed them. Indeed, it’s hard not to see these as variations on “Did God really say, ‘You must submit yourself to the governing authorities’?”

    Everyone here wants to make Romans 13 conditional. You only have to submit if … ! If it’s “best for me and my family”. If it doesn’t “harm my family and my neighbors”. If the “authority fails in that responsibility”. If there are so many conditions that a government must meet in order to merit your submission, how exactly can you even be said to submit? By these arguments, I can ignore taxes and laws that I consider not “best for me” or that “harm my family”, and yet still completely keep this part of God’s law. I’m “submitting”, as long as the government is “good”! I’m “submitting”, as long as the government meets my expectations.

    Kerner (@35) even takes it further and says this doesn’t only apply to governments, but even in marriages and families! “So, when husbands do not love their wives, when parents provoke (rather than guide) their children, … there will be times when Christians may be justified in disobeying or even overthrowing those in authority, and establishing a new authority that will do a better job of effecting the responsibilities God has given.” So wives need not submit to their husbands unless they truly “love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. One supposes, by this same logic, that husbands hardly need worry about loving their wives fully, since what wife is in complete submission to her husband in the first place? What child needs to obey his parents, given that parents are sinful and, in spite of themselves, provoke their children? And, of course, what citizen needs to submit to the civil authorities over him? You see how it goes. Not a lick of it is Biblical, but there it is.

    And, of course, the expected American argument that Presidents, Congressmen, governors, mayors, policemen — none of these are authorities. Why, of course not! We the people are the authority. (Which always turns into “I am!”, as we see in Patrick’s suggestion that individuals decide for themselves what the law is regarding guns.) And it is, of course, by this logic that Americans note that the power of the sword isn’t given to men in authority, but, again, to all of us, since we are all in authority. Which is why armed rebellion against the government — at least in some cases, the cautious may add — is okay, and in no way contradicts Paul’s statement that “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.” Up is down, black is white, and God doesn’t want me submitting to the people placed in authority by God. QED.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Patrick (@34), I’m sorry for what happened in your evangelical background, but I can’t do much about that, especially as a life-long Lutheran. Still, I have a hard time seeing how you can ask, “whats with this ‘attitude of submission’ stuff?” Um … Romans 13 tells us to “submit ourselves to the governing authorities”. So … that’s what’s up.

    “Really, why don’t you tell us what submission entails in your view. How far does it go? Are there any limits to it?” Why don’t you answer these questions — but do it from God’s Word, please, and not, say, any American civil documents. The one clear limit God has set on submission to authorities is that we must submit to the ultimate Authority, which is God. If a civil authority commands us to do evil, we cannot obey him in good conscience. But if a civil authority commands us to do something good — or at least not forbidden by God — then we must obey the authority, for conscience’s sake, as much as we would obey God himself.

    But asking “How far does it go? Are there any limits to it?” in regards to a commandment rarely indicates a good attitude. Would you ask that of the Bible’s urging us to love our neighbors and even enemies? Or of your duty to love your wife?

    “I really suck at that kind of ‘lay- there -and just- take- it- no- matter- what’ attitude.” I’m sorry to hear that. The good news was that Jesus was really good — perfect, in fact — at it. He not only lay there and take it, he stood there and took it, and then he hung there and took it. For your sins, including when you don’t submit to the authorities God established. And even though Jesus had every reason to reject his trial as illegal, even though he could have, at any moment, done away with Pilate’s trial, yet he submitted to Pilate, telling him, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Patrick (@34), I’m sorry for what happened in your evangelical background, but I can’t do much about that, especially as a life-long Lutheran. Still, I have a hard time seeing how you can ask, “whats with this ‘attitude of submission’ stuff?” Um … Romans 13 tells us to “submit ourselves to the governing authorities”. So … that’s what’s up.

    “Really, why don’t you tell us what submission entails in your view. How far does it go? Are there any limits to it?” Why don’t you answer these questions — but do it from God’s Word, please, and not, say, any American civil documents. The one clear limit God has set on submission to authorities is that we must submit to the ultimate Authority, which is God. If a civil authority commands us to do evil, we cannot obey him in good conscience. But if a civil authority commands us to do something good — or at least not forbidden by God — then we must obey the authority, for conscience’s sake, as much as we would obey God himself.

    But asking “How far does it go? Are there any limits to it?” in regards to a commandment rarely indicates a good attitude. Would you ask that of the Bible’s urging us to love our neighbors and even enemies? Or of your duty to love your wife?

    “I really suck at that kind of ‘lay- there -and just- take- it- no- matter- what’ attitude.” I’m sorry to hear that. The good news was that Jesus was really good — perfect, in fact — at it. He not only lay there and take it, he stood there and took it, and then he hung there and took it. For your sins, including when you don’t submit to the authorities God established. And even though Jesus had every reason to reject his trial as illegal, even though he could have, at any moment, done away with Pilate’s trial, yet he submitted to Pilate, telling him, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@35), I’ve already touched on this before, but I cannot agree with your framing. You see “human authority [as] limited” because both the one in authority and the one under it are typically given commands — leaders and citizens, husbands and wives, parents and children, slaveowners and slaves.

    But you seem to be turning those commands to both parties into an if-then situation, whereas God clearly intends it as a both-and situation. Children are not told to obey their parents only if they don’t provoke their children. Wives are not told to submit to their husbands only if they love them fully and give themselves up for their wives.

    The end to all this would be to conclude (from your argument) that we aren’t really to love our neighbors and consider them better than ourselves — or, rather, that we only have to love them if they first love us and consider us better than them. But none of these situations are conditional. We aren’t just to love those who love us back (or first), we’re to love those who hate us!

    The behavior of the other party does not excuse us from our obligations, whether to love or submit.

    Now, as to your second point, yes, there will be situations — notably, in civil wars, revolutions, and invasions — where it will not always be clear to the Christian who the authority is. And while Christians may disagree in such situations, it is clear that, nonetheless, their attitude should be one of submission. And not, it should be added, submitting to the authority one likes best, or is least evil, or the authority that gives you the best outcome. No, to submit to the authority you believe is actually in power.

    Thus, during the Revolutionary War, Christians may have split on which authority to obey. But before the war, it was clear who was the authority. As was it clear after the war — American Christians today are not free to disobey American laws that conflict with those of the UK. That would be ridiculous. I say this in answer to your question, “Surely Romans 13 is not simply a requirement that Christians to always support the winning … side?” If you believe your own question, then we Americans should not be in submission to our own government. And which governments from the past should we then be subject to?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@35), I’ve already touched on this before, but I cannot agree with your framing. You see “human authority [as] limited” because both the one in authority and the one under it are typically given commands — leaders and citizens, husbands and wives, parents and children, slaveowners and slaves.

    But you seem to be turning those commands to both parties into an if-then situation, whereas God clearly intends it as a both-and situation. Children are not told to obey their parents only if they don’t provoke their children. Wives are not told to submit to their husbands only if they love them fully and give themselves up for their wives.

    The end to all this would be to conclude (from your argument) that we aren’t really to love our neighbors and consider them better than ourselves — or, rather, that we only have to love them if they first love us and consider us better than them. But none of these situations are conditional. We aren’t just to love those who love us back (or first), we’re to love those who hate us!

    The behavior of the other party does not excuse us from our obligations, whether to love or submit.

    Now, as to your second point, yes, there will be situations — notably, in civil wars, revolutions, and invasions — where it will not always be clear to the Christian who the authority is. And while Christians may disagree in such situations, it is clear that, nonetheless, their attitude should be one of submission. And not, it should be added, submitting to the authority one likes best, or is least evil, or the authority that gives you the best outcome. No, to submit to the authority you believe is actually in power.

    Thus, during the Revolutionary War, Christians may have split on which authority to obey. But before the war, it was clear who was the authority. As was it clear after the war — American Christians today are not free to disobey American laws that conflict with those of the UK. That would be ridiculous. I say this in answer to your question, “Surely Romans 13 is not simply a requirement that Christians to always support the winning … side?” If you believe your own question, then we Americans should not be in submission to our own government. And which governments from the past should we then be subject to?

  • ELB

    tODD @(all those numbers)
    I appreciate what you are saying about Romans 13. Lutherans have always cast a jaundiced eye at the American “Revolution,” and those who have supported it find consistency with Rom 13 by acknowledging the colonies as the powers to whom obedience was owed. Even we disagree with that, it has merit and is a good-faith arguement.
    Reading your posts regularly, though, I am inclined to ask whether our obligation to obey even an obnoxious authority (which I acknowledge) gives us a reason/excuse to establish such an authority. Mayn’t we still be free in this constitutional republic to restrain such central authority? That is what the constitution does.
    In Illinois we have prior-restraint of all gun owners, requiring us to prove our worthiness before being permitted to exercise rights of citizens – gun ownership. It would be like a reporter having to go through a background check to make sure he never libeled, slandered, or wrote seditiously before being permitted to publish. YET THOUSANDS OF US SUBMIT to such authority because for reasons moral, practical, or civil we believe we owe obedience to the powers that be.
    Now that the powers that be have been found to be the ones violating the law, are we wrong to insist that they be held to account? Just because Mr. Daley is mayor and insists that he will prosecute under the law that has been found unconstitutional until it is formally stricken down, must we acquiesce? And when they are striken down, he says he will pass yet new laws to prevent the exercise of our civil rights. He is the one who is in violation of the law, but there is no penalty for him or his government.
    Can we not appeal to yet another civil power to redress our grievance against his usurpation? In good faith I am asking if you think that perhaps if Mr. Daley takes our tunic we should give him our cloak also. What think you?

  • ELB

    tODD @(all those numbers)
    I appreciate what you are saying about Romans 13. Lutherans have always cast a jaundiced eye at the American “Revolution,” and those who have supported it find consistency with Rom 13 by acknowledging the colonies as the powers to whom obedience was owed. Even we disagree with that, it has merit and is a good-faith arguement.
    Reading your posts regularly, though, I am inclined to ask whether our obligation to obey even an obnoxious authority (which I acknowledge) gives us a reason/excuse to establish such an authority. Mayn’t we still be free in this constitutional republic to restrain such central authority? That is what the constitution does.
    In Illinois we have prior-restraint of all gun owners, requiring us to prove our worthiness before being permitted to exercise rights of citizens – gun ownership. It would be like a reporter having to go through a background check to make sure he never libeled, slandered, or wrote seditiously before being permitted to publish. YET THOUSANDS OF US SUBMIT to such authority because for reasons moral, practical, or civil we believe we owe obedience to the powers that be.
    Now that the powers that be have been found to be the ones violating the law, are we wrong to insist that they be held to account? Just because Mr. Daley is mayor and insists that he will prosecute under the law that has been found unconstitutional until it is formally stricken down, must we acquiesce? And when they are striken down, he says he will pass yet new laws to prevent the exercise of our civil rights. He is the one who is in violation of the law, but there is no penalty for him or his government.
    Can we not appeal to yet another civil power to redress our grievance against his usurpation? In good faith I am asking if you think that perhaps if Mr. Daley takes our tunic we should give him our cloak also. What think you?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Discussions of the particulars of the government system God has blessed us with also strike me as less than convincing. We can talk about “we the people” all we want, but try that sometime when a police officer gives you an order or in a courtroom, and you will quickly find out how far your authority actually extends. Yes, we can vote to elect our leaders — and in that capacity, we should take care to “do [others] good” — but, once elected, they are, in fact, our leaders. That is to say, our authorities.

    Now, I am not saying that we cannot remind them of their duties, whether from Scripture or according to the legal system. But even in so doing, we should still submit. Consider Paul’s actions with the Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. He reminded them that it was illegal for them to flog him without his being found guilty, and that was enough to stop their trying to flog him. And yet, Paul had allowed himself to be arrested, which was in keeping with his submitting to the authorities.

    As to your more specific question, Joe (@37), I don’t know enough about the civil rights movement to know what you’re referring to. Much that happened in the civil rights movement was, in fact, legal. Were the civil rights marches illegal? Certainly not al marches are illegal. And though I should know more about the civil disobedience that took place, I’m not sure what specific acts you’re thinking of. Regardless, I hope that your argument isn’t one of “given that the civil rights movement resulted in good, it must be the case that the means used in it were also good.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Discussions of the particulars of the government system God has blessed us with also strike me as less than convincing. We can talk about “we the people” all we want, but try that sometime when a police officer gives you an order or in a courtroom, and you will quickly find out how far your authority actually extends. Yes, we can vote to elect our leaders — and in that capacity, we should take care to “do [others] good” — but, once elected, they are, in fact, our leaders. That is to say, our authorities.

    Now, I am not saying that we cannot remind them of their duties, whether from Scripture or according to the legal system. But even in so doing, we should still submit. Consider Paul’s actions with the Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. He reminded them that it was illegal for them to flog him without his being found guilty, and that was enough to stop their trying to flog him. And yet, Paul had allowed himself to be arrested, which was in keeping with his submitting to the authorities.

    As to your more specific question, Joe (@37), I don’t know enough about the civil rights movement to know what you’re referring to. Much that happened in the civil rights movement was, in fact, legal. Were the civil rights marches illegal? Certainly not al marches are illegal. And though I should know more about the civil disobedience that took place, I’m not sure what specific acts you’re thinking of. Regardless, I hope that your argument isn’t one of “given that the civil rights movement resulted in good, it must be the case that the means used in it were also good.”

  • Another Kerner

    Rahab….. a great saint of God….

    Did faithful Rahab sin when she resisted the king’s men, the legitimate authority of her country, at her door looking for the two spies of God who she had hidden on her roof???

    Was she violating the directive in Romans 13? She is called faithful Rahab in the Book of Hebrews.

    Perhaps we might like to review those passages in the OT pertinent to Rahab.
    She looked straight into the eyes of the king’s men and told them she had not seen those they were seeking.
    She was certainly and actively resisting the “established government”.

    Perhaps we need to reconsider the Lord’s directive to “Resist Evil” wherever we find it, even when we find the evil in government agents turned killers and thieves.

    Perhaps we need to ponder the positive sides of the 5th and 7th commandments and our obligations to our neighbor’s lives and their possessions.

    And perhaps we would like to review “Luther’s Warning To His Dear German People” (The Christian in Society, Volume IV: Fortress Press).

    Briefly, he recites the many reasons why the Emperor must be resisted and disobeyed by stalwart Christians as follows:

    “One might tolerate an evil life; but one ….. must not, much less help to defend a person who condemns doctrine and God’s word and who elevates himself over God…… you would make yourself a partner of all such abominations and you would be guilty if you helped to defend them.”

    I recommend the entire piece to you all.

    If thieves and robbers attack and kill all the policemen in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, capture the police building, hold hostages and proclaim themselves the “government now ordained by God”, must the good citizens of Mukwonago now obey them, even as they plunder the town….??
    Must not the good citizens rescue the policemen held captive and restore good order and punish the evil doer?

    To assist evil, even as it claims to be legitimate, appears to be wrong indeed.

    Government is ordained by God to accomplish something: “rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil”… the government has the ministry of the sword to punish evil doers….

    A quick review of Romans 13:4 explains what government is ordained to do.

    “Paul was not preaching aquiescence to the brutal rule of criminals.”

  • Another Kerner

    Rahab….. a great saint of God….

    Did faithful Rahab sin when she resisted the king’s men, the legitimate authority of her country, at her door looking for the two spies of God who she had hidden on her roof???

    Was she violating the directive in Romans 13? She is called faithful Rahab in the Book of Hebrews.

    Perhaps we might like to review those passages in the OT pertinent to Rahab.
    She looked straight into the eyes of the king’s men and told them she had not seen those they were seeking.
    She was certainly and actively resisting the “established government”.

    Perhaps we need to reconsider the Lord’s directive to “Resist Evil” wherever we find it, even when we find the evil in government agents turned killers and thieves.

    Perhaps we need to ponder the positive sides of the 5th and 7th commandments and our obligations to our neighbor’s lives and their possessions.

    And perhaps we would like to review “Luther’s Warning To His Dear German People” (The Christian in Society, Volume IV: Fortress Press).

    Briefly, he recites the many reasons why the Emperor must be resisted and disobeyed by stalwart Christians as follows:

    “One might tolerate an evil life; but one ….. must not, much less help to defend a person who condemns doctrine and God’s word and who elevates himself over God…… you would make yourself a partner of all such abominations and you would be guilty if you helped to defend them.”

    I recommend the entire piece to you all.

    If thieves and robbers attack and kill all the policemen in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, capture the police building, hold hostages and proclaim themselves the “government now ordained by God”, must the good citizens of Mukwonago now obey them, even as they plunder the town….??
    Must not the good citizens rescue the policemen held captive and restore good order and punish the evil doer?

    To assist evil, even as it claims to be legitimate, appears to be wrong indeed.

    Government is ordained by God to accomplish something: “rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil”… the government has the ministry of the sword to punish evil doers….

    A quick review of Romans 13:4 explains what government is ordained to do.

    “Paul was not preaching aquiescence to the brutal rule of criminals.”

  • Tom Hering

    Another Kerner @ 47, Rahab was being obedient to legitimate authority in hiding the spies. She said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you the land …” (Joshua 2:9). She submitted in faith (“I know that the Lord”) to the God-ordained rulers of the land (“the Lord has given you the land”).

  • Tom Hering

    Another Kerner @ 47, Rahab was being obedient to legitimate authority in hiding the spies. She said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you the land …” (Joshua 2:9). She submitted in faith (“I know that the Lord”) to the God-ordained rulers of the land (“the Lord has given you the land”).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    ELB (@39, 45), you ask good questions about what to do when two different authorities over you disagree on what you can do. I gave an example story (parable?) about this earlier (@31), though no one has addressed it. Perhaps you can read it and tell me what you think.

    But you asked, “Just because Mr. Daley is mayor and insists that he will prosecute under the law that has been found unconstitutional until it is formally stricken down, must we acquiesce?” Now, I have to trust that your characterizations of all this are true, since I don’t know about this particular case myself — any links you could provide would be helpful. Still, a few things leap out at me. It is not wrong — in fact, it is just — to enforce a law that is still in force. And if it has not been formally stricken down, is it not in force? To insist that you have the right to ignore a law that is currently on the books hardly seems like submitting.

    You also asked, “Can we not appeal to yet another civil power to redress our grievance against his usurpation?” Of course you can. That is in keeping with the principle of respecting and obeying the authorities that God has established, since it is hardly illegal to appeal to a higher authority. That still doesn’t give you the right to rebel against Mr. Daley (or whomever) — until, that is, such time as that higher authority addresses what you term his “usurpation”.

    Isn’t this how it works in a legal context? If I want to get a law overturned for being unconstitutional, I go to a court. And if they uphold the law, I may appeal. But while I am appealing that law, I’m not free to ignore it. Our legal system itself will recognize that I am in rebellion if I attempt to break this law while it is still in effect.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    ELB (@39, 45), you ask good questions about what to do when two different authorities over you disagree on what you can do. I gave an example story (parable?) about this earlier (@31), though no one has addressed it. Perhaps you can read it and tell me what you think.

    But you asked, “Just because Mr. Daley is mayor and insists that he will prosecute under the law that has been found unconstitutional until it is formally stricken down, must we acquiesce?” Now, I have to trust that your characterizations of all this are true, since I don’t know about this particular case myself — any links you could provide would be helpful. Still, a few things leap out at me. It is not wrong — in fact, it is just — to enforce a law that is still in force. And if it has not been formally stricken down, is it not in force? To insist that you have the right to ignore a law that is currently on the books hardly seems like submitting.

    You also asked, “Can we not appeal to yet another civil power to redress our grievance against his usurpation?” Of course you can. That is in keeping with the principle of respecting and obeying the authorities that God has established, since it is hardly illegal to appeal to a higher authority. That still doesn’t give you the right to rebel against Mr. Daley (or whomever) — until, that is, such time as that higher authority addresses what you term his “usurpation”.

    Isn’t this how it works in a legal context? If I want to get a law overturned for being unconstitutional, I go to a court. And if they uphold the law, I may appeal. But while I am appealing that law, I’m not free to ignore it. Our legal system itself will recognize that I am in rebellion if I attempt to break this law while it is still in effect.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Tom (@48), well said (and much more succinctly than I!).

    Another Kerner (@47), I don’t see much else in your question to reply to. Luther’s “Warning”, of course, is not binding on confessional Lutheran consciences. But let’s not lose sight of what we’re discussing here. Way back up there, Patrick Kyle said (@10), “I suggest participating in the old and venerable tradition of quietly and discreetly ignoring and disobeying” some gun laws, later adding (@27), “I quietly pick and choose my ‘areas of compliance’ with their crazy quilt laws based on what is best for me and my family.” That is the immediate context for the question of submitting. Not, quite obviously, the threat of having the Holy Roman Emperor suppress the Gospel by force. And if we are to consider Luther’s personal views on submitting to the authorities, we should consider all of them. And his “Warning” certainly represents an about-face from what he had earlier urged in his teaching. And, again, that was, as I understand it, because he considered the gospel to be at stake. Is the Gospel at stake if people in Illinois cannot own guns, or have them in the manner they desire? Was the Gospel at stake in the American Colonies?

    As to your “thieves and robbers” hypothetical, I can only presume from it that you do not recognize that new states ever arise from sinful rebellions — especially since this is, in fact, how most new states are formed. This stance would, of course, preclude those of us in the United States from submitting to our own government, conceived in rebellion. Should we Americans, in keeping with your logic, seek to restore the good British order under which our country once existed?

    “To assist evil, even as it claims to be legitimate, appears to be wrong indeed.” Yes, but then, what does it mean to “assist”? Jesus urged his listeners to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — no doubt many nearby who put their hope in earthly power were scandalized by this command. Wouldn’t that be “assisting evil”? Similarly, Paul reminded us to pay our taxes. He likely did so under Nero. So did Paul therefore suggest that we subsidize evil?

    For that matter, were both Paul and Jesus wrong when they referred to “Caesar” as a legitimate civil authority? After all, the emperors gained their power starting with Julius Caesar, who illegally crossed the Rubicon with his army, and then gradually gained more and more power, turning the Roman Republic into a tyranny! And yet, Jesus told his followers to give money to Caesar! And Paul appealed to him in his legal case. Didn’t they know that the Republic was the only true authority?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Tom (@48), well said (and much more succinctly than I!).

    Another Kerner (@47), I don’t see much else in your question to reply to. Luther’s “Warning”, of course, is not binding on confessional Lutheran consciences. But let’s not lose sight of what we’re discussing here. Way back up there, Patrick Kyle said (@10), “I suggest participating in the old and venerable tradition of quietly and discreetly ignoring and disobeying” some gun laws, later adding (@27), “I quietly pick and choose my ‘areas of compliance’ with their crazy quilt laws based on what is best for me and my family.” That is the immediate context for the question of submitting. Not, quite obviously, the threat of having the Holy Roman Emperor suppress the Gospel by force. And if we are to consider Luther’s personal views on submitting to the authorities, we should consider all of them. And his “Warning” certainly represents an about-face from what he had earlier urged in his teaching. And, again, that was, as I understand it, because he considered the gospel to be at stake. Is the Gospel at stake if people in Illinois cannot own guns, or have them in the manner they desire? Was the Gospel at stake in the American Colonies?

    As to your “thieves and robbers” hypothetical, I can only presume from it that you do not recognize that new states ever arise from sinful rebellions — especially since this is, in fact, how most new states are formed. This stance would, of course, preclude those of us in the United States from submitting to our own government, conceived in rebellion. Should we Americans, in keeping with your logic, seek to restore the good British order under which our country once existed?

    “To assist evil, even as it claims to be legitimate, appears to be wrong indeed.” Yes, but then, what does it mean to “assist”? Jesus urged his listeners to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — no doubt many nearby who put their hope in earthly power were scandalized by this command. Wouldn’t that be “assisting evil”? Similarly, Paul reminded us to pay our taxes. He likely did so under Nero. So did Paul therefore suggest that we subsidize evil?

    For that matter, were both Paul and Jesus wrong when they referred to “Caesar” as a legitimate civil authority? After all, the emperors gained their power starting with Julius Caesar, who illegally crossed the Rubicon with his army, and then gradually gained more and more power, turning the Roman Republic into a tyranny! And yet, Jesus told his followers to give money to Caesar! And Paul appealed to him in his legal case. Didn’t they know that the Republic was the only true authority?

  • Another Kerner

    Tom at #48.

    That’s a bit of a stretch, Tom.
    The ruling authority over Rahab was the kingdom in which she was currently living. Joshua had not yet taken the land.

    That she recognized the spies as God’s people and decided to help them, even against the national authority in power, by telling an outright falsehood, sending the king’s men away, deceiving them, telling them that she did not know where the spies were, telling them that they should “overtake them” whilst the spies were still hiding on her roof, cannot be argued.

    Ah, tODD, at #50.
    Alas, you might have noticed that totalitarian Marxism insisted that the “State is God”, surpressing the Gospel with bloody, murderous attacks against Christians and Jews.
    Likewise the National Socialist Labor Party in Germany of the past.
    See also Cambodia, North Korea, and Mainland China where murder smothered life in the millions and, I dare say, the Gospel.
    And of course, there is Saudi Arabia and Iran where the Gospel is surpressed.
    That the Lord God permits such evil to exist and/or come to power is not the argument here.
    The question is whether Christians are to resist evil (not assist evil) wherever it is found, including in the governments of tyrants.

  • Another Kerner

    Tom at #48.

    That’s a bit of a stretch, Tom.
    The ruling authority over Rahab was the kingdom in which she was currently living. Joshua had not yet taken the land.

    That she recognized the spies as God’s people and decided to help them, even against the national authority in power, by telling an outright falsehood, sending the king’s men away, deceiving them, telling them that she did not know where the spies were, telling them that they should “overtake them” whilst the spies were still hiding on her roof, cannot be argued.

    Ah, tODD, at #50.
    Alas, you might have noticed that totalitarian Marxism insisted that the “State is God”, surpressing the Gospel with bloody, murderous attacks against Christians and Jews.
    Likewise the National Socialist Labor Party in Germany of the past.
    See also Cambodia, North Korea, and Mainland China where murder smothered life in the millions and, I dare say, the Gospel.
    And of course, there is Saudi Arabia and Iran where the Gospel is surpressed.
    That the Lord God permits such evil to exist and/or come to power is not the argument here.
    The question is whether Christians are to resist evil (not assist evil) wherever it is found, including in the governments of tyrants.

  • Another Kerner

    Tom at # 48.

    That’s a bit of a stretch, Tom.

    Rahab was a citizen of the country in which she lived.

    That she recognized the spies as the people of God does not change the civil authority of her nation at the time.

    Nevertheless, she resolved to help the spies, hiding them on her roof whilst she advised the agents of her king and country that they had left and that she did not know where the spies were: additionally she suggested that the king’s men should pursue them, that they might “overtake them.”

    Those were outright falsehoods, no?

  • Another Kerner

    Tom at # 48.

    That’s a bit of a stretch, Tom.

    Rahab was a citizen of the country in which she lived.

    That she recognized the spies as the people of God does not change the civil authority of her nation at the time.

    Nevertheless, she resolved to help the spies, hiding them on her roof whilst she advised the agents of her king and country that they had left and that she did not know where the spies were: additionally she suggested that the king’s men should pursue them, that they might “overtake them.”

    Those were outright falsehoods, no?

  • Another Kerner

    tODD at #50…

    Surely you recognize that the Gospel is at stake in nations where tyranny exists, where the freedom to preach the Gospel is repressed and those who preach it are persecuted. The brutal murder of millions is testimony to it.
    Let us review some fairly recent history.
    Nations such as the Stalinist Soviet Union, the Ukraine, Cambodia, North Korea, North Vietnam, and the Chinese mainland, all of which espoused the Marxist concept of Lenin and Trotsky, “God is the State: the State is God ”
    And, of course, the National Socialist Labor Party of Germany who murdered Christians and Jews in great numbers.
    Then too, and more recently, there is Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    It seems that the Gospel is at stake everywhere and in danger at all times, no? Satan is still a roaring lion, no?
    The challenge is knowing when to acknowlege the dangers.

    Individuals and Nations are granted the right to “self defense” by God Himself….. even in Chicago.

    Certianly, you do not seriously inquire as to what it means to “assist”?

    “Paul was not preaching acquiescence to the brutal rule of criminals who somehow manage to seize control and power” in Romans 13.
    The ministry of the sword is to those who punish the evil doer, and not an admonition to God’s people to submit to tyrants who threaten the Gospel of Christ.

  • Another Kerner

    tODD at #50…

    Surely you recognize that the Gospel is at stake in nations where tyranny exists, where the freedom to preach the Gospel is repressed and those who preach it are persecuted. The brutal murder of millions is testimony to it.
    Let us review some fairly recent history.
    Nations such as the Stalinist Soviet Union, the Ukraine, Cambodia, North Korea, North Vietnam, and the Chinese mainland, all of which espoused the Marxist concept of Lenin and Trotsky, “God is the State: the State is God ”
    And, of course, the National Socialist Labor Party of Germany who murdered Christians and Jews in great numbers.
    Then too, and more recently, there is Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    It seems that the Gospel is at stake everywhere and in danger at all times, no? Satan is still a roaring lion, no?
    The challenge is knowing when to acknowlege the dangers.

    Individuals and Nations are granted the right to “self defense” by God Himself….. even in Chicago.

    Certianly, you do not seriously inquire as to what it means to “assist”?

    “Paul was not preaching acquiescence to the brutal rule of criminals who somehow manage to seize control and power” in Romans 13.
    The ministry of the sword is to those who punish the evil doer, and not an admonition to God’s people to submit to tyrants who threaten the Gospel of Christ.

  • Another Kerner

    Whoops….
    Didn’t mean to post those other two responses, tODD and Tom….
    I trust you are patient men. :-)
    I just kept on “revising” because you are splendid at making the needful remarks in a conversation such as this….

  • Another Kerner

    Whoops….
    Didn’t mean to post those other two responses, tODD and Tom….
    I trust you are patient men. :-)
    I just kept on “revising” because you are splendid at making the needful remarks in a conversation such as this….

  • Tom Hering

    “That’s a bit of a stretch, Tom. Rahab was a citizen of the country in which she lived.” – @ 52.

    Viewed in a purely secular way, yes. But by faith (and she’s an exemplar of faith) she knew that the God of the Israelites was the true God, and that she was living in a land that the true God had already given over to the Israelites – to be ruled by them. So, by faith, she knew who the legitimate authority was in that land, on that day. Rahab cannot be used as an example of resistance to a government whose authority is in question, because there was no question for Rahab. She is an example of obedience because, as Hebrews 11:31 tells us, she “did not perish along with those who were disobedient.”

  • Tom Hering

    “That’s a bit of a stretch, Tom. Rahab was a citizen of the country in which she lived.” – @ 52.

    Viewed in a purely secular way, yes. But by faith (and she’s an exemplar of faith) she knew that the God of the Israelites was the true God, and that she was living in a land that the true God had already given over to the Israelites – to be ruled by them. So, by faith, she knew who the legitimate authority was in that land, on that day. Rahab cannot be used as an example of resistance to a government whose authority is in question, because there was no question for Rahab. She is an example of obedience because, as Hebrews 11:31 tells us, she “did not perish along with those who were disobedient.”

  • kerner

    tODD, tODD:

    You used to be the champion of the logical argument, the scorner of the emotional hook. And yet a@41 we read how “extremely dissappointed” you are that some of us disagree with you about this. Don’t let us down now, amigo.

    OK, as I read further, I see more of that tODD logic, but I still disagree with you.

    First of all you (and a lot of other Lutherans I have talked to) act as though the first 2 verses of Romans 13 were all St. Paul had to say on the subject. You ignore the significance of Romans 13: 3-6, which says:

    “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. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”

    St. Pauls use of words like “for” (as in, “because”) and “therefore” are pretty clear indications the verses 3-6 are the reasons for his mandate in verses 1-2. Apparently, these reasons existed in Paul’s day. But what if they don’t exist? What if the good DO have to fear the government and the wrongdoers are commended? What if the innocent become the objects of government wrath and the evil benefit? St. Paul’s whole statement loses it’s foundation.

    As for Rahab, she is not the only example in the Old Testament of one going against the government in God’s name. The difference is that back then we had prophets to tell us who God wanted to have political power. Today we have only the Scripture, our consciences and our judgment.

    I think that St. Paul was commanding Christians to respect Authority generally, as opposed to brigandage or anarchy or even ignoring the law just because you don’t like it. But I don’t think this passage was intended to be an absolute divine endorsement of whatever political party, or even political system, happens to be in power at the moment. I don’t see any reason to interpret this passage of scripture to mean that Christians can never act, even by force sometimes, to replace one system of Authority with a different (hopefully better) one.

    I think the extreme focus some Lutherans impose on those under authority, with almost no focus on those IN authority is simplistic and incomplete. Those under authority have to always and forever submit because God says so, but those in authority can ignore everything God says because, well, they have authority? I dare say that more is expected fro the party to whom God has given more.

    Besides, I am not saying that a Christian should regatrd his government from a completely selfish perspective. Sometimes a Christian’s duty to love his neighbor involves taking action when the neighbor is unjustly threatened. And sometimes unjust threats come from the government. To oppose the government by force would require some pretty extreme provocation, and one would hope that Christians would use a lot of caution and prudence and prayer and consideration of scripture before taking a such a step.

    But I also have a problem with the concept of other brave men risking their lives, families and fortunes for the benefit of their country, with Christians chiding them from the sidelines for being rebellious. Until of course the “rebels” win. At which point Christians can joyfully join the celebrations of the winning side, not because it was right but because we can now say it is “ordained”. Such an interpretation takes the Church completely out of the process by which God ordains who is in authority, and I don’t think that is consistent with the rest of Scripture either.

  • kerner

    tODD, tODD:

    You used to be the champion of the logical argument, the scorner of the emotional hook. And yet a@41 we read how “extremely dissappointed” you are that some of us disagree with you about this. Don’t let us down now, amigo.

    OK, as I read further, I see more of that tODD logic, but I still disagree with you.

    First of all you (and a lot of other Lutherans I have talked to) act as though the first 2 verses of Romans 13 were all St. Paul had to say on the subject. You ignore the significance of Romans 13: 3-6, which says:

    “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. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”

    St. Pauls use of words like “for” (as in, “because”) and “therefore” are pretty clear indications the verses 3-6 are the reasons for his mandate in verses 1-2. Apparently, these reasons existed in Paul’s day. But what if they don’t exist? What if the good DO have to fear the government and the wrongdoers are commended? What if the innocent become the objects of government wrath and the evil benefit? St. Paul’s whole statement loses it’s foundation.

    As for Rahab, she is not the only example in the Old Testament of one going against the government in God’s name. The difference is that back then we had prophets to tell us who God wanted to have political power. Today we have only the Scripture, our consciences and our judgment.

    I think that St. Paul was commanding Christians to respect Authority generally, as opposed to brigandage or anarchy or even ignoring the law just because you don’t like it. But I don’t think this passage was intended to be an absolute divine endorsement of whatever political party, or even political system, happens to be in power at the moment. I don’t see any reason to interpret this passage of scripture to mean that Christians can never act, even by force sometimes, to replace one system of Authority with a different (hopefully better) one.

    I think the extreme focus some Lutherans impose on those under authority, with almost no focus on those IN authority is simplistic and incomplete. Those under authority have to always and forever submit because God says so, but those in authority can ignore everything God says because, well, they have authority? I dare say that more is expected fro the party to whom God has given more.

    Besides, I am not saying that a Christian should regatrd his government from a completely selfish perspective. Sometimes a Christian’s duty to love his neighbor involves taking action when the neighbor is unjustly threatened. And sometimes unjust threats come from the government. To oppose the government by force would require some pretty extreme provocation, and one would hope that Christians would use a lot of caution and prudence and prayer and consideration of scripture before taking a such a step.

    But I also have a problem with the concept of other brave men risking their lives, families and fortunes for the benefit of their country, with Christians chiding them from the sidelines for being rebellious. Until of course the “rebels” win. At which point Christians can joyfully join the celebrations of the winning side, not because it was right but because we can now say it is “ordained”. Such an interpretation takes the Church completely out of the process by which God ordains who is in authority, and I don’t think that is consistent with the rest of Scripture either.

  • kerner

    I am separately about what I think is a distinct question.

    Lutherans who focus so narrowly on submission run into real problems under a system of government that is not, and not intended to be, hierarchical. In the United States, we live under a system of checks and balances underwhich every person IN authority is, quite literally, UNDER the authority of someone else. This is not just theory, but political and constitutional reality. Federal and state governments have internal checks and balances. The states and the federal governments have different kinds of authorities over each other. And the people, as individuals and en masse, have authority over their governments at all levels.

    The reality of the way “authority” is distributed under the American system of government does not fit well at all with the (wrong) interpretation of some Lutherans of Romans 13, because nobody can claim to be in authority, or under, the authority of anyone else, completely. So, I don’t think I’m turning Romans 13 on its head or making up into down by pointing this out. The Constitution does that by subjecting those in government to the authority of the people and each other.

    The Second Amendment is one very telling example of authority given to the people. We may be the only nation which explicitly gives to every individual the power of the sword. And that is EXACTLY what the 2nd Amendment does. The right to be armed is nothing less than the power to use force. And we, individually and as a group, do not bear it in vain.

    The irony of this living in America is that those who don’t like the non-heirarchical form of government we live under based on Romans 13 have no choice but to live with it. God has ordained a system in which everyone has authority and there is nobody for you to submit to. And because God ordained it, by your own logic, ya can’t fight it. Sorry.

  • kerner

    I am separately about what I think is a distinct question.

    Lutherans who focus so narrowly on submission run into real problems under a system of government that is not, and not intended to be, hierarchical. In the United States, we live under a system of checks and balances underwhich every person IN authority is, quite literally, UNDER the authority of someone else. This is not just theory, but political and constitutional reality. Federal and state governments have internal checks and balances. The states and the federal governments have different kinds of authorities over each other. And the people, as individuals and en masse, have authority over their governments at all levels.

    The reality of the way “authority” is distributed under the American system of government does not fit well at all with the (wrong) interpretation of some Lutherans of Romans 13, because nobody can claim to be in authority, or under, the authority of anyone else, completely. So, I don’t think I’m turning Romans 13 on its head or making up into down by pointing this out. The Constitution does that by subjecting those in government to the authority of the people and each other.

    The Second Amendment is one very telling example of authority given to the people. We may be the only nation which explicitly gives to every individual the power of the sword. And that is EXACTLY what the 2nd Amendment does. The right to be armed is nothing less than the power to use force. And we, individually and as a group, do not bear it in vain.

    The irony of this living in America is that those who don’t like the non-heirarchical form of government we live under based on Romans 13 have no choice but to live with it. God has ordained a system in which everyone has authority and there is nobody for you to submit to. And because God ordained it, by your own logic, ya can’t fight it. Sorry.

  • Tom Hering

    “The question is whether Christians are to resist evil (not assist evil) wherever it is found, including in the governments of tyrants.” – @ 51.

    “‘But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.’” (Matthew 5:39.)

    “‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;’” (Matthew 5:44-45.)

    “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14.)

    “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:2.)

    “Why not rather be wronged?” (1st Corinthians 6:7.)

    Without a doubt, these are very hard sayings. And each of us will be tested in this way. But why is it better to submit to the authorities in all things (except in doing evil ourselves, or in failing to do what God specifically instructs us to do, Acts 5:29)? I think it’s for the same reason we’re to pray for the authorities.

    “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1st Timothy 2:2-4, emphases added.)

    The Gospel is always the thing. By living in submission to the authorities (with the two exceptions noted before), we are more likely to be able to preach and administer the Gospel – and we are more likely to be seen by others as godly witnesses. (Note how Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 2:2 that this is truly dignified living.) There are, of course, those situations where the authorities actually persecute us. But the answer to this is the same today as it was in the early church – martyrdom. Resistance only increases persecution.

    “Surely you recognize that the Gospel is at stake in nations where tyranny exists …” – @ 53.

    I do recognize this – and don’t call me Shirley. :-) Seriously, though, hasn’t it always been the blood of the martyrs that won the day under tyranny and persecution? Isn’t this how the early church witnessed convincingly to a pagan world?

  • Tom Hering

    “The question is whether Christians are to resist evil (not assist evil) wherever it is found, including in the governments of tyrants.” – @ 51.

    “‘But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.’” (Matthew 5:39.)

    “‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;’” (Matthew 5:44-45.)

    “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14.)

    “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:2.)

    “Why not rather be wronged?” (1st Corinthians 6:7.)

    Without a doubt, these are very hard sayings. And each of us will be tested in this way. But why is it better to submit to the authorities in all things (except in doing evil ourselves, or in failing to do what God specifically instructs us to do, Acts 5:29)? I think it’s for the same reason we’re to pray for the authorities.

    “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1st Timothy 2:2-4, emphases added.)

    The Gospel is always the thing. By living in submission to the authorities (with the two exceptions noted before), we are more likely to be able to preach and administer the Gospel – and we are more likely to be seen by others as godly witnesses. (Note how Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 2:2 that this is truly dignified living.) There are, of course, those situations where the authorities actually persecute us. But the answer to this is the same today as it was in the early church – martyrdom. Resistance only increases persecution.

    “Surely you recognize that the Gospel is at stake in nations where tyranny exists …” – @ 53.

    I do recognize this – and don’t call me Shirley. :-) Seriously, though, hasn’t it always been the blood of the martyrs that won the day under tyranny and persecution? Isn’t this how the early church witnessed convincingly to a pagan world?

  • Tom Hering

    kerner @ 57, so basically, you interpret Scripture in the light of the Constitution?

  • Tom Hering

    kerner @ 57, so basically, you interpret Scripture in the light of the Constitution?

  • kerner

    TH @ 59:

    No, but Scripture must be applied to the reality that exists, not what we wish it were. The reality is that you, as an American, have no “ruler” to submit to. Under your interpretation of Scripture, God has ordained the power structure that exists, which means that you, whether you like it or not, have authority over the government. If the Constitution gives you more authority over the government than it has over you, is it not your responsibility as “the one in authority” to exercise that authority responsibly instead of shirking that rtesponsiblilty out of false humility?

  • kerner

    TH @ 59:

    No, but Scripture must be applied to the reality that exists, not what we wish it were. The reality is that you, as an American, have no “ruler” to submit to. Under your interpretation of Scripture, God has ordained the power structure that exists, which means that you, whether you like it or not, have authority over the government. If the Constitution gives you more authority over the government than it has over you, is it not your responsibility as “the one in authority” to exercise that authority responsibly instead of shirking that rtesponsiblilty out of false humility?

  • Tom Hering

    “The reality is that you, as an American, have no “ruler” to submit to.” – @ 60.

    No, but I do submit to the authorities. So do you. Unless you don’t. In which case, you’ve obviously got Wi-Fi at your minimum-security facility. ;-)

  • Tom Hering

    “The reality is that you, as an American, have no “ruler” to submit to.” – @ 60.

    No, but I do submit to the authorities. So do you. Unless you don’t. In which case, you’ve obviously got Wi-Fi at your minimum-security facility. ;-)

  • kerner

    TH@61:

    Sometimes you and I submit to them. Other times they submit to us, or to each other. The president, for example, cannot tell us to do anything unless Congress first authorizes him to. Even then, the President and Congress combined can’t tell us what we can say about politicians, or limit our speech very much at all. They can’t establish a religion above ours or restrict us in exercising our religion. They can’t send their agents into our homes without our permission, unless they can convince a neutral and detatched magistrate that we may have committed some kind of crime. If they want us to talk about accusations directed against us, they can’t make us. If they and their agents don’t want us to be armed, there is very little they can do about it. Not only that, if the president wants to retain his authority after four years in office, he has to ask our permission, and even if we give it to him, after two terms he can’t have it anymore no matter what anyone wants.

    We have intentionally done away with titles that indicate that those in government have a “higher” authority than we do. No “Your Grace” or “your Lordship” here. It’s “Mr. President” and “Mr. Mayor” and Mr. Hering. We call them “public servants” because they serve us, not the other way around.

    Here I’m sticking with my comment @57. Regardless of what you may think about what Romans 13 says to the subjects of an Emperor, an American citizen is in a completely different position. Should we sometimes submit to the lawful authority of the government? Sure. Should we at other times expect, maybe demand, that the government submit to OUR lawul authority? I think so. As ones in authority, I think we have a duty to use that authority responsibly for the good of the nation as a whole, not simply for our own good. We do what we can to reward the good or punish the wrong doer at the ballot box, and in the court system, all the time. If the politicians were to try usurp the authority we now have, it would be they, not we, who were in rebellion

  • kerner

    TH@61:

    Sometimes you and I submit to them. Other times they submit to us, or to each other. The president, for example, cannot tell us to do anything unless Congress first authorizes him to. Even then, the President and Congress combined can’t tell us what we can say about politicians, or limit our speech very much at all. They can’t establish a religion above ours or restrict us in exercising our religion. They can’t send their agents into our homes without our permission, unless they can convince a neutral and detatched magistrate that we may have committed some kind of crime. If they want us to talk about accusations directed against us, they can’t make us. If they and their agents don’t want us to be armed, there is very little they can do about it. Not only that, if the president wants to retain his authority after four years in office, he has to ask our permission, and even if we give it to him, after two terms he can’t have it anymore no matter what anyone wants.

    We have intentionally done away with titles that indicate that those in government have a “higher” authority than we do. No “Your Grace” or “your Lordship” here. It’s “Mr. President” and “Mr. Mayor” and Mr. Hering. We call them “public servants” because they serve us, not the other way around.

    Here I’m sticking with my comment @57. Regardless of what you may think about what Romans 13 says to the subjects of an Emperor, an American citizen is in a completely different position. Should we sometimes submit to the lawful authority of the government? Sure. Should we at other times expect, maybe demand, that the government submit to OUR lawul authority? I think so. As ones in authority, I think we have a duty to use that authority responsibly for the good of the nation as a whole, not simply for our own good. We do what we can to reward the good or punish the wrong doer at the ballot box, and in the court system, all the time. If the politicians were to try usurp the authority we now have, it would be they, not we, who were in rebellion

  • Tom Hering

    kerner, again, I don’t see how the Constitution, or the distribution of authority in America, trumps, or even modifies, the clear teaching of Scripture about the Christian’s relation to rulers and authorities. Seems to me you have to work awfully hard (as you have, indeed, been doing) to harmonize Scripture and the American way. Yet I remain completely unconvinced. Impressed by the lengths you’ll go to. But unconvinced. :-)

  • Tom Hering

    kerner, again, I don’t see how the Constitution, or the distribution of authority in America, trumps, or even modifies, the clear teaching of Scripture about the Christian’s relation to rulers and authorities. Seems to me you have to work awfully hard (as you have, indeed, been doing) to harmonize Scripture and the American way. Yet I remain completely unconvinced. Impressed by the lengths you’ll go to. But unconvinced. :-)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@56), that I scorn appeals to emotion doesn’t mean I don’t have emotions myself. And trust me that I am sincere — and not merely trying to win an argument for argument’s sake — when I say that it hurts me to see someone turning their back on the Bible’s clear teaching — especially one who, I believe, has otherwise been so consistent in his defense of confessional Lutheranism (cf. “I second your concern about Lutheran theologians on Romans 13.” @41 — if you find yourself agreeing with Lutheran theologians on all points except one, guess what likely happened?).

    “First of all you … act as though the first 2 verses of Romans 13 were all St. Paul had to say on the subject.” If I have given this impression, I apologize. Certainly in my head (I’m too lazy to look through my already too-numerous — and always too-wordy — comments to see if it ever left my head) I have had in mind what Paul says in Romans 13:3-6. But here’s the thing that I know I’ve already made clear: Paul’s command to submit is not made conditional on the quality of the authority. Yes, Paul tells authorities as well what their duties are. But we cannot read Paul’s word “for” at the beginning of verse 3 as abrogating the whole of verse 2: “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” But, frankly, that is what you are doing.

    Again, let’s try to keep this somewhat in context. Immediately at hand is the question of whether it’s okay for certain US citizens (say, in Chicago) to intentionally break the law by owning guns. For historical context, we’ve also added the question of whether it was okay for certain British citizens to intentionally rebel against their king. It has been argued that Mayor Daley and King George III made decisions in their authority that were judged as “wrong”. But even with those decisions, can it even truly be argued that they do not reward good and punish evil? After all, both enforced laws, both (within their power) kept society from descending into anarchy. So they’re not even in abrogation of what Kerner claims are the necessary requirements to submit!

    “As for Rahab, she is not the only example in the Old Testament of one going against the government in God’s name.” Well, name some more. Let’s see if their rebellion also was only done because God had made it clear that he was overthrowing the authority in power. Which is his right, since he put that authority in power in the first place.

    “Back then we had prophets to tell us who God wanted to have political power. Today we have only the Scripture, our consciences and our judgment.” And Scripture plainly tells us that “who God wants to have political power” is: those who are in power, because he put them there! The question is: do Christians really believe what God’s Word says?

    “But I don’t think this passage was intended to be an absolute divine endorsement of whatever political party, or even political system, happens to be in power at the moment.” The authorities that exist have been established by God.

    “I don’t see any reason to interpret this passage of scripture to mean that Christians can never act, even by force sometimes, to replace one system of Authority with a different (hopefully better) one.” He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@56), that I scorn appeals to emotion doesn’t mean I don’t have emotions myself. And trust me that I am sincere — and not merely trying to win an argument for argument’s sake — when I say that it hurts me to see someone turning their back on the Bible’s clear teaching — especially one who, I believe, has otherwise been so consistent in his defense of confessional Lutheranism (cf. “I second your concern about Lutheran theologians on Romans 13.” @41 — if you find yourself agreeing with Lutheran theologians on all points except one, guess what likely happened?).

    “First of all you … act as though the first 2 verses of Romans 13 were all St. Paul had to say on the subject.” If I have given this impression, I apologize. Certainly in my head (I’m too lazy to look through my already too-numerous — and always too-wordy — comments to see if it ever left my head) I have had in mind what Paul says in Romans 13:3-6. But here’s the thing that I know I’ve already made clear: Paul’s command to submit is not made conditional on the quality of the authority. Yes, Paul tells authorities as well what their duties are. But we cannot read Paul’s word “for” at the beginning of verse 3 as abrogating the whole of verse 2: “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” But, frankly, that is what you are doing.

    Again, let’s try to keep this somewhat in context. Immediately at hand is the question of whether it’s okay for certain US citizens (say, in Chicago) to intentionally break the law by owning guns. For historical context, we’ve also added the question of whether it was okay for certain British citizens to intentionally rebel against their king. It has been argued that Mayor Daley and King George III made decisions in their authority that were judged as “wrong”. But even with those decisions, can it even truly be argued that they do not reward good and punish evil? After all, both enforced laws, both (within their power) kept society from descending into anarchy. So they’re not even in abrogation of what Kerner claims are the necessary requirements to submit!

    “As for Rahab, she is not the only example in the Old Testament of one going against the government in God’s name.” Well, name some more. Let’s see if their rebellion also was only done because God had made it clear that he was overthrowing the authority in power. Which is his right, since he put that authority in power in the first place.

    “Back then we had prophets to tell us who God wanted to have political power. Today we have only the Scripture, our consciences and our judgment.” And Scripture plainly tells us that “who God wants to have political power” is: those who are in power, because he put them there! The question is: do Christians really believe what God’s Word says?

    “But I don’t think this passage was intended to be an absolute divine endorsement of whatever political party, or even political system, happens to be in power at the moment.” The authorities that exist have been established by God.

    “I don’t see any reason to interpret this passage of scripture to mean that Christians can never act, even by force sometimes, to replace one system of Authority with a different (hopefully better) one.” He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@56), I have yet to hear anybody reply on this point, so I will ask again: would you apply the same hermeneutics to Ephesians 5′s commands to husbands and wives as you do to Romans 13′s commands to authorities and those under them?

    What if the husband doesn’t act much like the head of the wife? What if the husband doesn’t love his wife just as Christ loved the church? What if, in short, he’s a bad husband? Does the wife still have to submit to him? What if the wife doesn’t submit? Does the husband still have to love her?

    (As an aside, I missed this in my last reply, but you said, “verses 3-6 are the reasons for his mandate in verses 1-2. Apparently, these reasons existed in Paul’s day.” Really? Really?! Do you really think Nero — Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus — held no terror for those who did right? That he was God’s servant to do his citizens good? Nero, who blamed Christians for the Great Fire of Rome and had them thrown to the dogs, crucified, and burned? You think that Nero’s spotless adherence to God’s commands in vv. 3-6 was the reason that Paul was able, in good conscience, to urge his readers to submit to the authorities? Is my mocking tone coming through in these words?)

    Anyhow, point being, are you suggesting that there are biblical grounds for divorce if either party fails to live up to the demands of Ephesians 5, in the same way that you’re suggesting that there are grounds for revolution if the authorities do not live up to the demands of Romans 13 (oh, sure, you probably think there’s a higher burden than just that, I guess; though, again, not as high as the Bible’s own clear standard).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@56), I have yet to hear anybody reply on this point, so I will ask again: would you apply the same hermeneutics to Ephesians 5′s commands to husbands and wives as you do to Romans 13′s commands to authorities and those under them?

    What if the husband doesn’t act much like the head of the wife? What if the husband doesn’t love his wife just as Christ loved the church? What if, in short, he’s a bad husband? Does the wife still have to submit to him? What if the wife doesn’t submit? Does the husband still have to love her?

    (As an aside, I missed this in my last reply, but you said, “verses 3-6 are the reasons for his mandate in verses 1-2. Apparently, these reasons existed in Paul’s day.” Really? Really?! Do you really think Nero — Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus — held no terror for those who did right? That he was God’s servant to do his citizens good? Nero, who blamed Christians for the Great Fire of Rome and had them thrown to the dogs, crucified, and burned? You think that Nero’s spotless adherence to God’s commands in vv. 3-6 was the reason that Paul was able, in good conscience, to urge his readers to submit to the authorities? Is my mocking tone coming through in these words?)

    Anyhow, point being, are you suggesting that there are biblical grounds for divorce if either party fails to live up to the demands of Ephesians 5, in the same way that you’re suggesting that there are grounds for revolution if the authorities do not live up to the demands of Romans 13 (oh, sure, you probably think there’s a higher burden than just that, I guess; though, again, not as high as the Bible’s own clear standard).

  • kerner

    tODD and Tom: Once again, we are talking about 2 questions.

    One question is whether you are consistantly applying your own understanding of Romans 13 to the American system of government. The answer to that question is “no”. And I begin to see that the reason for this is not that you don’t understand your view of Scripture. The problem is that you don’t understand the system of government you inhabit.

    You both say that, if someone has authority at a particular time and place, then that mere fact is conclusive proof that God wants him to have that authority, and anyone who tries to take that authority from him is in rebellion against God. I think you’re both with me so far.

    The problem is that you don’t understand how “authority” is distributed under the American system of government. In America, an elected official does not have the authority to do anything he wants to anyone he wants. Under our system, a substantial amount of authority is vested in individual citizens. That being the case, by your logic, God must want individual citizens (in this place and at this time) to have that authority. Again using your logic, anyone who tries to take the authority that God has given to individual citizens at this time and place is in rebellion against God.

    So, yes, let’s keep this in the context tODD suggests @64. Did the individual Christian Americans living in or passing through the City of Chicago have the right to ignore the directive of the Chicago City Counsel prohibiting the ownership of firearms? Applying your own principles, the answer is clearly “yes”. Here’s why.

    The highest law of this land is the Constitution of the United States. The 2nd Amendment to that Constitution gives the authority to private citizens to decide whether or not to own a firearm. A mere city counsel, or even a State legislature, has no authority to decide that issue. The United States Supreme Court has just said so. But the fact that the Supreme Court has said so recently does not mean that the citizens’ right to keep and bear arms came into being recently. American citizens in Chicago have had that right, or authority, since at least the 18th Century when the 2nd Amendment was ratified. The City of Chicago was ALWAYS acting unlawfully when it tried to usurp the authority to make that decision. Using your own principle, the City, its police force, and its courts were in rebellion against God every time they punished someone over whom they had no lawful authority. The individual citizen was not in rebellion against God for owning a gun in Chicago, because the individual citizen was the one in whom God had vested the authority to make that decision.

    I fully realize that, using your principle, this would not be true under most systems of government. In feudal Europe, for example, feudal lords decided who could lawfully bear arms, and they decided that most people could not. If, as you believe, God gave feudal lords the authority to make that decision in medieval Europe, then (applying your principle) disobeying those in authority would be rebellion against God and thus a sin.

    But we don’t live in feudal Europe. We live in a country whose Constitutional system of government gives the authority to make many decisions to government officials, but reserves the authority to make many other decisions to individual citizens. Since (as you say) ALL authority comes from God, both the individual citizen AND the government official can be in rebellion whenever one of them exceeds his own authority and infringes on the authority of the other. If you are true to your own principle and apply basic logic you will have to concede this.

  • kerner

    tODD and Tom: Once again, we are talking about 2 questions.

    One question is whether you are consistantly applying your own understanding of Romans 13 to the American system of government. The answer to that question is “no”. And I begin to see that the reason for this is not that you don’t understand your view of Scripture. The problem is that you don’t understand the system of government you inhabit.

    You both say that, if someone has authority at a particular time and place, then that mere fact is conclusive proof that God wants him to have that authority, and anyone who tries to take that authority from him is in rebellion against God. I think you’re both with me so far.

    The problem is that you don’t understand how “authority” is distributed under the American system of government. In America, an elected official does not have the authority to do anything he wants to anyone he wants. Under our system, a substantial amount of authority is vested in individual citizens. That being the case, by your logic, God must want individual citizens (in this place and at this time) to have that authority. Again using your logic, anyone who tries to take the authority that God has given to individual citizens at this time and place is in rebellion against God.

    So, yes, let’s keep this in the context tODD suggests @64. Did the individual Christian Americans living in or passing through the City of Chicago have the right to ignore the directive of the Chicago City Counsel prohibiting the ownership of firearms? Applying your own principles, the answer is clearly “yes”. Here’s why.

    The highest law of this land is the Constitution of the United States. The 2nd Amendment to that Constitution gives the authority to private citizens to decide whether or not to own a firearm. A mere city counsel, or even a State legislature, has no authority to decide that issue. The United States Supreme Court has just said so. But the fact that the Supreme Court has said so recently does not mean that the citizens’ right to keep and bear arms came into being recently. American citizens in Chicago have had that right, or authority, since at least the 18th Century when the 2nd Amendment was ratified. The City of Chicago was ALWAYS acting unlawfully when it tried to usurp the authority to make that decision. Using your own principle, the City, its police force, and its courts were in rebellion against God every time they punished someone over whom they had no lawful authority. The individual citizen was not in rebellion against God for owning a gun in Chicago, because the individual citizen was the one in whom God had vested the authority to make that decision.

    I fully realize that, using your principle, this would not be true under most systems of government. In feudal Europe, for example, feudal lords decided who could lawfully bear arms, and they decided that most people could not. If, as you believe, God gave feudal lords the authority to make that decision in medieval Europe, then (applying your principle) disobeying those in authority would be rebellion against God and thus a sin.

    But we don’t live in feudal Europe. We live in a country whose Constitutional system of government gives the authority to make many decisions to government officials, but reserves the authority to make many other decisions to individual citizens. Since (as you say) ALL authority comes from God, both the individual citizen AND the government official can be in rebellion whenever one of them exceeds his own authority and infringes on the authority of the other. If you are true to your own principle and apply basic logic you will have to concede this.

  • kerner

    On to the more general question. Does the mere fact that someone HAS authority mean that it is always a sin to try to deprive him of it? Or, does the mere fact that a political system exists mean that any attempt to change the system by force is a sin?

    In answer to your request for an Old Testiment example of the government being overthrown, one example is the overthrow and assassinations of Joram, Ahaziah and Jezebel by Jehu in II Kings 9. And you are right. The existing kings are behaving badly, and a prophet anoints Jehu and proclaims him King while the existing kings are still alive, and then Jehu rides up in his chariot and kills them all. I think we can agree that God is sovereign, and that all things work together for good to those who love Him, and that this means that those who possess political power and authority have it because God, in His sovereign wisdom, wants them to have it…until He wants someone else to have it, at which time God will take their power and authority away and give it to someone else whom God wants to have it…until He decides it’s time for another change. The thing is, in Old Testiment Israel there were prophets who would tell people when God wanted to change governments.

    Throughout history, changes in the government are often brought about by violent means, and it is clearly God’s will that this occur, because the new regime gets its authority from the same God who granted it to the old one. It is all very well to claim that the American Revolution was a sinful act of rebellion, but clearly God wanted it to succeed, because the founding fathers got their power from the same God who had given it to George III (and, of course used the founding fathers to take that power from him).

    The thing is, we in the New Testiment have no prophets to tell us when God wants to make these changes. We have only Scripture and our consciences to guide us. But I think you are being far too simplistic when you claim that Romans 13 requires Christians to support the existing regime no matter what.

    Nero, as you point out, was a terrible emperor. God took his power away by the means of having his generals turn against him and hunt him down. He committed suicide in despair and was replaced by someone named Galba, who was murdered after less than a year. During A.D. 69, God gave the office of emperor to 4 different people, finally settling on Vespasian.

    And throughout history, Christians have had a hand in many of these regime changes. Constantine had to fight his way to power. In the 17th century, the Ottoman Turks had authority over most of Eastern Europe, and Christians spent the next 2 1/2 centuries taking that authority away from them.

    Hitler had authority over Germany, and the Allied Armies took it away from him. There were, I think, as many as a dozen attempts on Hitler’s life while he was in power, including the one that involved Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Clearly it was God’s will that Hitler remain in power until April 30, 1945. But it is hard for me to declare Bonhoeffer a sinful rebel for being premature.

    It’s late, and I’m starting to ramble. So for now I’ll say again that I think that Paul was a lot more concerned with Christians submitting to Authority generally, as opposed to lawlessness, than to a particular person or regime. But I will try to answer one more question.

    I do think that it is possible for a husband to be so hateful and abusive that his wife need no longer submit to him. Some husbands kill their wives. Others abuse their wives to the point of madness and despair. I’m not sure where the point is in every case, but I believe that there is a point at which a wife need no longer put her sanity, her body or her very life in the hands of a husband who is destroying them. His authority is not that absolute.

    On the other hand, I think husbands (like Christ with the Church) are called to love their wives even when they do not submit. I have not previously considered whether this duty has a limit, and I will have to think about that. But if there is such a limit, it is way way out there. The husband, being the one in authority, has the greater responsibility. Unlike his wife, he IS called to sacrifice himself.

  • kerner

    On to the more general question. Does the mere fact that someone HAS authority mean that it is always a sin to try to deprive him of it? Or, does the mere fact that a political system exists mean that any attempt to change the system by force is a sin?

    In answer to your request for an Old Testiment example of the government being overthrown, one example is the overthrow and assassinations of Joram, Ahaziah and Jezebel by Jehu in II Kings 9. And you are right. The existing kings are behaving badly, and a prophet anoints Jehu and proclaims him King while the existing kings are still alive, and then Jehu rides up in his chariot and kills them all. I think we can agree that God is sovereign, and that all things work together for good to those who love Him, and that this means that those who possess political power and authority have it because God, in His sovereign wisdom, wants them to have it…until He wants someone else to have it, at which time God will take their power and authority away and give it to someone else whom God wants to have it…until He decides it’s time for another change. The thing is, in Old Testiment Israel there were prophets who would tell people when God wanted to change governments.

    Throughout history, changes in the government are often brought about by violent means, and it is clearly God’s will that this occur, because the new regime gets its authority from the same God who granted it to the old one. It is all very well to claim that the American Revolution was a sinful act of rebellion, but clearly God wanted it to succeed, because the founding fathers got their power from the same God who had given it to George III (and, of course used the founding fathers to take that power from him).

    The thing is, we in the New Testiment have no prophets to tell us when God wants to make these changes. We have only Scripture and our consciences to guide us. But I think you are being far too simplistic when you claim that Romans 13 requires Christians to support the existing regime no matter what.

    Nero, as you point out, was a terrible emperor. God took his power away by the means of having his generals turn against him and hunt him down. He committed suicide in despair and was replaced by someone named Galba, who was murdered after less than a year. During A.D. 69, God gave the office of emperor to 4 different people, finally settling on Vespasian.

    And throughout history, Christians have had a hand in many of these regime changes. Constantine had to fight his way to power. In the 17th century, the Ottoman Turks had authority over most of Eastern Europe, and Christians spent the next 2 1/2 centuries taking that authority away from them.

    Hitler had authority over Germany, and the Allied Armies took it away from him. There were, I think, as many as a dozen attempts on Hitler’s life while he was in power, including the one that involved Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Clearly it was God’s will that Hitler remain in power until April 30, 1945. But it is hard for me to declare Bonhoeffer a sinful rebel for being premature.

    It’s late, and I’m starting to ramble. So for now I’ll say again that I think that Paul was a lot more concerned with Christians submitting to Authority generally, as opposed to lawlessness, than to a particular person or regime. But I will try to answer one more question.

    I do think that it is possible for a husband to be so hateful and abusive that his wife need no longer submit to him. Some husbands kill their wives. Others abuse their wives to the point of madness and despair. I’m not sure where the point is in every case, but I believe that there is a point at which a wife need no longer put her sanity, her body or her very life in the hands of a husband who is destroying them. His authority is not that absolute.

    On the other hand, I think husbands (like Christ with the Church) are called to love their wives even when they do not submit. I have not previously considered whether this duty has a limit, and I will have to think about that. But if there is such a limit, it is way way out there. The husband, being the one in authority, has the greater responsibility. Unlike his wife, he IS called to sacrifice himself.

  • Tom Hering

    kerner @ 66, I think I do understand the system of government we live under. Individual Americans have political power insofar as they have the right to vote – and to speak, assemble and associate freely. Individual Americans do not have the right to obey or disobey the standing laws of their communities as they see fit – not even if they can make arguments, legal and moral, against those standing laws (as you are able to make). Yes, they have the option of engaging in civil disobedience, for the purpose of forcing change. But let’s be clear that it is indeed disobedience, and that those who have gone down that road in the past were willing to suffer the consequences – like jail time. Examples are Henry David Thoreau (not a Christian) and Martin Luther King, jr. Are you willing to suffer the same consequences for the cause you believe in? Or are you going to be a “patriot” on the sly?

  • Tom Hering

    kerner @ 66, I think I do understand the system of government we live under. Individual Americans have political power insofar as they have the right to vote – and to speak, assemble and associate freely. Individual Americans do not have the right to obey or disobey the standing laws of their communities as they see fit – not even if they can make arguments, legal and moral, against those standing laws (as you are able to make). Yes, they have the option of engaging in civil disobedience, for the purpose of forcing change. But let’s be clear that it is indeed disobedience, and that those who have gone down that road in the past were willing to suffer the consequences – like jail time. Examples are Henry David Thoreau (not a Christian) and Martin Luther King, jr. Are you willing to suffer the same consequences for the cause you believe in? Or are you going to be a “patriot” on the sly?

  • Tom Hering

    kerner @ 67, is there no distinction to be made between rebellion and revolution on the one hand, and a just war against an aggressor (Turks, Nazis) on the other?

    Now, overthrow is God’s judgment on evil rulers. “He it is who reduces rulers to nothing …” (Isaiah 40:23.) But evil rulers are God’s judgment on the people they rule. “How the faithful city has become a harlot, she who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, but now murderers … Your rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea come before them.” (Isaiah 1:21-23.)

    So, I think we can say with confidence that when a land has come to the point of rebellion and revolution, it has come to the point where little or nothing good is left in that land – neither people nor rulers.

    Of course, revolutionaries paint over their own wickedness after they’ve won. They should instead repent of everything that brought things to the point of rebellion and revolution.

  • Tom Hering

    kerner @ 67, is there no distinction to be made between rebellion and revolution on the one hand, and a just war against an aggressor (Turks, Nazis) on the other?

    Now, overthrow is God’s judgment on evil rulers. “He it is who reduces rulers to nothing …” (Isaiah 40:23.) But evil rulers are God’s judgment on the people they rule. “How the faithful city has become a harlot, she who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, but now murderers … Your rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea come before them.” (Isaiah 1:21-23.)

    So, I think we can say with confidence that when a land has come to the point of rebellion and revolution, it has come to the point where little or nothing good is left in that land – neither people nor rulers.

    Of course, revolutionaries paint over their own wickedness after they’ve won. They should instead repent of everything that brought things to the point of rebellion and revolution.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, I’ve not read this entire discussion, but do be aware that there are centuries of (Christian) political theory–particularly in the 15th through 18th centuries–that explicitly refute your rather narrow reading of Romans 13. In fact, the recent Christian obsession with Romans 13 and its supposed injunction to obey the government at essentially all costs is lacking theoretical foundations, exegetical credibility, and sufficient nuance. Suffice to say that your reading hurtles quite rapidly into logical inconsistencies and ethically unacceptable conclusions.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, I’ve not read this entire discussion, but do be aware that there are centuries of (Christian) political theory–particularly in the 15th through 18th centuries–that explicitly refute your rather narrow reading of Romans 13. In fact, the recent Christian obsession with Romans 13 and its supposed injunction to obey the government at essentially all costs is lacking theoretical foundations, exegetical credibility, and sufficient nuance. Suffice to say that your reading hurtles quite rapidly into logical inconsistencies and ethically unacceptable conclusions.

  • Cincinnatus

    Some hints of the various interpretations of Romans 13 that appeared throughout those long centuries in which the theoretical concept of “sovereignty” was born and contested (I do not necessarily subscribe to all or any of them, but this idea that you are either for the Bible or against it based on whether you believe in strict obedience to the government is silly):

    1. Romans 13 is a purely contextual admonition from the lips of Paul for the Church to remain peaceable and obedient during a time in which it was small, weak, and easily extinguishable by the Roman government should it become troublesome. It does not apply in a context in which the Church is strong and, indeed, politically instrumental.

    2. Romans 13, obviously, cannot mean that we ought obey the government if its dictates transgress the tenets of (natural) justice, Scriptural injunctions, Christians teachings, moral principles, etc. In other words, the “tyrant” (one who rules unjustly or in his own interest rather than the public interest) has forfeited his divinely granted authority and we are no longer obligated to obey him.

    3. Romans 13 is, of course, applicable as it is written: obey the authorities because God put them there. But various theorists around the Late Middle Ages/Reformation note one of two things: a) unlike the conditions of the Roman epoch, we live in a circumstance in which the government is not a “pagan,” oppositional entity separate from the Church, but rather one in which the government itself is “Christian” and aligned with the Church (this is of course not the case today, but it was supposed to be so at the time); obviously, then, a Christian government should govern Christianly; if, as in the case of interpretation #2 as seen above, the Christian government transgresses the mandates of Christianity, the obligation to obey disappears.

    b) Alternatively, we have transitioned from the epoch of monarchical and imperial rule by “divine right” to the epoch of “popular sovereignty.” As such, of course, the people themselves, however constituted, are the proper authorities, for all governing authority derives from them. If the temporarily selected government transgresses the will of the people or ceases to govern in the interests of the people, the Romans 13 obligation to obey disappears.

    These are just a few of the rather innovative readings put on Romans 13 in the past few centuries. This list is not exhaustive, and it notably does not include the numerous seeming exceptions to unquestioning obedience throughout Scripture, nor does it take into account Locke’s rather accurate observation that all governing authority is ultimately rooted in usurpation (the American government is a function of the usurpation of British authority; British authority is a function of the usurpation of Norman authority, ad infinitum).

    Of course, if you are a fan of Luther’s political philosophy, you will disagree with all of these potential readings. As for me, Luther is near the bottom of my list of favorite political theorists, so I am open to these varying interpretations of Romans 13.

  • Cincinnatus

    Some hints of the various interpretations of Romans 13 that appeared throughout those long centuries in which the theoretical concept of “sovereignty” was born and contested (I do not necessarily subscribe to all or any of them, but this idea that you are either for the Bible or against it based on whether you believe in strict obedience to the government is silly):

    1. Romans 13 is a purely contextual admonition from the lips of Paul for the Church to remain peaceable and obedient during a time in which it was small, weak, and easily extinguishable by the Roman government should it become troublesome. It does not apply in a context in which the Church is strong and, indeed, politically instrumental.

    2. Romans 13, obviously, cannot mean that we ought obey the government if its dictates transgress the tenets of (natural) justice, Scriptural injunctions, Christians teachings, moral principles, etc. In other words, the “tyrant” (one who rules unjustly or in his own interest rather than the public interest) has forfeited his divinely granted authority and we are no longer obligated to obey him.

    3. Romans 13 is, of course, applicable as it is written: obey the authorities because God put them there. But various theorists around the Late Middle Ages/Reformation note one of two things: a) unlike the conditions of the Roman epoch, we live in a circumstance in which the government is not a “pagan,” oppositional entity separate from the Church, but rather one in which the government itself is “Christian” and aligned with the Church (this is of course not the case today, but it was supposed to be so at the time); obviously, then, a Christian government should govern Christianly; if, as in the case of interpretation #2 as seen above, the Christian government transgresses the mandates of Christianity, the obligation to obey disappears.

    b) Alternatively, we have transitioned from the epoch of monarchical and imperial rule by “divine right” to the epoch of “popular sovereignty.” As such, of course, the people themselves, however constituted, are the proper authorities, for all governing authority derives from them. If the temporarily selected government transgresses the will of the people or ceases to govern in the interests of the people, the Romans 13 obligation to obey disappears.

    These are just a few of the rather innovative readings put on Romans 13 in the past few centuries. This list is not exhaustive, and it notably does not include the numerous seeming exceptions to unquestioning obedience throughout Scripture, nor does it take into account Locke’s rather accurate observation that all governing authority is ultimately rooted in usurpation (the American government is a function of the usurpation of British authority; British authority is a function of the usurpation of Norman authority, ad infinitum).

    Of course, if you are a fan of Luther’s political philosophy, you will disagree with all of these potential readings. As for me, Luther is near the bottom of my list of favorite political theorists, so I am open to these varying interpretations of Romans 13.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Cincinnatus, at 71, excellent summary of some of the possible takes on Romans Thirteen.

    In my view the best modern understanding of Romans Thirteen came from Reinhold Niebuhr, the Christian realist theologian, whose work, Moral Man and Immoral Society, has become a classic.

    Niebuhr was skeptical of American Christian and secular optimism ; he parted decisively from the social gospel nostrums of mainline Protestantism. He understood that powerful men including progressives involved with government are want to overreach their power and end up oppressing the people they claim to help. He thought that, while individual men could strive to be moral and virtuous, it is well nigh impossible for governments to do so. Governments of necessity need to be powerful to maintain their proper domestic and international interests.

    Niebuhr, a realist, thought wars will be probably ever necessary; he was all for fighting WWII, as Germany and Japan represented the worst of immoral societies, though he, also, understood that in accruing the power to win WWII America was involved in danger. He was, also, strong for strenuously fighting the Cold War against the Soviet Union. According to Wiki, “in 1953 he thought the Rosenbergs should be executed, stating ‘Traitors are never ordinary criminals and the Rosenbergs are quite obviously fiercely loyal Communists….Stealing atomic secrets is an unprecedented crime.’ ”

    Niebuhr understood with Paul the need for awesome government restraint on ordinary fallen men, though, again like Paul, he was ever mindful that overreaching principalities and powers need to be confronted at times. He had none of the sentimentality and pacifism of liberal Christianity.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Cincinnatus, at 71, excellent summary of some of the possible takes on Romans Thirteen.

    In my view the best modern understanding of Romans Thirteen came from Reinhold Niebuhr, the Christian realist theologian, whose work, Moral Man and Immoral Society, has become a classic.

    Niebuhr was skeptical of American Christian and secular optimism ; he parted decisively from the social gospel nostrums of mainline Protestantism. He understood that powerful men including progressives involved with government are want to overreach their power and end up oppressing the people they claim to help. He thought that, while individual men could strive to be moral and virtuous, it is well nigh impossible for governments to do so. Governments of necessity need to be powerful to maintain their proper domestic and international interests.

    Niebuhr, a realist, thought wars will be probably ever necessary; he was all for fighting WWII, as Germany and Japan represented the worst of immoral societies, though he, also, understood that in accruing the power to win WWII America was involved in danger. He was, also, strong for strenuously fighting the Cold War against the Soviet Union. According to Wiki, “in 1953 he thought the Rosenbergs should be executed, stating ‘Traitors are never ordinary criminals and the Rosenbergs are quite obviously fiercely loyal Communists….Stealing atomic secrets is an unprecedented crime.’ ”

    Niebuhr understood with Paul the need for awesome government restraint on ordinary fallen men, though, again like Paul, he was ever mindful that overreaching principalities and powers need to be confronted at times. He had none of the sentimentality and pacifism of liberal Christianity.

  • Another Kerner

    Cincinnatus, Peter and kerner….

    Thank you very much…… and a Happy Fourth of July to you all as we celebrate the birth of our nation.

    And I wish the Tories in our midst well also. :-)

  • Another Kerner

    Cincinnatus, Peter and kerner….

    Thank you very much…… and a Happy Fourth of July to you all as we celebrate the birth of our nation.

    And I wish the Tories in our midst well also. :-)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@66), I can’t really agree with you that, “under our system, a substantial amount of authority is vested in individual citizens.” Yes, in a democratic republic, I have more say than I would under a strict monarchy. But let’s not overinflate things. The only authority I have is to vote (though obviously that, too can be taken away from me, based on what I do). So every two years or so, I can be one of several thousand or million people with equal authority to determine who our authorities should be at various levels. And that’s it as far as authority goes, at least for most people. I suppose the ability to sue the government also grants some amount of authority over them, though even that process will be ruled over and decided by other authorities — which were either elected or appointed by other elected folks.

    But your appeals to the Constitution as the ultimate source of authority seem to ignore the obvious problem that there exists no small amount of disagreement as to what the Constitution actually says. You assert that, since it is clear (in your own mind, at least) that the Second Amendment “gives the authority to private citizens to decide whether or not to own a firearm,” then it would be okay for any citizen to rebel against any authority that claims otherwise. But has it always been established that the Second Amendment grants what you say? Obviously not. But then whose interpretation of the Constitution should we go off of? Yours? Mine? Should everyone decide for themselves what the Constitution grants or forbids, and then ignore applicable laws as they see fit in their own eyes? Is this really what you suggest? Does the Constitution grant the right to privacy (and therefore abortion) or not? Does it make segregation illegal or not? And even if these questions are, arguably, settled now, at what point in the past could someone have chosen to ignore the then-existing laws, having decided that the prevailing interpretation of the Constitution was incorrect and would not last?

    In short, to say that “the City, its police force, and its courts were in rebellion against God every time they punished someone over whom they had no lawful authority” misses the point. They did have lawful authority over their citizens in executing the law, including the Constitution. But they disagreed with what is now, according to the Supreme Court, the correct interpretation. That’s hardly “in rebellion” against the authorities.

    “The individual citizen was not in rebellion against God for owning a gun in Chicago, because the individual citizen was the one in whom God had vested the authority to make that decision.” This makes no sense. Yes, he had the ability to make a decision to submit or not. And this hypothetical person (or Patrick Kyle, above) clearly chose to rebel against the authorities, claiming that his reading of the Constitution was more correct than theirs. It is difficult to see how you can honestly claim that when the authorities attempt to enforce the laws according to a different reading of the Constitution, they are “in rebellion”, but when one flagrantly disregards the laws that exist and those carrying them out, one is not in rebellion.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@66), I can’t really agree with you that, “under our system, a substantial amount of authority is vested in individual citizens.” Yes, in a democratic republic, I have more say than I would under a strict monarchy. But let’s not overinflate things. The only authority I have is to vote (though obviously that, too can be taken away from me, based on what I do). So every two years or so, I can be one of several thousand or million people with equal authority to determine who our authorities should be at various levels. And that’s it as far as authority goes, at least for most people. I suppose the ability to sue the government also grants some amount of authority over them, though even that process will be ruled over and decided by other authorities — which were either elected or appointed by other elected folks.

    But your appeals to the Constitution as the ultimate source of authority seem to ignore the obvious problem that there exists no small amount of disagreement as to what the Constitution actually says. You assert that, since it is clear (in your own mind, at least) that the Second Amendment “gives the authority to private citizens to decide whether or not to own a firearm,” then it would be okay for any citizen to rebel against any authority that claims otherwise. But has it always been established that the Second Amendment grants what you say? Obviously not. But then whose interpretation of the Constitution should we go off of? Yours? Mine? Should everyone decide for themselves what the Constitution grants or forbids, and then ignore applicable laws as they see fit in their own eyes? Is this really what you suggest? Does the Constitution grant the right to privacy (and therefore abortion) or not? Does it make segregation illegal or not? And even if these questions are, arguably, settled now, at what point in the past could someone have chosen to ignore the then-existing laws, having decided that the prevailing interpretation of the Constitution was incorrect and would not last?

    In short, to say that “the City, its police force, and its courts were in rebellion against God every time they punished someone over whom they had no lawful authority” misses the point. They did have lawful authority over their citizens in executing the law, including the Constitution. But they disagreed with what is now, according to the Supreme Court, the correct interpretation. That’s hardly “in rebellion” against the authorities.

    “The individual citizen was not in rebellion against God for owning a gun in Chicago, because the individual citizen was the one in whom God had vested the authority to make that decision.” This makes no sense. Yes, he had the ability to make a decision to submit or not. And this hypothetical person (or Patrick Kyle, above) clearly chose to rebel against the authorities, claiming that his reading of the Constitution was more correct than theirs. It is difficult to see how you can honestly claim that when the authorities attempt to enforce the laws according to a different reading of the Constitution, they are “in rebellion”, but when one flagrantly disregards the laws that exist and those carrying them out, one is not in rebellion.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@67), you asked, “does the mere fact that a political system exists mean that any attempt to change the system by force is a sin?” Kerner, do you believe that, in the Lord’s Supper, you recieve Jesus’ true body and blood? An unrelated question, sure, but I have a hard time believing that someone who can read Jesus’ clear, simple words on Communion and insist that they actually mean what they obviously say would then turn around and find a reading of “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” besides the obvious one.

    “The thing is, in Old Testiment Israel there were prophets who would tell people when God wanted to change governments.” Yes, and today we have God’s Word. But that doesn’t seem to be in consideration. After all, under the Israeli theocracy, God commanded his people to kill other peoples and occupy land. Today, we all agree (I hope?) that Christians are not to kill except as the “sword” of legitimate authority. Nor do we seek an earthly kingdom with earthly land. So why do you think God’s explicit overthrowing at that time of authorities arrayed against him would not be similarly exceptional and not applicable today?

    “Throughout history, changes in the government are often brought about by violent means, and it is clearly God’s will that this occur, because the new regime gets its authority from the same God who granted it to the old one.” Sigh. I would think it was obvious that, though God’s will will be done, it sometimes takes place through the sinful actions of men, and those men are not excused for their sins if God chooses to use them: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” It was God’s will that Jesus be crucified for our sins, and yet God’s judgment was on those who brought it about: “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” So to point to history and say that it was “clearly God’s will” for people to rebel is to really not understand how God uses the actions of sinful men throughout history. Or else you would have to argue that God clearly wanted John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald to do what they did — after all, they succeeded! Perhaps the 9/11 terrorists were also carrying out God’s will? They certainly thought so.

    “We have only Scripture and our consciences to guide us. But I think you are being far too simplistic when you claim that Romans 13 requires Christians to support the existing regime no matter what.” Well, then I guess some of us only have their consciences, having ruled out what Scripture says.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner (@67), you asked, “does the mere fact that a political system exists mean that any attempt to change the system by force is a sin?” Kerner, do you believe that, in the Lord’s Supper, you recieve Jesus’ true body and blood? An unrelated question, sure, but I have a hard time believing that someone who can read Jesus’ clear, simple words on Communion and insist that they actually mean what they obviously say would then turn around and find a reading of “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” besides the obvious one.

    “The thing is, in Old Testiment Israel there were prophets who would tell people when God wanted to change governments.” Yes, and today we have God’s Word. But that doesn’t seem to be in consideration. After all, under the Israeli theocracy, God commanded his people to kill other peoples and occupy land. Today, we all agree (I hope?) that Christians are not to kill except as the “sword” of legitimate authority. Nor do we seek an earthly kingdom with earthly land. So why do you think God’s explicit overthrowing at that time of authorities arrayed against him would not be similarly exceptional and not applicable today?

    “Throughout history, changes in the government are often brought about by violent means, and it is clearly God’s will that this occur, because the new regime gets its authority from the same God who granted it to the old one.” Sigh. I would think it was obvious that, though God’s will will be done, it sometimes takes place through the sinful actions of men, and those men are not excused for their sins if God chooses to use them: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” It was God’s will that Jesus be crucified for our sins, and yet God’s judgment was on those who brought it about: “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” So to point to history and say that it was “clearly God’s will” for people to rebel is to really not understand how God uses the actions of sinful men throughout history. Or else you would have to argue that God clearly wanted John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald to do what they did — after all, they succeeded! Perhaps the 9/11 terrorists were also carrying out God’s will? They certainly thought so.

    “We have only Scripture and our consciences to guide us. But I think you are being far too simplistic when you claim that Romans 13 requires Christians to support the existing regime no matter what.” Well, then I guess some of us only have their consciences, having ruled out what Scripture says.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@70-1), if I may summarize: “Hi, I’m late to the game and I haven’t been reading everything, but I’d like to note that, besides the obvious reading, there are several different ways to interpret this passage and arrive at a different conclusion than you. I don’t necessarily agree with them, and I certainly won’t defend them, but I wanted you to know that they exist.” And as fascinated as I am by the knowledge you’ve amassed, I do have to ask: what’s your point?

    If you’re going to try to convince me that a Scripture passage does not mean what it clearly says, then at the least, you might try using, oh, I don’t know, Scripture to convince me. And not, say, piles of political theory from over the centuries that you may or may not actually agree with.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@70-1), if I may summarize: “Hi, I’m late to the game and I haven’t been reading everything, but I’d like to note that, besides the obvious reading, there are several different ways to interpret this passage and arrive at a different conclusion than you. I don’t necessarily agree with them, and I certainly won’t defend them, but I wanted you to know that they exist.” And as fascinated as I am by the knowledge you’ve amassed, I do have to ask: what’s your point?

    If you’re going to try to convince me that a Scripture passage does not mean what it clearly says, then at the least, you might try using, oh, I don’t know, Scripture to convince me. And not, say, piles of political theory from over the centuries that you may or may not actually agree with.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, as a debating tactic, you should probably learn that a dismissive tone does not substitute for a reasoned critique. We have already “used” Scripture to make a point: Romans 13. You, Luther, and too many other Christians take a somewhat simplistic reading of the passage, in my opinion: God instituted all governments, no matter their form or justice, and we are to obey them always. Thus you set up the rather silly dichotomy of “Constitution vs. the Bible.”

    My point is that, before you came along and proclaimed yourself the exegetical expert on what Scripture has to say about the Christian’s relation to the body politic and to political authority, much greater minds than ours (e.g., Theodor Beza, George Buchanan, Samuel Rutherford, John Milton, etc.) have already confronted the question in times during which there was a much greater impetus to do so (in which the Christian’s relation to political authority was, perhaps until very recently, much more problematized than is ours currently in majority-Christian America)–and, interestingly, except for the proponents of divine right (and I should think you don’t tend to align yourself with tyrants) all of them reach distinctly different conclusions than yours. kerner, for that matter, attacks the issue with more subtlety than you. I do not have to agree with all the ways in which these thinkers complicate the argument in order to recognize the need for complicating the argument in the first place. The issue cannot be reduced to the simple formula of “obedience to government = obedience to God; disobedience to government = disobedience to God.” Perhaps it is difficult for you to believe, but your interpretation of Romans 13 isn’t, to my eye and to many other eyes, “what it clearly says.” In fact, I do not believe that your interpretation of “what it clearly says” is actually “what it clearly says.” Taking into account context and mere logical principles, that passage does not mean what you insist it means.

    Here, I’ll nudge you along the path a bit on potential alternative readings that, even if you think them not valid, at least deserve fair treatment. Note interpretive option 3b I offered above: in the epoch of popular sovereignty, the era in which the power and authority to govern flows directly from the “people” (whoever they are and however constituted they may be), the “people” are, of course, the (divinely instituted) authority. Thus, if the temporarily selected authorities transgress the will or dictates of the people, then the people’s obligation to obey (a la Romans 13) disappears. In fact, if the will of the people (or natural justice or Scriptural principle) is transgressed by the ruler, then the ruler has become a tyrant–one who, as classically defined, rules in his own interests rather than the public good; not only, then, does the people’s obligation to obey disappear, but the Romans 13 relationship is reversed: it is the ruler, the tyrant, who is in violation of Scripture, not the people who might be disobeying his unjust or “unconstitutional” commands.

    Here, of course, is where the question is even more complicated: how, exactly, is the popular will expressed? If you can figure this out, political theory might as well disband itself as a field, as we will no longer have any questions to ask. Perhaps it is localized and expressed in localized legislative bodies, such that Chicago and its aldermen should be able to ban guns (ignoring the fact that the people’s right to bear arms against a potentially tyrannical government might be an element of natural law/justice rather). But perhaps the popular will for the national community of America is instantiated in the Constitution, and thus any local magistrate (say, Daley) who abrogates intentionally the tenets of the Constitution is in violation of popular sovereignty–the people, the “divinely appointed rulers.” It is thus, perhaps, Daley who has transgressed Romans 13, not those in Chicago who would choose to own a gun regardless of local regulations.

    Again, as I said, even though I clearly have a point, I do not necessarily support the entirely of this logic–precisely because the question itself is too complicated for my mind. Specifically, I have not answered for myself the question of where earthly sovereignty actually reposes: is it actually in the people? If so, how is that expressed? In polls? In Congress? In local school boards? And who possesses the epistemological ability and judgment to decide when resistance is acceptable (for surely resistance is occasionally acceptable)? I can’t answer that fully, but I can insist that in an era accurately self-described as democratic, pat monarchical readings of Romans 13 just don’t work (i.e., the king was divinely appointed from time immemorial and thus we must obey whatever he decrees, no matter how onerous).

    I can also assert that, personally, I can think of many examples of times when I would quite willingly disobey the government without fear of violating Romans 13.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, as a debating tactic, you should probably learn that a dismissive tone does not substitute for a reasoned critique. We have already “used” Scripture to make a point: Romans 13. You, Luther, and too many other Christians take a somewhat simplistic reading of the passage, in my opinion: God instituted all governments, no matter their form or justice, and we are to obey them always. Thus you set up the rather silly dichotomy of “Constitution vs. the Bible.”

    My point is that, before you came along and proclaimed yourself the exegetical expert on what Scripture has to say about the Christian’s relation to the body politic and to political authority, much greater minds than ours (e.g., Theodor Beza, George Buchanan, Samuel Rutherford, John Milton, etc.) have already confronted the question in times during which there was a much greater impetus to do so (in which the Christian’s relation to political authority was, perhaps until very recently, much more problematized than is ours currently in majority-Christian America)–and, interestingly, except for the proponents of divine right (and I should think you don’t tend to align yourself with tyrants) all of them reach distinctly different conclusions than yours. kerner, for that matter, attacks the issue with more subtlety than you. I do not have to agree with all the ways in which these thinkers complicate the argument in order to recognize the need for complicating the argument in the first place. The issue cannot be reduced to the simple formula of “obedience to government = obedience to God; disobedience to government = disobedience to God.” Perhaps it is difficult for you to believe, but your interpretation of Romans 13 isn’t, to my eye and to many other eyes, “what it clearly says.” In fact, I do not believe that your interpretation of “what it clearly says” is actually “what it clearly says.” Taking into account context and mere logical principles, that passage does not mean what you insist it means.

    Here, I’ll nudge you along the path a bit on potential alternative readings that, even if you think them not valid, at least deserve fair treatment. Note interpretive option 3b I offered above: in the epoch of popular sovereignty, the era in which the power and authority to govern flows directly from the “people” (whoever they are and however constituted they may be), the “people” are, of course, the (divinely instituted) authority. Thus, if the temporarily selected authorities transgress the will or dictates of the people, then the people’s obligation to obey (a la Romans 13) disappears. In fact, if the will of the people (or natural justice or Scriptural principle) is transgressed by the ruler, then the ruler has become a tyrant–one who, as classically defined, rules in his own interests rather than the public good; not only, then, does the people’s obligation to obey disappear, but the Romans 13 relationship is reversed: it is the ruler, the tyrant, who is in violation of Scripture, not the people who might be disobeying his unjust or “unconstitutional” commands.

    Here, of course, is where the question is even more complicated: how, exactly, is the popular will expressed? If you can figure this out, political theory might as well disband itself as a field, as we will no longer have any questions to ask. Perhaps it is localized and expressed in localized legislative bodies, such that Chicago and its aldermen should be able to ban guns (ignoring the fact that the people’s right to bear arms against a potentially tyrannical government might be an element of natural law/justice rather). But perhaps the popular will for the national community of America is instantiated in the Constitution, and thus any local magistrate (say, Daley) who abrogates intentionally the tenets of the Constitution is in violation of popular sovereignty–the people, the “divinely appointed rulers.” It is thus, perhaps, Daley who has transgressed Romans 13, not those in Chicago who would choose to own a gun regardless of local regulations.

    Again, as I said, even though I clearly have a point, I do not necessarily support the entirely of this logic–precisely because the question itself is too complicated for my mind. Specifically, I have not answered for myself the question of where earthly sovereignty actually reposes: is it actually in the people? If so, how is that expressed? In polls? In Congress? In local school boards? And who possesses the epistemological ability and judgment to decide when resistance is acceptable (for surely resistance is occasionally acceptable)? I can’t answer that fully, but I can insist that in an era accurately self-described as democratic, pat monarchical readings of Romans 13 just don’t work (i.e., the king was divinely appointed from time immemorial and thus we must obey whatever he decrees, no matter how onerous).

    I can also assert that, personally, I can think of many examples of times when I would quite willingly disobey the government without fear of violating Romans 13.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@77), as a grammarian, you should probably learn that I am not “a debating tactic”. But on to more important matters.

    Yes, “we have already ‘used’ Scripture to make a point,” but the entire debate is over what that Scripture means. If you want to convince me, you will need to argue from Scripture itself. You do not, choosing instead to bring in external sources.

    “You, Luther, and too many other Christians take a somewhat simplistic reading of the passage.” Yes, yes. “Too simplistic!” “Lacks nuance!” “Where is the subtlety?” These are all fine critiques if one is leveling them at a philosophy book or perhaps even a debate tournament. They’re hardly arbiters of truth, though. Any clear truth of the Bible could be accused of lacking nuance — but only by those who don’t like what it says on its face. You may convince yourself with these pejorative labels, but I certainly don’t care whether you think my argument has enough subtlety or not.

    And forgive me if I smile at your committing a rather flagrant logical error when you dismiss my arguments by pointing to “much greater minds than ours”. Really? Of all the places you want to make an appeal to authority, it’s here, where you’re arguing that the authorities aren’t really authorities? “Great minds” have a proven track record of being completely unable to understand the plain truths of Scripture — not all of them, all the time, mind you, but it’s hardly a given that the “greatness” of someone’s mind is in proportion to their ability to understand God’s Word.

    “The issue cannot be reduced to the simple formula of ‘obedience to government = obedience to God; disobedience to government = disobedience to God.’” Oh, clearly not. It’s not like it reads “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. … Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”

    “Perhaps it is difficult for you to believe, but your interpretation of Romans 13 isn’t, to my eye and to many other eyes, ‘what it clearly says.’” Difficult to believe? No. I mean, you’re saying as much right here. And how ridiculous would it be for me to read what you’re plainly saying and come to a different conclusion than you’re clearly intending? Very. No, it’s less hard to believe and more just lamentable.

    Anyhow, you then go on to, maybe, pick a stance and, sort of, defend it. And that is, as I understand it (with my lesser mind, mind you) that we are now in a new “epoch” different than the one God had in mind when he spoke through Paul. This new epoch is different! In it, the rulers are the ones who must obey the people! And what is the will of the people? Nobody knows! Ta-da! So what is the point of this passage of Scripture? No one is sure! But it’s not that we should obey authorities. Clearly.

    “I can also assert that, personally, I can think of many examples of times when I would quite willingly disobey the government without fear of violating Romans 13.” Oh. Well! That settles it, doesn’t it? Seriously, what is the point of this statement? If your understanding of Romans 13 is deficient, this statement would be equally true, and yet you would have violated Romans 13. That is what we are discussing. I’m hardly convinced by your own corrupted conscience that I should abandon the literal meaning of that passage.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@77), as a grammarian, you should probably learn that I am not “a debating tactic”. But on to more important matters.

    Yes, “we have already ‘used’ Scripture to make a point,” but the entire debate is over what that Scripture means. If you want to convince me, you will need to argue from Scripture itself. You do not, choosing instead to bring in external sources.

    “You, Luther, and too many other Christians take a somewhat simplistic reading of the passage.” Yes, yes. “Too simplistic!” “Lacks nuance!” “Where is the subtlety?” These are all fine critiques if one is leveling them at a philosophy book or perhaps even a debate tournament. They’re hardly arbiters of truth, though. Any clear truth of the Bible could be accused of lacking nuance — but only by those who don’t like what it says on its face. You may convince yourself with these pejorative labels, but I certainly don’t care whether you think my argument has enough subtlety or not.

    And forgive me if I smile at your committing a rather flagrant logical error when you dismiss my arguments by pointing to “much greater minds than ours”. Really? Of all the places you want to make an appeal to authority, it’s here, where you’re arguing that the authorities aren’t really authorities? “Great minds” have a proven track record of being completely unable to understand the plain truths of Scripture — not all of them, all the time, mind you, but it’s hardly a given that the “greatness” of someone’s mind is in proportion to their ability to understand God’s Word.

    “The issue cannot be reduced to the simple formula of ‘obedience to government = obedience to God; disobedience to government = disobedience to God.’” Oh, clearly not. It’s not like it reads “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. … Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”

    “Perhaps it is difficult for you to believe, but your interpretation of Romans 13 isn’t, to my eye and to many other eyes, ‘what it clearly says.’” Difficult to believe? No. I mean, you’re saying as much right here. And how ridiculous would it be for me to read what you’re plainly saying and come to a different conclusion than you’re clearly intending? Very. No, it’s less hard to believe and more just lamentable.

    Anyhow, you then go on to, maybe, pick a stance and, sort of, defend it. And that is, as I understand it (with my lesser mind, mind you) that we are now in a new “epoch” different than the one God had in mind when he spoke through Paul. This new epoch is different! In it, the rulers are the ones who must obey the people! And what is the will of the people? Nobody knows! Ta-da! So what is the point of this passage of Scripture? No one is sure! But it’s not that we should obey authorities. Clearly.

    “I can also assert that, personally, I can think of many examples of times when I would quite willingly disobey the government without fear of violating Romans 13.” Oh. Well! That settles it, doesn’t it? Seriously, what is the point of this statement? If your understanding of Romans 13 is deficient, this statement would be equally true, and yet you would have violated Romans 13. That is what we are discussing. I’m hardly convinced by your own corrupted conscience that I should abandon the literal meaning of that passage.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD@78: Well, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected a better response. There are three primary flaws in the rather sparse counterargument you offer me.

    1) Your first great accusation is that I make a fallacious appeal to authority. This accusation is frankly incorrect because the technical “appeal to authority” proceeds thusly: Someone else (or some other group) who is really smart said X. Therefore X is true! Notice that that is not the format of my argument. That particular portion of my argument proceeds thusly: Eminent Christian philosophers in past ages (i.e., greater minds than ours who are expert exegetes and political philosophers; sometimes one and not the other, but sometimes both), due to the configuration of pragmatic experiences, have been required to confront Romans 13 seriously and authentically. Having done so, almost all of them have reached conclusions entirely different from yours–which is, in fact, simplistic. The only political philosophers who have historically condoned your reading of Romans 13 are partisans of James I and other tyrants seeking to buttress their ad hoc concoction known as “divine right” (which, incidentally, gave them leave to persecute certain Christian sects). These “more nuanced” readings are not correct (if they are correct at all!) because they were pioneered by “eminent minds”–that would be an appeal to authority–but because they just might happen to be superior to your reading, and because they are based on thorough exegesis, learning, and logic. But instead of bothering to seek any kind of wisdom in our intellectual forebears (there is some there: I promise!), you seek to re-invent the wheel yourself. I suppose it is the Protestant way–each man is his own arbiter of Scripture–but it’s a severe intellectual handicap. Not only are you attempting to reinvent the wheel, but you’re apparently refusing to interact with any of the other exegetical options I’ve offered, all of which I personally consider to be superior to your own. Who came up with them originally is beside the point. I may have invented them myself for all you and I care (though I didn’t; I’m merely trying to assign credit where it is due). Which brings me to my second point…

    2) You adamantly insist that it is you who is interpreting the text as it is simply written. If you say so. But be honest: what, exactly, does it mean to interpret a text–Scriptural or otherwise–”on its face”? How do you do that? I’m not claiming that Romans 13 contains some sort of hidden message or implicit exceptions that only “eminent minds” have discerned, but any exegete or hermeneut will tell you–and I’m sure you yourself would agree in other circumstances–that a sound interpretation of any Scripture passage (or any passage of anything, for that matter) must take into account relevant context (historical and otherwise), general ethical/Christian principles (i.e., if the “governing authorities” told me to murder my neighbor, should I do it?), and basic logic. But let’s try interpreting Romans 13 as it is written. The passage in verses 1 and 2 states the following:

    “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

    Cool; let’s try. Well, it seems I’m already stymied based upon lexical choices alone. What exactly does it mean to “be subject” (does that mean I obey everything all the time? Sometimes? Are there exceptions [see murder example above]?) Who are the higher powers? What does it mean for a higher power to be “ordained by God”? How do I know if a “higher power” has been so ordained? Can a power forfeit his ordination? What does it mean to resist or rebel? Is it ever acceptable to resist? If a tyrant (say, Hitler) were in power, may we resist? May private citizens resist? May anyone resist (Calvin and others limit resistance to “lesser magistrates”)? Is there such a thing as the tyrant, who, until quite recently, almost all (Christian) thinkers agreed is in a position in which some form of resistance (varying in degree and origin) is not only morally possible, but morally obligatory? What exactly is a “higher power” ordained to decree? For example, Thomas Aquinas and others throughout the millennium of the Middle Ages subscribed to a very precise definition of law (a law must be an ordinance in the public interest according to reason by a person entrusted with the common good and promulgated. Any law that does not meet that definition is not actually law and thus need not be obeyed. In other words, how exactly is a ruler entitled to rule? What if the “higher powers” disagree with one another (Mayor Daley says one thing, the Constitution and the Supreme Court say another)? It seems we’re having some trouble here taking a “simple” facial reading of the text. My point here is that claiming that you’re somehow taking the correct reading of Romans 13 by just “reading what it says,” by taking a “literal reading”, is ridiculous. I’m trying to take a literal reading as well. I’m not taking an allegorical or metaphorical or mythological reading of the text. This is the same reason that those who propound an “original intent” reading of the Constitution are in somewhat of a quandary: what exactly do the words in the Constitution mean? How do we know it? This is why we have a profoundly contentious Supreme Court, after all, and it is why Christians as a whole still disagree on just about every single verse in the Bible. But rather than acknowledging that any sound exegesis requires subtlety and, you know, some level of intellectual engagement, you interpret my epistemological and hermeneutical caution as a sign of a “corrupted conscience.”

    c) Finally, you hastily if not handily dismiss my language of “epoch.” I find this to be curious. Do you deny that we live in an era in which “popular sovereignty” is our prime principle of governance and constitutions? I.e., do you deny that the location of sovereignty has been transferred since 300 a.d.? Do you deny the presence of democratic government? Do you deny the ability of the people to constitute or reconstitute their government and to “cashier their rulers”? Do you deny the permissibility of the American Revolution? What about the “resistances” that were so popular during WWII and the Cold War? It’s one thing to deny the efficacy or propriety of popular sovereignty. I myself have doubts along those lines. But it is another thing entirely to deny that some kind of popular sovereignty, in which the people are the fount of authority, exists at all in the contemporary setting, for better or worse–in almost every nation, in fact. Should it? I don’t know. And as I mentioned (in a passage you inexplicably ridicule) there are a number of nearly intractable questions surrounding the nature and mechanisms of popular sovereignty. But those questions are not to be ignored simply because they are “complicated” and “difficult.” And I can furthermore assure you that some form of popular sovereignty exists and that it thus can and should shape, to some degree, our reading of Romans 13.

    p.s. What exactly does it mean to argue from Scripture itself? I’m probably misunderstanding your intent here, but I’m a bit baffled. We’re trying to ascertain the meaning of a Scriptural passage. Are you recommending that I formulate my argument by reference only to other Bible verses? Though many implicit Scriptural principles are latent in my arguments (which are somewhat sparse: I’ve not fully articulated my own position yet, only challenged yours), I don’t really know what you mean here, and I can’t see the usefulness of dismissing “external sources” and, in general, arguments that don’t constantly refer to other Bible passages in our quest. Explain what you mean?

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD@78: Well, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected a better response. There are three primary flaws in the rather sparse counterargument you offer me.

    1) Your first great accusation is that I make a fallacious appeal to authority. This accusation is frankly incorrect because the technical “appeal to authority” proceeds thusly: Someone else (or some other group) who is really smart said X. Therefore X is true! Notice that that is not the format of my argument. That particular portion of my argument proceeds thusly: Eminent Christian philosophers in past ages (i.e., greater minds than ours who are expert exegetes and political philosophers; sometimes one and not the other, but sometimes both), due to the configuration of pragmatic experiences, have been required to confront Romans 13 seriously and authentically. Having done so, almost all of them have reached conclusions entirely different from yours–which is, in fact, simplistic. The only political philosophers who have historically condoned your reading of Romans 13 are partisans of James I and other tyrants seeking to buttress their ad hoc concoction known as “divine right” (which, incidentally, gave them leave to persecute certain Christian sects). These “more nuanced” readings are not correct (if they are correct at all!) because they were pioneered by “eminent minds”–that would be an appeal to authority–but because they just might happen to be superior to your reading, and because they are based on thorough exegesis, learning, and logic. But instead of bothering to seek any kind of wisdom in our intellectual forebears (there is some there: I promise!), you seek to re-invent the wheel yourself. I suppose it is the Protestant way–each man is his own arbiter of Scripture–but it’s a severe intellectual handicap. Not only are you attempting to reinvent the wheel, but you’re apparently refusing to interact with any of the other exegetical options I’ve offered, all of which I personally consider to be superior to your own. Who came up with them originally is beside the point. I may have invented them myself for all you and I care (though I didn’t; I’m merely trying to assign credit where it is due). Which brings me to my second point…

    2) You adamantly insist that it is you who is interpreting the text as it is simply written. If you say so. But be honest: what, exactly, does it mean to interpret a text–Scriptural or otherwise–”on its face”? How do you do that? I’m not claiming that Romans 13 contains some sort of hidden message or implicit exceptions that only “eminent minds” have discerned, but any exegete or hermeneut will tell you–and I’m sure you yourself would agree in other circumstances–that a sound interpretation of any Scripture passage (or any passage of anything, for that matter) must take into account relevant context (historical and otherwise), general ethical/Christian principles (i.e., if the “governing authorities” told me to murder my neighbor, should I do it?), and basic logic. But let’s try interpreting Romans 13 as it is written. The passage in verses 1 and 2 states the following:

    “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

    Cool; let’s try. Well, it seems I’m already stymied based upon lexical choices alone. What exactly does it mean to “be subject” (does that mean I obey everything all the time? Sometimes? Are there exceptions [see murder example above]?) Who are the higher powers? What does it mean for a higher power to be “ordained by God”? How do I know if a “higher power” has been so ordained? Can a power forfeit his ordination? What does it mean to resist or rebel? Is it ever acceptable to resist? If a tyrant (say, Hitler) were in power, may we resist? May private citizens resist? May anyone resist (Calvin and others limit resistance to “lesser magistrates”)? Is there such a thing as the tyrant, who, until quite recently, almost all (Christian) thinkers agreed is in a position in which some form of resistance (varying in degree and origin) is not only morally possible, but morally obligatory? What exactly is a “higher power” ordained to decree? For example, Thomas Aquinas and others throughout the millennium of the Middle Ages subscribed to a very precise definition of law (a law must be an ordinance in the public interest according to reason by a person entrusted with the common good and promulgated. Any law that does not meet that definition is not actually law and thus need not be obeyed. In other words, how exactly is a ruler entitled to rule? What if the “higher powers” disagree with one another (Mayor Daley says one thing, the Constitution and the Supreme Court say another)? It seems we’re having some trouble here taking a “simple” facial reading of the text. My point here is that claiming that you’re somehow taking the correct reading of Romans 13 by just “reading what it says,” by taking a “literal reading”, is ridiculous. I’m trying to take a literal reading as well. I’m not taking an allegorical or metaphorical or mythological reading of the text. This is the same reason that those who propound an “original intent” reading of the Constitution are in somewhat of a quandary: what exactly do the words in the Constitution mean? How do we know it? This is why we have a profoundly contentious Supreme Court, after all, and it is why Christians as a whole still disagree on just about every single verse in the Bible. But rather than acknowledging that any sound exegesis requires subtlety and, you know, some level of intellectual engagement, you interpret my epistemological and hermeneutical caution as a sign of a “corrupted conscience.”

    c) Finally, you hastily if not handily dismiss my language of “epoch.” I find this to be curious. Do you deny that we live in an era in which “popular sovereignty” is our prime principle of governance and constitutions? I.e., do you deny that the location of sovereignty has been transferred since 300 a.d.? Do you deny the presence of democratic government? Do you deny the ability of the people to constitute or reconstitute their government and to “cashier their rulers”? Do you deny the permissibility of the American Revolution? What about the “resistances” that were so popular during WWII and the Cold War? It’s one thing to deny the efficacy or propriety of popular sovereignty. I myself have doubts along those lines. But it is another thing entirely to deny that some kind of popular sovereignty, in which the people are the fount of authority, exists at all in the contemporary setting, for better or worse–in almost every nation, in fact. Should it? I don’t know. And as I mentioned (in a passage you inexplicably ridicule) there are a number of nearly intractable questions surrounding the nature and mechanisms of popular sovereignty. But those questions are not to be ignored simply because they are “complicated” and “difficult.” And I can furthermore assure you that some form of popular sovereignty exists and that it thus can and should shape, to some degree, our reading of Romans 13.

    p.s. What exactly does it mean to argue from Scripture itself? I’m probably misunderstanding your intent here, but I’m a bit baffled. We’re trying to ascertain the meaning of a Scriptural passage. Are you recommending that I formulate my argument by reference only to other Bible verses? Though many implicit Scriptural principles are latent in my arguments (which are somewhat sparse: I’ve not fully articulated my own position yet, only challenged yours), I don’t really know what you mean here, and I can’t see the usefulness of dismissing “external sources” and, in general, arguments that don’t constantly refer to other Bible passages in our quest. Explain what you mean?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@79), is there really any point to having this discussion with you when (a) you want me to discuss ideas or answer questions that I’ve already discussed or answered earlier and you, by your own admission, have not read what I’ve already written; and (b) you either don’t know or won’t say what you actually think about Romans 13 besides repeating your claim that I’m wrong?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@79), is there really any point to having this discussion with you when (a) you want me to discuss ideas or answer questions that I’ve already discussed or answered earlier and you, by your own admission, have not read what I’ve already written; and (b) you either don’t know or won’t say what you actually think about Romans 13 besides repeating your claim that I’m wrong?

  • kerner

    Cincinnatus @28:

    “Do you deny the permissability of the American Revolution?” I won’t speak for tODD, but a lot of Lutherans do. For many, and given his writings above, I think for tODD, it really is as simple as identifying who is in charge at the moment. That person or group is the authority ordained by God for as long as he/they have the power, and until God displaces him/them. But any Christian who takes part in the process of displacing those in power is in rebellion against God. Side questions such as, “How did the presently powerful obtain their power?”, “How long have they had their power?”, or “What use are they making of their power?”, etc. are irrelevant.

    For a Christian to support a person or group who would displace (or, perhaps I should say, replace) those in power remains rebellion against God until such time as that person or group are successful. Once the new regime is in power, it becomes rebellion against God to oppose the new regime. But supporting the new regime BEFORE it was in power was still rebellion against God, even though God ultimately gave the new regime victory.

    A cynical person would think this simple position that might makes right is only a means of avoiding the risk of opposing powerful wrong doers, but I have heard it enough from so many Lutherans that I believe them to be sincere. But wrong.

  • kerner

    Cincinnatus @28:

    “Do you deny the permissability of the American Revolution?” I won’t speak for tODD, but a lot of Lutherans do. For many, and given his writings above, I think for tODD, it really is as simple as identifying who is in charge at the moment. That person or group is the authority ordained by God for as long as he/they have the power, and until God displaces him/them. But any Christian who takes part in the process of displacing those in power is in rebellion against God. Side questions such as, “How did the presently powerful obtain their power?”, “How long have they had their power?”, or “What use are they making of their power?”, etc. are irrelevant.

    For a Christian to support a person or group who would displace (or, perhaps I should say, replace) those in power remains rebellion against God until such time as that person or group are successful. Once the new regime is in power, it becomes rebellion against God to oppose the new regime. But supporting the new regime BEFORE it was in power was still rebellion against God, even though God ultimately gave the new regime victory.

    A cynical person would think this simple position that might makes right is only a means of avoiding the risk of opposing powerful wrong doers, but I have heard it enough from so many Lutherans that I believe them to be sincere. But wrong.

  • DonS

    I concur with Kerner @ 81. I was involved in a discussion like this before on this blog, and that was the position, as I understood it. The American Revolution was brought up, and at least a strong implication of the comments (I recall tODD being involved, but I don’t remember if they were his comments, specifically) was that those who perpetrated the American Revolution were in rebellion against God. Of course, once it occurred, and the rebels were in power, then they became the governing authority to which submission was required.

    My view is that the verses exhorting submission to civil authority are not a major biblical teaching (otherwise they would be emphasized throughout Scripture), but rather intended to remind us that we are not on this earth for the purpose of establishing a new kingdom, as many early Christians thought. In other words, give civil authority its due deference (Christ’s teaching to pay your taxes with the coin of the realm), because your real purpose is to prepare the way for the heavenly kingdom to come. Clearly, there are many biblical instances of Christians choosing to disobey civil authority, but those who did so righteously did so because it was necessary to obeying God’s commands to love thy neighbor and to preach the Gospel.

    As with most things, the lines are not black and white, but rather a matter of conscience and much prayer. And they are definitely not drawn in the same place for every Christian.

  • DonS

    I concur with Kerner @ 81. I was involved in a discussion like this before on this blog, and that was the position, as I understood it. The American Revolution was brought up, and at least a strong implication of the comments (I recall tODD being involved, but I don’t remember if they were his comments, specifically) was that those who perpetrated the American Revolution were in rebellion against God. Of course, once it occurred, and the rebels were in power, then they became the governing authority to which submission was required.

    My view is that the verses exhorting submission to civil authority are not a major biblical teaching (otherwise they would be emphasized throughout Scripture), but rather intended to remind us that we are not on this earth for the purpose of establishing a new kingdom, as many early Christians thought. In other words, give civil authority its due deference (Christ’s teaching to pay your taxes with the coin of the realm), because your real purpose is to prepare the way for the heavenly kingdom to come. Clearly, there are many biblical instances of Christians choosing to disobey civil authority, but those who did so righteously did so because it was necessary to obeying God’s commands to love thy neighbor and to preach the Gospel.

    As with most things, the lines are not black and white, but rather a matter of conscience and much prayer. And they are definitely not drawn in the same place for every Christian.

  • kerner

    oops, I meant @78

    tODD:

    Much as I appreciate Cincinnatus contribution to this discussion, as he has expressed some ideas I was trying to express, but better than I, you have gone so far as to question my bona fides as a confessional Lutheran, and Cincinnatus, as a non-Lutheran, cannot help me there.

    So I have reviewed the Book of Concord for references to Romans 13, and the most direct reference I could find was Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession (and the Apology). This Article primarily applies Romans 13 to refute the heresies of the Anabaptists that asserted that all true Christians should withdraw into a form of monasticism by rejecting all secular institutions of authority, such as government, law (other than the Mosaic law) the family and private property. These Anabaptists preached that a true Christian should not own property, engage in business, serve in the military, hold public office, take an oath, or recognise the authority or laws or the government of the country he occupied.

    Article XVI rejects these Anabaptist principles (this rejection is reiterated in Article XII of the SDFC decades later) and invokes Romans 13 to do it. One theologian, Carlstadt, is named and called crazy. The thrust of Article is that the duty of a Christian is not to withdraw from citizenship of his community and country, but rather to be as good a citizen of community and country as he can. And I agree with that interpretation. It is consistent with our Lord’s direction for Christians to let our light so shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify our father in Heaven.

    What is noteworthy to me is that, while theologians who tried to reorganize Christianity as a quasi-monastic communal cult were condemned, the acts of Christians who defied the existing power structure for the benefit of the Reformation were not. For example, when Frederick the Wise surepticiously kidnapped Luther and hid him in Wartburg under an assumed name, he was clearly defying, and lying (at least by omition) to the God ordained political powers in control of Germany at that time. Likewise, when various German states organized as the Smalkaldic League to the detriment of the authority of the Hapsburg Emperor, they were not submitting to authority, but rather they were changing by force the form that secular authority took for their countries.

    Yet, somehow these men who reoganized the political power structure of central Europe, by force and in the face of direct opposition of the previously existing power structure, escape the condemnation of the confessions on the basis of Romans 13. I wonder why?

    One other thing I would like to point out about this sort of “divine right of kings” interpretation of Romans 13, is that it has probably caused more unjust warfare and misery than any idea I can think of (dynastic wars have, throughout history, been far more common and ruinous than religious wars.) Unwilling to accept the idea that the guy with the most might really IS the the guy chosen by God to be right to be in power, most medieval European societies developed the idea of political power being an inheritable asset that passed to the dying king’s next of kin. So, history is full of wars between factions led (at least nominally) by blood relatives each asserting legitimacy based solely on the claim of being a closer blood relative to the late king than his rivals. I can not think of a stupider nor a more arbitrary way of choosing political leadership than the glorified blood feuding that went on in Europe for all those centuries. But, to those who subscribe to this divine right of those in power theory, I guess I would like to know how you think Romans 13 applies to it. Were Christians in rebellion against God if they supported the guy with the closest genealogical relationship to the late king, or if they supported the guy with the biggest army? I realize that, to you, the question of who would have made the better ruler, or the question of whether the ruler’s power should have any limits, do not enter into the decision at all.

  • kerner

    oops, I meant @78

    tODD:

    Much as I appreciate Cincinnatus contribution to this discussion, as he has expressed some ideas I was trying to express, but better than I, you have gone so far as to question my bona fides as a confessional Lutheran, and Cincinnatus, as a non-Lutheran, cannot help me there.

    So I have reviewed the Book of Concord for references to Romans 13, and the most direct reference I could find was Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession (and the Apology). This Article primarily applies Romans 13 to refute the heresies of the Anabaptists that asserted that all true Christians should withdraw into a form of monasticism by rejecting all secular institutions of authority, such as government, law (other than the Mosaic law) the family and private property. These Anabaptists preached that a true Christian should not own property, engage in business, serve in the military, hold public office, take an oath, or recognise the authority or laws or the government of the country he occupied.

    Article XVI rejects these Anabaptist principles (this rejection is reiterated in Article XII of the SDFC decades later) and invokes Romans 13 to do it. One theologian, Carlstadt, is named and called crazy. The thrust of Article is that the duty of a Christian is not to withdraw from citizenship of his community and country, but rather to be as good a citizen of community and country as he can. And I agree with that interpretation. It is consistent with our Lord’s direction for Christians to let our light so shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify our father in Heaven.

    What is noteworthy to me is that, while theologians who tried to reorganize Christianity as a quasi-monastic communal cult were condemned, the acts of Christians who defied the existing power structure for the benefit of the Reformation were not. For example, when Frederick the Wise surepticiously kidnapped Luther and hid him in Wartburg under an assumed name, he was clearly defying, and lying (at least by omition) to the God ordained political powers in control of Germany at that time. Likewise, when various German states organized as the Smalkaldic League to the detriment of the authority of the Hapsburg Emperor, they were not submitting to authority, but rather they were changing by force the form that secular authority took for their countries.

    Yet, somehow these men who reoganized the political power structure of central Europe, by force and in the face of direct opposition of the previously existing power structure, escape the condemnation of the confessions on the basis of Romans 13. I wonder why?

    One other thing I would like to point out about this sort of “divine right of kings” interpretation of Romans 13, is that it has probably caused more unjust warfare and misery than any idea I can think of (dynastic wars have, throughout history, been far more common and ruinous than religious wars.) Unwilling to accept the idea that the guy with the most might really IS the the guy chosen by God to be right to be in power, most medieval European societies developed the idea of political power being an inheritable asset that passed to the dying king’s next of kin. So, history is full of wars between factions led (at least nominally) by blood relatives each asserting legitimacy based solely on the claim of being a closer blood relative to the late king than his rivals. I can not think of a stupider nor a more arbitrary way of choosing political leadership than the glorified blood feuding that went on in Europe for all those centuries. But, to those who subscribe to this divine right of those in power theory, I guess I would like to know how you think Romans 13 applies to it. Were Christians in rebellion against God if they supported the guy with the closest genealogical relationship to the late king, or if they supported the guy with the biggest army? I realize that, to you, the question of who would have made the better ruler, or the question of whether the ruler’s power should have any limits, do not enter into the decision at all.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner, summarizing — if perhaps cynically — the viewpoints of those he disagrees with, said (@81), “supporting the new regime BEFORE it was in power was still rebellion against God, even though God ultimately gave the new regime victory.” Yes. Is that really so hard to understand? God, in his wisdom, apportions power. And in Romans 13, he tells us that it’s his job to change regimes, not we individuals’. In the same way that God gives life and takes it, and tells us as individuals that’s not our job, either. If I were to adopt your (perceived) cynicism, I might say something along the lines of, “plotting to kill a person before God takes his life is still considered murder, even if God lets him die at the hand of a murderer — and how is that fair, huh?” Along those lines, would you refer to a successfully carried-out assassination as “victory” if God allowed it to happen?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner, summarizing — if perhaps cynically — the viewpoints of those he disagrees with, said (@81), “supporting the new regime BEFORE it was in power was still rebellion against God, even though God ultimately gave the new regime victory.” Yes. Is that really so hard to understand? God, in his wisdom, apportions power. And in Romans 13, he tells us that it’s his job to change regimes, not we individuals’. In the same way that God gives life and takes it, and tells us as individuals that’s not our job, either. If I were to adopt your (perceived) cynicism, I might say something along the lines of, “plotting to kill a person before God takes his life is still considered murder, even if God lets him die at the hand of a murderer — and how is that fair, huh?” Along those lines, would you refer to a successfully carried-out assassination as “victory” if God allowed it to happen?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don, I don’t disagree with a lot you said (@82), though I must question your statement that “the verses exhorting submission to civil authority are not a major biblical teaching (otherwise they would be emphasized throughout Scripture).” Um, okay, so, how many times does a teaching have to be repeated to be considered “major”? And what is our attitude towards those passages of Scripture that are not “major”?

    Besides, are you sure you know what the Bible says about this matter? In addition to Romans 13 and Jesus’ exhortation to pay the taxes owed to the civil authorities (Matthew 22, etc.), we also have Jesus’ example of submitting to the civil authorities and even reminding them (and us) where their authority comes from in John 19: “‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.’”

    Then we have the words of Ecclesiastes 8:

    Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.

    Back in the New Testament, there is Titus 3:

    Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

    And, of course, we have 1 Peter 2:

    Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

    “Not a major biblical teaching”? Really?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don, I don’t disagree with a lot you said (@82), though I must question your statement that “the verses exhorting submission to civil authority are not a major biblical teaching (otherwise they would be emphasized throughout Scripture).” Um, okay, so, how many times does a teaching have to be repeated to be considered “major”? And what is our attitude towards those passages of Scripture that are not “major”?

    Besides, are you sure you know what the Bible says about this matter? In addition to Romans 13 and Jesus’ exhortation to pay the taxes owed to the civil authorities (Matthew 22, etc.), we also have Jesus’ example of submitting to the civil authorities and even reminding them (and us) where their authority comes from in John 19: “‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.’”

    Then we have the words of Ecclesiastes 8:

    Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.

    Back in the New Testament, there is Titus 3:

    Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

    And, of course, we have 1 Peter 2:

    Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

    “Not a major biblical teaching”? Really?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And Don (@82), can you name just some of the “many biblical instances of Christians choosing to disobey civil authority … righteously”? Because we’re all in agreement that if the civil authority prohibits what God commands or commands what God prohibits, then we must follow the example of the disciples in Acts or the prophet Daniel and obey God, not men. But that’s not what’s being discussed here. We’re discussing whether it’s okay to ignore or even flagrantly violate laws you believe are incorrect (“exceeding the authority” of the one making the law, or something like that). Or to instigate a rebellion against a government you feel is taxing you too much (or some other area of adiaphora). So please tell me what “instances” you’re thinking of (I’m assuming they are from Scripture).

    Anyhow, submission to civil authorities is clearly emphasized throughout the Bible, but if you consider what God says about authority in general, there are even more passages to consider! After all, civil authorities are just one type of authority that God gives us on this earth to do us good. Other examples, of course, include husbands (as heads of the family) and parents. One might well ask himself how God’s commands to those under authority in the family compare to his commands in Romans 13 to those under civil authority — are we free to reject our parents’ authority when we feel it impinges on our rights or “what is best for us”?

    But there is another authority relationship to be found in God’s exhortations in the Bible, and that is master and slave. Indeed, the commands given to slaves are remarkably similar to the commands given to citizens. Compare Romans 13 to Ephesians 6:

    Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

    (See also Colossians 3.) So again we see commands to both those in authority and those under it, neither of which is made conditional on the other (i.e. slaves are not told to “obey if…”). And the slave’s obedience is to be as if to God himself, just as the citizen’s obedience to the authorities is tantamount to obedience to God.

    This gets interesting when we consider Peter’s exhortations to slaves right after he exhorts citizens to “submit [themselves] for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men” (1 Peter 2):

    Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

    Now, if slaves are to submit to masters — “not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” — even bearing “the pain of unjust suffering“, then how can it be argued (as is being argued here) that God wants the exact opposite when it comes to the civil authorities? After all, aren’t people here arguing that citizens no longer need to submit … when the government becomes too harsh? When it unjustly punishes people? That citizens should not suffer for doing good and endure it, because then the government is in abrogation of its duties, and has consequently lost its authority?

    Peter exhorts slaves to consider Christ’s “example, that you should follow in his steps.” One could hardly argue that citizens should not also consider his example. And what was it? How did he interact with the civil authorities?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And Don (@82), can you name just some of the “many biblical instances of Christians choosing to disobey civil authority … righteously”? Because we’re all in agreement that if the civil authority prohibits what God commands or commands what God prohibits, then we must follow the example of the disciples in Acts or the prophet Daniel and obey God, not men. But that’s not what’s being discussed here. We’re discussing whether it’s okay to ignore or even flagrantly violate laws you believe are incorrect (“exceeding the authority” of the one making the law, or something like that). Or to instigate a rebellion against a government you feel is taxing you too much (or some other area of adiaphora). So please tell me what “instances” you’re thinking of (I’m assuming they are from Scripture).

    Anyhow, submission to civil authorities is clearly emphasized throughout the Bible, but if you consider what God says about authority in general, there are even more passages to consider! After all, civil authorities are just one type of authority that God gives us on this earth to do us good. Other examples, of course, include husbands (as heads of the family) and parents. One might well ask himself how God’s commands to those under authority in the family compare to his commands in Romans 13 to those under civil authority — are we free to reject our parents’ authority when we feel it impinges on our rights or “what is best for us”?

    But there is another authority relationship to be found in God’s exhortations in the Bible, and that is master and slave. Indeed, the commands given to slaves are remarkably similar to the commands given to citizens. Compare Romans 13 to Ephesians 6:

    Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

    (See also Colossians 3.) So again we see commands to both those in authority and those under it, neither of which is made conditional on the other (i.e. slaves are not told to “obey if…”). And the slave’s obedience is to be as if to God himself, just as the citizen’s obedience to the authorities is tantamount to obedience to God.

    This gets interesting when we consider Peter’s exhortations to slaves right after he exhorts citizens to “submit [themselves] for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men” (1 Peter 2):

    Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

    Now, if slaves are to submit to masters — “not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” — even bearing “the pain of unjust suffering“, then how can it be argued (as is being argued here) that God wants the exact opposite when it comes to the civil authorities? After all, aren’t people here arguing that citizens no longer need to submit … when the government becomes too harsh? When it unjustly punishes people? That citizens should not suffer for doing good and endure it, because then the government is in abrogation of its duties, and has consequently lost its authority?

    Peter exhorts slaves to consider Christ’s “example, that you should follow in his steps.” One could hardly argue that citizens should not also consider his example. And what was it? How did he interact with the civil authorities?

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, thanks for neglecting to respond to every single one of my arguments. Perhaps, however, you mistakenly think that there is no point in further addressing me. I think that there because, first of all, I do have an argument that should be plainly apparent in my comments and, second, I have read your comments and understand your position. I believe kerner summarizes it quite well. Do you agree?

    Ultimately, I find your position–I’ll call it the Lutheran position, since Luther espoused something roughly similar (ironically, given his theological inclinations)–to be unethical and contrary to an (the?) most plausible reading of the text. What your position on “submission” amounts to is simply a “natural right of the stronger,” which, as Plato noted long ago, is nothing but amoral sophistry.

    Further, in order for your strict interpretation to hold, we must acknowledge that there is quite literally no place for Christians in government in politics except in the sense of bandwaggoning with whomever has the might to hold down power at any given moment. To use the typical extreme example, Christians could apparently serve in the Hitler regime (after all, God put him there) but they certainly ought not serve in the resistance! In the context of the American revolution, I suppose, by your reading, Christians were morally obligated to adhere to the Loyalist side until the rebels happen to win, and then I’m on their side. Hey, what if I lived in the South during the Civil War? Christians are apparently just supposed to be on the side of whoever wins, and whoever has the strength to seize power–and since seizing power is apparently illegitimate, and since all political power is, at some point in the past, seized (or displaces a previous power), then Christians may literally not participate in government. These quandaries are trite, but as soon as one begins to ponder your interpretation, a list like this isn’t hard to come by. You would not be the first Christian to subscribe to pacifistic non-involvement in political affairs, of course, but I find the position to be logically impossible when applied to the “real” world (I keep returning to questions like this: what if the government required me to murder someone? What if my government instituted a one-child policy? What if the government levied a tax so onerous that I and most others could literally not afford to support my family? What about Shadrach and Co.? What about David himself before his accession to the throne when he was in a state of rebellion against Saul? These are unlikely scenarios in contemporary America, but certainly not useless as thought experiments; we’re not, after all, just whining about “my rights” and “what’s best for us”. Here’s a kicker: aren’t the adversarial politics of democracy themselves a refusal to “submit” to current authority? What makes democratic processes legitimate?) and ultimately repulsive: I can’t support a proposition that reduces to the formula “I’m on the winning team no matter what!” As my previous comments indicate, I simply cannot find that reading in the text of Romans 13, particularly in an era in which the people are conceived to have some meaningful role in the construction and process of government.

    Finally, on this odd idea that God autonomously raises and lowers empires: I realize Scripture employs similar language from time to time, but you’ve also curiously stripped the political sphere of all ethical concerns and, more importantly, of human involvement at all. Morality and human responsibility are not vacated as soon as one entires the phenomenological realm of politics. I don’t know where you stand on the topic of free will, but it would be curious to acknowledge such a thing as a human volition that extends to everything except the sealed mechanism of politics.

    Incidentally, your dismissal of DonS’s argument completely misses the point. His primary position is not that “submission to authority” is a minor biblical teaching and thus not worthy of serious consideration by the Christian. After all, I”m sure you would agree that the impetus to obey government is not so “major” as the impetus to love one’s neighbor or, you know, the Gospel in general. Don’s primary position is that there is this thing called “relevant context” that we take into account when we read any passage of Scripture except Romans 13, apparently. I don’t know if I find Don’s reading to be entirely sound, though it is one that I referenced in my original comment.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, thanks for neglecting to respond to every single one of my arguments. Perhaps, however, you mistakenly think that there is no point in further addressing me. I think that there because, first of all, I do have an argument that should be plainly apparent in my comments and, second, I have read your comments and understand your position. I believe kerner summarizes it quite well. Do you agree?

    Ultimately, I find your position–I’ll call it the Lutheran position, since Luther espoused something roughly similar (ironically, given his theological inclinations)–to be unethical and contrary to an (the?) most plausible reading of the text. What your position on “submission” amounts to is simply a “natural right of the stronger,” which, as Plato noted long ago, is nothing but amoral sophistry.

    Further, in order for your strict interpretation to hold, we must acknowledge that there is quite literally no place for Christians in government in politics except in the sense of bandwaggoning with whomever has the might to hold down power at any given moment. To use the typical extreme example, Christians could apparently serve in the Hitler regime (after all, God put him there) but they certainly ought not serve in the resistance! In the context of the American revolution, I suppose, by your reading, Christians were morally obligated to adhere to the Loyalist side until the rebels happen to win, and then I’m on their side. Hey, what if I lived in the South during the Civil War? Christians are apparently just supposed to be on the side of whoever wins, and whoever has the strength to seize power–and since seizing power is apparently illegitimate, and since all political power is, at some point in the past, seized (or displaces a previous power), then Christians may literally not participate in government. These quandaries are trite, but as soon as one begins to ponder your interpretation, a list like this isn’t hard to come by. You would not be the first Christian to subscribe to pacifistic non-involvement in political affairs, of course, but I find the position to be logically impossible when applied to the “real” world (I keep returning to questions like this: what if the government required me to murder someone? What if my government instituted a one-child policy? What if the government levied a tax so onerous that I and most others could literally not afford to support my family? What about Shadrach and Co.? What about David himself before his accession to the throne when he was in a state of rebellion against Saul? These are unlikely scenarios in contemporary America, but certainly not useless as thought experiments; we’re not, after all, just whining about “my rights” and “what’s best for us”. Here’s a kicker: aren’t the adversarial politics of democracy themselves a refusal to “submit” to current authority? What makes democratic processes legitimate?) and ultimately repulsive: I can’t support a proposition that reduces to the formula “I’m on the winning team no matter what!” As my previous comments indicate, I simply cannot find that reading in the text of Romans 13, particularly in an era in which the people are conceived to have some meaningful role in the construction and process of government.

    Finally, on this odd idea that God autonomously raises and lowers empires: I realize Scripture employs similar language from time to time, but you’ve also curiously stripped the political sphere of all ethical concerns and, more importantly, of human involvement at all. Morality and human responsibility are not vacated as soon as one entires the phenomenological realm of politics. I don’t know where you stand on the topic of free will, but it would be curious to acknowledge such a thing as a human volition that extends to everything except the sealed mechanism of politics.

    Incidentally, your dismissal of DonS’s argument completely misses the point. His primary position is not that “submission to authority” is a minor biblical teaching and thus not worthy of serious consideration by the Christian. After all, I”m sure you would agree that the impetus to obey government is not so “major” as the impetus to love one’s neighbor or, you know, the Gospel in general. Don’s primary position is that there is this thing called “relevant context” that we take into account when we read any passage of Scripture except Romans 13, apparently. I don’t know if I find Don’s reading to be entirely sound, though it is one that I referenced in my original comment.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 85/86: I knew that I would get in trouble trying to make the point I was making so briefly, but I didn’t have the time to flesh it out better. Your point is well taken, and, as usual, well spoken and thorough.

    It would have been more accurate to say that these verses are not a CENTRAL biblical teaching, rather than that they were not a MAJOR biblical teaching. I was not implying that they are minor, or that obedience to the civil authorities is not important. I believe in submitting to civil authority. I do it, without hesitation and without limitation. I pay my taxes, even those I consider unjust or unfair, and I don’t cheat. I comply with gun laws, etc. And I believe the verses you cite are intended to convey to Christians that they are to respect civil authority and be good citizens, because that is a good testimony for Christ and furthers His kingdom.

    My point, though, is that an important part of Christ’s teaching regarding taxes, and also, I believe, the context of Romans 13, was to emphasize that Christ’s kingdom is not for this earth. Many early Christians were under the false impression that Christ’s arrival on earth was for the purpose of instituting His kingdom here and now. He and Paul, in their respective passages, are disabusing them of that notion and outlook. Passages concerning civil authority need to be read with that context in mind. They are, indeed, instructive for us today, when we sometimes tend to obsess ourselves with worldly politics and issues, or think that we can make a better world here on earth using earthly means.

    However, it is also clear from Scripture that there are times when we must disobey civil authority for the purpose of furthering God’s purposes. Such instances must be carefully considered, and covered in prayer. Disobedience of civil authority generally should be open (civil disobedience), rather than secret, with full expectation that consequences will be paid. As with the case of meat offered to idols, the line is not the same for everyone, and disobedience should not be considered unless your conscience is clear on the point, after prayer and much time in the Word. By the same token, while I believe it is inevitable that those on both the rebel and British side sinned during the American Revolution, I don’t think it is fair or reasonable to condemn those on the rebel side for their disobedience of civil authority. We simply are not in a position to judge those things, as we similarly are not in a position to judge Bonhoeffer and his actions against Hitler in WWII.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 85/86: I knew that I would get in trouble trying to make the point I was making so briefly, but I didn’t have the time to flesh it out better. Your point is well taken, and, as usual, well spoken and thorough.

    It would have been more accurate to say that these verses are not a CENTRAL biblical teaching, rather than that they were not a MAJOR biblical teaching. I was not implying that they are minor, or that obedience to the civil authorities is not important. I believe in submitting to civil authority. I do it, without hesitation and without limitation. I pay my taxes, even those I consider unjust or unfair, and I don’t cheat. I comply with gun laws, etc. And I believe the verses you cite are intended to convey to Christians that they are to respect civil authority and be good citizens, because that is a good testimony for Christ and furthers His kingdom.

    My point, though, is that an important part of Christ’s teaching regarding taxes, and also, I believe, the context of Romans 13, was to emphasize that Christ’s kingdom is not for this earth. Many early Christians were under the false impression that Christ’s arrival on earth was for the purpose of instituting His kingdom here and now. He and Paul, in their respective passages, are disabusing them of that notion and outlook. Passages concerning civil authority need to be read with that context in mind. They are, indeed, instructive for us today, when we sometimes tend to obsess ourselves with worldly politics and issues, or think that we can make a better world here on earth using earthly means.

    However, it is also clear from Scripture that there are times when we must disobey civil authority for the purpose of furthering God’s purposes. Such instances must be carefully considered, and covered in prayer. Disobedience of civil authority generally should be open (civil disobedience), rather than secret, with full expectation that consequences will be paid. As with the case of meat offered to idols, the line is not the same for everyone, and disobedience should not be considered unless your conscience is clear on the point, after prayer and much time in the Word. By the same token, while I believe it is inevitable that those on both the rebel and British side sinned during the American Revolution, I don’t think it is fair or reasonable to condemn those on the rebel side for their disobedience of civil authority. We simply are not in a position to judge those things, as we similarly are not in a position to judge Bonhoeffer and his actions against Hitler in WWII.

  • DonS

    And further to my comment @ 88, submission to political authority should in no way be equated to an inability to engage in political dissent. We have every right, as Americans and Christians, to work within the legal structure we have in our representative democracy to effect change through voting, funding, and engaging in our right of free speech. May it ever be.

  • DonS

    And further to my comment @ 88, submission to political authority should in no way be equated to an inability to engage in political dissent. We have every right, as Americans and Christians, to work within the legal structure we have in our representative democracy to effect change through voting, funding, and engaging in our right of free speech. May it ever be.

  • kerner

    I don’t know whether anyone is still reading this thread, but if anyone is still interested and wants to know what the actual Lutheran Confessions say about Romans 13 and the Christian’s proper relationship to his government, I strongly suggest that you read Article XVI of The Augsburg Confession, and the congruent article XVI of the Apology. The read tha Treatice on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.

    Article XVI of both the AC and the apology encourage the Christian to be active in his society. While Christians may have been a small powerless minority in early NT times, Lutheran saw no reason why Christians should intentionally remain so. The Anabaptist proponents of Christian withdrawal into small theocratic communal societies are condemned as heretical. Christians are not encouraged to be passively at the mercy of the authorities. Rather, christians who have the aptitude for it are ncouraged to join the military, go into business, and/or act as magistrates and politicians. That is, Christians are encouraged to BE in positions of authority.

    And yet, the TOTPAPOTP approaches this subject from a different angle. Catholics may have to look past the harsh language directed at the then current pope and the papacy in general, but what is important to this discussion is that a significant part of the Treatice is devoted to condemning the pope for claiming to “wield both swords”; meaning that the pope, while claiming to wield the highest autority in the Church, was also wielding great political power and trying to govern a secular realm. The Treatice condemns the pope for this in the strongest of terms. Not only does the Treatice not call for Christians living under the pope’s political authority to submit to it, the Treatice calls for secular princes to throw off any “tyranical” political authority the Pope held over them, as the pope had usurped that authority.

    Reading all these documents together, one gets a pretty clear picture of Lutheran “two kingdom” theology. We are not to try to establish theocratic political kingdoms on small or large scales. Rather, we are to serve as active and good citizens of both kingdoms.

    One also can understand the political events surrounding the Reformation in the light of these parts of the confessions. If Luther and his fellow reformers had meekly accepted martyrdom, as Hus and many others had done before, there would have been no Reformation. But the Lutheran reformers (and I suspect the Calvinist reformers too) appealed to and worked with the friendly secular rulers of their day to modify the existing political power structure, which did involve displacing some formerly powerful people and institutions by military force. Like the American Revolutionaries who would come later, the Lutheran reformers encouraged the replaceent of one regime with a new one, but that new regime was composed largely of people who had held some authority under the old one. Because of this, the legitimate functions of government autority listed in Romans 13 continued to function in areas in which the reformers arguments were accepted.

    No wonder the Lutheran Confessions encourage Christians to participate in the fields of business, politics and the military. If you are going to displace both pope and emperor, and replace their former political authority with a new political organization, you are going to need people with money, political skills, and guns on your side.

  • kerner

    I don’t know whether anyone is still reading this thread, but if anyone is still interested and wants to know what the actual Lutheran Confessions say about Romans 13 and the Christian’s proper relationship to his government, I strongly suggest that you read Article XVI of The Augsburg Confession, and the congruent article XVI of the Apology. The read tha Treatice on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.

    Article XVI of both the AC and the apology encourage the Christian to be active in his society. While Christians may have been a small powerless minority in early NT times, Lutheran saw no reason why Christians should intentionally remain so. The Anabaptist proponents of Christian withdrawal into small theocratic communal societies are condemned as heretical. Christians are not encouraged to be passively at the mercy of the authorities. Rather, christians who have the aptitude for it are ncouraged to join the military, go into business, and/or act as magistrates and politicians. That is, Christians are encouraged to BE in positions of authority.

    And yet, the TOTPAPOTP approaches this subject from a different angle. Catholics may have to look past the harsh language directed at the then current pope and the papacy in general, but what is important to this discussion is that a significant part of the Treatice is devoted to condemning the pope for claiming to “wield both swords”; meaning that the pope, while claiming to wield the highest autority in the Church, was also wielding great political power and trying to govern a secular realm. The Treatice condemns the pope for this in the strongest of terms. Not only does the Treatice not call for Christians living under the pope’s political authority to submit to it, the Treatice calls for secular princes to throw off any “tyranical” political authority the Pope held over them, as the pope had usurped that authority.

    Reading all these documents together, one gets a pretty clear picture of Lutheran “two kingdom” theology. We are not to try to establish theocratic political kingdoms on small or large scales. Rather, we are to serve as active and good citizens of both kingdoms.

    One also can understand the political events surrounding the Reformation in the light of these parts of the confessions. If Luther and his fellow reformers had meekly accepted martyrdom, as Hus and many others had done before, there would have been no Reformation. But the Lutheran reformers (and I suspect the Calvinist reformers too) appealed to and worked with the friendly secular rulers of their day to modify the existing political power structure, which did involve displacing some formerly powerful people and institutions by military force. Like the American Revolutionaries who would come later, the Lutheran reformers encouraged the replaceent of one regime with a new one, but that new regime was composed largely of people who had held some authority under the old one. Because of this, the legitimate functions of government autority listed in Romans 13 continued to function in areas in which the reformers arguments were accepted.

    No wonder the Lutheran Confessions encourage Christians to participate in the fields of business, politics and the military. If you are going to displace both pope and emperor, and replace their former political authority with a new political organization, you are going to need people with money, political skills, and guns on your side.

  • ELB

    Maybe some are following this still, but In my view the discussion still misses the point at which it started.

    The question of when we can as citizens rebel or disobey is an interesting one, but this thread began with the issue of the GOVERNMENT caught disobeying the law. The question is, “How are usurpers brought to account?”

  • ELB

    Maybe some are following this still, but In my view the discussion still misses the point at which it started.

    The question of when we can as citizens rebel or disobey is an interesting one, but this thread began with the issue of the GOVERNMENT caught disobeying the law. The question is, “How are usurpers brought to account?”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Between having the in-laws visiting and a general malaise perhaps brought on by a short heat wave, I haven’t had it in me to reply on this thread, and yet I feel compelled to do so, if only after everyone has stopped reading it, maybe.

    Cincinnatus (@87), you say that “[you] have read [my] comments and understand [my] position”, and yet you go on to ask questions like “what if the government required me to murder someone?”, the answer to which has been given more than once above: when earthly authorities compel us to do evil, we must obey God rather than men. Come on.

    As for the assertion that “since seizing power is apparently illegitimate, and since all political power is, at some point in the past, seized (or displaces a previous power), then Christians may literally not participate in government,” that’s too clever by a third or so. Let’s revisit Romans 13 one more time: “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” And “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” So as long as you are submitting to the authorities that exist, you are not going against the Law. In what way, then, could you possibly argue that participating in government — say, running for or holding office — is “rebeling against the authorities”? It seems quite obvious that doing so is actually abiding by the authorities, not rebelling against them. So as to your “kicker” question of “aren’t the adversarial politics of democracy themselves a refusal to ‘submit’ to current authority?”, the answer is, simply: No. I agree with Don (@89) on this.

    As for Don’s comment (@88), I’m not sure what you mean when you say “it is also clear from Scripture that there are times when we must disobey civil authority for the purpose of furthering God’s purposes.” Are you referring to Acts 5:29? Then we agree. But phrasing it as “furthering God’s purposes” is a little odd. It is one thing to “obey God”, which can easily be measured against God’s commandments. But that is not the same as what you said, and I’m interested to know if you intentionally phrased it that way.

    As for those in the American Revolution, I’m not “condemning” them on an individual basis. Perhaps many individuals on both sides were doing their best to submit to the authorities, a tricky thing to do in the middle of a revolution or civil war. Christians acting in good faith may have arrived at different conclusions for a time there. (It would be ridiculous, of course, to argue that the same confusion continues to this day as to whether the British Crown is an authority over us or not.) And yet it is obviously true that there was, at some level, a rebellion against the authorities that God had established. Think of it this way: is a child rebelling against his parents if he listens to his mom when she says he doesn’t have to obey his father? I’d have a hard time saying either way. I would think the child might, in good conscience, obey either parent in such a situation. And yet it is obvious that such a situation is itself a product of sin and rebellion — not so much the child’s, but the wife’s.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Between having the in-laws visiting and a general malaise perhaps brought on by a short heat wave, I haven’t had it in me to reply on this thread, and yet I feel compelled to do so, if only after everyone has stopped reading it, maybe.

    Cincinnatus (@87), you say that “[you] have read [my] comments and understand [my] position”, and yet you go on to ask questions like “what if the government required me to murder someone?”, the answer to which has been given more than once above: when earthly authorities compel us to do evil, we must obey God rather than men. Come on.

    As for the assertion that “since seizing power is apparently illegitimate, and since all political power is, at some point in the past, seized (or displaces a previous power), then Christians may literally not participate in government,” that’s too clever by a third or so. Let’s revisit Romans 13 one more time: “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” And “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” So as long as you are submitting to the authorities that exist, you are not going against the Law. In what way, then, could you possibly argue that participating in government — say, running for or holding office — is “rebeling against the authorities”? It seems quite obvious that doing so is actually abiding by the authorities, not rebelling against them. So as to your “kicker” question of “aren’t the adversarial politics of democracy themselves a refusal to ‘submit’ to current authority?”, the answer is, simply: No. I agree with Don (@89) on this.

    As for Don’s comment (@88), I’m not sure what you mean when you say “it is also clear from Scripture that there are times when we must disobey civil authority for the purpose of furthering God’s purposes.” Are you referring to Acts 5:29? Then we agree. But phrasing it as “furthering God’s purposes” is a little odd. It is one thing to “obey God”, which can easily be measured against God’s commandments. But that is not the same as what you said, and I’m interested to know if you intentionally phrased it that way.

    As for those in the American Revolution, I’m not “condemning” them on an individual basis. Perhaps many individuals on both sides were doing their best to submit to the authorities, a tricky thing to do in the middle of a revolution or civil war. Christians acting in good faith may have arrived at different conclusions for a time there. (It would be ridiculous, of course, to argue that the same confusion continues to this day as to whether the British Crown is an authority over us or not.) And yet it is obviously true that there was, at some level, a rebellion against the authorities that God had established. Think of it this way: is a child rebelling against his parents if he listens to his mom when she says he doesn’t have to obey his father? I’d have a hard time saying either way. I would think the child might, in good conscience, obey either parent in such a situation. And yet it is obvious that such a situation is itself a product of sin and rebellion — not so much the child’s, but the wife’s.


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