Scripture: Romans 13
In today’s world the question as to the origin and nature of government is not an academic matter! Once upon a time such people as Friedrich Engels wrote dull and often ridiculed treatises on the subject. Today millions are affected by the application of his ideas to practical affairs in such countries as Russia, China, Hungary, etc. What do we as Christians guided by the Word say about human government?
1 – The Origin of Government
“Originally mankind was undivided, and we do not read of a government until after the Flood. But then the institution of capital punishment demands an agency which is charged with the right and duty to punish the murderer with death…” Rom. 13:1 says that the powers of government are ordained of God. This brings us to the very basic idea of Christian office or vocation. All legitimate authority on earth must be obeyed, even though the person of the office-bearer refuses to acknowledge God’s ordination.
Discuss: What is office in Scripture. Why is this concept so important? Is there a real difference between official and personal life, or ought we to be official in our personal life. and personal in our official life? Can we really respect the office when we do not respect the man? When is a given government legitimate?
2 – The Dignity of Government
Government is an expression of the kingly office, and this office is therefore related to Jesus Christ, the bearer of all authority, Matthew 28:18; Mark 16:19. The church confesses that “Christ ascended into heaven for this end, that He might there appear as Head of His Church, by whom the Father governs all things” (Heidelberg Catechism, q. 50). Christians have deep respect for government, therefore, and do all they can to promote well-doing by government authorities.
Discuss: Why does the idea that politics is something inherently dirty and corrupt persist among many? If Christ is the office-bearer, may we allow political activity to proceed without recognition of Him? There is a church in the U.S.A. which believes that Christ’s authority ought to be written into the Constitution of this country. Do you agree? Is prayer immaterial to the conduct of a good political party or the conduct of government business?
3 –The Government and Capital Punishment
We have pointed to the beginnings of government in connection with the institution of capital punishment, Genesis 9:5,6. This passage indicates that God requires capital punishment as a rule and as an obligation of justice. To carry out this rule is to serve as an instrument of God. The reason for this rule (“in the image of God made he man”) indicates that we may never kill except under His authority and commission for man is the bearer of divine dignity, and whosoever slays His ambassador violates the very majesty of God.
From the institution of capital punishment follows the right of war. True it is that war is awful and that the believer is often moved to pray that it might be averted or ended. Yet war is not as great an evil as injustice and murder, for these are an assault upon the majesty of God.
Discuss: Is the argument that capital punishment has not deterred crime an essential refutation of the propriety of this practice? When someone puts a murderer to death in fulfillment of proper sentence upon crime committed, is he doing something for which he is personally liable? Does the prospect of wholesale annihilation rule out the right to wage war (for instance, could the U.S.A. conceivably attack another country using nuclear weapons, which might mean the total destruction of that nation)? Is disarmament biblically justifiable if a nation must be prepared to resist the law-breaker on both personal and international levels?