Revisiting the Christian and State Relationship.

When we left off, Davies was stating the reasons why he felt that anarchism and Christianity are so mutually irreconcilable that it is impossible to do so. One reason he gave was that he thinks that the Bible teaches an unmistakable hierarchy of authority, which must be anathema to the thoroughgoing anarchist. Included among his examples is the idea that the governments of earth, including Rome, are organized as part of a divinely-ordained hierarchy.

Here, however, he mistakes Paul’s purpose in Romans 12 and 13. (Space does not here allow of a larger description of Bible teaching regarding nations and states. Suffice it to say, it is well nigh universally negative with reference to the state.) But back to Romans 12 and 13. Paul does not introduce the governing authorities in order to claim their brutality is part of God’s master plan. Paul is in no way arguing for their legitimacy. Rather, he is using the brutality of Rome as an opportunity to apply the Christian principle of loving all, and not just those we prefer to love.

At Romans 12:14 he reminds the Christian that he is called to love those who curse him. Then, in 13:1 he gives the governing authorities illustration, and at 13:7 he tells us to fear those whom are to be feared. What we actually owe each other, is love. The “governing authorities” are included here as Paul’s example of those people who are the most difficult to love. How we relate to abusive, violent, corrupt, coercive authorities is a test case for us in terms of how willing we are to apply God’s command to love our enemies. In 13:8 he goes for the overall principle: we are to love all.

Back to 13:1, to “be subject to” Rome does not suggest at all the legitimization of Rome. It is completely consonant with anarchism’s not-doingness and with Jesus’ persistent refusal to take Rome seriously that he gives the instruction to submit. Rome really doesn’t matter; it is here today and gone tomorrow. In the grand scheme of things, earthly governments are transitory. To take take them seriously is to do them the disservice of adding to their self-importance.
As for worldly governments being “instituted” by God, we should recall exactly God’s opinion—which is that earthly government is a rejection of divine government. God warned His people NOT to switch to an earthly king (1 Samuel 8-12), but they insisted anyway. So what did God do? He let them have what they wanted (like the quail in another place).

In that sense—that He let them have what they insisted upon (with its attendant consequences) only, did He “institute” that government. It is the same with all governments. In every case, human government is thoroughly unjust and disastrous. It is a reflection of the satanic plan of the rule-of-the-mightiest, the very example that God is permitting all creation to see and which He is running His counter-demonstration against.

Are these governments servants of God? Sure. In the same sense that the Assyrians who attacked Israel were the servants of God (see Isaiah 10:5-7, 12, 13; 13:3-5; 45, etc.). If we read Romans 13:1-7 right, we will see that it neither legitimizes Rome nor legitimizes resistance against Rome.

Remember, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18, 19). And Paul agrees. Remember, the passage in Romans 13:1-7 is found in the wider setting of Romans chapters 12-14. Recall that in 12:1 Paul has urged the reader to NOT be conformed to the shape of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of his mind. If his purpose in 13:1-7 is going to be to urge the opposite, that the believer conform to the shape of the world, then how absurd to start by urging him not to conform to it!

The earthly mind would look at the injustices of Rome and be prepared to start a revolution against it; the transformed mind is ready instead to trust in God and to let the significance of the moment fall under a different analysis. He steps back from high time preference attitudes, and in faith trusts God and the longer-term approach, the low time preference viewpoint.

Finally, let us recall that this same Paul tells us that we are to fight against the authorities that are enthroned in heaven (Ephesians 6:12). These are, of course, the fallen authorities, the fallen angels who have rebelled against God. Satan’s claim in Matthew four that he has control over all the nations of the world, and his control over them demonstrated in Revelation 17 and 18, shows that there is a connection between these fallen angel powers and the power held by earthly governments.

But we must hear Paul in one more place. In Colossians 2:13-15 he tells us that Jesus conquers evil and death and that He has stripped the dominions and authorities of earth of their power. Yes, God has permitted these evil powers, for a time, to threaten and do violence and impose upon man; yes, Satan has been permitted to offer a demonstration of what coercive government is like. In the sense that God has allowed this to go on, that He has not—yet—evicted the demonic squatters from the land He has made, in that sense, yes, He has instituted the powers that be.

But all power is relative, and Jesus has triumphed over these very powers openly at the cross and will do so ultimately through His own followers (Genesis 3:15 cf. Romans 16:20). Which brings us at last to the realization that submission to the higher powers rally means submission to the power that is above all other powers—the power of Christ. Paul did not propose that Rome was legitimate in itself. Rather, he insisted that ultimately, God is the believer’s authority. The believer knows that God is in control and that He is using the believer’s consent to powerlessness in demonstration of the persuasive goodness of responsible, non-coercive living.

In the above, I have added little if anything, to the arguments of Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy, pp. 196-204, and Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, pp. 77-85, from which I have here drawn heavily. Romans 13:1-7 is far from the conclusive argument that Davies thinks. If he has misinterpreted Paul, so have many Christians for many years in the same places. Still, as previously noted, we must be careful not to take as examples of God’s government the very entities which He has warned us are its antithesis. Davies is not the first to fall into this trap. When we let all the Bible inform us, we see an anarchistic river running all through the Bible. Romans 13 does not contradict all the rest, but complements it.

In our next installment, we address the last portion of Davies’ first point, and if space permits, proceed to his second and third points. . .


Comments on: "A Case for Christian Anarchy, pt. 3" (4)

  1. Scott said:

    I too have taken a long time in replying back! Getting to the point…

    That man has repeatedly failed to do something right, to me, is not a valid argument. Name one good church or family that doesn’t have problems and failures. Everything led by man is wrought with failure. But mysteriously, God has chosen to delegate certain authorities to man.

    The founders of America had a very good understanding of the Bible. I’m learning more and more but we would be very remiss if we were to throw out their insight and try and reach new conclusions. I have come to the conclusion that the failure of the American government was a result of a failure of the church to preach the gospel (just as the founding of America was a result of the reformation). For more info on that, see Daniel J. Ford’s Liberty and Property.

    What you call “lens reading” is what theologians call letting scripture interpret scripture. We let the plain easy-to-understand passages help us interpret other harder to understand passages. Rom 13 and 1Pet2:13 seem very clear to me. I think you have to have pretty strong evidence from other scriptures to say they mean that God is just tolerating government and that government is actually evil. I’ve read my Bible through but didn’t get the sense of anti-state you refer to. Could you refer to specific passages that justify re-interpreting Rom13 and 1Pet 2:13?

  2. Dear Editor,

    I am fascinated that one could read the Bible and even browse through sound theologians commentary and conclude that God is in fact against all forms of earthly government. Do you totally reject that God has delegated some of his authority to the family, the church and the state and believe that each individual answers directly and only to God? How do I have the authority to spank my children?

    I agree that the Bible very frequently speaks negatively against the state. But have you considered that it is against the perverted form, the form that tries to usurp the authority of the family and the church. While I detest and do not support the current US government, you have to admit you really had to stretch to say Paul doesn’t legitimize government when he says, “The authorities exist have been established by God” in Rom 13:1.

    Please chew on the following:

    1) God has instituted a legitimate government. But as with all things where fallen man is involved, it can become perverted. In fact, Romans 13 helps us see that the illegitimate government is the one whose rulers makes those who do right afraid.

    2) Our duties as Christians is to denounce all perversions of Gods law (whether it be in the church, family, or state) and to promote and uphold a proper government.

    3) The Bible speaks against the perverted form of government, not all forms. Starting with Nimrod and ending in Revelations, God is at war with Babylon.

    I am with you in that we need to fight this perverted state but not that we need no government. To say that we need no earthly authority is to say that evil need no earthly restraint and I know my own heart well enough to know that isn’t true!

    • Dear sgeer,
      Good to hear from you. (I have not had opportunity to post or approve posts for awhile!) I thank you for gentle tone even though you say you disagree. You certainly offer a great deal that we do agree upon! I hope that you will keep in mind that the Christian anarchist is not against order, or government per se, as in the form of god’s government. De facto we are for God’s government. It is when we come to non-divine government that we recognise that it is alien. I think that you are confusing what God permits with what He actually endorses. Romans 13:1 simply says that the authorities that exist are permitted to exist by God. He made the universe; He determines what he permits or does not permit in it. It is as true that He permits theft, murder, adultery, etc., at least temporarily. He does not endorse theft, murder, or adultery. He permits it temporarily, even as He tells us plainly in His Ten Commandments that these are morally wrong behaviors. If He intervened whenever someone thieved, murdered, or committed adultery, the universe would never see that these things are wrong, for we would never experience the consequences of them. God does not propose to remove from humankind–ever–our free will.

      Of course you have authority to spank your children if you must. God has granted parents authority to discipline their children and condemns us if we do not discipline them. (There are more ways than spanking.)

      I wonder whether you can name one good government in all of history that was human led? Just one. I wish it were so. You wish it were so. But neither of us can name even one. All nation-states abuse power. It is not that the nation-state can become perverted, but that in every case it has become perverted. Please do not think that I suppose that if we merely eradicated the nation-state, our problems would be solved and we would live in some kind of utopia. Fallen human nature guarantees that that would not occur. I guess what I am looking for from you is a sample or samples of what you call legitimate or unperverted government. My suggestion for you, is that if you read your Bible through from Genesis to Revelation, you will find the overall trend, overwhelmingly. to be anti-state. Whenever I study the Bible, I try to find if there is a “weight of evidence” position. I usually find that if there are 100 passages in the Bible that refer to something, that three or four of them will seem to disagree with the other 96. I further find, that if I let the 96 texts provide a tentative “consensus” position, that the 3 or 4 apparently contradictory texts can usually be harmonized with them without violence, resulting in arriving at a position that is fully consistent with itself.

      One last point. We tend to do “lens” reading, that is, to deal with a doctrine or a topic through one primary passage. We let that passage serve as the control for our basic understanding. However, if we are mistaken at the lens we shall misfocus from the beginning. If we are reading that key passage with mistaken glasses from the beginning, we will arrive at skewed results. If we start with Romans 13 and then look at everything, we become confused. If we look at the whole trend of Scripture and then look at the few passages that we have thought of differently, we usually come out in a much better place in the end.

      Finally, I would ask you to consider the possible damage we do to God’s cause if we have historically been wrong about how we have seen Romans 13. It may be that many who otherwise would have looked more closely at the “Christianity option” would have.

  3. i have a gonstic view here at my web site i tell of our fathers will not of these teachings of these dog colored preist rabbis and bishops there books are curupted with egoes of flesh and mammon they have curupted the very hearrrt of these books and letters of santan our brother Christ Jesus was no lord or master he preached you have free will to Fallow our Father OR MAMMON THE STUPID MAN MAKES HIS OWN HELL in the Garden may our father keep you

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