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. . .