Who’s in Charge Here?

This post is partly prompted by all the political hoopla in our country as of late as well as a video I watched online. The video was called “Is it a Sin to Vote for a Mormon on Roman Catholic?”[1] It was a round-table discussion with Al Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson and Robert Godfrey. The intention of this post is not to answer this question either way, but it is to interact with some things said in the answer as well as other aspects of biblical political thought.

Al Mohler was the first to answer, with an emphatic “No!” He then said things like “We’re electing a President as a Constitutional officer, not a pastor” and “We need to look at a person, look at them compositely, understand that we are electing a secular office, to hold a Constitutional function…” It is precisely these statements that got me to thinking and prompted this post.

Secular Office?

This part will challenge Mohler’s view that the civil magistrate is a “secular office.” The thirteenth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the church at Rome establishes the fact (universally accepted by Christians) that God has providentially ordained the civil magistrate in his position (v. 1). Paul then uses very explicit words when describing the identity of the civil magistrate as well as his duties. In verse four he writes, “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (KJV).

Twice in that verse as well as one more time in the next verse Paul describes the civil magistrate as a “minster of God.” This is no tall order. That particular title is not ascribed to just anyone. Along with that title Paul explains the basic duties of the ruler: to bear the sword against the evildoer. The epistle writer very clearly states, “…for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

By What Standard?

Based on the above texts, we see that the civil magistrate is a minister of God, put in place by God, to bear the sword against the evildoer. It seems to be that Christians today universally agree that God has ordained these rulers, but it also seems like they do not believe he provides a standard by which to rule. What should the God-appointed ruler use to rule? What does he use to be able to discern who is an “evildoer?”

My argument would be that the God-appointed ruler should rule according to God’s law-word. The Psalmist says,”The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalm 19:17 KJV). The Apostle Paul proclaimed that one of the uses of the Old Testament law is the restraint of criminal behavior (1 Tim. 1:8-10). There is a presupposition in the Romans text that the ruler will rule according to God’s law. The ruler Paul is writing about is not assumed to be one with no regard for God. All people, believers and unbelievers alike, are to adhere to God’s law for ethics. Those who choose to deny the validity of the law of Christ, especially the civil magistrate, will be judged for it.

What About the Separation of Church and State?

I can almost hear the screams from Christians and non-Christians alike objecting to the points I have brought up here based on the idea of the separation of Church and State. Let me state very clearly here that I affirm that the separation of Church and State is an idea found to be most biblical. In this world, the church and the state are two completely separate entities. The Church shall not govern matters of the State, and the State shall not govern matters of the Church. While I do affirm the separation of Church and State, I cannot affirm the separation between State and God.

As stated before, I believe the Church and the State to be two separate entities, however I believe they are two institutions equally subject to Almighty God. The Word of God has instructions to help govern both of these institutions. God has laid out precepts on how the Church and State should be run. For example, the Romans passage referenced above tells us that the State has the duty to bear the sword (capital punishment) against the evildoer (those unrepentant law breakers). The Church shall in no way attempt to punish with this sword (put anyone to death for breaking law). The Church is to implement the Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) to preach the gospel and call the nations to repentance. These are two different duties, for two different entities, both laid out in the Holy Writ. There is a biblical separation between the Church and the State.

Conclusion

I have a sneaking suspicion that my views presented here will garner hostility from both sides of the Christian non-Christian debate. I sort of wrote this post on a whim, and since it is not a research paper, it is not the most exhaustive breakdown of the role of religion and politics. The basic gist is that God supersedes all, and all things must be made subject to Him. He is Lord of all, including politics. I will end with these words from Dr. Greg. Bahnsen:

Those who do not favor taking God’s law as the ultimate standard for civil morality and         public justice will be forced to substitute some other criterion. The civil magistrate cannot function without some standard of good and evil. If that standard is not the revealed law of God, then in some form or expression it will have to be a law of men — the standard of self-law or autonomy. Men must choose in their civil affairs to be governed by God’s law (theonomy), to be ruled by tyrants, or acquiesce to increasing social degeneracy.[2]

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/it-sin-vote-mormon-or-roman-catholic/
  2. “What is Theonomy?” Dr. Greg Bahnsen http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pe180.htm 
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