No, I’m not intending to extol the sort of government that we find ourselves under at this time. Corruption has risen to the point that nothing less than the word fascist properly describes the sick alliance between the powers of money and government that have united to rape the American people of their wealth and remaining liberty.
There never has been a righteous government on this earth because the men that occupy the seats of authority have never been righteous men. And it can’t be because only one righteous man ever lived—Jesus Christ. Fully man. Fully God. And he did not come to rule the world. In his own words, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Being fully God means that Christ is indeed sovereign over his creation. He was the supreme ruler before the world. He was totally in charge when he spoke those words to Pontius Pilate, and he will be when he returns. And it pleases him to place earthly men in authority over the affairs of this world. They are not free to rule in any manner they wish. They must answer to him. They are charged with the restraint of evil. To seek the common good of those they have been given rule over. The fact that they do not do so in full compliance with his charge does not diminish their office. But it leads to a lot of confusion among Christians. Especially those who are also prone to call themselves libertarian in their political and philosophical leanings.
Just like Pontius Pilate, we don’t get the distinction between Christ’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of Man, this tumultuous period when history awaits the final and ultimate consummation of God’s providential plans. That day when this world will be no more. When the Kingdom of God will drive out the last remnants of sin and this fallen world and all that we understand as life and existence will go up in the flames and fires of God’s judgement. There will be no confusion then.
Like Pilate, we fail to understand our own fallen natures. In the very presence of the Creator, himself, Pilate knew that he was choosing to pronounce judgement on an innocent man, even if he didn’t perceive that it was God, himself, that stood before him. His decision was personal and political. Selfish. He sought only to maintain his rule and avoid the attention of Caesar by quelling a potential uprising.
Christians have often failed to make the distinction. They’ve often failed to understand their true and highest loyalty to the Kingdom of God, and how they likewise are to live in the Kingdom of Man while waiting for that day when the Kingdom of God would eclipse any form of human rule or existence on this planet. Some have been driven to asceticism and monasticism, deciding to separate themselves from this world as their answer. Others have sought dominion over the world, taking up the ways and means of this world to bring heaven literally down to earth. The Crusades stand out as one of the darkest moments. Some, like the Anabaptists, have refused to recognize the validity of any worldly ruler and rose up in rebellion against such rulers. Others seek to transform this world through political means. And we are witnessing the failure of that strategy as Christian political activism loses to an increasingly post-Christian society and government in America.
Such efforts are doomed to failure. As they should be, for they are contrary to the very plans of God that are laid out clearly in the Bible. Nothing will prevail against God’s redemptive plans for his Kingdom. Not Satan. And not the errant and confused Christians that we often are.
Man rebelled in the Garden of Eden and was cast out into a fallen world—a world filled with thorns, thistles, and himself. Death, disease, poverty, and war accompanied him. But God graciously did not leave man alone in his fallenness. He restrained the full force of our own evil by establishing authorities to provide some presence of protection, justice, and provision for the common good of all men.
In Romans 13, Paul writes of God’s provision of earthly authorities, calling them ministers of God. And indeed they are, even if their actions prove that they are also evil, fallen men. Likewise, earthly authority has another personalty and role. Only a generation after Paul, John writes of the other nature of earthly rulers in Revelation—the harlot Babylon. Satan uses earthly authority to persecute the Church, to attack the Kingdom of God. And history reveals both natures of rulers. At times, as in our own, Christians enjoy the protection of government, both as citizens in this world and in their ability to still worship God and to carry out their charged duties of preaching the Law and the Gospel. It is under attack, but we still retain the general ability to be loyal to God without interference of the government. It may not always be so.
Fail to understand God’s plans and we will fail to properly understand government and it’s God-given role. It’s abuses do not usurp it’s office. Nor will they go unpunished by God. Nor is the Christian or any man free to rebel against authority merely because it is not acting in complete accordance with God’s character and revealed will.
The hard truth is that sinful man is incapable of restraining his own evil. Been there done that, history shows. As we learn in Judges, it leads to us living in a manner that seems right to us. And the manner that seems right to a sinful man is . . . sinful. In the days of Noah, God dealt firmly and justly with the world that man had created by destroying it, preserving only that life that was safely passaged on the ark. We have been graciously promised that he will not deal with us in such a manner again, until the end of days, when he brings final judgement upon a deserving mankind. And not without mercy. God has provided the ultimate ark in Jesus Christ, in whom can rest safely all those who trust in his finished work upon the Cross for their passage.
In the interim we remain incapable of living with each other without self-destruction and the evil that would accompany it. And we prove it everyday, as our degenerate societies and war make evident. While bad governments can aggravate the condition, the root lies not in rulers, but in the nature of who we are—sinful and evil men. As written so succinctly in the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 5, we are prone to hate God and our neighbor. We are not prone to carry out the libertarian ethic of non-aggression. Nor to do all that we say we will do.
Accepting the wisdom and provision of God through worldly authority does not mean that we are oblivious or unconcerned, as Christians, as to the type of activity of our rulers. God provides no dictate as to the forms or fashion of government. Indeed, if we wish to be obedient to the Laws of God given in the Decalogue, the 10 Commandments, we should be actively concerned with the good of our neighbor. And that concern rightly expresses itself as we act and live in the world around us.
Therein lies the opportunity to pursue our libertarian ethics and philosophy. To peacefully seek to influence the form and actions of government in a way that works to the common good of our families and our neighbor. As Peter writes, we are to live as free men. That freedom is not founded upon any limited freedom that this world has to offer, but the ultimate and total freedom that we have in Christ as we acknowledge him as our supreme ruler. As we honor all men, as it pleases him that we do. As we live in a manner befitting our Master, Christ.
And what of times that are, frankly, hard times? We have ample precedent in the examples of Paul and Peter as they dealt with the harsh times of Roman rule and the perverse and morally-degenerate society of their day. They honored rulers as they recognized their God-given authority over the matters of the Kingdom of Man. And they lived in obedience to God, in the areas that rulers demanded wrongful obedience to themselves, instead, leaving to God to do the accounting for wrongs. Both men would later lose their lives to the very unjust rulers to whom they rightly gave honor. Yet they did not challenge their right to rule in the Kingdom of Man, but firmly rested in the rule and justice of their highest ruler, God.
There is a relief in the failure of Christian political activism in our nation. That it may serve to turn the vision of Christians back to the Biblical distinctions of the two kingdoms. That Christians will more clearly see that they greatest influence that they can have on society will be incidental to returning to their mission of preaching the Law and the Gospel—the effects of being both salt and light.
If there are truths within the libertarian ethic and philosophy, it is because they are founded upon God’s command to love our neighbor and in the awareness that all men are the image-bearers of God. As we seek his best, we seek their best. We uphold their rights to person and property and seek that society and government uphold those rights. Our efforts to educate our neighbors and our rulers to the evils of the warfare and welfare state become acts of love, kindness, and compassion.