THE BIBLE AND GOOD GOVERNMENT

 

BY

GARY RAY BRANSCOME

 

While there are many who think that freedom can only be preserved by a government that is morally neutral, what are tyranny and slavery other than moral evils? And, what are governments that tyrannize and enslave other than immoral governments? True freedom, the kind of freedom that comes from God, is not freedom from morality but freedom founded upon morality.

 

God instituted government because He loves and cares for people, not because He wants rulers to tyrannize and oppress them (Proverbs 3:31, Romans 13:3, Psalm 72:4). If we did not have a government we would live in constant fear of being assaulted, robbed, or killed. And, if some in our country live in such fear today it is only because our government has drifted so far away from the moral foundations upon which it was founded.

It is true that government existed before the Bible was written. For that reason, it does not derive its authority from the Bible, but from the law God has written on the heart (Romans 2:15). However, while the law written on the heart should lead rulers to administer their authority in a way that is reasonable and just, it can easily be denied, distorted, and twisted to serve the ends of evil and selfish men. That is why God gave Moses the Ten Commandments! And, those commandments were intended to be the basis for a system of government in which the highest authority is the law, rather than men. Therefore, I want to stress the fact that the Ten Commandments were given to Moses (as the head of the state), not to Aaron (who was head of the church). And, those commandments were the basis of the political laws of Israel, not the religious laws.

 

The rejection of Biblical morality by many in government is one of the major problems in our society, and it is being driven by the delusion that morality should be separated from government. What those under that delusion fail to understand is that true freedom cannot be separated from morality. On the contrary, it is impossible for freedom to exist without morality. It is impossible for a nation that allows rulers to take bribes, live above the law, punish the innocent, falsely accuse, rape, kill, or rob to be free. True freedom cannot exist without honesty and integrity on the part of public officials.

 

OUR GOD GIVEN RIGHTS

 

The First Commandment affirms our God given right to worship the God of the Bible, and no ruler has the authority to demand that we worship him (as did Caesar), or any god other than the God of the Bible.

The Second Commandment affirms our God given right to treat God’s name with respect. No ruler has the authority to use God’s name to justify evil, or cover lies. Nor do they have the authority to make anyone else curse or speak falsely in God’s name.

The Third Commandment affirms our God given right to join with others in worship. No ruler has the authority to forbid congregational worship.  

The Fourth Commandment affirms our God given right to teach our children, instruct them in God’s Word, and pass on our faith to them. No ruler has the authority to interfere with, or in any way infringe on, that right.   

The Fifth Commandment affirms our God given right to life. No ruler has the authority to murder anyone, to order us to murder anyone, or to pass laws that allow the murder of some (by abortion etc.). While the Bible allows capital punishment and defense of the nation in time of war, it makes a clear distinction between that and murder.

The Sixth Commandment affirms our God given right to be chaste. No ruler has any authority to order us to commit immoral acts, encourage immoral acts, or demand that we condone or approve of immoral behavior (including homosexuality).

The Seventh Commandment affirms our God given right to property. No ruler has any authority to steal from some, either to enrich himself or to give to others. While the Bible does tell us to pay our taxes, and allows the government to provide assistance during times of national disaster, taxes are to be a payment for services rendered not an attempt to redistribute the wealth.

The Eighth Commandment affirms our God given right to a good reputation. No ruler has any authority to falsely accuse us, spread lies about us, or order us to bear false witness against someone else.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments reaffirm certain God given rights. No ruler has the authority to conspire against us, or to use the law to deprive us of our spouse or our property. On the contrary, all rulers who use their position to deny our God given rights are exceeding the authority given to them by God.

 

"Luther wanted neither autocracy nor mobocracy, but 'lawocracy' book law, a constitution. He admired the ancient republics and Switzerland. If the Emperor broke the law, he was to be fought as a common robber." (Lutheran Cyclopedia, page 598)

 

THE BIBLICAL BASIS OF CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT

 

The legal code put into place by king Alfred (871-899 AD) included both the Ten Commandments and certain laws directly following the Ten Commandments known collectively as the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-22). Those laws became the basis of English common law. Later, when the barons forced King John to sign the “Magna Carta”, they made the law (as set down in the “Magna Carta”) an authority higher than the king, an authority to which the king was required to submit. That act shifted the authority of English government from the king to the law, and thus to God whose authority is manifest in the law. However, it was only the division of power (between king and barons) that kept the king from ignoring the law. In time, that system of law, especially as explained in Blackstone's "Commentaries, became the basis for the American system of law.

 

In the Book of Exodus following the Ten Commandments are further laws, sometimes collectively referred to as the Book of the Covenant.  As a lawyer I was fascinated to discover just how much of our law - torts, contracts, property and criminal law - is obviously traceable to this section of scripture." (David Limbaugh)

 

CHURCH AND STATE

 

Although Luther and Tyndale both advocated separation of church and state, they most certainly did not advocate a total separation of Christianity and state. The idea of a secular society, and rulers who reject the Word of God, refusing to take what it says into account when framing laws, would be abhorrent to them. What they objected to were Popes who waged war and called on their followers to overthrow rulers they regarded as heretics, kings who condemned the Gospel, bishops who wielded political authority, and ecclesiastical courts with the power to try and sentence to death anyone who disagreed with the church.

 

Church and state should be separate in the sense that the church is not to use the power of the state, nor is the state to control and use the church (2Corinthians 10:4, Ezra 7:24). They are to be separate institutions. Churchmen have no business trying to use legislation in a vain attempt to make men righteous, or to impose Mosaic law on the nation. However, rulers are perfectly free to read the Bible, learn from the Bible, and borrow ideas from the political law set forth in the Bible, and that has been done throughout history. In fact, because our natural knowledge of right and wrong has been corrupted by sin, it is right and proper that rulers should look to the political laws of Israel as a guide to good government. Furthermore, since every law reflects some standard of morality, we need to realize that it is impossible for any government to be morally neutral. Just as laws that forbid mothers to murder their unborn children reflect one standard of morality, laws that allow them to murder their unborn children reflect another "standard." And, the words, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers” tell us that the standard God wants rulers to follow is the standard set forth in the Ten Commandments (Romans 13:1).

            The words, "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow," tell us that all men (and, thus, all rulers) should acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:10). However, we must never lose sight of the fact that the influence of the political laws of Israel upon other nations is voluntary. And, the freedom we have in Christ allows rulers to conform those laws to the culture and customs of their own nation. Likewise, we should never lose sight of the fact that the law cannot make anyone righteous (Romans 3:19-20). As far as political laws go, the Ten Commandments can only require outward compliance, they can do nothing to change the heart. Nor is it the job of government to change the heart.

In the past there have been misguided churchmen who have attempted to control the state and use its power to impose their authority upon everyone else. However, what they fail to understand is that they are in rebellion against God (Luke 22:24-25). God has given rulers authority so that they can punish criminals, not regulate the law abiding (Romans 13:3,4, 1Peter 2:14, 2Corinthians 10:4, 1Timothy 1:9, 1Samuel 8:10:22).

 

GOVERNING ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL

 

A government that is being administered according to the will of God, will not tyrannize the people, but serve them (Luke 22:25). Moreover, the words, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” tell us that when rulers are serving as God intended, the lives and property of all under their authority will be secure, and the people will be free to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (1Timothy 2:2, 1Peter 2:14, Luke 22:25, Romans 13:3,4).

 

The words, “The LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king,” identify three primary functions of government (Isaiah 33:22). Therefore, since the depravity of the human heart makes it necessary to limit the authority of rulers, and make them obey the law, the men who wrote our American Constitution divided those functions, assigning each of them to separate branches of government (legislative, judicial, and executive).

 

            The words, “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil,” tell us that God gave rulers their authority so they could punish crime, not terrorize those who have not committed any crime (Romans 13:3). Furthermore, the words, “Sent by Him for the for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well,” tell us that rulers should praise those who do not commit crime, and not turn them into law breakers by saddling them with regulations 1Peter 2:14. The law was given to condemn and punish criminals, not to regulate the law-abiding (1Timothy 1:9).

 

The words, “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread, until you return to the ground,” gave Adam the fruit of his labor to live by. For that reason, we have a God given right to the fruit of our labor, and the commandment, “Thou shall not steal” reaffirms that God-given right (Exodus 20:15).

 

The words, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and they that exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But you shall not be so,” tell us that rulers should not take from some so that others can regard them as benefactors (Luke 22:25-26). Instead, they should serve those under their authority by punishing crime, while allowing the law-abiding the freedom to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (1Peter 2:14, 1Timothy 2:2).

 

In regard to the role of a public servant, it should be noted that:

1- No servant is above the law.

2- Any authority that a servant has comes from his master (the public).

3- No servant is ever justified in usurping authority that has not been granted to him by his master, or in taking something that has not been given to him by his master.

4- No master can give his servant authority or property that is not his to give.

 

CONCLUSION

 

The naive belief that giving a ruler more God-like authority would make him more God-like, led the children of Israel to exchange the freedom they had under the judges for the tyranny they later experienced under a king (Judges 21:25, 1Samuel 8). In truth, giving rulers more authority only gives them more authority to abuse. And, freedom can only exist when the power of government is limited and rulers are required to obey the law.

Americans need to remember that, until 1930, this song was our national anthem:

           

Our fathers' God to Thee,

Author of liberty,

To Thee we sing:

Long may our land be bright

With freedom's holy light;

Protect us by Thy might,

Great God, our King!