Given today’s headlines, the question fairly shouts itself into our world: What is the proper relationship between the Christian and the State? Why is this so urgent now, just at this moment? Because the world appears to be spiraling into an old heresy, the heresy of sacralism —of making the state a god. If the state is a god, are Christians directly told to obey the authority of the state?
In my previous post on this topic, I suggested an alternate way to look at the relationship between the Christian and the state —interposition. In this, my last post, I want to explain the interpositional idea, and then consider one Biblical narrative in light of the explanation. While this single post, or this series of posts, can’t really do justice to the entire idea, it can start you thinking down the path of an interpositional view of the relationship between the state and Christians. I trust you can follow that road once the turning becomes apparent.
The first element is placing the leaders and the people equally under the same law. In Israel, the King was to write a copy of the Law for himself, and study it all the time —from the King to the average citizen, everyone had to obey the same law.
The second element is having multiple tiers of leadership, or multiple areas of leadership, within and outside the state itself. Within Israel, power was actually split three ways at the national level. There was the priesthood, the prophet, and the king. Each of these could act as a check on the other two; for instance, the priest could refuse to accept the king’s sacrifice, or the prophet could call the king out for a specific action. Beyond this, each town had local councils, governors, and other officials. While the king technically had authority over these people, they were also held accountable to the people.
Let’s see how this interposition idea works out in some narratives from the Scriptures. One story often used to show the honor you should give the state, even if you don’t agree with it (or the kind, even if you’ don’t agree with what the king is doing), is the relationship between David and Saul. Twice David had the chance to take Saul’s life (1 Samuel 24 and 1 Samuel 26), and refused to do so, because he refused to “touch the anointed of the Lord.”
But is the relationship as simple as king/subject in these passages? Not really —because David, himself, was anointed king in 1 Samuel 16, before any of these incidents occurred. David isn’t honoring Saul so much as he is honoring the office he will one will fill. To put this another way, David has been raised up as a leader under Saul to replace Saul with a more God honoring government.
Further, is David just out on his own rebelling against Saul? Not really —in 1 Samuel 22, we are told that David actually has a band of people around him, including a priest. In 1 Samuel 20, we find out that Saul’s firstborn son, the heir to Saul’s kingship, also supports David. And throughout 1 Samuel, we find that Saul breaks various laws with impunity, such as killing the priests at Nob, and even attempting to murder David.
All of these things make the relationship between David and Saul fit into an interpositional model of rebellion against state power. It wasn’t just a mob rising up against Saul, it was someone God had anointed to replace Saul. David wasn’t alone, he had the King’s son, priests, and a number of others supporting him, including the leaders of some cities. David wasn’t fighting against a King who was following the law, but a King was making a mockery of the law; Saul was making himself the law in order to aggrandize himself and his family.
It looks like we’re on the right track with this interpositional model. Now, as an exercise —how does this interpositional model fit within the context of Saul and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14:24? What about in relation to the American Revolution? The French Revolution? The Communist Revolution in Russia? There are some interesting paths to follow in thinking these situations through, and using the interpositional model to evaluate them.