Tag: christian obedience

16May

Obedience to the State (Addendum)

Walter Williams has taken up the issue of whether or not we should obey immoral laws here. He is focused on the direct personal relationship between the individual and the state at large, while I came to the conclusion that there must be intermediaries between the state and the individual, but his point on immoral laws is well put.

14May

On Obedience to the State (Part 6)

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.

 

9May

On Obedience to the State (Part 5)

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 the last four posts on this topic, we’ve examined the case for a simple statement –“Christians are to obey the law when the law doesn’t directly contradict a commandment of God,” and seen how this statement doesn’t hold up under either the Scriptures or logical scrutiny. If you’re interested in reviewing those posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Is there another model we can use for the relationship between the Christian and the state, one that will stand up to Scriptural scrutiny, and is reasonably defensible as well? There are a couple of models in the Scriptures that might provide us with an answer to this problem.

The first model we should turn to directly bears on the question we’re trying to answer. Moses, in Exodus 18, is overburdened with his work in judging the people. Jethro, his father in law, gives him a piece of advice: appoint judges over smaller groups, building a hierarchy of judges throughout Israel, so that Moses doesn’t personally need to hear every case. This story introduces the concept of intermediaries powers, or levels of power within a civil government. In Exodus 18, these powers are placed between Moses, who is technically an intermediary between God as King and the people, and the people themselves.

While the purpose of these powers on the one side is to lighten the load of Moses, there is a later story that shows they became much more than this through Israel’s sojourn in the desert. In Numbers 16, we find one of the many stories of rebellion in Israel –Korah’s rebellion. Korah, a member of the Tribe of Levi, rises up against Moses, saying Moses has “taken too much on himself.” Korah means that Moses has taken too much authority on himself, he has too much power over Israel.

What’s interesting about this incident is that we don’t find any instance of Moses saying, “no, you should obey my authority as God’s appointed leader over this Nation.” If we examine the text carefully, we find Moses refutes their charges on other grounds –that he had not used his power for personal gain, or been unjustice to these people. Moses doesn’t defend himself on the principle of authority, he defends himself on his record.

What does this mean? Apparently, Moses accepts their right, as leaders within the camp, to question his authority –in essence, to rebel against him. But he only will only accept the rightness of their cause if they can prove he has abused his power in some way. Here we have a perfect model for two concepts critical to the relationship of the Christian to the state –in fact, of all people to the state. There are two things we need to closely observe.

First, everyone in the state falls under the authority of the law. From the highest leader to the lowest slave within the camp, the law applies equally to all of them (or rather, to all of us). Injustice on the part of a leader is no different than injustice on the part of a slave.

Second, if there is a breach of the law by a leader, it is the other leaders who should –indeed must– lead the effort to clean the problem up. This pits lower leaders against higher leaders, rather than the people against higher leaders. There is, built in to the idea of lower and higher leaders, the concept of accountability between the levels of leadership.

Next we’ll examine whether or not these ideas of uniform obedience to the law and intermediate leadership holds up in several other stories that involve the relationship of the Christian to the state.

17Apr

On Obedience to the State (Part 3)

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? Are Christians directly told to obey the authority of the state?

In my last two posts on this topic, I explored whether or not Daniel’s or David’s life support the proposition Christians should obey the state unless the law in question directly contradicts a specific command. After a close examination of the interactions between David, Daniel, and the states under which they lived, we can see they really don’t support this proposition at all.

But can this idea —that Christians should obey unless a law directly contradicts a command from God— hold up in the light of reason? In other words, is this actually even a reasonable standard of conduct? Let’s take one commandment that almost everyone agrees is binding on modern Christians as an example —to spread the Gospel of Christ— and see how it would work under this rule.

Suppose you live in a state where it’s fine, according to the local laws, to talk to others about the Gospel. But you happen to live on the border of another state that doesn’t allow those who live within its borders to try and convert others to their religious belief. Now suppose your next door neighbor is arrested for preaching the Gospel, for trying to convert one of his friends to Christianity.

Should you step across the line to help this brother out?

There doesn’t seem to be much justification for doing so under the proposition under question. After all, the government hasn’t given you a command not to spread the Gospel —you’re not subject to the laws of the state that doesn’t want anyone trying to proselytize. The idea that I should only object, or fight, or disobey, when the state tells me to disobey God is first of all, then, radically individualizing.

And what if the state tells me that it’s okay to witness in the gym, but not in the library? Should I only object in the library? Should all the Christians go to the library to witness there, to make the point that this particular intrusion on spreading the Gospel is contrary to what Christians will stand for? How can we judge such a case?

Finally, what is the set of laws that God has given that Christians should obey? If we believe the Mosaic Law is the rule of life for Christians, then we would be justified in rising up against the state for not allowing us to build a Temple, or for not taking precisely thirty-three percent of our income (the total of the various tithes), or…

No, none of this stands up to a reasonable examination of the way in which we must actually live, the way in which we must interact with the state in day-to-day life. The idea that we should only disobey when the government directly orders us to disobey God is too narrow by far —it leaves no room for general action in concert with our persecuted brothers and sisters. It’s not nearly as clear and forthright as it appears to be on the surface.

Given these things, and our inability to find support in the Scriptures for this line of thinking, we need to abandon it altogether, and search for some other way of describing the relationship between the Christian and the state.

And that’s where we’ll head in the next post.

5Apr

On Obedience to the State (Part 2)

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? Are Christians directly told to obey the authority of the state?

In my last post on this topic, I explored whether or not David’s life supports the proposition Christians should obey the state unless the law in question directly contradicts a specific command. As it turns out, the life of David taken as a whole doesn’t support this proposition. But what about Daniel? There are two incidents in Daniel’s life that might give us some insight into this question.

The first such incident is described in Daniel 1. When Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedegno, are taken into slavery in the King’s household, they are given food to eat.

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. -Daniel 1:8

We aren’t told whether Daniel refused this food because it had been offered to idols, or whether he refused this food because it failed to follow the regulations God gave in the Mosaic Law —but let’s assume, to put the best possible face on the argument, that Daniel refused this food because it didn’t follow the Kosher laws. In opposition to his refusal to accept the Babylonian King’s food, Daniel seems perfectly fine with accepting the Babylonian King’s names —with changing their names to those honoring Babylonian gods.

So Daniel rejected something that went directly against a commandment from God, while accepting that which didn’t go directly against a commandment from God. Seems like an open and shut case. Or does it?

If we move to the events described in Daniel 6, we find a different sort of story. Here Daniel is ordered not to pray to “any god but the King” for 30 days. Daniel not only disobeys this edit, he does so openly, by throwing open the windows on his house so everyone can see him praying to God.

The challenge is: Where in the Mosaic Law is it commanded to pray openly, with your windows open, so that everyone can see you praying? Could Daniel have not lived within the spirit of the Mosaic Law by praying in private, while preventing a confrontation the King obviously did not want? It’s clear that Daniel is going beyond disobedience on the grounds of the Mosaic Law and into open defiance of the King of Babylon, the appointed leader from God.

There are two other challenges to the proposition that Christians should obey so long as the law doesn’t directly impact a command from God hidden in the story of Daniel.

The first is the names just mentioned. While we all know the Babylonian names for Daniel’s three friends, no-one knows Daniel’s Babylonian name. Why is this? Is it because Daniel rejected even this?

The second is that the Mosaic Law doesn’t just include prayer and dietary laws. The Mosaic Law includes the Passover, the Feast of Trumpets, the daily sacrifice, the Sabbath, and a host of other laws. The Babylonian’s clearly violated Daniel’s ability to fulfill the Mosaic Law by destroying the Temple —and Paul clearly states that disobedience to one part of the Law is disobedience to the whole Law. How can we handle Daniel’s acceptance of Babylonian law over the Mosaic Law in one case, and not in another, and still hold to the proposition that Christians should obey unless a law directly contradicts God’s commandments? Isn’t the entire Mosaic Law God’s commandment?

The life of Daniel, then, doesn’t provide a clear example of someone who’s following the edict of obeying civil law unless it directly contradicts God’s law.

Next time, I’ll deal with some logical problems with the proposition at hand, and then we’ll start down the path of trying to find a resolution to this problem.

3Apr

On Obedience to the State (Part 1)

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? First, there are the headlines. Obamacare, the impending default in Greece, the left using Christianity as a stepping stone to power (by mostly misusing the Scriptures).

Are Christians directly told to obey the authority of the state? The answer we most often here is:

Christians should obey the state so long as the law or order doesn’t directly contradict Christian doctrine.

This seems like a rather pat answer —it neatly resolves the problem in a way that sounds like it doesn’t challenge state authority in any way. What is the basis of this statement?

The prime example given of not obeying the state is that of Peter refusing to back down on preaching the Gospel in the face of an order not to do so. A number of examples are given to show how those in the Scriptures always obeyed the state, no matter how much the law in question went against their Godly belief, and Romans 13:1-7 is brought into the fray to prove the thesis.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. -Romans 13:1

But does this line of thinking really hold up? The examples of those throughout the Scriptures who obeyed government authority aren’t quite as clear as those who defend this simple dictum would like us to believe.

Let’s begin with David and his refusal to cut off the corner of the garment of Saul. The story can be found in 1 Samuel 24 —Saul goes off chasing David, and while in pursuit, enters a cave to relieve himself. David just happens to be in that very same cave, and has the perfect opportunity to kill Saul. David would clearly be justified, but rather than kill Saul, he cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, and then states that he will not kill “the Lord’s Anointed.”

This example is supposed to show how David, though he himself had already been anointed king, was so deeply concerned with obedience to those in government that he would not kill them. And taken as a single snippet in the life of David, this story does appear to show that very thing. But there is a fly in the ointment.

If we turn just a few pages later in the Scriptures, to 1 Samuel 27, we find David is now in the service of Israel’s enemies. What does David do while he’s in the service of a Philistine king?

He lies.

There’s really no other way to put it. Once David is in enemy territory, he lies in order to build up his reputation with the local king. But isn’t this king of the Philistines also a king appointed by God? Isn’t this king also worthy of the obedience of the Godly man?

The problem is that if we see David’s in reaction to Saul as showing his willingness to obey even against his own best interests, then how can we interpret his lying to another king in order to preserve his position as the future king of Israel? Even before this incident with the Philistine king, we have to ask —what is David doing out in that cave except disobeying Saul’s orders? If Saul is chasing David, shouldn’t David surrender on the spot? Why is David hiding out in caves and gathering “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul” (1 Samuel 22:2) to form a small army?

No, this won’t do at all… David’s actions clearly support the thesis in one regard, and fail to support the thesis in many others. We can’t look to David for support, we must look elsewhere.

More next time.

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