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Biblical Principles of Civil Government

F. Earle Fox
Sermon preached at Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Placentia, CA  July 27, 2008
For pdf legal size, click here 
See also, Foundations of a Free People: Limited Civil Government Under God
Biblical Government - an Outline
[Note: a considerable amount has been added to the original sermon.]
I was deeply impressed by John Keble's sermon, National Apostasy, read a few weeks ago by Fr. David. Although it was preached in Oxford, England, about 150 years ago, beginning the "Oxford Movement" renewal of Christian faith, it is almost word for word true of our situation here in America. 

      A once-Christian America has become an apostate-America.  And we, the Christians, are mostly to blame because we have become ignorant of our own heritage, and
terrified of speaking out for fear of....  being called names.  Because we will not stand up now, and be called names, the time is coming when we will have much worse to face.  

      Why the bother?  Is there really a crisis? 

      Yes, there is a crisis.  Europe is dying, and America is only about 50-75 years behind, with our current administration probably drastically shortening that time gap.  Islam is rampant, and winning in Europe.  It will win here also if we do not restore our Biblical government.

      We no longer have a functioning democratic republic, let alone "under God".  The substance of what guaranteed our freedoms, for which our founding fathers risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor has all but eroded out from under us.  And the most tragic part, very few Americans have the faintest idea of the danger we are in.  And those who do, seem impotent to do anything about it.  Despair is on every side... except for the gullible, apathetic, and oblivious --  who are mostly unaware, or simply do not care. 

      As our Declaration of Independence tells us, our freedoms come from God, not from civil government.  But the positivist view of law now being practiced by almost all of our legislators, executives, and judges, says,
"No, we the government are the source of your freedoms."   As one Supreme Court justice said, "The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means."  If that is not tyranny, what needs to be added to make it so?  What the government gives, it can (and routinely does) take away. 

      We have allowed our government to jettison the only possible basis for a limited government -- the sovereignty of God and the Biblical foundations of law -- because We, the People, have been too apathetic, too cowardly, and/or too ignorant to do anything about it.   A secular or pagan government will always drift into centralization and control of our personal lives. 

      Government education is running a mind-control program to indoctrinate our children to the goodies of the homosexual lifestyle.  That means, ultimately -- at gunpoint.  If you object, you will be increasingly disciplined with hate-crime laws.  The moral level of America has plummeted, we are letting our government school system teach our children that parents do not know much, and that sexual promiscuity is "OK".  And parents are raising up generations of spoiled brats.  Probably for the first time in human history,
our children are taking deadly weapons to each other -- for fun

      Christians are specifically targeted.  Christians are being arrested for exercising their Constitutional rights of free speech presenting their case for Jesus in public, or for making remarks critical of homosexuality.

      If you, dear reader, do not see these things happening, or if  you see them and are doing nothing about them. then you are part of the problem, not the solution.  I hope that you will read, mark, learn, and digest the following. 

      We must restore our own (forget about the pagans and atheists for a bit) belief in God as Creator and Sovereign over all things, including civil government.  Civil government is about enforcement, control, ultimately at gunpoint, at all levels. 

      But there are only a limited number of things which ought to be enforced, which is the principle upon which American government was based.  We have lost that principle and are headed down the road to a centralized tyranny, where We, the People, are only slaves on a government plantation.  Western political freedom came out of the Bible, not out of secularism or paganism. 
No one but the Christian community committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ can rescue Western Civilization from a total collapse back into paganism -- and its inherently centralized tyrannical forms of government. 

      Are you with us? 

The following is an outline of the principles of civil government. It is a bit much to digest, and will be on my website tomorrow for further study.  It may take a bit longer than you are used to sitting and listening to sermons, but no apologies given.  Either we Christians learn this material, or the West will continue to disintegrate as a Christian civilization.  We are well down that road now. We are very good at finding excuses why we cannot do anything about it, rather than gathering up our courage and discovering what we can indeed do.  Has the arm of God been shortened to help His people?
There are other governments.  Family government and church government both preceded civil government, and have, under God, their own independent jurisdiction.  Civil government can interfere with these only when there is overriding reason for doing so, some crime being committed. Civil government should not be the normal administrator of either of these areas, as tyrannies always become.
I hope that this description of Biblical government will inspire you to a new vision of the depth and breadth of catholic, evangelical, and charismatic faith, and of our pressing need to recover our courage and vision for the Lord Jesus Christ in the public arena. 


I. What is Government?
My dictionary tells me that government is two things: Direction & Control.  In civil government, direction is accomplished by the legislature which chooses the laws to be enforced.  Control is done by the executive which has the police and military at its disposal.  The judiciary decides who has violated a given law and the punishment. 

      Only the executive can enforce laws or carry out the punishment because it alone holds the gun of enforcement.  A limited government is focused on limiting the body which holds the gun (sword, billy club) of enforcement.
We make laws only because we want something coerced, enforced.  So, everything government does, it does, as it were, at gunpoint.  Civil government has a near monopoly on coercion, and an obsessive tendency to extend the reach of that coercion.  That is why civil government must be limited -- some things should never be forced -- such as religion or education.

II. The Source of Government
All authority is from God, all authority has been put into the hands of Jesus (Mt. 28, the Great Commission. )
From where does civil government get its authority? One cannot invent one's own authority, or get it from those who themselves have none.  One can get authority only from a higher authority. The only ultimate possibility is God.  That principle has been a part of Biblical heritage from ancient Hebrew times.  The Hebrews gave the world what is called "ethical monotheism", unknown outside the Bible, which for the first time understood the wedding between religion and morality.  No pagan religion does that.
The Hebrew word for 'father' is 'AB' (as in Ab-raham - father of a multitude). The root meaning of AB is 'he who decides', 'the deciding one'. This is why God is called "Father", because He is the spiritual head, the Deciding One for all things.  
The most important thing God decides is our Purpose for Existence. He gives us existence, and then tells us why we exist. Jesus sums up that purpose in Matthew 22 with the Two Great Commandments: to love God and neighbor.
Our purpose for existence is the only possible source for moral authority. And political authority is founded in this prior moral authority from God.
The illusion that morality is not founded on the law of God was a major victory of secular forces during the 1800's, now believed by both secular folks and most Christians.  It led to the further illusion of "positivist" law, that law can be divorced from the higher law of God, and have its own independent authority. That is false.
This illusion allowed throwing prayer out of schools and the killing of unborn babies -- now nearly 50,000,000 of our own people dead without mercy or due process. We have blood on our hands.
All political authority is bound by the highest law of God, which is the law of love. A civil government has political authority, the authority to command obedience from its citizens, only to the extent that it first submits itself to the moral authority of God.  That was a principle understood and followed in both England and America at the time of the Revolutionary War. 
That means that there is one and only one government in all of existence, that of God, as the Bible is 100% clear with no ambiguity.  As a logical fact, no entity other than God can give us our reason for existence.  Any government that does not submit to the law of God is thus an outlaw government.

III. Role of Government
It follows from the above that the role of civil government is to administer the laws already given by God, not to make up laws of its own. The job of civil government as referee for society is to bring the use of coercive force under law and grace of God.
If the State is the referee for society, then the Church is the conscience and the moral and spiritual educator of society -- in a freemarket of ideas. The Church, just like the legislators, must convince adherents in an open, honest presentation and debate, not coerce acceptance.
Both Church and State are creatures of, and thus under God -- they are parallel jurisdictions, neither of which may tinker in the other's business except in case of gross dereliction of duty by the other -- as when many clergy of the colonies preached vigorous sermons on the sovereignty of God over King George III, and thusly supported the revolution.
The Church may not enforce its beliefs, it may not hold the gun of control, but neither may the State, which holds the gun, force the Church to change its beliefs. The reach of government, as Thomas Jefferson said, does not extend to belief -- a principle which make void all so-called hate-crime laws.
A primary role of government is to defend the arena of open, honest discussion of government matters -- legislation, executive orders and actions, and judicial judgements, to prevent coercion or manipulation or any subversion of the truth-seeking process.  Any view up for legislation or enforcement must be able to pass the test of critical public discussion.  When there is subversion of the truth-seeking process, then the government sword may rightly be drawn to again set things aright.
Truth is the only possible ground for any two persons or groups to communicate, and so the level playing field of public discussion, and its openness to all participants who honor its principles, must be protected at any cost.  Protection of truth-seeking from coercion in the government arena is the fundamental principle behind the American constitution.
Those who do not honor these principles are to be excluded from participation in decisions on public policy.  Any person who is not a truth-seeker has no business making or enforcing laws which will affect the lives of those millions of citizens who cannot be present to defend themselves in governmental debates.  In other words, we must vote into office persons who are committed to the truth-seeking process and who welcomes all others, and only those, who are likewise so committed.

IV. Law & Love
The Sabbath (and by implication, the whole of the law), Jesus said, was made for man, not man for law, as again affirmed by Jesus making love the very highest law. Any law in violation of the law of love is no law at all. All law is to be corrected by the standard of Godly love. God made laws because He cares about people, He does not make people because He cares about laws.
Civil law, like the law of God, is to set free, not bind. That can happen only as We, the People, under God, control the making and enforcing of civil law.

V. Need for Government
Because of our fragile and dependent human nature, we must have laws to keep from self-destructing -- guard rails to keep from going off the cliffs. Human nature is fragile and often broken and twisted. Without law, there is no freedom, only chaos. We need laws against those things which hurt life, and which promote things which enhance life. That is how God obligates us to be loving. All valid law points to how a loving person would behave.
Law is therefore fundamental to salvation, not contrary to it, a blessing. Law itself is an act of grace -- see Ps 119.
 
VI. Freedom and Government
Freedom does not mean every man having the right to do whatever seems good to himself (as libertarians sometimes claim).  Valid freedom is ordered freedom, ordered by the law and grace of God, by the purpose of God, morality -- i.e., love. Personal freedom must be ordered by the constraints of community, in which we can mutually thrive and support one another.
"Ordered by" means (a) constrained from evil, and (b) obligated to do justly.
There is a freedom "from" -- from hunger, war, famine, disease. There is also a freedom "for", a freedom "to"... God gives us the freedom to be a truth-seeker -- which tyrants will squelch as soon as possible.  God gives us the freedom to obey His just laws -- which again tyrants will squelch as soon as possible.  Tyrants know that the law of God means the end of their tyranny.  That is why Christianity is consistently under attack in cultures around the world.
There is only one alternative to the rule of God -- power struggle - eat or be eaten, kill or be killed.  Vendetta law, lex talionis.  There is no legitimacy, no morality, no "ought".  There comes eventually moral freefall -- social chaos, rescued only by the increasing force of law imposed by might, not by right.  Historically, this has been the steady drift of politics.

VII. Limiting Government
America's founding fathers understood that fallen man cannot be trusted with much authority or power.  We should never give any man or group unlimited power or authority.  So they set about finding ways to limit government, as they said, binding down those who govern us with the chains of the Constitution.
The problem is the executive, who holds the gun of coercion.  Monarchies and oligarchies often held all three branches in one man or body, making them absolute dictators over their people.
How can we both give the holder of coercive power sufficient freedom to do his job, yet prevent him from building himself a tyranny?
The first and most important dispersion of authority is through the electorate, the voting public: We, the People are the Primary Officers of the State.  God took the divine right of rulership away from monarchs and oligarchies and gave it to We, the People under Himself.  The people at large, voting freely and uncoerced, is the best way of discerning the will of God for our political life (assuming, of course, that the Church is doing its job of leading worship, teaching, and evangelizing).
Secondly, built into the Constitution we have the Separation of Powers -- the principle that those who make the decisions about how the gun of enforcement shall be used may not hold that gun.  Legislators are not allowed to force their views on anyone.  And, the other side of that coin, he who holds the gun of enforcement is not allowed to decide how it will be used.  The executive must obey the will of the people as interpreted by the Legislature under the Constitution.  That principle is reinforced by the military being under the authority of the President, a civilian office.  Military government is thus under civilian government.
A third way of dispersion is limiting the federal government to those tasks enumerated in the Constitution. The making and enforcement of laws is not allowed beyond those tasks. The powers and authorities not given to the federal government are dispersed to state, county, and town governments.
This is the principle of subsidiarity -- that authority and power should be dispersed as locally as reasonably possible.  This means for the federal government a short list: defense of the republic against invasion, keeping order within the national domain, and administering the public domain, such as federal lands, roads, parks, etc.
The enumerated list does not include government-run education or welfare, two of the most expensive and worst run aspects of American life.  It does not include government collusion with or engagement in commerce.
A fourth way of dispersing power is through the 2nd amendment on the right of citizens to bear arms.  Coercive force is itself dispersed among those Primary Officers of the State, the electorate.

VIII. Jesus & Government
Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Who are these kings and lords over whom Jesus rules?  They are all the legislators, executives, and judges of the earth.  Jesus is their ruler right now, and has always been.  We are both personally and corporately responsible to God.
Jesus was, and will again be, the Presence of God on earth, with all of that divine authority and power.  At His 2nd Coming, those kings and lords will be judged, along with the rest of us, at the Final Judgement; the separation of wheat from chaff, from which there is no appeal.
In God, law and grace always go together -- they are eternally wedded, with not a hairline of conflict between them, the result of love having been made the highest law.  No one but God can wed truth to love, or law to grace.  The world without God cannot do that.  Jesus came to do that.
The law and grace of God are intelligently designed for human freedom to be maximized, both for personal interior spiritual lives, and for our communal, interactive, political life.  Any deviation from the law and grace of God compromises our freedom, lessens it, and eventually destroys it.  Only God can unite law, freedom, and love.  The world without God is incapable. 
When God is not honored, people look for and demand something Big Enough to take the place of God. Big Government is the only thing that looks Big Enough to do the job. So we are faced with a choice -- either Jesus is Lord, or civil government will be lord, with all the consequent centralization of power and authority, the loss of control by We, the People, and the steady drift into tyranny.
Secularism cannot produce a free people who can run and keep control of a limited government. Only God can produce such people. Only under God will people be secure and strong enough to confront and bring down overgrown government.
That is why Judeo-Christianity is routinely undermined and attacked by government centralizing forces -- which are the enemy of truth-seeking and of the ordered freedom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.... just as we see today in America.
Centralized government, governed not by truth or justice, but by power struggle, is the only option left to secularism and paganism, bereft of the law and grace of God.
 
IX. Pluralism???
But what shall we say to the cry of "Pluralism! We are a pluralistic nation now? You will be disenfranchising atheists, Hindus, anyone who disagrees with you! Is not that tyranny?"
If it is true, as I think can be shown, that a secular or pagan world cannot produce either a people who are secure enough to defend their freedom, or even a theory of government which actually defends such freedom, then the non-believer who supports a limited government is in a quandary -- he wants something (a free people with a limited government) which he can have only at the cost of something he is not willing to grant -- the sovereignty of our Creator God.
The historical fact is that a democratic republic, such as we once had, has been produced only under the Biblical God.  And the more we chisel away at our Biblical foundations, we are at the same time also centralizing our government and losing our freedom.
It has been precisely the Biblical government which has guaranteed secular and pagan folks to have their freedom among us.  Neither secular nor pagan governments have been famous for granting that freedom to either Christians or Jews.
So we Judeo-Christians are left with the challenge, What are we going to do?  How do we respond to the death of Western Civ, which was once Christian Civ?  How do we regain the courage and stability of our forefathers who built for us and gave to us, outside of ancient Israel itself, the most Biblically founded nation on earth?
An example of Godly pluralism: The Bible makes predictions that people of various nations and places will one day flock to Israel to be under their rule because they recognize the excellence of the laws of God and of the God the Jews worshipped. I was "somewhat" skeptical of such a scene actually happening, until I realized that it has happened right before our eyes, here in America.
During the 1800's, thousands of immigrants streamed from Europe, and then from Asia. They had, of course, very mixed motives. But many of them came because they wanted to be under "that kind of government". At some level of their being, they understood that this kind of government, these kinds of rulers, provided a new kind of freedom.  It was, to be sure, imperfect and flawed.  But it has embedded within it that very Presence which would continue to work out the imperfections and lead to the same freedom (and the same responsibilities) for all.
Sadly and tragically, the highest court in our land, in an act of supreme betrayal and rebellion, gutted our Constitution of its Godly legitimacy by telling God that He no longer ruled in America (Engel vs. Vitale, 1962, outlawing prayer in schools).  We will not sustain our freedom until we expose and reverse the illusion that the Court can change our laws and rewrite the Constitution.
The following quote from Rodney Stark puts the matter about as boldly as it can be put. And Stark does in his book a good job proving his case.
Christianity created Western Civilization. Had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls. Without a theology committed to reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, in 1800:
A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos. A world where most infants do not live to the age of five and many women die in childbirth -- a world truly living in "dark ages".  

[From The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, & Western Success, p. 233.]

If that seems absurd to your secularized mindset, consider the following:

One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the preeminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.     [Ibid., p. 235]   See other quotes.

And who would write such outrageous prose? Stark introduces that paragraph as a "recent statement by one of Communist China's leading scholars".  Perhaps the same Chinese communist leader who said that if he had his choice of a national religion, it would be Christianity because it was the Christians, he said, who were taking care of the social problems, reaching out to the poor and needy.  Quite a change from Mao Tse Tung, who is famous for his claim that morality proceeds out of the other end of a gun barrel.
 
X. Whither Goest Thou, Peter?
...so asked Jesus of Peter as Peter headed out of Rome to escape the persecution.  Peter turned around and went back.
Honest followers of Jesus Christ will always be doing those things admired by the Chinese. Of what other religion or philosophy can that be said?
If Christians do not answer the call of God on our lives to be His witnesses, right here in the West, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have to fight the battle at much greater cost than we would pay if we rose up to fight it now.   What are you willing to do for your children and grandchildren?
When will we Christians in the West once again place our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor on the altar of God, so that we can say out loud, with grace and truth, "Jesus is Lord!", so that we can defend the sovereignty of God over all things, including emphatically, over civil government?
It begins right here in our churches, at the altar where we receive the Body and Blood of the King of kings and Lord of lords. It begins most of all in our homes, with our families, where we should have the foundations of our faith being taught so that we and our children can live that faith with clarity and courage.
The gates of hell cannot prevail against a Godly offensive. There is no force in heaven or on earth which can stand against a mature, healthy Christian community.
Why stand we here idle?

NOTE:  See
comments by Rodney Stark on freedom and Christianity. 

See also, Foundations of a Free People: Limited Civil Government Under God and Biblical Government

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Date Posted -  07/27/2008   -   Date Last Edited - 12/21/2012