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[COMMENT: This sermon is about how government is under
the total sovereignty of God, and how God invented legitimate
Sunday, July 28, 2009 -- Deut. 17:14-20
St. Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
I am straying from the appointed Bible texts this morning to preach on the subject: "What is Biblical government?" in anticipation of the coming 4th of July celebrations.
We read in Deuteronomy 17:
:15 you may indeed set as king over you him whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother....
In other words, no foreigner, but only a natural born citizen, one who will have no divided loyalties with a foreign god or goddess.
:18 And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in the charge of the Levitical priests;
:19 and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them;
:20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left; so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.
That is a prescription for a limited government, under a king chosen by themselves, under God.
Next weekend, I will be down at Camp Vigilance, the encampment of the California Minutemen, celebrating the 4th of July, as we team up with the Border Patrol to enhance their efforts by being spotters for them.
The Minutemen have asked me to be their chaplain. My message to them has been that we will not win this border war without God -- because this border war is just a small part of the larger spiritual war for the restoration of America and of Western Civilization.
Whether there is or is not a Biblical form of government, I suspect, would not even cross the minds of most Christians today. There is little sense abroad among Christians that there is such a thing as Biblical government. Our current view of separation of Church and State (a piece of constitutional subversion which most Christians believe) effectively forbids such a view.
The American founding fathers had no such nonsense in their heads. It was primarily the Presbyterian clergy, those stout Calvinists who well understood the sovereignty of God, whose pulpits thundered with sermons on that sovereignty over King George III. Their common theme was, "Resistance to tyranny is loyalty to God!"
We are today looking right down the wrong end of a barrel
of increasingly tyrannical power aimed by our present government at We, the
People. So we had better recapture the spirit and understanding of Godly
freedom under a properly limited government, or accustom ourselves to living as
slaves on a government plantation.
First, a few principles of what government is.
A dictionary will tell you that government is two things: direction and control.
Direction means the kinds of values which laws are designed to enforce. We value and want to live a certain kind of life, to protect certain things and to forbid certain things. So , at least as best we can, we make laws to ensure that.
Contrary to cemented-in belief, the "direction" function of government is the religious function.
Control is the way one enforces those laws, the ultimate control being lethal coercive force.
In our constitution, we have built in a separation of powers so that direction and control are not held by the same persons. The legislature is the body which decides the direction. And the executive is that body which holds the sword (gun, billy club, handcuffs, prison, fine) of enforcement.
In our system, he who holds the gun may not decide how to use it. And he who makes the decisions on how to use it may not hold it. That is one of the fundamental separations of authority and power which helps guarantee a free people.
So government is direction and control -- which means that everything government does, it does, as it were, at gunpoint. We normally do not see the gun, because we agree with the laws and obey them. But the gun is there. If you do not pay your taxes, the IRS will quickly try to find some way to enforce your payment. They can be quite nasty about it.
That coercive nature of civil government is why our
founding fathers insisted on a government strictly limited in what it could
enforce. The Constitution was aimed at the federal level, but the same
principles are applied to state and local governments by the guarantee in the
Constitution of a republican government for all states.
What has all that to do with God? Are not these properly secular matters? matters to be decided in a pluralisticly democratic manner? by a vote of the public through their elected representatives where church and religious matters are irrelevant?
Suppose you were God and heard your people on earth saying such things, as indeed, God hears today. What would you, as God, think? How would you answer them?
Or, suppose Jesus coming back at the 2nd Coming and hearing people asserting their modern, so-called "liberal democratic" values? "Well, gee, folks, I did not realize that you were forming a pluralistic society. I thought I was going to be Lord. But that won't work, will it? Uh... Gee, do you suppose I could be one of the fella's???"
I don't think so. But why not? On what ground could Jesus rightly stand against the contemporary pluralism? What would Jesus say if He were here?
He might threaten the world with destruction unless it obeyed. And indeed, He could. But then He would be placing Himself on the same level as any other tyrant, any other bully, any other typically pagan deity. Pagan deities had no moral authority, they had only power, like Zeus's thunderbolts. Very effective for enforcing behavior, but not at all for winning souls. Not at all effective for forming a freewill covenant, in which we are given the freedom, the ability, to say "no" to God, and go our own way, the freedom, the ability, to choose to live without God.
God stands on Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, I, God created the heavens and the earth..." If that be true, then God has total ownership of all that is. He who creates a thing has the ability to choose the reason for the existence of that thing. So God chooses the reason for the existence of the whole cosmos, and of everything in it. Including ourselves.
And reason for existence is the only possible foundation
for moral order. If there is no Creator God, there is no moral order, there is
only "every man doing what is right in his own eyes," i.e., moral chaos,
anarchy -- tamed, not by moral law, but by raw power. Without God, that is all
there can be.
So, if God created the whole cosmos, then He owns the political part of it also. Thus, the only way any government anywhere can get legitimacy, the right to command other persons, is from God and from God alone. Only God can give anyone the right to command another person. The task of civil government is to administer the law which God has already given, not to make up its own law as it goes along.
When Christians say that "Jesus is Lord", we mean that as a political statement. Or, we ought to mean it as a political statement. Jesus - King of kings, and Lord of lords. And who are those kings and lords over whom Jesus is King and Lord? They are all the kings and lords of the earth and of every other place in the cosmos -- all the legislatures, judiciaries, and executive powers of the earth. They, one and all, owe whatever authority they have to God. That is the Biblical understanding of the matter. Scripture is clear on that. God owes allegiance to no one, we all owe allegiance to Him.
That is also a logical fact from which no government can escape. It is not a bit of religious fluff invented by nefarious clergy to control people. As the prologue to the Declaration of Independence says, it is precisely the law and grace of God which alone can guarantee our freedom. Civil government without God cannot guarantee our freedoms, it can only take them away. That is happening now as I speak.
The Church has taught about that sovereignty of God right from the very start, because we inherited it from the Hebrew Bible. God sets up kings and brings them down. He did it with Pharaoh, and He will do it with any other tyrant -- and, as God told Moses, "I will do it through you, IF you will obey Me." That is just as applicable today as some 34 centuries ago in Egypt.
The sovereignty of God over all things was a commonly
understood legal principle in both England and the Colonies at the
time of the Revolution. There was no separation of God and state. That was not
being debated -- except in France where they were about to have the first
atheist revolution, and perhaps most bloody and cruel revolution up to that
time, in human history.
So what interest has God in running our governments? Why would He have such interests?
Civil government has a near monopoly on coercive force. That makes it very difficult for a people to remain free so long a there is a civil government. Our own government is always the biggest threat to freedom. God is interested, as we know from the earliest Hebrew times, in our freedom. He is interested in the moral quality of our lives, He is interested in how we use the gifts, abilities, and talents with which He has bestowed us.
Civil government, precisely because it holds a near monopoly on coercive power, is a magnet attracting the power-hungry, and those who think they know how to run everyone else's life. And those power-hungry in government are by nature narrowly focused on obtaining more power to extend their control over the rest of us.
And the rest of us out here, the public at large, are massive in number, not narrowly focused on retaining our freedoms, and mostly oblivious of the machinations of those we elect to be our rulers.
So We, the People, are sitting ducks for those who hold the reins of power to manipulate and control us. The only way we can be united and focussed to keep government limited, on a Constitutional tether, is to be united under the moral law of God, a moral consensus. Tyrants fear nothing more than a genuine spiritual renewal. When we lose our moral consensus under God, we lose our capacity to keep government our servant.
So, God's interest in all of this is to get us to submit the use of coercive force to His law and grace, the only possible way coercive force can be made to serve justice and righteousness. When civil government is not under the law of God, it is effectively not under any authority at all higher than itself. That puts civil government in the place of God, defining the difference between right and wrong, deciding who is and is not a person, who shall live and who shall die. Those decisions belong to God alone.
Usurpation of God's authority is what Western governments, including ours, have been doing for many decades, going back into the 19th century, the invention of positivist secular law, and the failure of Christians to defend the Godly view of government.
That is why the Revolutionary Presbyterians battle cry
was, "No King but Jesus!" And it ought to be the battle cry of every
Christian. The role of civil government is to ensure that the use of coercive
force is submitted to the law and grace of God, and God alone. To do that, it
must submit itself to that rule of God. That is the meaning of the Decalogue
being placed in the Supreme Court by our once Godly government.
Is there a legitimate separation of Church and State? Yes, of course. Both belong to God, both have their own independent tasks in society, and neither is to meddle in the business of the other except in case of serious abuse by one or the other.
The Church is to be the conscience and worship leader of society, and civil government is to be the referee of society.
A referee cannot be a player in the game. Government should not be involved in the education, welfare, or commerce of a nation. When it does, it loses its objectivity and compromises its goal of righteous judgement. It takes sides, creating conflict of interest, which is forbidden to anyone, especially to a referee.
The Church is to be the conscience of society in a freemarket of ideas. The Church is on the "deciding" (not the "enforcing") side of life, and thus has no right to hold a gun of enforcement. The Church is to educate the people so that they will know how to decide politically, among other things, how to vote Godly persons into office, and how to vote them out of office when they transgress the law and grace of God.
There is a separation of Church and State, but there is
no separation of God and State. Without God, the State has no legitimacy, no
legal existence. Government apart from God has only coercive force, power to
force compliance. But it has legitimacy only from God. All government not under
the law and grace of God is thus outlaw government -- coercive force without
legitimacy, and is to be reformed or replaced.
The question will be raised, and rightly so -- "But we live now in a pluralistic society! What of all those who are not Christians? What of the atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others???"
The answer is simple. God has already invented the only workable pluralism.
Today's pluralism says that anyone's truth is right for that person. So all beliefs are to be accepted. That is a nonsense by which no one can live. Everyone has some truths which he will stand by, come hell or high water.
The modern pluralists, in case you have not noticed, firmly believe that they know how to run everyone else's life, and head immediately for the levers of coercive government control. They want their way enforced by law just as much as others do. They may talk pluralism, but they do not live pluralism.
Honest pluralism invites everyone into the discussion, not because everyone's view is right for that person, but rather to have a public forum in which everyone's view can be tested for whether it is right or not. And, if your view is rejected, you are not shot at dawn, you can come back again and present your new and improved view for all to test again. But anyone who presents a view will have to submit to that public scrutiny -- the public peer review forum where all views can be tested for their worthiness. In the public contest of truth is precisely where God wins His case.
The public contest of truth is where clarity is forced,
and clarity always favors truth, unclarity always favors falsehood. God forces
clarity because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
That is what the American Constitution was written to provide -- an honest and searching examination of what constitutes good law. God is willing to put His own case to the test in such a forum. That IS His forum. He is calling the rest of us into it. God holds the intellectual, moral, and spiritual high ground, and is inviting all the rest of us to join Him there. That high ground is the Kingdom of God, reality in all of its richness and fullness of dimensions. Nothing worthy will be left out. And nothing contrary to that enormous freedom and truth will be allowed in.
We are the ones who cop out, who fudge the truth, who refuse to live in the light of truth. God will live and love only there. He, and only He, can maintain and sustain that level playing field onto which we are all invited -- "Come, let us reason together..." The whole of the Biblical story is God slowly and painfully getting the fallen human race to join Him there -- on the High Ground of Truth and Reality. .
That is what we can celebrate on the 4th of July. That is the kind of pluralism we were given by our founding fathers -- as Benjamin Franklin remarked after the Constitutional Convention to a woman who asked, "What kind of government have you given us, sir?" "A republic, ma'am, a republic. If you can keep it."
We have not kept it, because we have forgotten the God, by whose law and grace we were first given it.
But "If my people, who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." Forget about the pagans and atheists. They are not the problem. The people of God are the problem because we have so badly compromised our trust and obedience to Him.
We have no other hope as a nation, as a people, as individuals. Now, and this coming 4th of July, and until God hears our prayers, let us, we who are called by His name, get on our knees to become the kind of people to whom God listens.
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