Civil Magistrates and God's Law: Part One
This article appeared in the October 15th edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle
© 10.13.09 By D. Eric Williams
Over the past couple weeks Pastor Dan has written about submission; it has often been my experience that when one speaks about submission or obedience (or otherwise takes the plain words of Scripture seriously), attendance begins to drop at the Sunday morning service. Therefore I must begin by saying I appreciate Dan's commitment to the Word of God. Indeed, I plan to follow his example in the next three articles and write about submission and obedience as well.
True Christians recognize all authority has been given to [Jesus] in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). They readily admit Jesus Christ is the Lord of their life, their family and the Church. However, these same Believers will often balk at admitting Jesus Christ is Lord over civil magistrates as well. Nevertheless, the Bible says the civil authority is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil (Romans 13:4).
The word translated twice as "minister" in this passage is diakonos and means, "one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master; a servant, attendant, minister; the servant of a king." It is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe someone who is a servant or a deacon in ecclesiastical affairs (Matthew 23:11, Mark 9:35, Philippians 1:1). In Romans 13:4 it is used to impart the simple fact that civil magistrates are servants of God. Thus, when Jesus said all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him he did not exclude civil leaders from his lordship.
The reason many Christians refuse to accept these plain words of Scripture is because they confuse the Lordship of Jesus Christ with the authority of the Church. In other words, many Christians have accepted the false idea that a civil magistrate who obeys the Word of God is a civil magistrate who is in submission to ecclesiastical control. Yet, this is not what the Bible says.
In past articles I have written about the separate spheres of influence given to the primary institutions. We have noted the Bible teaches a doctrine of "sphere sovereignty" for the Individual, the Family, the Church and the State. Each of these have an authority structure designed to govern the members of each institution. In families, the Father is the head of the household. In the Church, elders and deacons provide leadership. Kings, governors, magistrates and so on, wield authority in the State Each institution is under the direct authority of the Lord Jesus and none of them is supposed to be dominant over the others. Certainly, there will be interaction between them. Just as certain is the fact that man in his fallen state will make a mess of what God intended.
Unregenerate men deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ and attempt to combat any effort to bring the civil realm under the authority of the Messiah in a variety of ways. The primary approach in the USA these days is to claim there is an indelible wall of separation between Church and State and any suggestion that civil rulers must submit to Jesus is verboten. This is merely a smokescreen. We have already established there is a particular wall of separation between Church and State. However, that wall has nothing to do with the fact that the civil government is a servant of King Jesus.
And, as servants of Jesus, the civil authorities have the duty to govern according to the Word of the King. In other words, the civil government is supposed to rule according to the law of God as found in the Bible.