Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Christian teaching and Romans 13, part 4

Comparison with Christian teaching on the state

Paul presents the governing authorities in an entirely positive and legitimate light in Romans 13:1-7. However, before accepting this at face value we should consider the Christian teaching on the state to check for consistency with this interpretation.
Jesus subtly called Herod a reed swaying in the wind (Mat 11:7-8) and not so subtly called him a fox (Luke 13:31-34). He taught that the prince of this world stands condemned (Jn 12:31, 14:30, 16:11).  Jesus taught an alternative to the Roman Empire (and the state) that did not operate based on power, authority and coercion (Mat 20:25-26).
The gospels present state-political power as of Satan and a temptation to reject (Mat 4:8-10 cf. Mat 16:23, Luke 22:3, John 6:70; 13:2).
John presents the governing authorities as beasts deriving their authority from the devil or Satan, and using it to persecute the followers of Jesus Christ (Rev 2:10, 13, 12:9-13:18).
Paul is no stranger to such adverse views of the state, even describing it as the devil’s scheme:
Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:11-12)    
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15)
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:6-8)
These verses should not be over-spiritualised to the point that Satan rules merely ‘the air’ and the spirit world because we do not want to impugn the rulers, authorities and the powers of this dark world as actually being Satan’s kingdom. The Christian teaching, however, is that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19).  
As mentioned above, Jesus endorsed ostracism of tax collectors in Mat 18:17.
This topic will also bear a brief comment on the subject of prayer for those in authority. Paul urges prayers be offered for those in authority:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)
Sometimes this passage is used to suggest Christian teaching is that the legitimate function of the state is to produce the peace, quietness, godliness and holiness mentioned by Paul. Just as the Jews always refused to make sacrifices to the emperor, and instead offered to make sacrifices to God on behalf of the emperor, allowing both to save face, so Paul instructs Christians to pay for those in authority rather than to them, as a means of avoiding offense and mitigating conflict. Paul is instructing us to follow the teaching of Jesus to pray for those who persecute us (Mat 5:44), but, for justice especially, not to them but to God (Luke 18:1-8). As to the content of the prayers, it is not for them to ‘govern wisely’ or ‘judge fairly’: those notions, concerning secular authorities do not exist in the New Testament, not even once.

So it appears that the interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 discussed above does not fit the Christian teaching and approach to the institution of the state, including from elsewhere in the writings of Paul. 

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