Posts Tagged ‘Romans 13’

Authority – Not of this Realm (part 2)

July 27, 2014

Did the limitless Creator of the universe’s uncountable stars also institute flawed government bureaucracies and command us to obey them? That is the inescapable crux of Romans 13, and I’m trying to decide how to reconcile myself to it. This is the second installment on the authority of God, and what He appears to do when delegating it.  At the moment, we are dealing with His conferring of authority on earthly governments.

One of the things that the passage in Romans 13 does, is illuminate the proper function of government. It says God intends that government act as His minister to reward good behavior and rebuke evil behavior. The choice of the word translated minister is instructive. It is the Greek word διάκονος, (pronounced dee-ak’-on-os) the same word from which we get deacon – one who serves. This passage makes it clear enough that God grants authority to government to serve His purposes. Most developed nations have foreign ministers to many other nations. Bestowing authority on a minister isn’t a foreign concept. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) A reliable foreign minister doesn’t act on his own, he acts on behalf of his government. He makes it his business to know what is expected and is faithful to carry out his duties.

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Do you ever hear the word “gridlock” used to lament the notion that there is not enough agreement between parties for Congress to be able to “get the peoples work done”? My assessment is that gridlock on Capitol Hill would be a wonderful thing. I do not believe we have it. Here’s why I say so: In 1925, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) comprised a single volume (pictured above).  By 1998, according to the Office of the Federal Register, the official listing of all regulations in effect contained a total of 134,723 pages in 201 volumes that claimed 19 feet of shelf space. (This is the most recent estimate that I have been able to locate that included page count.) In the succeeding years, it hasn’t gotten smaller. By 2007, the shelf space had increased to twenty-five feet.  The current version of Title 49 (transportation) takes up nine volumes, while Title 26 (Internal Revenue) occupies twenty volumes. The purpose of the CFR is to define the law, and thereby regulate the behavior of every conceivable entity. One cannot, even with a determined effort, READ the law. (At 10 minutes per page, I estimate it would take 20 years of a normal full-time work schedule to read it through once). Not that reading it would do much good. The court system and all of the legal professions is based on the understanding that to be useful, the law has to be interpreted by trained experts. It is impossible to know it.  It is therefore impossible to follow so many laws in an intentional way.  I laugh when I hear complaints about selective enforcement.  How could it be otherwise? Odds are, there are statutes on the books that you are violating. You could be prosecuted, if those charged with enforcement decided to invest the effort. Does the illegality of your particular doing rise to the level of evil behavior that the government is charged in Romans 13 to bring the wrath of God down on?  I hope not.

I admit I don’t really understand the desire to cling to this massive body of legislation and bureaucratic regulation over the principle that Paul talked about in Romans 7:6. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. And in Romans 8:2 — For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.   Jesus talked about love for God and others as the basis for all the law (Matt 22:36-40). That kind of minimalist approach to the law (law in the sense of describing how God wants us to act) seems to me to accurately reflect the intention of God for the believer – freedom!

Those that love God have a powerful motivation to please him and do right. In fact, that Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is setting us free, and it is glorious!  The Psalms are replete with praise for the rightness of God’s law.  The trouble comes in when some use their freedom to not follow God, which God in His sovereignty, allows. They have no real expectation of something better later. The only rational path for such an individual is as much anarchy as he can get away with. Which, brings us back to Romans 13:4, which states that the government, acting as the minister of God, “does not bear the sword for nothing”. Proper government has the duty to restrain the unrestrained evildoer, by force if necessary. And so, we get to twenty-five feet of printed regulations: man’s laws.

Is this government carrying out its proper function as described in Romans chapter 13? Is it a faithful minister of the authority bestowed on it from above? We’ve established pretty clearly that there are laws on the books that can be brought to bear against any possible wrongdoing.  Still, Jesus had some choice words for the lawyers of His day; “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” – Luke 11:46.  Somehow, I think God takes a dim view of excessive rulemaking.

Does an assessment that the system is out of control negate the validity of the claim that it derives its authority from God?  Before we go too far down that road, it would behoove us to remember that Paul was writing within the Roman Empire, though before Nero began torturing and executing Christians.

More to come on the subject of God’s authority…

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