Listen as Pastor Duke shares a timely word from Romans 13 on Christianity and the role of government especially during this crisis.
On Sunday morning, Jan 21, 1776, pastor John Muhlenberg climbed into his pulpit in Woodstock, VA to preach. In his black clerical robe, the traditional dress of 18th century preachers, Muhlenberg preached from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. He read how there is a time for all things. There’s a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest. Then his voice began to rise as he said: “There’s a time of war, and a time of peace. There is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray. But there is also a time to fight, and that time has now come!”
Then he did something his congregation did not expect. He removed his clerical robe revealing a colonial officer’s uniform beneath. Muhlenberg then stepped down from his pulpit and challenged the men of his congregation to join him in the fight for liberty.
Just a few days before, he had been commissioned by General George Washington to raise a regiment from the Woodstock area. As Muhlenberg walked down the aisle and out the door of his church, a drum began to roll outside. One by one, the men of Muhlenberg’s congregation filed out of the auditorium and volunteered to follow their courageous pastor.
Bidding farewell to their families, some three hundred men rode away from Woodstock, VA with Col. John Muhlenberg in the lead to form the 8th Virginia regiment. Muhlenberg led those men throughout the War of Independence, fighting at the battles of Morristown, Brandywine, and Monmouth Courthouse. By the war’s end, Muhlenberg had been promoted to Major General and had become one of Washington’s most valued commanders. Muhlenberg was front and center at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
James Caldwell was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Because of his strong stand for liberty and his sermons encouraging the colonists to fight, he had made himself numerous enemies. So he would step into his pulpit each Sunday wearing two pistols, place them on the pulpit, and then proceed to preach powerful sermons about the need for Christians to stand for truth. When the war began, Caldwell became a chaplain in the colonial army. He was so hated by the British they called him the “Rebel Priest.”
When the war finally came to Elizabethtown, during the fighting, the British killed Caldwell’s wife. By the time he had completed her funeral, the fighting had moved to Springfield, New Jersey so Caldwell rode there to join his men. During the fighting, the colonists were running out of wadding for their muskets. Caldwell jumped on his horse and rode to the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield and gathered up two armloads of hymnals written by Isaac Watts, a popular hymn writer of the era. He hurried back to his troops, threw the hymnals at their feet, and commanded them to tear out the pages and use them for wadding. As he did so, he yelled, “Give’m Watts boys, give’m Watts!” This is origin of the famous phrase, “Give’m watt for!”
On the night of April 18, 1775, as Paul Revere was making his famous ride through the Lexington, Massachusetts countryside yelling, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” he was headed for a particular house; the house of pastor Jonas Clark. Jonas Clark was a pastor in Lexington and on Sunday afternoons after church, he and Deacon John Parker, a captain from the French Indian War, had been organizing the Lexington men into a citizen army to fight the British if they invaded. On the night of April 18, Clark had two special guests staying in his home, Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The British had heard of Adams’ and Hancock’s whereabouts and they were marching toward Lexington to capture them.
As Revere rode up to the front yard of Clark’s home, Clark, Adams, and Hancock ran out to meet him. When they heard that the British were marching toward Lexington, Adams and Hancock asked pastor Clark if the men of Lexington would fight. Clark responded, “I trained them for this very hour; they would fight, and, if need be, die, too, under the shadow of the house of God.”
The next morning, April 19, 1775, Pastor Jonas Clark and Deacon John Parker led the Lexington “Minutemen” out to face the invaders. As the British approached the Minutemen, they cried out “in the name of the King of England throw down your arms.” This response rang out from the colonists, “We recognize no Sovereign but God and no King but Jesus!” Then Captain Parker said to his Minutemen, “Stand your ground, don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” Then the first shot rang out, the shot heard around the world.
Christianity and Civil Government
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he 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. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
What Does Subject Mean?
A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use,it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.
The Christian is to voluntarily cooperate and assume responsibility.
The Role of Government
- Government is to punish bad works. Verse 3
- Government is to praise good works. Verse 3
The Role Of The Church
- To Cooperate with Government
- To Support the Role of Government
Where does the Government and the Church get it’s authority?
Both the church and government gets its authority to exercise its role from God. Vs. 4
The great theologian Augustine said that government is a necessary evil, that it is necessary because of evil. And most theologians in the history of the church have said that human evil is the reason even corrupt government is better than no government at all. The function of government is to restrain evil and to maintain, uphold, and protect the sanctity of life and of property. Given this function, the Christian understands that government is ordained of God, and so Christians, first of all, are called to respect whatever it is that God institutes and ordains.
Exceptions to this rule.
There are occasions on which Christians not only may but must disobey the civil magistrates.
- When the government asks you to do something that is against God’s moral law.
- When the government forbids you to do something God commands you to do.
Our early founding fathers believed that the King was asking them to give allegiance to him over their allegiance to God. Captain Parker’s words ring out with this belief. ““We recognize no Sovereign but God and no King but Jesus!”
I personally believe in a separation of spheres of authority between the church and state. I think it is a marvelous structure in the United States of America that does not allow for the state to rule the church or the church to rule the state. Historically that meant that the church was answerable to God and the state was answerable to God. Separation of church and state assumed a division of labor; the church has its job, and the state has its job. The church is not to maintain a standing army, and the state is not to do evangelism or to administer the sacraments. Nevertheless, they are both regarded as being under God.
Unfortunately, in today’s culture separation of church and state means separation of state and God, as if the state and the government were answerable to no one but themselves—as if the government didn’t have to respond to God. But God monitors governments; God raises them up and brings them down. Every human government is accountable to God and is accountable to maintain its affairs with justice and with righteousness. When the government is no longer acting justly and no longer protecting life—sanctioning abortions, for example—then it is the task of the church to be the prophetic voice, to call the state to task and tell the state to repent and do what God commands it to do.
In this current crisis, the state is preventing the church from doing its job. Because of this it is usurping the authority given by God over the church.
However, because we both desire the safety of every individual, many churches, including our own are willingly going the extra mile to cooperate. However, that cooperation is limited. If the government continues to usurp the authority of the church, we will be forced to echo the words of our founding fathers and state unequivocally that we recognize no sovereign but God and have no King but Jesus.