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grudem on law, politics, & gov't, part 2

I am currently taking a course with Dr. Wayne Grudem called "Biblical Theology of Law, Politics & Government." This is a series of posts with reactions and lessons from that class.

Romans 13 and the Purpose of Government
The clearest biblical text regarding the purpose of government is found in Romans 13:1-7 (Grudem is even having us memorize it).

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

What, according to this passage, is the purpose of civil government? Dr. Grudem gives the following comments:

1. God has appointed these rulers (v. 2)

2. They are a terror to bad conduct, meaning they are to restrain evil (v. 3)

3. They give praise (Gk. "approval, recognition") for doing what is good (v. 3). An example might be tax incentives for charitable donations or having children.

4. They serve God (v. 4)

5. They are doing good (v. 4)

6. They execute God's wrath on wrongdoers (v. 4)

The interesting thing about this passage is that it does not necessarily assume that the government will be one that people enjoy or appreciate all that much. Thus, there is a need to "be subject" (v. 1). There's no need to submit to a government you like--it only becomes submission when you have disagreements. At the time of Paul's writing, Nero was emperor in Rome. While it is likely that Romans was written prior to Nero's most heinous persecution of Christians, it is significant that Paul is giving these instructions in a situation that is probably difficult and tough to submit to. Nonetheless, God has purposes for the rulers he puts into power.

Okay, that's all for today...but stay tuned...I think you'll find the next discussion pretty interesting.

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  1. Blogger Jason and Paige Addink | 1/29/2008 10:14 PM |  

    Hi Luke. I'll go out on a limb and try to answer your question. Hopefully you (and Wayne Grudem) don't saw it off from under me.

    Here's my take. Hopefully it makes sense in a short post on a blog. It seems to me that Romans not only lays out responsibility for individuals, but also for governments. Governments are instituted by God for a purpose... to be a terror to bad conduct, to carry out God's wrath on the wrongdoer, to be a servant for your good. If a government is not fulfilling this ideal, is it owed the respect, honor, and obedience of Romans 13?

    Do governments have unlimited authority, and Christians have no ability to resist authority? That would mean that Christians should not have helped Jews escape Nazi Germany. Should not have helped blacks escape slavery by the underground railroad. Daniel should have obeyed Darius's order to pray only to him and avoided the lion's den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have worshipped Nebuchadnezzar and avoided the furnace. Peter and John in Acts 4 are arrested by the Jewish authorities for proclaiming Christ. When they are released, they continue to "speak the word with boldness." In Acts 5, the apostles are again arrested and told not to preach. Peter answers that they "must obey God rather than men." Even Paul, the author of Romans, spent a large amount of time in prison... for supposedly violating Roman laws.

    Granted, rebelling against British taxation isn't exactly the same as being imprisoned for preaching the gospel. But you can interpret the Romans chapter 2 ways. The first is that specific rulers are instituted by God, and thus cannot be opposed, ie. the divine right of kings, the very idea that Europe and America were rebelling against. Or you can interpret Romans to say that government in general is instituted by God (in other words, order, not anarchy) but not all individual governments fulfill the purposes of government in Romans 13 (and thus can be resisted when they are unjust.) Christians of the day had this very debate on this very chapter of Romans (and came down on both sides.)

    The debate had been going on in Britain for something like 500 years. The founders came from a background that the people, not the king, were the foundation of government. So if the king does not obey the people, HE is the one in rebellion to the proper government. Obviously King George III disagreed though...

    Ahhhhrgh, this "comment" is getting far too long. I'll let you respond to my ramblings before writing any more. Hopefully this makes some sense outside my own head...

  2. Blogger Jason and Paige Addink | 1/29/2008 10:17 PM |  

    Yikes. That was way longer than I intended...

  3. Blogger luke simmons | 1/30/2008 8:29 AM |  

    I put the wrong link on here...see my response underneath "part 3."