Tag Archives: Government

Can We Trust the Government?

Government exists on earth as the repository of God-given authority over human beings for the purpose of good order and safety. That is the thesis underlying the Declaration of Independence, and the guiding principle in the design of the Constitution of the United States of America. The men who wrote those two documents were quite familiar with the passage in Romans 13 where Paul wrote about the good purpose and function of government:

1Let 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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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, 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. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 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 (Romans 13:1–7 ESV).

Paul did not write such words out of ignorance that some people who serve in government are violent, murderous thieves. Nobody was more cognizant of sinful human nature than the apostle Paul. Rather he wrote this short essay to comfort Christians in the capital city of the Roman Empire, and his words are preserved for all generations to be equally comforted. Roman citizens who received Christ and followed him had the same issue with government authority that contemporary Christians have: If the government demands that we do something God himself has forbidden, what do we do?

Paul’s description of the proper function of government makes it very clear that government’s authority comes from God. Therefore, government that operates in respectful submission to God’s authority will never pose a threat to Christian obedience to God. This is the reason that the representatives at the Constitutional Convention believed it to be unnecessary to insert a clause that protected the freedom of a citizen to obey God rather than men. Those representatives considered that freedom to be a foregone conclusion that was obvious to everyone.

The discussions surrounding ratification made it clear that many people did not consider the unstated assumption of the Convention to be clear enough that they felt safe. Rather than seek a safe space west of the Alleghenies, they advocated for an amendment that would protect their freedom in case someone did challenge the authority of God. The First Amendment to the Constitution recognizes that every person must put God’s authority first, above all other authority, and that is the reason that “free exercise” of religion is protected.

The major thrust of the work of the Constitutional Convention was to create a government that did, in fact, secure and protect the God-given liberty of the citizens while assuring that nobody used liberty as a license to steal, murder and destroy things.

The problem with any government, however, is that it is made up of human beings, all of whom are born with sinful human nature. Government puts those imperfect vessels of authority in close proximity with both money and power, and there is little to prevent officials in a government from doing evil things, especially if they are very clever. Imperfect individuals in the possession of great power and authority can do terrible things. A police officer whose sin of considering himself greater than the people he serves is an example. He may extort protection money. He may sell his services to the underworld. He may delightedly murder citizens who are at his mercy just because he can. If all police officers, or even if most police officers, behaved that way, our nation would be quickly destroyed. Police officers are supposed to enforce the peace, but murdering innocent people creates violent reactions, not peace.

The tradition of good government is to have a process in place for identifying and punishing police officers who exceed their authority or commit crimes such as murder and theft. However, like any other human undertaking, the administration of good government is often as flawed as the police officers it must manage.

Personal venality of members of the government is not the only threat to good government. The government is almost always under assault by people who want to change it. They do not want to follow the slow process of winning hearts, obtaining voter support, holding orderly meetings and elections and etcetera. They want change, and they want it now. One of the powerful strategies to agitate citizens to demand change is to circulate half-truths, self-serving statistics, and hints at possibilities. People become agitated. They can’t get the truth, and they feel betrayed.

This state of affairs describes the attitude toward government at all levels in the US today. It is the reason that #Blacklivesmatter is able to recruit so many people to its side. This is the reason Nick Pitts says, “The enforcement of justice and the restoration of peace are heavenly echoes in an earthly wilderness. Although heaven is perfect, we are not.” Government has a perfectly godly role in the universe, a role defined by the Creator, but it does not always fulfill that role with integrity and honor.

When government fails the citizens it serves, something must give. Our Constitutional government at the federal level, and our state, county and local governments as well, are all accountable to the voters, but sad to say, voters, too, are human and subject to corruption. Their motives are not always pure, and their hands are not always clean.

The people who believe that too many black men have been killed by white officers with malignant attitudes can be forgiven for assuming that this allegation is true. When even one person you love is murdered, it seems like one too many. However, God wants good order and safety on the earth for all the people. When people with grievances destroy good order and compromise safety, when the people with grievances destroy as much as or more than they grieve, when people with grievances cannot show respect for other people, then the government still has the role of enforcing good order and safety. That is the role given to government by God himself.

Government at all levels in the US needs to be held accountable for honest administration of good laws and good policy. Voters need to talk about the problems, and voters need to reshape government that is not doing its job. Some will say that the solution is “Throw the bums out!” There are mechanisms to do exactly that. Some will say that the solution is better laws or better policies or more citizen involvement. All those things can be done, but nothing happens overnight. In the meantime, if we want any semblance of freedom, peace and good order, each of us must exert the self-discipline to behave responsibly no matter what we think of the government.

Here is the conclusion of Paul’s statement on good government. It is a fitting conclusion for us as well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8–10 ESV).

Liberty or Equality?

Liberty. Equality. In our American way of life, which is more important? Last Friday, Mark Levin opened his program with this question. Before you read further, please stop and consider these terms. Think about what our way of life is all about. Think about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Think about our Revolutionary War. What were our ancestors fighting for? Liberty? or Equality?


When the French, much inspired by the American Revolution and particularly by Benjamin Franklin, set out to topple their king, they marched to the rhythms of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” Their revolution never brought to France the stability, the tranquility and the prosperity enjoyed by the USA. Why? What was more important? Liberty? Or Equality?


When Russian peasants inspired by the ideas of Marx and under the cunning leadership of V I Lenin threw down the Czar and his empire, what did they want? Liberty? Or Equality?


What did they get? To work backwards, the Russian peasants took charge of themselves and created communes. They gave up their land and quite a bit of liberty in order to become equal. They all became equally poor, equally privileged to stand in line for simple necessities such as toilet paper and bread. They gave up the liberty to work for anybody they wished in order to have a guaranteed job in the commune. Everybody ultimately worked for the government, because nobody was allowed to be an employer, except the government. They all had equality in their choice of employer. The government ran the factories that made the tractors, which were all alike. The tractors were all equal, and they all equally fell apart and failed to run. The peasants of Russia obtained equality, but they were all so equally oppressed that they all equally desired to leave. Russia did not have an immigration problem; Russia had an emigration problem.


The French were pretty concerned with equality, too. In fact, anyone who reads deeply into the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution quickly discerns a number of common threads. Men and women lost their identity as men and women and became neutered fellow revolutionaries. They engaged in committees where their high-minded ideals of a prosperous liberated future fell victim to human egos, and before they knew it, an artful speaker had high-jacked their revolution and run it into the ground in the wicked winter of 1812. They got a lot more equality than liberty. They sold their liberty for a pack of fine words.


The British colonists who undertook to become independent in 1776 were accustomed to English Common Law, and in the context of that legal environment, they knew the difference between liberty and equality. In the litany of their complaints against the king of England, they demanded to recover rights they knew are theirs because they were the rights of all English citizens, but the dominant theme is an insistence on their freedom to procure and protect those rights for themselves. In the bloody, frozen battlefields of the Revolution, men did not give their lives in order to have equal rights. They gave their lives in order to obtain the liberty to protect rights they knew God had already given them. They declared their liberty by naming the rights they intended to protect, but it was liberty, the escape from the tyranny of the empire, that they wanted most of all.

They knew something very important, something the French and the Russian and contemporary liberal politicians do not know. (You may call them progressive if you like, The politics don’t change; just the nomenclature.)They could look at ten homesteads on the edge of a wilderness, ten family farms, ten households, and see ten different lifestyles and incomes. Of the ten some would successfully feed, clothe and shelter their growing families. Others would barely make ends meet. Yet all were at liberty to do the best they could imagine or dream with the opportunity before them. The colonists turned American citizens knew that if everyone was free, then everyone had the same shot at success, because the hindrances to success imposed by oppressive laws and the machinations of politics did not matter out there at the edge of civilization. The truth was the same for all locations, but it was most clearly visible at the frontiers. That is where they could most readily see the truth that if a man has liberty, he can make his own way, but he only has equality, he is oppressed.

We know it here in the mooring field where our boat is currently located. There are probably 200 boats in this mooring field. They are all sizes, all sorts of designs. Each is truly unique, as unique as each owner. The boats in the mooring field are not equal by any means. They vary widely from extremely luxurious to extremely utilitarian. They are not equal, but they are all equally at liberty to come and go as they please. Each has the same right to moor as all the others, and nobody owes the others anything but common courtesy. They are not equal, but they are all equally free. That is the root of the real happiness of the cruisers who reside in these boats. They are free, and they don’t really worry much about being equal. They didn’t all want to be the same, and that is why no two boats are ever alike.

The most important element of our national government, the element proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution is our liberty. Our form of government was never intended to procure equality, because that objective so easily leads to tyranny. Just listen to all the scathing words about “the rich.” As soon as everyone is economically equal, somebody squanders his allotment, and then you must redistribute everything. As soon as all the skin-colors have been mollified, those with red hair start feeling picked on. Do you require everyone to have red hair? Or at least wear a red wig in order to achieve equality in hair color? Where does it end? If you start giving everyone equal vehicles, can you manufacture them rapidly enough to give everyone a new one at the same time? If you spread it out, will you have given everyone a new one before the first folks need a replacement? Then is it equal or not? Can you give the first folks something different when you start the new round of distribution?

America is not the land of equality. We have always prided ourselves on assuring equality before the law, which is to say, we pride ourselves that a rich man and a poor man stand before blind Justice and receive the just disposition of their conflict. Being human, we have found that an elusive goal at times. Nevertheless, what we value above equality is liberty. Equality becomes tyranny. The goal of equality has eroded our conversation as we struggle to find just the right word to avoid offending anyone. We want all our words to be completely neutral. The goal of equality is eroding the meaning of family, even the meaning of humanity. America has not been the land of equality, because equality becomes oppression. Who gets to say what equal means? Who gets to distribute the equal gifts? Who is more equal than others? Read 1984 and find out what happens when equality is the goal.

America has always been the land of the free. Above all other things, people came to this country to be free. If you read what immigrants say about us, you will find that they don’t much talk about equality. They want to be free so they can be whatever they dream. Not equal. Better than that.

Liberty? Or Equality? I’ll take liberty any day.

Please Pass the Salt

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

You are the salt of the earth … 
You are the light of the world
            Matthew 5:13-14 

In order to be salt and light in the world, each of us must be constantly modeling and teaching what Jesus has taught us. The point is not that we are better than anyone else, even though we are constantly accused of that attitude by the culture. The point is that we share the good things we receive through our relationship with Christ. The culture is flavored with poison and oppressed by deep, palpable darkness. Christ calls us to bring good flavor and bright light to the whole world.

Read the latest news of cultures wars and the persecuted church in Living on Tilt, the newspaper.

When we examine our surroundings, we know that everyone in the world needs what we have received. Yet when we try to share, we very often encounter resistance. The squeeze and the smash that I described last week are realities, and they have been realities since the first Christians were arrested in Jerusalem. One of the greatest challenges for Christians from the very beginning has been government. When someone in the crowd asked Jesus about taxes, the stage was set for the ongoing friction between Christians and government. Christians still ask today how we are to differentiate between what belongs to Caesar (government) and what belongs to God.

The fundamental question, however, comes back to Christ’s call to be salt and light and to make disciples. Christ gave us the ministries of being salt and light in order that we might complete the only real job he gave us: making disciples. Eugene Petersen, in his contemporary paraphrase of the Bible says: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20 The Message)

Christians who live in the USA are more fortunate than Christians who live in countries where the government has the goal of eradicating all religion, or all but one religion. The government defined by the US Constitution encourages citizens who belong to any and all religions or no religion to express themselves and to participate in electing leaders and shaping the laws of the country. Contemporary Christians living in the USA have every right and the civic responsibility to help elect political leaders and to participate in the shaping of laws for the nation. The US government is designed to provide opportunity for the discussion of any and all issues that affect citizens, and the government is intended to allow anybody to participate.

Christy McFerren, in her excellent book First Steps Out: How Christians Can Respond to a Loved One’s Struggle with Homosexuality talks about the way Christians have participated in the national conversation. She says, “The political system was never intended to be a means of discipleship.”[1] Sadly, Christians have been mistaking the government for a means of making disciples for a very long time. When the emperor Constantine became a convert, he decreed that everyone in the empire had to become a Christian. He set a bad example of the value of good government, because his action created a perception Christians struggle with to this day: the perception that if the government can compel people to become Christians, it will somehow be Christ’s agent of transformation in the world. Every Christian could rejoice that Constantine came to know Christ, to be forgiven of his sins and to experience the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in his life. Every Christian should have pleaded with the emperor not to pretend that people could be saved by government decree. It is impossible to comprehend all the damage to the Church achieved by that single decree.

In the USA, there were many Christians who rejoiced on the day that George H. W. Bush announced the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. I was not among them. It scared me to think that the tentacles of government would extend ever deeper into Christian ministries in the US. The history of that office and the problems that have arisen related to what is or is not permitted if a faith-based organization is receiving funds from the government have validated my original unwillingness to celebrate that idea. One of the things that office did was to confuse a lot of Christians into believing that the government had decided to participate in the discipling of the nation. Christy McFerren is absolutely correct when she says that discipling is not the work of government.

We Christians who want to be salt and light, who want to be busily sharing our faith and leading others to faith must shun the involvement of government in that work. Here is a fact: anybody can hand out food to hungry people. Here is another fact: only a Christian can share Christ. Unfortunately, if the government bought the food and paid the rent on the building where it is handed out, the Christian who shares the food may be forbidden to share Christ.

The government has a compelling interest in the welfare of all citizens, and it has always tried to provide a safety net for people in need. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was not established in order to accomplish the Christian mission of discipling the world. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was established in order for the government to be able to claim that it served more people who needed a safety net. This office is not the sole source of support for most of the ministries that receive money from the government. The government spends a little less on each person served by the agency the government funds, while the government still counts all the people fed as fed by the government, thereby getting credit for feeding the hungry. The government did not decide to make grants to ministries in order to promote discipling.

However, and this is an important however, when government money comes in, freedom to make disciples goes out. The old adage that “he who pays the piper calls the tune,” applies here. The government will not give money to pay the salary of a missionary whose work is to make disciples. The government will only give money to be used for purposes consistent with the government’s definition of “general welfare.” The government does not care if a Christian or a Hindu or an atheist hands out food to the hungry, but it has no intention, nor should it have any intention, of making Christian disciples among the hungry that are being fed.

I have a several friends who work in charitable endeavors related to a church mission of making disciples. Each of the agencies for which they work receives government funding in one form or another. The degree of government interference in the actual work of making disciples varies from agency to agency, but the fact is that when push comes to shove, the government does not pay for prayer and Bible study. The government does not pay for someone to explain to a client why Christ died. The government pays for handing out food, or clothing, or health services, or adoptions, or etcetera. Some individuals have even been told that they may not pray with someone who is asking for food or shelter, yet for Christians whose mission is to serve Christ and make disciples, the most natural thing in the world is to pray with someone in need. Anybody can hand out food, but only a Christian can share Christ. I don’t mean to say that they tell the people no help will be forthcoming unless they join in prayer. I simply mean that when any Christian sees someone in need, the most natural response is to say, “Let’s pray about this situation,” and after prayer, proceed. If the government is funding the work, people may or may not be free to do that.

In years past, the freedom to pray or not to pray may have been taken for granted, but not so much now. When Hope Christian School in Albuquerque, NM, rejected an applicant because his family did not meet the school’s definition of family, the school was within its rights to accept or reject any applicant for any reason whatsoever. The rejection was rooted in the school’s interpretation of a Christian view of family, which meant to most readers that the school was expressing a religious value. Even that observation might have been argued over and then let go except for one thing: the school had received a federal grant for school administrative projects. Those projects were unrelated to the admissions process, and none of the money was to be used for promulgating religion per se. Yet a spokesperson for the ACLU proclaimed almost immediately that the school had no right to exclude anyone on religious grounds because it is a federal grant recipient.

The ultimate decision about the requirements for compliance with the terms of the grant does not lie with the ACLU, but the cultural implications are clear. If you read the news, you will quickly discover that the culture and the government increasingly believe that if you receive government money, you must adopt the government’s value system. If it ever was a good idea in the past to use the government in the church’s mission to make disciples, to spread salt and light in the culture, it is not a good idea any longer.

How shall a Christian relate to government?

Christy McFerren speaks to that question, too:

“If we as the Church were to stop being afraid and do the hard work of relationship-based discipleship, the laws and officeholders who govern us would eventually reflect what we fight tooth and nail for in every election cycle. … Discipling nations starts with hearts. … our message of hope and unconditional love should not be a byline on our political talking points – it should be the main thing people hear.Until we change this … the Church will continue to lose her potential to touch the hearts of the individuals all around them.”[2]

In plain language, the church must not hand off to the government the work of making disciples. It must not hand off to the government the obligation to pay the financial costs of making disciples. The church must not confuse success in changing laws with success in transforming human lives. The church must make disciples and be the salt and light in the culture that Jesus taught us to be. Christians must act as grateful stewards of God’s provision and Christians must support the costs of making disciples. When we do our work, the government will become what a government should be, not because we got more votes for our position, but because the people running for office and voting for officeholders and making laws and enforcing laws and adjudicating laws are listening to the guidance of the same Holy Spirit.

The current president has made it clear on more than one occasion that he believes it is his calling to fundamentally transform this nation. I could speculate on his objective based on what I can see, but that is not my purpose here. My point is that the mission of the Church is to make disciples, which will result in the fundamental transformation of the whole world by the power of the Holy Spirit. The president is committed to using the government to accomplish his purposes, and I do not think Christians should confuse his purposes, no matter how charitable they may appear, with the purpose of God. As Christians, no matter what the government is up to, we must reject the idea that government is God’s chosen agent to bring his kingdom to earth. The government is not established for that purpose. God’s only agent for bringing his kingdom near to every person on earth is you and me – the Church. We dilute our power and our purpose if we think for a moment that we can corral government power in the service of the Kingdom of God. God’s agent for the fundamental transformation of the world is the Holy Spirit, and God’s plan for accomplishing that objective is that each of us should be completely committed to making disciples as we share Christ wherever we go.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV

[1] McFerren, Christy First Steps Out: How Christians Can Respond to a Loved One’s Struggle with Homosexuality Kindle Edition, loc 516

[2] ibid. loc 524-536