Limits of Government
It can't happen here! How many times have we heard this claim? But it can happen here. Many will tell you that it is happening here. It seems that almost on a daily basis we are losing our God-given rights. Some even make the case that there is a direct assault on the Christian religion because it is the only belief system that is greater than government and puts limits on governments. Relegating God to a distant corner of the universe empowers and emboldens governments to do what they will. In pre-Nazi Germany, many Christians were under the false assumption that they had to go along with whatever their civil rulers demanded. For decades before the rise of Hitler, Christians were subjected to arguments like the following from pastors and theologians: * The Gospel has absolutely nothing to do with outward existence but only with eternal life, not with external orders and institutions which could come in conflict with the secular orders but only with the heart and its relationship with God. * The Gospel frees us from this world, frees us from all questions of this world, frees us inwardly, also from the questions of public life, also from the social question. Christianity has no answer to these questions. * Once the Christian understands the moral significance of the state he will consider obedience to the government to be the highest vocation within the state. For the authority of the state on the whole, resting as it does upon authority of the government, is more important than the elimination of any shortcomings which it might have.
While many Christians might have been opposed to Nazi policies, they had been conditioned to believe they could not do anything about them. Much of their thinking was shaped by a misreading of Romans 13 and a misapplication of Matthew 22:21 where Jesus says Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars. As with all authority, there are limits, including limits on civil government. It might also help to realize that we do not live under Caesar. Our civil rulers took an oath to uphold the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. Neither the president nor the members of Congress are Caesar. If we have a Caesar, it is the United States Constitution. But even the Constitution recognizes its own limits and the right of the people to (1) express their grievances, (2) vote corrupt and oath-breaking rulers out of office, and (3) change existing laws.
The Bible tells us that civil rulers are ministers of God. The Greek word translated ministers is the same word used to describe ministers in a church. There are civil ministers and church ministers. Both serve as God's ministers within their jurisdictions. It is unbiblical to assume that civil rulers are autonomous, that they can legitimately rule independent of Gods limiting authority of them. It is a serious mistake to take Paul's instructions in Romans 13 and claim that civil rulers cannot be challenged by the citizenry. Notice the use of governing authorities in Romans 13:1. There's not just one ruler; there are many. Even Rome had governors and other civil officials.
Our own system of civil government follows the biblical model of multiple civil rulers with county, state, and national authorities. American civil government was designed to be decentralized and limited at all levels. We have a United States Constitution and 50 state constitutions. Its unfortunate that as a nation we have turned unwarranted and unconstitutional authority over to the national government to the exclusion of state and county governments. Civil authorities are to rule in terms of good and evil. There is no room for tyranny in these words. Those who rule are bound to God by the same laws as the rest of us.