More On Pronouns And Tenses
In the Gospel Advocate of recent date under the heading of "'They' or 'We"' a brother thinks he discovers a glaring inconsistency in a speech delivered by the editor on the subject of "Premillennialism," and his argument from Rom. 13 on the government issue.
He wants to know "by what authority" do we change "he beareth not the sword in vain," to "we" or "I" in Rom. 13:4? It was by the authority of the law of the mind--a simple step in logic. It did not occur to me than any hearer could not make the transition by one simple step that would not even throw them off balance, or interfere with their train of thought. If the brother cannot span the stream, it will require but a few moments to build him a footbridge.
When Paul asserted that the "powers that be are ordained of God," did he limit the statement to the then existent powers? If so, Rom. 13 has no bearing upon any question of the Christian and his attitude toward government today, unless it might be used merely as an illustration of what Paul taught at one particular period. "When Paul said, "There is now power but of God," did he mean that only at the particular moment in history when he was speaking, the statement was true? But prior to or subsequent to that time the powers were not, and are not, of God? If so, by what authority does this brother and others contend that Christians today should even "submit" to the government, by paying taxes, or in any other way acknowledging any obligation whatever to the government?
According to his argument on the pronouns and tenses in Rom. 13, by what authority does the brother teach men to repent and be baptized today? If he cannot vary the pronouns and the tenses of the commands spoken by Christ and his apostles, how can he apply the gospel to men today? Do we not expect an audience to take the same simple thought-step every time a gospel sermon is preached?
It reduces itself to the question of what part of that which we read about in the New Testament can be applied to us today, and what cannot be thus applied. The statement, "They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years," appears in the midst of the figurative language of a Book of prophecies and symbols. There is nothing leading up to it in the plan or salvation; there are no duties or commands growing out of it. There is no obvious application to ourselves today.
On the other hand, there are definite duties and commands respecting the government, and an obvious application to those who would serve God in their attitude toward them. We know there are governments; we can see the manifestation of them daily. We can study their history; we can perceive their nature and functions. When Paul instructs the Romans as to what their attitude should be toward their government, and speaks of the "powers" that be, even asserting that there is no power--that is, government--except of God, is he not speaking "for" and "to" all Christians' throughout the gospel dispensation? Paul did not specify monarchies, empires, republics, democracies; he said "powers," and that there was no power not within the scope of his discourse.
The brother thinks it ridiculous that Paul would tell us to obey ourselves, if we are the government--but it is foolish to argue against a demonstration. We do have a government that derives its authority from the consent of the governed. And in such a government each individual has some attitude toward the government--even if it does sound ridiculous to the brother for an individual to have an attitude toward himself! That is not so much a passage of scripture to be analyzed as it is a fact to be recognized; there is not much of a way to help a man to recognize a
fact. We can help men to understand what they see; but we cannot see for them. We hope the brother can see this fact, for it is a very visible one.
If and when this brother comes to recognize the fact that the government is composed of the people living within the scope and influence of it, he will be in a position to advance to the thought that those born within the scope of the government, and who continue to dwell therein, are inherently in possession of citizenship in the government--unless he has taken some step to repudiate his citizenship. If he does not consider himself a citizen, he should in common fairness make known his attitude to the government.
A point worthy of repetition is that the very preacher who argues that the pronouns and tenses of Rom. 13 do not include the Christian as a part of the government, reverse their claim by their practice. As has been shown, they themselves function as civil magistrates every time they perform a marriage ceremony. Marriage licenses are issued by "the powers that be" and it is written on the face of the license that the officiating officer is an agent of the government, acting by the authority of the State. Every preacher who has the credentials necessary to perform marriages is a civil magistrate in the exercise of such credentials. In that capacity he does not act as "a minister of Christ" or "the minister of the church," he acts wholly and solely as a minister of the government, an officer of the State. But I have heard of gospel preachers who solemnize the rites of matrimony in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! What kind of an illusion or delusion is it that makes a preacher think the Holy Spirit has appointed him to execute marriage licenses issued by the State? It so happens that it is not the "seal of the Holy Spirit" on that particular legal instrument, but the seal of the State, and the preacher's credentials to execute them are on file in the county court house instead of being on record in the New Testament!
On this point we are sometimes told that Paul said that his citizenship was in heaven. Yes, the citizenship that he referred to in that passage was in heaven, but Paul's Roman citizenship was not in heaven. When Jesus said to Pilate, "my kingdom is not of this world," he was merely emphasizing the nature of the kingdom of Christ in contrast with the material kingdom. If the statement that his "kingdom" is not of this world" means that a Christian cannot be a part of a government of the world, then Paul's statement that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink" would mean that a Christian could not eat and drink! Those passages do not deny the privileges of the earthly government, they merely emphasize the nature of the spiritual kingdom.
It is claimed that the statement in Romans 13 that the "he," the government, is a minister "to thee" just puts the Christian on the receiving end of the line! Here we are told that the Christian pays for that protection in taxes, or tribute. But the part of society that furnishes him the protection pays just as much in taxes and tribute as the Christian does, besides the protection given to the Christian. Romans 13 says that for this cause we pay tribute also. What is the also in addition to the tribute or rather what is the also that the tribute is in addition to.
It resolves itself once more into the fact that this theory of civil government makes it right for a Christian to claim equal privileges of citizenship, but wrong for a Christian to bear the equal responsibilities of citizenship. Romans 13, according that idea, does not bar a Christian from all the blessings of the government but does exempt him from its responsibilities! The doctrine looks worse every time I see it.