IV. David Lipscomb And Civil Government
David Lipscomb was a great man, a great writer, and a great Christian, and did as much to build up the cause of Christ as many perhaps since the days of Campbell. Martin Luther was a great man. But the greatness of any man does not make any error that he taught less pernicious for evil, it makes it more powerful, and adds greater reason why it should be exposed. Lipscomb taught error on the subject of civil government and I propose to prove it, and that his teaching on that question has done great harm to the cause.
I do not propose a review of the entire book at this time, but it is a job that I think some man should do if the book remains in print, and his admirers continue to advertise it as the voice of the church. But if it can be shown that his entire theory of civil government is wrong, the entire book is discredited, and he is convicted of forcing an evil upon the church. He was a conscientious objector, but he was logical enough to know that if he belonged to a civil government he would owe it whatever duties and obligations that belonged to it, and as a citizen render them, even if it required him to bear arms.
From page 86 of his book I quote:
"Christ recognized the kingdoms of the world as the kingdoms of the devil, and that they should all be rooted up, that all institutions of the world save the kingdom of heaven should be prevailed over by the gates of hell."
In this short paragraph there are three statements, and not one of them is true.
First, Jesus did not admit that the kingdoms of the world belonged to the devil. There is no hint that Jesus admitted the devil's claim to them. That the devil did claim them there is no doubt. But the devil has claimed many things which did not belong to him. Once he claimed the body of Moses, and disputed with the angel Gabriel over it. Once he claimed Job, and disputed with the God of heaven over him. But he is such an awful liar that we should always be on guard when he says a thing. He lied when he said he owned all the kingdoms of this world and could give them to whomsoever he would, I know he lied. He is not greater than God, and God said he gave those kingdoms to whomsoever He would, and I believe it. Jesus knew he was lying and shows it in the answer he made to him in the very passage cited. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him shalt thou serve," is a denial of Satan's claim.
Second, Jesus did not say that all of the kingdoms of this world shall be rooted up. He did say that every plant which the heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up, but that cannot refer to civil government for God planted it. He ordained it for man and if he ordained it, He planted it. God uses it, too, as His minister for good, and to execute wrath upon evildoers. There are many plants in the world which God did not plant, but civil government is not one of them. God planted civil government, and gave man dominion in it, and holds him to strict account for the way he exercises that dominion.
Third, it is no where said in the Bible that the gates of hell will prevail over civil government. Will the devil prevail over himself? If the civil governments all belong to the devil, and he rules them as he wills, why would he try to prevail over them? Later Brother Lipscomb says the kingdom of God came to the earth to destroy civil government, came as their enemy, and it will destroy them, he said. Now he says the gates of hell will prevail against them. Does he mean Jesus will fail in what he came to do and call on the devil to finish the job for him? Or does he mean the devil has been helping him all the time? It seems to me that Brother Lipscomb has got his wires badly tangled on civil government.
Again he says: "Christ therefore was recognized from before his birth as coming to make war on human governments, and as their enemy; and rulers sought from his birth to kill him."
This is a strange mixture of truth and fiction, which makes it all the more dangerous, since truth will not mix with error. The error destroys the truth; poisons it, and makes it vicious. Satan has always been skillful in using half-truth to deceive man, it is his most effective weapon. Some people did think he was coming as a rival to the kingdoms of this world, and therefore an enemy, but God never said he was. Jesus always denied it to the day of his death. My kingdom is not of this world, he told Pilate. Herod thought it was of this world and tried to kill him. The apostles never did fully understand the difference until Pentecost. The Jews expected a material kingdom also, and the premillennialists insist to this day that he came to set up such a kingdom, but the Jews refused to accept him.
That was the charge upon which the Jews secured his conviction. If thou let this man go thou art not Caesar's friends, they said. Then Pilate said take him away and crucify him. The apostles understood him on Pentecost, but Brother Lipscomb had not learned it, and the Jews and the premillennialist have not learned it yet. You cannot make the kingdom of Jesus a rival of the kingdoms of this world without making it material like them, Of the same kind, and with the same kind of work to do.
This is the fundamental error of premillennialism, and the rock upon which the theory goes to pieces. Had he wanted a material kingdom he could have set up one and all the powers of hell, and earth, could not have prevented it. But if he had done so he would have taken the dominion from man which God gave to him in the beginning, and relieved man of the responsibility. This would have made man a mere machine, and tool in the hands of his almighty king, and would have reversed God's method of dealing with man from the beginning. No wonder so much of Brother Lipscomb's writings encourages premillennialism. I have never considered him a premillennialist but on account of his peculiar teaching on civil government, his writings do encourage the theory, and lead weaker disciples into it.
Note another statement: "Here the human governments are placed among the powers of the wicked one, and their entire work is against the church; and the Christian must needs arm himself with the whole armor of God to withstand them as the enemies of God."
The passage of Scripture upon which he bases this statement reads as follows: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
In this passage the apostle recognizes two kinds of powers, one we do wrestle against, and the other we do not. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, material kingdoms, but we do wrestle against the other kind which are not flesh and blood. Brother Lipscomb says we wrestle against human kingdoms, but they are flesh and blood, or material. Paul said we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, and in another prominent passage he tells us to not resist the powers that be, for they are the ministers of God to us for good, and both Paul and Peter tells us to obey them, submit to them, and pay tribute to them. Jesus said the same thing, he said render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's.
Then we are told to not resist the civil governments, but we are told to resist the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world. Then what are the powers against which we do wrestle? Paul explains it in few words in the passage itself, it is spiritual wickedness in high places. These are the things against which we wrestle, and for which fight we are armed with the armor of God. Spiritual wickedness in high places. Since Jesus and the apostles told us to not wrestle against civil government, but to obey it, and submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, we know that Paul is not now telling us to wrestle against them, and fight them as an enemy. According to Brother Lipscomb we have the Christian armed to fight against civil government, and Jesus and two of his apostles forbidding us to use it. Paul even goes so far as to tell us we will be damned if we do use it. We must not resist the powers that be.
If all Brother Lipscomb meant by the gates of hell prevailing over the kingdoms of this world is that they will end when time ends, then I would agree with him. But they will be here when time ends, and they will be gathered to the judgment, every nation under heaven will be in the judgment. But the reign of Christ ends at that time as well. He turns the kingdom back to the Father that God may be all in all. I hope he would not say that the gates of hell prevailed over the reign of Christ.
Paul was not announcing some new principle to the church in Ephesus in this passage. They had witnessed his mighty struggle against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, for two eventful years in Ephesus. They had seen him use the armor against these powers of darkness which he recommends to them, and knew it had not been directed against the civil government one single time. One of those principalities and powers against which he had wrestled valiantly was Diana of the Ephesians, and we are told they had thirty thousand other gods, all heads of powers of darkness which was spiritual wickedness in high places. Of course, the devil was at the head of all of them, the supreme head.
These principalities had fought Paul from the day of his entrance into Ephesus, and he had wrestled with them, but the civil government had not interfered, it had rather protected him from the mobs. He even appealed to it for protection against these followers of the powers of darkness, and got it. He said he had done nothing against Caesar, therefore he had not wrestled against his government, but had fought this spiritual wickedness in high places. Brother Lipscomb would have us believe in a mighty campaign to destroy the Roman government, Paul went into the city of Ephesus, and declared open warfare on it. Paul went into Ephesus under the protection the civil government afforded him to fight spiritual wickedness in high places, and he waged a mighty war against them. Without the protection afforded him by the civil government Paul would have perished in Ephesus, the powers of darkness would have destroyed him. This illustrates the use God makes of civil government, and shows us his wisdom in ordaining them from the beginning.
That is the only protection gospel preachers have today and if it was taken away they would soon be driven from their pulpits. Mobs of fanatics would drive them out and hang them as criminals. They almost do it yet in spite of the protection guaranteed us by the civil government. These are the powers of darkness the Christian wrestles with, and against which God has provided armor, not the civil government God ordained for our good.
If the kingdoms of this world belonged to the devil there would be no wars between them if Jesus understood the devil, and told the truth. He said Satan is not divided against himself, therefore will not fight himself, and destroy his own kingdom. But if civil government belongs to man, and is a gift from God for man's good, then Satan would want to raise wars between them. He would not be fighting himself, but fighting against God, and man.
If this is true, and we know it must be, then we can understand why God gave civil government a carnal sword, the very kind Satan uses, to execute His wrath upon evildoers. Satan interferes in the civil governments God gave to man, deceives them, misleads them, and raises wars between them. God's sword is to put down these wars and restore peace and order between the nations. In a like manner it is to be used to preserve peace and order in the civil government. Without it we could have no peace and order for criminals would prevent it.
An inconsistency I see with many "conscientious objectors" lies in the fact that they raise no objections to the use of the sword to preserve peace within the civil government. They will even sit on juries which try murderers, bank robbers, rapers of women, and other vile criminals, and say they do not object to the death penalty for such criminals, or life imprisonment. But when it comes to criminal nations they draw the line. They must be allowed to continue to kill and murder, and they say let God stop them if he wants them stopped. One preacher has taunted me with lack of faith in the power of God to stop them because I say God uses human instrumentality in stopping them. The sects also taunt me in the same way because I argue God uses human instrumentality in saving souls. He said God would stop Germany and Japan when He is ready to stop them. I reply, yes, He will stop them when we are ready to use the sword he gave us to stop them. But if we cowardly lay down the sword He gave us He will not stop them. He gave us a sword for that purpose.
At this time I shall call attention to only one more statement in the book. I quote:
"Every act of affiliation, partnership, friendship, or treaty, with them was regarded and punished as treason against God."
This statement and one accompanying it that it was regarded as spiritual adultery, is absolutely false. I wondered if he had overlooked Joseph on the throne of Egypt, brought to it by the help of God. Did God elevate Joseph to high rule in Egypt just to make a traitor of him? Did God make an adulterer of Joseph who refused to commit adultery with Potiphar's wife, and went to prison for it?
Then there was Daniel over in Babylon whom God made ruler in the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar. The King set Daniel over all the province of Babylon, and God brought it about. Daniel also comes in for blame. He begged the King to set Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, rulers in the province of Babylon and he did. Then there was Mordecai, and Nehemiah who wrote a book, all traitors to God, and God made them such, and made them spiritual adulterers! He preserved them in the den of lions, the fiery furnace, and from destruction by their enemies, just to save them for a much worse fate, eternal condemnation as traitors and adulterers, according to the Lipscomb book.
It seems to me that a great mind like David Lipscomb could have seen the contradiction in the two ends of his theory. He has the kingdom of God coming to the earth as the enemy of civil government, to fight against them, and destroy them, and then invites the devil in to do the job. The gates of hell, he said, won the final victory over them, not the kingdom of God. The gates of hell will prevail over all of the kingdoms of earth, but the kingdom of God, he said. But in the beginning, and in his basic premise, he has the gates of hell already prevailing over them. He said they all belonged to the devil, therefore the gates of hell had prevailed over them. And he has Satan fighting against himself, a thing Jesus said he would not do. He has Satan's kingdom divided against itself, and destroying itself, in spite of the fact that he now says the kingdom of heaven came to the earth to wage that fight and win that victory, which he concludes that the devil won in the end.