Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 13, 1960
NUMBER 23, PAGE 13-14

Civil Government

Herschel K Patton, Shelbyville, Tennessee

The Bible has been a powerful influence, not only in the building of our great nation, but in the civilization of the world. America is especially looked upon as a God-fearing and Bible-loving nation. It is called a Christian nation and we have seen fit to write around the edge of our coins "In God We Trust." This does not mean that every citizen of this nation is a Christian. Nevertheless, as a God-fearing, religious people, in a general sense, we all look to one great book — the Bible. It is to be regretted that so-called Christendom is divided into hundreds of differing religious sects. This is a reproach on that great book, the Bible, by which we all claim to be guided.

I do not believe for one moment that the Bible is responsible for this divided condition. There has been, across the ages, a tendency on the part of man to "direct his own steps." His much learning has caused him to theorize and speculate on various passages of scripture; and, consequently, many religious ideas and practices have been advanced. Men have written creeds, manuals, disciplines, confessions of faith, and the like, which have served to divide believers in Christ into numerous sects and parties. The dividing wall is the creed to which some pledge allegiance. but which others reject. In all the various creeds there are things which we all accept and believe, but there are also some doctrines and practices in each creed which give to those embracing it their distinctiveness. These are the things that others cannot conscientiously accept, hence are cut off from fellowship of those who do accept the creed.

My brethren and I have always contended that men should have their speculative thoughts and theories to themselves, and that instead of writing books that are to be looked upon as standard instruction along religious lines, everyone should go to the Bible, and it alone, for their faith and religious practices. Today we study an article of faith which is simply a statement of what the Bible says; hence no contradiction or denial is offered to the faith here expressed, by me or by the religious world. When people simply state what the Bible states, there is no division. We can and do agree on these matters, for we all believe the Bible. It is when men claim a passage teaches a thing that is clearly stated or is not borne out by the context that opposition and division exist. Today, we study article number seventeen which bears the title "Civil Government."

Article No. XVII

"We believe the scriptures teach that civil government is of divine appointment, for the interest and good order of human society; and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed; except only in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the Prince of the kings of the earth."

Civil Government Of Divine Appointment

The first thing here affirmed is that Civil Government is of divine appointment. The passage cited as proof of this is Romans 13:1-7 where we find such statements as "For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God," "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God," and "He is the minister of God." These statements certainly place divine sanction upon government. Of course, there have been, and perhaps will always be evil governments; and this scripture does not teach that God ordained any "evil" government. It is the institution — civil government itself — that is ordained of God. There are three divine institutions to which every one should be properly related: the home, the church, and the state. All three of these are God-ordained institutions. It is possible for either one of these institutions to corrupt itself; and if it does, God did not ordain the corruption but did ordain the institution.

Because some governments have been so corrupt, a few have thought that the institution itself is evil and have contended that God uses this evil, as He did Pharaoh in Egypt and Judas of the apostles, to accomplish His purposes. It is not denied that God often uses evil persons and evil nations for the accomplishment of His purposes, but it is denied that God ordains these evil ones to do evil. Knowing the character and disposition of a person or nation, God may choose one of these as an agent in working out His will; but He does not make the one chosen evil. If He did, then the evil one could not be justly held accountable for his evil deeds. Concerning civil government or "The Powers that be," Paul does declare that they are "ordained of God" and ordained to do certain things; hence we are forced to the conclusion that Civil Government is of divine origin.

Purposes Of Civil Government

It is further stated in this article that Civil Government is "for the interest and good order of human society." Proof of this statement is the same reference we have already cited in Romans chapter thirteen. Here the Apostle Paul states the purposes of Civil Government. These purposes are (I) "A terror to evil works" — Romans 13:3 "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil;" (2) "praise for the good" — vs. 3 — "do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same;" (3) "minister for good" — vs. 4 — "For he is the minister of God to thee for good;" and (4) bear the sword or execute wrath upon the evil doer — vs. 4 — "for he beareth not the sword in vain; for him that doeth evil."

From these verses we see the legitimate sphere of operation for civil powers. When the powers that be thus discharge their duties, certainly it is for the interest and good order of human society. Today our life is made more pleasant and easy because of the "powers that be." Generally speaking, we can lie down to peaceful sleep at the close of the day without fearing a criminal will dash out from every alley and from behind every building. This peace of mind exists because of the powers that be." If some one does get out of place, and disturbs our peace, he may be assured that he must answer before him whose God-given duty is "to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" even to "bearing the sword" against him that doeth evil.

Sometimes people get beside themselves, when sorely vexed, and seek to take matters into their own hands and execute vengeance upon those whom they think to be evil. Rendering judgment and taking personal vengeance is a thing forbidden throughout the scriptures on the part of man. God has ordained an institution for dealing with this matter; and we must not, therefore, take unto ourselves a prerogative that belongs to the civil powers and to God, the great judge of the universe.

The Christian's Duty To Civil Government

As to the duty of Christians to Civil Government this article states as does the Bible, that "magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored and obeyed." There are several passages teaching the Christian's responsibility along this line. Jesus said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." (Matt. 22:21) This shows that there are things owed to Caesar, or the "powers that be" by the Christian, and there are things which we owe to God. The Civil Government and God are not rival powers; and rendering obedience to one, in line with the scriptures, does not array us against the other. We can learn both our duties to God and the Civil Government from the scriptures.

Both Paul and Peter taught that Christians are obligated to be in submission to the Civil powers. In Romans 13:1-2 Paul said "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers....and whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." Again, in his letter to Titus, he said "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates." (Titus 3:1) The Apostle Peter said, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors." Of course we should always bear in mind God's government and authority is supreme. Obedience is to be rendered unto the Civil Powers, except in things opposed to the will of Christ. When this is the case, our answer should always be that given by the apostles in Acts 5:29 "We ought to obey God rather than men." When a Civil Power demands things contrary to and in violation of God's laws, it has left its God-given sphere of operation and becomes a terror to the good rather than to the evil. Christians are never justified in violating a law of God in order to submit to the demands of a Civil Government, but so long as this is not the case the Christian is duty bound to be in submission.

Submission to the Powers would naturally involve the matter of paying tribute. It seems that some early Christians felt that since they were citizens of Christ's kingdom, they were not obligated to pay tribute to Caesar. Jesus fore-warned of that in Matthew 22:21 when he taught concerning rendering unto Caesar the things that are his. Paul said in Romans 13:6-7 "For this cause pay we tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom."

Furthermore, it is admitted that Christians owe honor to the Powers, and are to remember them in their prayers. In the reference just cited where Paul tells Christians to render tribute to whom tribute is due, he also says "honor to whom honor." The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, saying "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (I Tim. 2:1-2)

Friends, I verily believe that when Christian people properly discharge their duties the Civil Powers will be characterized by less corruption and scandal. It is to be regretted that many God-fearing people, upon beholding the corruption in high places, have decided never to seek an office or even cast a vote. How can corruption ever be put down if decent God-fearing people keep hands-off? All of us realize that when God tells us to pray for our daily bread, He also expects us to work and do what we can along that line. Someone forcefully expressed this idea when he said "The best place to pray for bread is at the end of a hoe handle." We admit that it is our duty to pray for rulers; to pray that we may live quiet and peaceable lives; is it not also our duty to do what we can to contribute to these results?

Before closing this study, let me again remind you there exists today three God-given institutions to which we bear a relationship: the home, the church, and the state. We owe responsibilities to each of these, but each must stay in its own legitimate sphere. It is not the duty or right of the state to make laws and legislate for the church; and it is not the duty of the church to take matters belonging to civil authority into its hands. Both history and the scriptures show it is right, and best, for these institutions to remain separate. They are not enemies, but each must operate in its own legitimate sphere.

Friends, the things we have studied about Civil Government today are clearly revealed in the scriptures. All that would have been needful for setting forth the faith of this seventeenth article is to say "We believe what is said in the scriptures cited," We all read these scriptures and come to the same conclusion. This can be done concerning any other Bible subject if we are willing to accept what is revealed. A creed or manual is needed only when one wishes to advance an idea that would not be gotten from the scriptures alone. Let us, friends, make the Bible our standard of authority, accept what it says and reject all that is not there taught.