Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 24 ~ Civil Magistrates

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me. 1689 - Final

Is Government a gift?

If there is one thing that almost everyone is good at it is complaining.  No matter who you are, where you live or what you do – you probably complain about something every single day.  One of the prime targets for our criticism is often the government.  However, as a Christian there is good cause for us to pause and consider who the government are, and what they do…because they are actually a gift from God!

Paul is unmistakeable in his letter to the Romans.  He writes to them:

Let 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 judgement. 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, honour to whom honour is owed. (13:1-7)

What Paul says is unmistakeable.  The government are put in place by God, for the good of the people.  Naturally, no government will be perfect and there will be policies and decision with which we disagree (both on a personal level and from a biblical point of view).  However, the theological principle has been stated explicitly: government is a gift from God.  The Confession words it like this:

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good; and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (pg. 99)

Implications

There are many implications in light of this, but the Confession mentions only three.

First, the Confession asserts ‘[i]t is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of magistrate when called thereunto’ (pg. 99).  If the government has been instituted by God, and Scripture is clear on this point as we noted above, then there is no good reason for Christians to be excluded from working in government.  Indeed, it is quite the opposite – Christians should flood the government working for the good and peace of all who live in the country.

Second, Christians must obey the government.  As is evident from the passage quoted from Romans above, Christians are called to obey the government.  Paul writes to a church living under a relatively hostile government, ‘one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience’ (13:5).  Due to the theological principle which underpins the presence of the government we must offer our obedience.  Of course there is the exception of a directly unbiblical command, and this is captured in the wording of the Confession:

Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord (pg. 100).

Third, we must offer prayer for them.  Paul writing to an individual makes this clear:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

As Christians there is a duty on us to pray for our leaders and governments in order to aid us in living a peaceful and quiet life under their watch.

Bringing it Home

July is often a period of red-hot rhetoric, dubious decisions and a pessimistic public in Northern Ireland.  Perhaps, as we listen to politicians, councillors and other figureheads in the community speak on radio and TV we should pause and pray for them.  Perhaps, when decisions we disagree with are finalised we submit to them peaceably.  Perhaps, it may even be the time for us to step into politics and offer the calm, level-headed, people loving leadership that a mature Christian can offer.  Government is indeed a gift because it is from God, but that brings with it certain implications for the Christian community.

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