Articles, Tracts and Letters

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Our Duty to the State

by Roy Mohon

Below is an excerpt from the address on the subject of "Church and State " which was given at the Annual Meeting of of the James Begg Society in May 2000. This is the second of three sections: in the first Mr. Mohon had outlined the common principles which are applicable to Church and State; here he indicates the challenges in practice for Christians and the Church in relation to the State.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 19, July-September 2000.

W HAT are the challenges arising from what we have said up to this point in connection with Church and State? Our first two have to do with institution, our third with regulation, our fourth with jurisdiction and our fifth with relationship.

1. Prayer

The civil magistrate is instituted by God and, therefore, the Church is to be diligent in praying both for the ends of righteous government to be attained and that the governors themselves might have that righteousness which is by faith. For God's salvation is for all classes of men and to whoever believes. Thus Paul to Timothy: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of 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. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

2. Obedience

The civil magistrate is instituted by God and therefore the members of the Church are to be subject to the powers that be. Thus Paul in Romans 13:1: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." Again and again it is reiterated in the New Testament that no-one is above the law in this respect and that Christians are to be law-abiding citizens in every respect.

We are to pay our taxes. "For for this cause pay ye 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; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour" (Romans 13:6-7).

We are not to pick and choose to our own fancy. "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God" (1 Peter 2:13-16).

We are to render the honour due to the office to its holder. "Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king" (1 Peter 2:17). Thus the Reformed Confessional standards follow Scripture in promoting obedience not revolution, honour not derision, and it is sin to plead liberty of conscience to break the law of the land!

"And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another; they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God." – Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 20:4.

3. Reproof

The civil magistrate being of divine appointment is also regulated by divine prescription. Just as the citizen is subject to the law of the land, the ruler is subject to the Law of the Lord. Thus John the Baptist reproved Herod for his sin in taking Herodias to wife, saying, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife" (Mark 6:18). It is not unlawful for the Christian or the Church to speak out against immorality in the person or in the precepts of the ruler. The Church is not to meddle in the details of civil affairs pretending to some political or financial expertise but it is to seek to awaken consciences where moral principles are at stake. The list in this connection is becoming overwhelming: Abortion, Betting, Capital punishment, Discipline of Children, Euthanasia...I am not sure how far through the alphabet we could go but it seems that we live under a government determined to undermine the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of the family, the sanctity of the Lord's Day and so on. Evangelicalism's aversion to confrontation has not served our nation well. There is a time for confrontation, as Paul says of the ecclesiastical sphere, "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Galatians 2:11). It is not that we take any pleasure in controversy but there is a time for confrontation to "reprove, rebuke, exhort" (2 Timothy 4:2) and with respect to our rulers, that time is now and tomorrow will not do!

4. Resistance

Scotland is hardly the place for an Englishman to come to speak of resistance to the king, for the blood of the Covenanters is still of revered memory. But I would be unfaithful to them not to reiterate their testimony that as the civil magistrate's jurisdiction is limited to the civil and temporal he has no right to invade the Crown rights of Christ. However, I am not at this time addressing the subject of armed resistance in defence of "civil" liberties but that principle of resistance to the intrusion of men into the prerogatives of Christ. For this we have clear and incontrovertible apostolic warrant. "And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all not teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:18-20). We are, I doubt not, moving into times when political correctness will impinge more and more upon the functioning of the Church. Possibly we are not far from the time when Christian charities or Churches will be challenged for not appointing homosexual applicants for employment and resistance to unwarranted impositions will be faced on very basic moral issues. The Church will have cause to say with the psalmist: "For thou didst prove and try us, Lord, as men do silver try" (Psalm 66:10).

5. Convergence

It might seem strange, in the light of what we have seen concerning "Reproof" and "Resistance" that we can speak at all of convergence. What possible sense can we make of such a concept regarding Church and State? If Church and State are to have any harmonious relationship and mutual supportiveness what could possibly be the foundation for such a marriage? It is here that the Covenanter witness comes into its own. They are clear about the relevant Reformed principle. J.G.Vos in his The Scottish Covenanters puts it this way:

"...Christ, not merely in his divine nature, as God, but in his mediatorial capacity, as God-man, has been appointed by God the Father to rule over the nations, and indeed over the universe, during the present age and until the end of the world" (p.217).

The convergence that we are to seek is not a confusion of Church and State but one where each in their respective jurisdictions honours Christ the King of Kings. Where each in their respective functions unite in harmonious celebration in the heavenly theme:

"Ye gates, lift up your heads: ye doors,
doors that do last for aye,
Be lifted up, that so the King
of glory enter may.

But who is he that is the King
of glory? who is this?
The Lord of hosts, and none but he,
the King of glory is."

– Psalm 24, 9-10, Scottish Metrical Version.