Today’s guest post is by writer/commentator Paul LaScola.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes to the Christian followers of Jesus’ nascent Church that they should honor the Roman government and support its personnel, emperor, legislators, administrators, soldiers — who also exercised the duties of police — and of course, the all-important executioners. The reason, Paul continues, is that governments are established by God and given their authority from Him. Paul notes that the disciples need not fear the government if they follow its laws and behave well. Conversely, if they fail to do so, he reminds them that its police “do not carry a sword for nothing,” clearly noting for them (and by extension, us), that the bottom line of government is control by force.
Nevertheless, Paul tells them that they should be good citizens out of a good conscience. Pressing the point further, he states that they are to be submissive to the government. It is important for us to remind ourselves that God created us as individual sovereigns, and as such we are to ultimately submit to no one except God. We see this manifest in the bravery of the early Christian martyrs who did not genuflect to Roman claims of “authority” (read: organized thuggery), but instead kept to their Christian principles by peacefully submitting to God. The Roman state showed them no quarter despite the honor and respect that they, as Christians and exemplary Roman citizens, had shown to Rome.
It is worth noting that the structure and practices of the Roman state represented anything but Christian principles (such as love, respect, and concern for the salvation and eternal life of all). Another theological tenet is that God takes an active role in the lives of men. In this sense, one might expect Paul to say (and he does) that governments are instituted by God — from whom they receive their authority — to serve His purposes; purposes truly known only to Him. Perhaps another way of viewing this could be that God allows governments to function (at least for a time) so that He may use them to temper men’s behavior, often pitting the behavior of individual men — or even Christian values — against the state.
In this regard, Paul entreats that it is most certainly in the best interest of the early Christians (or as Paul says, “everyone,” which may have meant all people, but at minimum meant all Christians) to take practical caution in their general behavior towards the state. The early Christian movement was a daring one and conflicted openly with many Roman policies, the belief in a pantheon of gods, and the totalitarian nature of the Roman state (a condition typical of virtually every state ever to have existed before or since, the single exception being the United States of America at the time of its founding). Oddly enough, though the United States was founded on Christian principles, one is hard pressed to observe them in the U.S. government today.
Paul’s is the same advice that one might give to anyone who is confronted by any bully, whether an individual or an organization (such as the mafia). To the maximum extent possible, it is best to steer clear of entanglements with such people or organizations, and to generally do what they command, thereby avoiding the “or else” side of the equation.
Paul was telling the early Christians to be who they were and follow what they believed, keeping together and supporting one another. Concerning Rome, they should have only the contact which was necessary. These encouragements and admonishments, which are sound and loving advice, appear to constitute Paul’s concept of the state and how one should relate to it.
Jesus himself also spoke to us as to our relationship with the government. He says in response to an inquiry, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Though not stated explicitly, the implication is louder than what is spoken. That is, to give to others what is theirs. Jesus is not saying that rendering to Caesar in the manner of paying taxes was glorifying Caesar, or that Caesar had some just right over the people; for no man, no government, has any such right over any other individual. There is only one who has that right: the Creator of the individual. It would seem that Jesus is suggesting we should voluntarily do as the state requires, until such time (perhaps) that another form of government, such as voluntarily-negotiated governance through contracts, becomes the standard practice. Without saying it, Jesus seems to allude to a time when proper (individual) governance will prevail: agreements based upon His simple but deeply poignant advice that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Those who adopt this wisdom as their way of life are, by its practice, conscious participants in mutually-beneficial and voluntary relationships.
These kinds of relationships are seen every day in the world of commerce. They are not relationships based on commands; they are based on love, in the sense that each party enjoys a value exchange which each perceives as fair. No force, no harm; only good. What if all relationships had at least these characteristics? Might ours not then be seen as a more caring, friendly, civil, even loving society? This philosophy of love exemplified in commerce is a practical way of living which can be employed by the secularist, the atheist, or those of any predilection or religion, and which is entirely consistent with (and is inspired by) Christian philosophy. Members of society who behave in this way have no need for an uninvolved third party to permit, restrict, or protect participants in these voluntary transactions; in a word, no need for a government. Contractual agreements directly resolve all participant issues. Furthermore, this is a phenomenon of the marketplace, which in turn flows from economics, which in its turn is a part of natural law. And natural law, of course, is a component of God’s creation. On the other hand, government is a product of man’s creation, notwithstanding that God may use it for His purposes. Governments are merely a construct, and they ultimately serve no purpose in the furthering of peace, prosperity or liberty; rather, they function contrary to these goals. None are intrinsically entitled to be honored, respected, loved and obeyed. These obligations of man — better still, voluntary homages — are intrinsically due to God alone.
All the major disciplines of study essentially ask the same questions. Science asks how things are. Philosophy asks why things are. Theology asks Who created the things that are. I have noticed that in my long time (though amateur) acquaintance with these fields of inquiry that few questions ever seem to be thoroughly answered; few are ever truly resolved. The real question is, “Will a solution be recognized and accepted once it is found?” I submit that, at least concerning a practical solution to a more peaceful world, the answer is already known and is practiced daily, but as yet it has not been recognized for its full potential. It is the concept of individual, voluntary, contractual governance.
No nation, government, or family is a candidate for salvation; Christians are saved as individuals. We are taught through the Bible — God’s commandments and advice on living a proper and fruitful life — to follow its teachings. It is thus only logical that we must govern ourselves. How else could we truly submit to God’s authority as communicated through the Bible? It occurs through our acceptance and moral practice (that is, personal governance). I do not mean that one can earn salvation, but only that one must individually receive it, and then voluntarily live accordingly.
God is ultimately sovereign and we are made in His image, meaning that we also are sovereigns under God (but only of ourselves). Governments are not made in God’s image; men are. Governments are not sovereigns. America’s founders were the first to apply this concept to the conscious, reasoned establishment of a country formed out of the “nation” of British colonists. The Constitution memorializes the country’s institution under these precepts. Its declaration is America’s canon. It is a law which restricts governance, not creates a government which restricts the citizens who it was assigned to serve. The founders and the colonial citizens, as the Constitution’s authors and ratifiers, intended that the government would submit to the Constitution. These founders were (for the most part) Christians who loved, followed and knew the Bible, including Romans.
Still, as great an achievement as the Constitution was, we can witness by the American government’s present state of decline that it was not the paradigm-shift called for by the teachings of Jesus, whom I consider to be the innovator and declarer of libertarian political philosophy. As the first libertarian, Jesus is still teaching us by His example.