Does Romans 13 Justify Nero, Pharoah, or Nimrod?

This entry is part 13 of 18 in the series The Church of Christ and World-Powers

This article continues a series of weekly posts originally authored by David Lipscomb, an important figure in the Churches of Christ in the 1800s. Learn more about Lipscomb’s background here and here, and see other references to him on LCI here. The series is titled “The Church of Christ and World-Powers”, and it was also originally published as a series of 18 articles in The Gospel Advocate in 1866. (To read from the beginning of the series, start here.)

It appears that Lipscomb took a break from continuing the World-Powers series from late July until November of 1866, from which he then picks it back up with #13 and finishes before the end of the year with the 18th and final article. Perhaps the length of time before #13 contributes to his evident desire to recapitulate some of his prior points regarding the instruction of the Bible to rulers (of which Lipscomb argues there is none), the relationship of the world-powers to Babylon and Nimrod, and the fact that the church has never been helped by the state in its aims but is rather appropriated by the state for the state’s aims.

But Lipscomb approaches the issue with a new tact this time around, and brings up Romans 13 in the process. He suggests that if Romans 13 is the justifying scripture for allowing Christians to participate in bloodshed, then “Nimrod and Abraham, Pharaoh and Moses, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, Paul and Nero, stand precisely upon the same footing as approved and accepted subjects [of God].” Of course, he says this is illogical, and we must reject the former premise. Once again, I point out this was written in 1866, not even two years after the end of the American Civil War. It is remarkable to hear Christians of that era who will stand against violence so boldly.

The Church of Christ and World-Powers (13) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, November 13, 1866, pp. 721-724.

In resuming the subject of the connection of the Church of Christ with the church-Powers, we will recapitulate some of the conclusions reached in our former investigations of this subject. We have found in our previous investigations of this relationship that the institutions of God, with their subjects, have been kept separate from the institutions of men with their subjects. This separation has been marked and complete in all ages of the world and in every dispensation of God to man. His institutions at all times have been perfect, and fully competent to bestow all the good that God designed upon those who faithfully used his appointments to those who fully trust God with the wisdom and sufficiency of his institutions, there can be no reason or desire for any other institutions for their guidance, for their protection or happiness. The institutions and governments of man, one and all originated in a spirit of dissatisfaction on the part of the man, with the institutions and laws of his Maker. They are the outgrowth of man’s rebellion against God, constitute the embodiment of his efforts to live free from the control of the Great Ruler of the Universe. These institutions constitute, then, the organized rebellion of man, against his Maker.

Inasmuch as the evil one is the original instigator of all rebellion against, and opposition to God and His rule over the sons of men, he is the prompter and abettor of these organizations and institutions of man, intended to enable him to live and prosper free from the government of his Creator. We have found, in our investigations, these governments of man, so far as their history and character are given by inspiration, in perpetual hostility to, and conflict with the people who chose to live under God’s government. So far as history, either sacred or profane, shows, they originated with Nimrod, of the accursed family of Ham. In the days of Abraham, the five Kings fought against the father of the faithful, and the direst sin that ever overtook the Jewish nation as God’s people, was an affiliation and association with the kingdoms of human mould, by which they were surrounded. Christ recognized these kingdoms of the wicked one, and came to rescue the world from the dominion of the devil by the destruction of these kingdoms, and the substitution in their stead, of his own glorious and eternal kingdom. “It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and shall stand forever,” Dan. 2:44.

These kingdoms were in continual hostility to the Son of God, during his sojourn on earth, persecuting him from the cradle to the grave. They sought his life while in the manger in Bethlehem, threw difficulties and obstructions in his pathway through life, defamed and persecuted him while living falsely swore his life away and nailed him, “who was holy and harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens,” to the accursed tree as the companion of thieves and robbers. These same powers, with the same destructive spirit, pursued his Apostles, through their lives, with stripes and imprisonments, to violent and degraded deaths. They under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ever recognized the evil one as the “prince of this world,” as the “ruler of the darkness of this world,” that had nothing in Christ, John 14:30.

We have found in the history of these governments, in their connection with the government of God, as given by the inspired Prophets and Apostles, that these earthly governments never came in contact with Divine government, but to persecute or corrupt it. The beasts often helped and carried the base scarlet-colored woman, the false and corrupt Church, but divine prescience never saw the worldly governments aid, help or carry the virtuous woman – the true Church. True to the history as foretold by God, these earthly kingdoms have tried to stay onward progress of the Divine institution, by the dungeon, the scaffold, the stake with piles of burning faggots; when these have failed to repress the kingdom which “is not of this world,” the more successful effort has been made, or seducing her, by the blandishment of wealth and worldly power, from her fidelity to her Lord. When a portion of that church has been seduced from her fidelity to her true Lord, into an alliance with, and support of the governments of man, this world power has sustained this corrupted church, but still persecuted and oppressed the faithful church. Thus has it been from the beginning, if the Scriptures be true, so it will be to the end. We found too, that the first establishment of this world-power was named of God, as indicative of its character and influence, “Babel” – “Babylon,” confusion and strife. In the stages of its development we still find this power denominated “Babylon.” The destruction of this power of confusion and strife, is foretold as the downfall and destruction of “Babylon,” which heralds the complete triumph and universal reign of the kingdom of God in unbroken and perpetual peace. “Come out of her my people – that ye be not partakers of her sins, and ye receive not her plagues.” Rev. 18:4.

It certainly should require no acute logical skill to satisfy the true and earnest believer in Christ, that he has no part, or lot, nor inheritance in these kingdoms of human mould, over which the wicked one reigns, and which cherish such a spirit toward, and exert so evil and influence upon that church which we have pledged ourselves to sustain and upbuild. Let us be careful, my brother, lest we be found to fight against God. We have found too, that while God gave to his servants instruction that thoroughly furnished the man of God unto every good work while HE gave rules by which his servant must conduct himself in every relationship of life, into which it is lawful or even possible for a Christian to enter. He has nowhere in the Bible given one word or hint as to how his servant shall conduct himself as an active participant in governments or institutions of human mould.

Yes, if it is lawful for a Christian to enter into this relationship, it is the most important one, as involving the weal or woe of millions, and the peace and quiet of the world, that he is ever called to enter. Why is it then that God has given us directions – plain and specific, as to how we should conduct ourselves as husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, elder and younger, even as offender and offended, and even to the less responsible party to this relationship of civil ruler and subject, the most specific rules are given for our conduct, but not a word, not a hint within the lids of the Bible, as to how a man shall conduct himself in the position of ruler or active participant in human government. Why is this? We conclude a Christian may be a husband, a wife, a master, a servant, a Christian may even sometimes wrong his brother, or be wronged; may be a subject of earthly, human government, because the Holy Scriptures thoroughly furnish him with directions for his guidance in these relations, but it nowhere furnishes him with a single word for his guidance as ruler and active participator. The Scriptures thoroughly furnish the man of God with all good works. The scriptures nowhere furnish the man of God for the work of establishing, sustaining and carrying on human government. Therefore, the man of God cannot engage in the work of established, sustaining, and carrying on human government.

But these institutions, human political governments, are ordained of God, and the rulers of these governments are God’s ministers. Roman 13. Christians can enter into the ordinances of God and become his ministers. Therefore, Christians can become active participants in human governments and rulers of them. This is a process of reasoning that frequently meets us – is quite spacious and in appearance plausible. We remember to have seen an article based on this syllogism in the Harbinger*, at the commencement of the late fierce and bloody strife, as proof that Christians might actively enter the strife. Elder Erreta, of the Standard*, President Benton, of the Northwestern University, and Elder C Kendrick, of the Philanthropist*, have put forth the same reasoning as conclusive evidence that Christians may so engage in the strife and bloodshed in which human governments frequently involve their subjects. Are the premises true and conclusions correct? If so, Nimrod and Abraham, Pharaoh and Moses, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, Paul and Nero, stand precisely upon the same footing as approved and accepted subjects.

The letters to the Romans, with the most of the other Epistles of Paul, was written during the reign of Nero. Of the civil rulers that constitute the ministers of God to which Paul tells his brethren to submit, Nero was the chief and supreme. To say then that a Christian can be such a minister of God as is here spoken of, is to say that he was a Nero in place and character. Who is prepared for this? There is beyond doubt, either a false premise or reasoning that leads to such a conclusion. The reasoning when fully stated in its proper order is this. None but the approved subjects of God are his ministers. Civil rulers are his ministers. Therefore civil rulers are the approved subjects to God. Now, we hesitate not to affirm that the major, leading premise, is false. And all the conclusions based upon it are altogether uncertain or radically wrong. For the proof, Nero, the bloody persecutor of Christians, the man whose history tells us, fired Rome, and accused the Christians of it, that he might find a pretext for persecuting them, who is said to have expressed the wish that humanity had but one neck, that he might sever it at one blow, and see the death struggle of the whole race at once glance. Such a monster was not a Christian. But Nero was a minister of God, if Paul’s letters be true.

* Lipscomb is referencing other Church of Christ periodicals of the time, namely the Millenial Harbinger, the Christian Standard, and the Christian Philanthropist.

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