In part 1 of this series I talked about the fact that God instituted civil government and authority for the benefit of His creation in order to help keep and maintain order in the world, pursue justice, and punish evil. Civil government also serves to create space for the Church to operate. By keeping order in the world, civil government provides opportunity for the Church to proclaim the Gospel. Thus, church and state are not so much “separate” as they are “distinct.” Each has its God-given role to play in the world.
Since this world is fallen and plagued by sin, then this should inform our thinking about civil government. For one thing, the only perfect person is Jesus Christ. He is the one who rules with perfect justice and wisdom. The rest of us fall short of perfection and are tainted by sin. In particular, we are tempted with power and its trappings. Adam and Eve fell into sin when they sought to be like God; they wanted power. As sinners, we are still tempted by power. Thus, all people need checks on their power. No one person can be trusted with sole power over anything, because no person can be trusted to be completely perfect, wise, and good at all times.
The Founding Fathers of the United States understood the fallenness of humanity and the ease with which people are corrupted by power. Thus, they created three separate branches of government (legislative, executive, judicial) to check and balance each other’s power. No one branch has complete power over the operation of government. In addition, within the legislative branch there are two houses to help moderate power. Originally, the House of Representatives was meant to represent the interests of the people, while the Senate was meant to represent the interests of the states (the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution altered this dynamic). In addition, a Constitution limited the power of the government so that the God-given rights of all people (including those in the minority opinion) would be protected.
In other countries with a Parliamentary system of governance, the multi-party system and need for parties to form coalitions help to diffuse power. Even in countries with monarchies, the Parliament helps to check the monarch’s power. Thus, most countries have formed governments with various parts that help to check and moderate the government’s own powers.
Two problems seem to pop up throughout history with regards to government:
– Government fails to fulfill its duties
– Government encroaches upon the role of the Church
The first instance occurred perhaps most famously after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Roman government lost its ability to keep and maintain order, so the Church ended up stepping into the void to provide stability. This caused the Church to take on roles it was never meant to take on, arguably corrupting the Church in the process.
The second instance has occurred throughout history, where the government takes on too much of a role in the lives of people, encroaching upon the proper role of the Church. When this happens, the government tends to dominate the lives of people, demanding acceptance and obedience that is owed only to God. The government tries to force the Church into a small box, calling faith a “private matter of conscience.” The implication is that a person’s faith should have no impact on how he lives in the world.
We often talk about politics in terms of “left” and “right.” However, I think this is a bit of a wrong distinction. The real distinction is between those who believe we can’t trust sinful people (including government) with unrestricted power, and those who believe that in government lies the solution to life’s problems. People tend to look for security in their lives, and they will either seek it from government or from the Church.
As Christians who know the way the world is (it is fallen), how we are (we are fallen), and the proper role of government and Church, we ought to be engaging in the civil realm. As Christ’s people, we have received the first fruits of the reconciliation and restoration that he has in store for all creation when he returns. Thus, as we carry out our vocations in the world as parents, children, workers, employers, and many other roles, we bring this restoration with us. Since God rules over all things, all our vocations which are done in accordance with the will of God help to care and tend for His creation.
Isn’t it appropriate, then, that we also carry out our vocations within the realm of civil government? Since we know the proper role of government and the dangers of power, we should also be participating in it by voting, contacting our representatives, and running for office ourselves. We are citizens of both God’s Left Hand Realm and His Right Hand Realm, yet so often we forget about the fact that we can do God-pleasing work in the Left Hand Realm of civil government.
(Image by Kevin McCoy [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)