Monday, October 29, 2012

A Theology of Civil Government, Part II, The Fall


Capitol Building
This is the second in a series of blogs on a biblical view of civil government. The first blog discussed civil government as it existed at creation. You can find it here. 

However, Adam and Eve sinned, and sin changed everything. When Adam sinned the governmental utopia that God created him to enjoy unraveled. Sin placed Adam under the rule of Satan, not God. Now Satan became, in Jesus’ words, “the Prince of this World” (Jn 12:31).

In addition, God punished Adam, Eve, and all of their descendants with the principle of Sin. Because we inherit “Sin” from Adam we come out of the womb inherently proud, greedy, discontent, self-centered, insecure, anxious, rebellious, and dominated by self will. And this is the short list.

This means that most men must now be externally coerced to do good. Civil Government is the external coercion that allows some modicum of order in our social lives. In the words of D. A. Carson, “As a whole, the Scriptures recognize that civil authority restrains evil. Arguably, that is its primary purpose.”[1]

What does this coercion look like? First it is financial. Civil government contributes to the common good by taxing its citizens. That money is used to build infrastructures such as roads, bridges, schools, etc. The money is also used to hire and train judges, courts, sheriffs, policeman, fireman, and a standing army––all social structures to protect us from the expressions of sin in fallen men.

Second, Civil government enacts laws for the common good and enforces those laws.
However, there is a problem. Those engaged in Civil Government are themselves sinners. In addition, as we have seen, the whole enterprise of Civil Government is under the dominion of Satan. This means that taxes are abused. It means that Civil Government promotes sinful agendas such as homosexual marriage, abortion, etc. In the words of Bob Dylan, “lawbreakers are making the rules.” (e.g. The man who doesn’t pay his taxes , Timothy Geithner, is appointed Secretary of the Treasury). And it also means that throughout history Civil Government has often used its power to oppress the church. Therefore, Civil Government in a fallen world is a very imperfect system. It is a temporary stop-gap to make life in a Fallen World bearable.

Sin brought Civil Government into existence, and the return of Christ will abolish Civil Government as we know it.  “The state belongs to the order of preservation, not of creation…" wrote Martin Luther. "God gives [humanity] an institutional instrument [Civil Government] for the preservation of the race from violent self-destruction.”[2] In other words, Civil Government was not part of God's initial plan. God gave it to promote order in a fallen world. 

Because we live in fallen world Civil government is limited. It can provide no ultimate temporal salvation. Those who look to Civil Government for temporal salvation expect from the State what only God can give. The word for this expectation is “Statism.” It is a form of idolatry. It is the worship of the State, and it is one of the most common god-substitutes in the modern world.

In summary, God has given us Civil Government. "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is not authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom. 13:1). It is a gift to restrain evil, but it was not part of his original plan. 

We have looked at Civil Government through the lens of Creation and Fall. Our next blog post will view Civil Government through the lens of Redemption. 



[1] D. A. Carson, How Long Oh Lord,  (Leichester, U.K.: IVP, 1990) pg. 51, the Discussion occupies the first part of chapter four
[2] Robert Culver, Towards A Biblical View of Civil Government  (Chicago: Moody, 1974) pg 38

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