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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Romans 13-- be Subject To Higher Powers?

As I was doing my essays on the nature of freedom from religious organizations, I was informed that the idea of "judge not, that ye be not judged" would lead to anarchy in today's society.

If, within the context of truth, we cannot judge or condemn others, how would we go about enforcing obedience for those who simply refuse to try and live by a moral standard?

Ad we know from Matthew 5, Jesus said he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill "every jot and tittle" of the law.

However, if we try to keep that law, in accordance with Paul's statement in Romans 8:7, the result would be infinite splintering of religious beliefs. Jesus apparently agreed with that, since he said in Matthew 10:34-38 that he came to bring about exactly those results!

In other words, the attempt to obey "God's law" will force us to become more and more individualistic in spite of ourselves.. yet out of that individualism, Jesus also told us we are not to seek "an eye for an eye" or vengeance in our dealings with others.

What we see in that is a "separation of church and state". To pursue the ideals taught by Jesus, to love those that hate you, to pray for those that use and persecute you, to bless those that curse you, these would make a person an open invitation to every crook who ignored those principles.

But by that same token, we cannot simply take vengeance into our own hands. The very act of doing so is to claim that we can speak with authority in God's name over the life of others.

So, it becomes necessary to have a system that "executes wrath", and Paul covers that subject in Romans 13. "For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."

But let's also look at Matthew 4: 8-10, and Luke 4: 5-7. We recognize from that statement that Satan has power over all world governments. So if all powers are ordained of God, then we are forced to conclude that Satan's power is ordained of God(assuming that they exist, of course).

The power of vengeance, of wrath, of even death, is given to Satan, recognized and ordained by God. In Hebrews 2: 14 we see this. "For as much as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."

One favorite statement of Libertarians is that of Thomas Paine: Government at its best is but a necessary evil....

While Paine himself "converted" to atheism at a later time, he actually made a statement consistent with the bible. Government, from the scriptures above, is a necessary evil.

So, while the "higher powers" are ordained of God, and we are to be subject to them, they are nothing more than a necessary evil, and the direct administrator of them is not God.

Romans 13:3 "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil".

If government itself is a necessary evil, it is empowered to punish only evil. Therefore, we see from Jesus' teachings that his followers are not to condemn others, nor to practice vengeance.

But before he tells us to be subject to the higher powers, Paul reminds us of the same obligation in Romans 12:19-20: "Dearly beloved, revenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, and I will repay, saith the Lord."

Notice that first part, "revenge not yourselves". Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his treatise on the Common Law, tells us that law has developed out of a need for vengeance. It was necessary to have a higher power to enforce vengeance, but both Jesus and Paul tells us that vengeance is not our job.
Verse 20: "Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: For in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head".

Within the teachings above, we see the presumption of innocence for all accused persons. Can the "higher power" accuse? Can Satan act as accuser to people? The whole point of Jesus' life, as we saw in Hebrews 2, above, is to overcome Satan's control over death.

This means that government must follow certain guidelines before there can be punishment, and since God ordains all government, then all government would be subject to the protections ordained by God:
1.presumption of innocence(Isaiah 54:17)
2.Right to face your accuser(Isaiah 50:8)
3.No entrapment(Isaiah 29:21, Jeremiah 5: 26-31)
4.Two unbiased witnesses for all accusations(Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15)
5.Protection from perjury(Deut. 19:19)
6.Trial by jury(1 Corinthians 6)

Notice that these are recognized in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, along with the First Amendment, giving freedom of religion. A government of "God", therefore, would of necessity be a government in which innocence is to be preserved.

In regard to that right against self incrimination, former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas says:

"The principle that a man is not obliged to furnish the state with ammunition to use against him is basic to this conception." The state must "within the limits of accepted procedure", punish lawbreakers. "But it has no right to compel the sovereign individual to surrender or impair his right to self defense....A man may be punished, even put to death by the state; but...he should not be made to prostrate himself before its majesty. Mea culpa belongs to a man and his God. It is a plea that cannot be exacted from free men by human authority. To require it is to insist that the state is the superior of the individuals who compose it, instead of their instrument".

As Constitutional historian Leonard Levy wrote "The framers understood that without fair and regularized procedures to protect the criminally accused, there could be no liberty. They knew that from time immemorial, the tyrant's first step was to use the criminal law to crush his opposition".

As Lord Acton said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Government, said Paine, at its very best is but a necessary evil.

The principle of rule by the people is bound within the concept of "due process of law". We read it in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, first as protection from the federal government, and then as protection against the states.

No person shall be deprive of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Due process, said Chief Justice Edward Coke of England, came from Magna Carta. It was defined as "lawful judgement of peers and law of the land". This, said U.S. Justice Joseph Story, meant the common law.

To be "subject to higher powers" is a necessity, but it is a necessity that comes secondary to the right of individuals to live freely. That is the essence of Paul's teachings about Jesus.

I can expand on this later.


Anonymous said...

My own personal belief, and I believe it is probably consistent with scripture, is that God is very concerned with free will. Surely even the most jaded lawyer realizes that decisions made under pressure are not heart-felt, and are therefore valueless.

But, having free will leaves people with the option of making bad choices. I believe that God gave humans dominion, or authority to police themselves in the cases when people go the wrong ways in their free will. Unfortunately, a government can also exercise its dominion by taking free will in the wrong directions, and the Third Reich would be a very good example of this.

If we look around the world, I believe that we can see the cause and effect relationship between good government, freedom, prosperity, education, etc. and that between bad government and ignorance, poverty, serious human rights issues, etc.

Two of the most prominent influences on the founding of our nation were 1) the principles which came out of the Protestant Reformation, and 2) many of the living principles utilized by Native Americans for centuries before the white man invaded.

Back when I was an atheist, and later agnostic, I'd often respond to evangelizing Christians by telling them that I practiced Christian ethics, only in a secular way. There have been quite a number of others throughout history who have done the same, only have failed to recognize the basis for, and reality of their practices.


Ralph said...

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that, instead of creating a religion, bot Old and New testaments are based on an exploration of our relationship to the law.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for "shutting up the kingdom of God (Luke 11:52)" so that the average person could not be admitted to principles of justice.

For example, when Jesus was supposedly tried, Israel, under Talmudic concepts, had the equivalents of our Bill of Rights, including the right against self incrimination. Ancient Talmudic law said the individual could not be held guilty even by his own confession, and a witness to a crime had to make sure he had first warned the individual that he should not commit the crime, if possible.

There are many ancient protections coming from the law in regards to criminal offenders, and when Jesus was tried and convicted, Paul made much of the fact that he had "paid the penalty for sin" which is defined as lawbreaking(1 John 3:4).

That would indicate, as Justice Fortas said in the essay above, that the state does not have the power to convict or accuse of itself. American law is based on accusatorial law, not inquisitorial law.

Retired Prof said...

You know, the posts and discussions for the past few days remind me of an incident at Ambassador College. On the way back from Bible study one night, I fell into step with a couple of upperclassmen discussing some part or another of God's plan and rattling off proof texts to one another, block after block after block. It didn't seem right to either fall back or rush ahead, so till we got to my dormitory I stayed with them, wrapped up as much as possible in my own thoughts. They knew I came from Arkansas and believed the California stereotype that we Arkies suffered an intellectual handicap (unless we had improved ourselves the way the McNair brothers had done).

As I turned aside at my dorm, one of them turned to me and asked, "Well, _____, has it been too deep for you?"

I did not answer, "Sure has! I left my hip boots in my closet." Back then I was too polite to say that.

I still am.

Ralph said...

Retired prof, as usual, you have shown your Arkansas upbringing by offering nothing of value.

Corky said...

Ralph, do you have something against us Arkansas citizens? Or, does the problem lie with the fact that you didn't quite understand the meaning of what the retired prof. said?

Being talked down to is offensive and dogmatic insistence on people accepting your point of view or else they are not offering anything of value is pure Armstrongism.

Just what are you implying about "Arkansas upbringing"? And, why don't you know that that is the same ad hominem that you have been complaining about?

Ralph said...

In fact, I saw nothing of value offered by the retired prof, whether he's from Arkansas or New York, or from the foothills of Appalachia, as I am.

Do I have a point of view? It is humanly impossible not to have a point of view. Is it pure Armstrongism to insist that people should offer something of substance rather than implying that they 'forgot their wading boots"?

The issue is not whether he accepts my point of view. The issue is whether or not he can actually offer something of substance that shows me to be wrong.

It is still possible to be right, or wrong. It is also possible that one person can be right, and 'everybody else' wrong.

The real test of truth is not opinion. The test of truth is truth. If I were paying your salary and insisted that you kowtow to my way of seeing things, I suppose there would be some justification for it.

But the fact remains, from retired prof's response, nothing of value was offered. You know the old saying about opinions and anal orifices. We all got 'em.