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Life’s Second Most Important Question

How people answer the question “What is the proper role of civil government in society?” will largely determine whether they, while sojourning on this earth, live as slaves to the state, or as free and self-responsible individuals before a loving God.

  • Tom Rose,
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A Barnyard Encounter

One beautiful fall day in November, 2003, I was mucking out our feeder barn when I sensed someone entering. I looked up to discover a state highway patrolman. As he approached, he raised his hands and held them up, palms outward, and almost apologetically said, “This is not an official visit!” He explained that he was a bow-and-arrow hunter and wanted permission to hunt on our property. I assented and thanked him for his courtesy in requesting instead of hunting without permission.

As a second thought I added, “I don’t hunt anymore because I don’t accept the state’s contention that wild game belongs to the state instead of to the landowner on whose land the game feeds.” This led to an interesting discussion.

He said, “You noticed how carefully I entered the barn? I’ve been a state patrolman for 18 years. It used to be that people looked upon police officers as friends, but not anymore. My job is to uphold the law, but these days people seem to resent our law enforcement efforts.”

I replied, “I have no doubt that you were instructed as a recruit to uphold the law.  In one way this is true, but in truth it is not.  If you remember when you were sworn into office, the oath went something like this, ‘I swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and of the State of Pennsylvania, and protect them against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.’ You see, your real job is to protect citizens by upholding the Constitutions of both our national and State governments.”

I explained, “I was brought up as a child to regard policemen as friends, but, over the years, things have changed. It used to be that laws were few and easy to understand. But, today, there are so many laws on the books that no one can know them all, and some laws are hidden so that law-abiding citizens do not learn of them until they are arrested. The result is that today it is almost impossible for ordinary people to live one single day without unknowingly breaking some law or other. Therefore everyone becomes a law-breaker in the eyes of law enforcement people. More citizens are coming to understand how some laws make them unintentional lawbreakers and subject to fines and punishment, and they see you as the gun-toting enforcer. I think this largely explains why many people today regard police officers as enemies instead of protector-friends.” 

What Is the Proper Role of Civil Government? 

How people answer the question “What is the proper role of civil government in society?” will largely determine whether they, while sojourning on this earth, live as slaves to the state, or as free and self-responsible individuals before a loving God.1

The failure of the American people to come up with a solid Biblical and constitutional answer to the question “What is the proper role of civil government?” has led, over the last 100 years, to what we see today: the development of freedom-threatening political/economic fascism2 domestically and to the development of a fearsome American Empire internationally — both which serve to undermine our constitutionally protected liberties and have turned our once-decentralized American Republic into a centrally controlled police state.

R. J. Rushdoony writes:

The modern state has a moral foundation, but it is not a Christian one. Rather, it is emphatically humanistic....

[T]he modern state sees itself in messianic terms and as man’s savior. State planning is the substitute for God’s predestination; state welfare programs have worked to displace Christian charity, and the state sees itself as the new agency of providence, replacing God.

In Scripture, the state has a specific ministry, the ministry of justice (Rom. 13:1). Its place in the plan of God is a real if limited one. The state must be the servant of the Messiah; the modern state has made itself the messiah.... 

...Rome became the triumph of the oppressive tax-collector. A barbarian raid and a visit from the tax-gatherer came to rank equally as disasters, until finally the tax-man came to be the greater evil, and none found Rome worth defending....Rome waned from a great metropolis to a town because it was bankrupt....The modern state, pursuing the same messianic course, faces the same fate.3 

What Does Scripture Say?

A practical question arises today for Christians to consider:  What should be our attitude toward civil government, and especially toward the growing political and economic tyranny of civil governments during this age?  In their rebellion against God they increasingly hold God in derision (Psalm 2). Let us see if we can answer this question.

Scripture teaches us that man has a right to stand (humbly) before God as a free and self-responsible individual because God created him in His very image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-28). Man also has a duty to preserve his God-given freedom so that he can be self-responsible to God.  

But Satan, that great deceiver, tempted Eve, “Yea, hath God said...?” The subsequent rebellion of Adam allowed man to be controlled by Satan. So evil filled the earth (Gen. 6:5). God flooded the earth and saved a remnant through godly Noah (Gen. 6:6–9:29). But evil still abounded. The first ruler to seek worldwide tyranny was Nimrod, who built the Tower of Babel (Gen. 10:8-10).

What did God do?  He confounded the language and dispersed the people into small political/economic social units. This shows us God’s method of reining in the evil outworking of man’s sinful heart in society by destroying centralized government and replacing it with decentralized forms of political rule and economic exchange. Thus, civil power was carefully decentralized so that free economic exchange could take place between individuals whose duty to stand as free and self-responsible persons before their Creator would not be negated by tyrannical rulers (Gen. 11:5-9). This is the political/economic guideline for God’s people to use in the Old and New Testaments.

God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and covenanted with him (Gen. 12-17) to bless the world by his seed through Isaac (Gen. 17:9). Only those who trust in Christ as Savior are counted as Abraham’s spiritual seed. Note that Abraham provided his own army to rescue his nephew Lot and family, who had been abducted by invading kings (Gen. 14). Abraham’s ability to protect his family is a perfect example of decentralized civil government.

God’s people went to pagan Egypt during a long drought, were welcomed there (Gen. 45–50), but were finally enslaved by a king who “knew not Joseph” (Ex. 1:8). God then raised up Moses to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt so that they could serve our Lord in freedom (Ex. 8:1). As the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land, God used Jethro to instruct Moses in the Biblical ideal of decentralized republican civil government (Ex.18) with God’s Word as their constitution (Ex. 20). Later God instructed His people regarding the Biblical ideal of limited power for civil rulers. Rulers are not to exceed Biblical guidelines in exerting power (Dt.17:14-20). Compare this with Rom 13:1-10, especially with verses 3 and 4; also with 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

Civil rulers serve under God’s law for the good of those who are ruled. The delegated power they wield (to punish wrongdoers) is carefully limited by the Bible. Power wielded beyond that results in tyranny, and people have no moral duty to obey edicts that go beyond God’s Word or the governing political constitution (Acts 5:29).  But a caveat is warranted here: citizens must use prudence in deciding to disobey because — right or wrong — the ruler is the one who wields the sword! 

When Israel rebelled spiritually and asked for a “king like other nations,” God warned them of the tyranny that would result (1 Sam.8). And tyranny wasn’t long in coming!  Within two years Saul arrogated priestly power to himself (1 Sam. 13:9-14). Later Samuel feared that Saul would murder him (1 Sam. 16:2), and still later in his reign Saul actually murdered the Lord’s priests (1 Sam. 22:14-23).

The road to political and economic tyranny was followed by most kings in the Old Testament, even by so-called “good kings.”  King David adulterously consorted with the wife of one of his soldiers (Uriah) and then had him murdered (2 Sam. 11). Later, David sinned by numbering the people (2 Sam. 24:1-10). King Solomon multiplied wealth, horses and women to himself and burdened the people with excessive taxes (I Kings 11 - 12). This pattern of civil rulers imposing political and economic tyranny on the people has continued without interruption from Nimrod up to the present time. It is the natural outworking of man’s sinful nature in society.

Satan constantly works by inducing civil rulers (who, like all men, suffer from a fallen nature (Jer. 17:9) to conspire against God (Ps. 2). Thus, rulers cannot safely be trusted to wield power. This is why we are repeatedly admonished not to put our trust in civil rulers (Ps. 118:9, 146:3-10; Ez. 45:9). The nature of civil government is such that it always works by coercion. Even men of good heart — much less evil men who are attracted to positions of political power — can hardly resist the seductive call to “do good” through the use of force. Thus, Christians are called by God to measure all social institutions and to reconstruct them according to Biblical precepts (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

Again, according to R. J. Rushdoony :

The direction of history is twofold in its historical manifestation. Apostate man moves towards establishing a radically humanistic social order, in which God is abolished and man is his own law and lawgiver. Apostate man works to create a paradise on earth without God, law, or morality. The morality of humanism is that man is his own law, and that no moral law beyond man can govern man. On the other hand, regenerate man works to re-establish the law order of God among men, to establish church, state, and society in terms of the word of God, and to manifest the kingdom of God in its every meaning.4

Those who refuse to participate in the worship of man, those who refuse to surrender to man’s complacent satisfaction with man and man’s society, are increasingly branded as aliens. All who do not have the mark of the beast, all who do not surrender to the humanistic social order, are refused permission to buy and sell, that is, they are the objects of social, political, and economic ostracism. Every kind of subtle and direct pressure is employed to force the true believer into conformity with the City of Man and the creed of Cain.5 

How Then Shall We Live? 

I present this brief survey of what the Bible has to say about God’s ideal for the political/economic system because some well-meaning Christians wrongly think that the advent of Christ’s death and resurrection calls for a different approach in the New Testament. Careful study of the Bible clearly shows that the real problem with civil government and its controlling influence in the area of economics lies in man’s sinful heart. This same problem existed in the Old Testament just as it exists in the New Testament. The solution is common to both eras: We are to heed God’s Word and strictly limit power vested in civil rulers (Ex. 18; Deut. 17; Ps. 146:3), and we should always keep in mind how God solved the problem of Nimrod’s centralized tyranny at the Tower of Babel by dispersing the people into small political/economic social units. The United States of America was on the right track for a Biblically oriented, decentralized economy under the Articles of Confederation, which Patrick Henry extolled with the cry, “How I love those requisitions!”  As long as our central government lacked power to tax citizens directly, it was impossible to impose a centralized political/economic state on the people. Let us take Bible in hand and study both the Old and New Testaments to discern their harmony; then let us set about the challenging task of reforming our political/economic system according to Biblical precepts (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

©Tom Rose, 2003

1. Sometimes someone asks, “What, then, is the first-most-important question in life?”  The answer is clear and straightforward: “What will you do with Jesus Christ?  Will you accept Him as your Savior, or not?”  How a person answers this question will determine whether he or she will live eternally, either in heaven as a free person in the presence of Christ, or as a slave in hell under the dictatorial control of Satan. The second-most-important question is answered collectively by citizens, while the first-most-important question is answered individually.

2. For a thorough discussion of fascism and socialism, see Chapter 5, “The Isms,” in Tom Rose, Economics: The American Economy, p. 115-146. In short, fascism is control of individuals and business firms through agencies such as the FDA, ICC, SEC, DEA, FCC, FTC, FDIC, BATF, etc. One of the newest unconstitutional arms of the federal government is “Homeland Security.”   Today there are almost 100 such agencies at the federal level, and many more at the state level. Each agency purportedly “protects” citizens against alleged domestic or international threats to their freedom or well-being. But most fascistic control agencies end up protecting and enhancing the goals of special-interest groups. The fascistic control found in America today is a more sophisticated form of mercantilism that was practiced by statist European nations three- or four-hundred years ago.

3. R. J. Rushdoony, Christianity and the State (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1986), 33-34.

4. R. J. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1978), 172.

5. Ibid., 175-176.

  • Tom Rose

Tom is a retired professor of economics, Grove City College, Pennsylvania. He is author of seven books and hundreds of articles dealing with economic and political issues. His articles have regularly appeared in The Christian Statesman, published by the National Reform Association, Pittsburgh, PA, and in many other publications. He and his wife, Ruth, raise registered Barzona cattle on a farm near Mercer, PA, where they also write and publish economic textbooks for use by Christian colleges, high schools, and home educators. Rose’s latest books are: Free Enterprise Economics in America and God, Gold and Civil Government.

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