Civil Authority Established by God?
You’ve Got to Be Kidding!
What is a Christian to do? What is a Christian to think? As this year’s November election draws near many Christians and non-Christians alike are troubled by the choices that are before them. “I don’t like any of the candidates!” “They are all immoral, liars, and scoundrels!” “I don’t think I can vote for any of these candidates!” “I don’t approve of the kind of people they are in either their private or their public lives!” “I just won’t vote!” These are the kinds of statements people are making.
What is a Christian to think? What is a Christian to do? These questions must be answered in the context of the Scripture’s injunction: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities… The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). Many see this as an irreconcilable dilemma: How can these choices for candidates be the ones whom God has given us?
The Apostle Paul penned those words, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, during the time of the Roman Empire when the Christian Church was an unofficial religion and on the threshold of the Emperor Nero’s reign of terror on the Christian Church. Paul would soon be beheaded and Peter would be crucified by Nero. First, to believe what the Word of God says requires faith, not in what we can see, but in what we cannot see. Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate affirms the truth that God WILL have His day and that His greatest good is accomplished in ways that we can’t even imagine. But this still does not answer the question about the dilemma of our nation’s elections and how the Christian should think about voting.
There have been many forms of government in the history of human civilization: monarchies, theocracies (as in Islamic countries), and dictatorships, just to name a few. The United States is a Constitutional Republic. What most Christians don’t realize in our American form of government is that the citizens are among those established by God as part of civil authority. So when the Apostle Paul states, “the authorities that exist have been established by God.” he is talking about you and me. This means that we really don’t have the option to “opt out” if we are to truly honor the civil authorities.
Christian citizens have a responsibility under God to participate in our Constitutional Republic by engaging in the political process; this includes voting! This is an authority given to us by God. What governs our actions as Christians? How should we approach the voting booth? Here are some considerations:
- Our decisions should be ordered by what God’s Word teaches about what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral, and what is going to best serve the public good. For example, we believe in the sanctity of human life, the foundational importance of marriage and family as God has instituted it, the rule of Law, and God’s charge to the civil authorities to punish evil doers and to reward those who do well. These are just a few of the considerations that govern Christians in the decisions that they make as “civil rulers” in the voting booth.
- Our decisions are made in love for our fellow man. What is going to best serve the common good? What is going to best uphold the Constitutional form of government under which we live? What is going to best serve the preservation of the civil rights guaranteed in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights? Chief among these rights guaranteed in our Constitution is the freedom of religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” To grapple with these questions falls under the rubric of Holy Scripture that “civil authority is established by God.” In this case, not only are voting citizens established by God, but so also is our Constitution and Bill of Rights under which our country is supposed to operate. Few people realize that in our form of government, the Constitution is a higher authority than any elected official.
- Christians should know and understand the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and form of government under which we live. We cannot properly honor the civil authority, the Constitution, and our role as citizens, if we do not know and understand what God has given us in our Constitution. We tend only to think of the elected leaders as “established by God,” but the Constitution and Bill of Rights in our country is also included in Paul’s words, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).
- Christians should distinguish between the two kingdoms—the Church and the Civil realm. If we could vote only for God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians, we could quite possibly never vote for anyone. In the kingdom of the Church, governed by the preaching of the Gospel and the faithful administration of the Sacraments, we are, indeed, to call and ordain to the office of the ministry only those who are “above reproach.” But in the civil realm this is often not possible. The kingdom of the Church is concerned with repentance and faith in Christ for salvation. In the civil realm, it is the law which is to govern the outer man (believer and unbeliever alike) to maintain order, to protect the nation against foreign aggression and, under our form of government, to preserve the rights and freedoms of all our citizens against tyranny. A good rule of thumb is to understand that the spiritual kingdom is concerned with the faith of the heart; the civil kingdom is concerned about the temporal protection and general welfare of all citizens. By faith we believe that God is active in both kingdoms for His own good and gracious purposes. Ultimately, God’s rule in both kingdoms serves the greater good of the preservation of His Church. Quite often this involves suffering persecution, even as we contend faithfully as citizens of our country.
- The Civil Government is only temporary. Christians recognize that every form of earthly government and its rulers are flawed, just like all the citizens who live in the nation. We live in the world, but we are not of this world. We walk by faith in Christ and the Word of God. We do our best to serve our neighbor in love, exercising our God-given responsibilities as citizens, participating in our form of government, and making the best decisions possible in love for our fellow man and to serve our neighbor. In the end, however, we commend our nation and all that we do to the God of mercy and love who has sent His Son to redeem the world.
- Our faithful service as citizens in our country is born out of our faith in the love of God in Christ for the unworthy and undeserving. The Old Testament saints give us an outstanding example of how to serve as citizens in a godless nation. Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego, did their best to serve the wicked king Nebuchadnezzar while they were captives in the empire of Babylon. They remained true to the Word of God, but they also served the king as government officials to the best of their ability and for the loving benefit of all citizens of the realm. Sometimes they were persecuted and paid a costly price for their service, but their faithful service was a testament to God’s universal love in Christ for all people.
Finally, as we approach this upcoming election, the Church will offer no candidate voting guides but rather encourage Christians to serve their neighbor by exercising their right to vote for those candidates who will best serve the public good according to what we know to be true and right according to God’s Word. In these decisions we employ human reason that is sanctified by God’s Word. As Christians, we should carefully heed the Word of God as recorded in the Table of Duties: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21), and “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
[See the passages of Scripture from the Table of Duties: Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 22:21; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Titus 3:1; and 1 Peter 2:13-14.]
Peace Bits and Pieces
News and Notes
In each newsletter, we will look to update you on happenings and interesting tidbits within our parish that impact our fellowship. These may include upcoming or recently completed events in the parish or academy, stories involving the work of our auxiliary organizations, activities undertaken by members or students, or simply something we believe you will find interesting. But the intent is to better communicate with our parish family about items in which we share a common interest.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY – On the evening of September 30th we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Pastor Bender’s installation at Peace Lutheran Church. Per his wishes, this was not a celebration of his anniversary alone but rather our anniversary together. Much as married couples do not celebrate their anniversary as individuals, the relationship of a pastor to his congregation must involve both parties. Over the past quarter century much has certainly changed in our lives, in our culture, in our country, and in this world. But the eternal truths have continued to be taught in Divine Services, in Bible studies, and in other opportunities for catechesis together. This is certainly the “tie the binds,” and we give thanks for the many blessings over the past 25 years.
The evening began with a special Evening Prayer Service led by sons of Peace Lutheran now in the ministry: Rev. Christopher Seifferlein, Rev. Kyle Verage, and Rev. Michael Larson. The service was followed by a reception in Loehe Hall with food, drink, and many wonderful stories of all that has transpired over the past 25 years. Special thanks to Laura Ferguson and Kara Rhode for planning the event and to their families and all the others who helped in making it a wonderful celebration of our time together.
CHRISTMAS CRAFT & VENDOR FAIR – On Saturday, November 12, we will be holding our 7th annual Christmas Craft & Vendor Fair from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. It is an outstanding way to kick off the Thanksgiving/Christmas season with a wide variety of vendors providing all types of interesting gift possibilities. If you would like to be a vendor, booth spaces remain available. You can pick up a registration packet in the church office. You can also help greatly by simply showing up that day and taking a look around. Vendors appreciate foot traffic, and your being there helps to make it a most successful event. We hope you will join us for a fun day in support of Peace Lutheran Academy.
GOVERNMENT AT WORK – Given that we are in the presidential election season, it has been a tradition for Peace Lutheran Academy to hold a “Government Game” where the students elect a president and vice president, as well as a congress. They then begin the work of assigning duties for treasury, post master, etc. and creating and working to pass bills. If you believe there is frustration only in the halls of the Congress in Washington, imagine the consternation in the halls of the academy when President Frerking vetoed the first bill presented to him that would have made every other Friday a non-uniform day. There were concerns we may need secret service protection on the playground! But after working through some details involving what was and was not appropriate to wear, what options there were for participating and so on, the revised bill made it through congress and was signed into “law” making it the official policy of Peace Lutheran Academy. While the game is certainly a great deal of fun for the students, they are also learning how our government works. While this may seem like a little thing, having academy students work through these issues awakens practical application of things that may have simply been ignored previously. And this is a great aid in the goal of producing graduates who take seriously their responsibility as Christian citizens and future leaders of our country.
Funding the Academy Updates
Monthly Fish Fry: Thanks to all for your continued support of the monthly fish fry. This includes not only all the volunteers who graciously give of their time (and baking abilities), but to all of those who purchase the meals and promote the fish fry among your friends and neighbors. This fund-raiser continues to be an excellent opportunity to raise funds for the Academy (we have raised over $60,000 in the past 12 years).
Scrip: Thanks to everyone who is participating in this very profitable funding source for the Academy. Remember, you can use your VISA or Mastercard to purchase Scrip. However, there is more profit to the Academy when you pay with cash or check.
But there are some in the congregation who are probably asking “What is the Scrip Program and why do we promote it?” It is a term which means “substitute for money.” Scrip is a real and negotiable gift certificate from one of over 160 participating national merchants. These gift certificates are the identical gift certificates normally issued by a participating store. Our Academy purchases discounted gift certificates and sells them to you for face value. You can then use those gift certificates like cash to buy normal everyday items which you would purchase anyway … in those stores you like to shop. The discount we receive (% profit on the order form) becomes income for our Academy — and does not cost you more than you spend now! Have any more questions? Ask the people at the Scrip counter.