In my last few posts, I contended that we Christians have grossly misunderstood passages like Romans 13:1-7. Contrary to our popular preconceptions about this passage, I pointed out that
- The word “government” occurs nowhere in the Greek of this passage, although it is possible that government is one of the many “higher powers” Paul had in mind. As actually written, this passage could just as easily be referring to teachers, employers, parents, etc.
- Although Christians are to be subject to those higher powers which exist, they are in no way obligated by this text to institute over themselves every or any other form of higher power which does not currently exist. Just as Christians are not required to adopt themselves out to new parents if their original parents are deceased, they are also not obligated to form a democratic government if they find themselves in an anarchic (government-less) situation on a deserted tropical island. That is to say, although those governments that exist are ordained by God, He has not necessarily ordained a government for every time and place in human history.
- This passage does not mandate obedience to every command issued by every government as many government commands are in direct contradiction to the commands of God. It should go without saying (but it seems we Christians often forget) that where our government commands us to violate God’s commands, we are obligated to disobey.
- This passage does not mandate approval of government or of its methods. God may use evil government actions for good, but that does not mean those governments or their actions are inherently good any more than it would mean that slavery is inherently good simply because God used that to rescue Joseph and his family from famine.
- This passage is directed at Christians, not at governments; neither is it a command to governments, nor is it a commentary on God-honoring forms of government or government policy. Christians are no less obligated to obey or establish a monarch than a Congress, nor is a democracy more likely to arrive at (or obligated by this passage to arrive at) Godly laws. It is also worth noting that democracy is never even mentioned in the Bible.
I would submit to the reader, then, that anarchy — the state of having no government — is at least as compatible with scripture as any other government form. Christians living under no government are no less able to submit to those authorities which do exist over them, such as parents or pastors, are no less able follow God’s commands, are no less able to approve or disapprove of good or evil actions, and are no less able to minister to the lost around us. Additionally, God, being God, is no less able to punish evil and reward good in such a system; He is not so impotent as to be entirely dependent upon human institutions to execute His judgements. The only limitation which would placed on Christians is that we would be unable to use government to force non-Christians into Christian behaviors. Furthermore, as foreign a concept as it may be, I would submit even that anarchy — in its true sense of “without rulers”, not in the more common but misconceived sense of “chaos” — is a preferable state to being under any government, and it is one towards which Christians should strive. I do not think Christians should seek an immediate overthrow of the government — that would result in chaos, to be sure — but I think Christians should cultivate in themselves and others a sense of dependence on God rather than a sense of dependence on State. I believe that promoting independence from government and encouraging people to handle their own problems without resorting to government force will lead us ultimately to a state where government is irrelevant, and I believe that in the process, creative new institutions (and a healthy respect for others) will evolve which will help us resolve conflicts without the use of force. (Private arbitration is one such example which already exists, although the prevalence of government courts and proliferation of legislation on every possible form of human interaction have kept this in relative infancy.)
I realize of course that most Christians will immediately raise objections too numerous to be discussed at this time, but in future posts I will try to explain in greater detail all of the ways in which the absence of government is superior to its presence and all of the ways in which the use of government violates scripture. Until that time, I will leave the reader with this one thought: Government at its very root is force; any and every statute passed by a government, even a government “of the people”, is a decision to force everyone to behave a certain way. Anyone who doesn’t obey will at a minimum be fined, anyone who resists fines will be imprisoned, and anyone who resists imprisonment will be shot by the police officer who comes to imprison him. This is true of every single statute passed by every single government, even those most well-intentioned and beneficent statutes intended to protect people from themselves. This state of things strikes me as quite contrary to “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; I also am unaware of a time when Christ made any move to force those around Him to behave according to His wishes or according to the laws of the Roman government. A Christian who loves his neighbor will not shoot him when he catches his neighbor in wrong-doing and would certainly hope the neighbor would do the same in return; the Christian rather will lovingly and gently guide that neighbor to repentance through his words and actions just as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery (which was illegal and punishable by death): “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” Note that Jesus never added “…or else” and that He never followed up with that woman to stone her if she had sinned again.
It is certainly difficult to extend this kind of mercy to the miscreants all around us, but if Jesus, who of all people had the greatest right to indignantly withhold such mercy, found it fitting to be merciful anyway, how much more suitable would it be for us, His followers and imitators, to be merciful? How much have we wanted mercy to be shown to us all of the times we’ve failed and sinned? If we are truly to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, then we should be careful not to set an example of punishing others with government force when they misbehave according to our standards, otherwise they’re guaranteed to withhold mercy and punish us when we misbehave according to theirs.