Oh my. That whole Sheep discussion has sort of gone off and taken on a life of its own! But the main issues are the same: Christian Husband, asserting Romans 13:
13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Which, if you are a Catholic and a Republican, you should be pretty happy about this scripture. Much discussion has ensued between XH and Therese about the idea of the authority of the pope and apostolic succession in light of the above. But perhaps we should look at some smaller examples in order to get more guidance on this. The main one being Paul, himself.
Paul was not among the original 12 disciples. In fact, his first encounter was him being (known as Saul) a Pharisee and witnessing and approving the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 and his persecution in acts 8. It wasn’t until he had a personal revelation in Acts 9 that he became a disciple. Up until that time, he was under the authority of the high priest. But what about after his revelation? He was no longer under that authority but under the authority of God. Therefore, despite what Paul says in Romans, he himself is an example of one whose authority and mandate changed based on the working of the Holy Spirit. God is well able to trump whatever authority He establishes in earth. For if Paul was still living his own assertion, he would have submitted himself to the high priest in order to be tried and executed right there in Damascus. But he didn’t. He escaped.
According to Romans 13, the governing authorities govern at God’s pleasure. In this way, I get XH’s assertion about God setting up and removing earthly authorities as He sees fit. Much of the Old Testament consists of God using various kingdoms and rulers in order to discipline and test His people. However, the revelation of the Holy spirit seems to grant some sort of exclusion to earthly authorities and this is how new movements, reformations and revivals get started. No earthly authority trumps God’s authority. God sets up leaders according to His purposes, but brings them down according to those same purposes. Leaders and people alike are like grass who grow, whither, die and get blown away. But God’s Spirit remains.
In Romans 13, Paul is clearly talking about the relationship believers should have to the civilian authorities. In Romans 14, he is more focused on how we are to deal with each other, with love being the over riding factor. If someone’s authority becomes a stumbling block to someone else, is it truly established by God?
I believe the Holy Spirit is on the move in His church, and not just churches as you all understand them. We have the luxury of wealth and security in order to afford the big, opulent buildings and a well-paid professional clergy who have very good standards of living. We can afford to go to large gatherings and play loud music without fear of someone coming to arrest us and kill us.
But this is not true in many other places in the world. China, Sudan, Indonesia, India and Pakistan are just a few places where the church is being persecuted. And yet more and more people are being taught, equipped and baptized each and everyday without all of the things so many of you see as an essential part of your regular church experience, including large buildings and crowds. I would argue that these church families are healthier and more productive because of their hardships. They are functioning well without ordination, seminaries, apostolic succession, large ornate cathedrals, big organs or big praise bands, lots of parking, pledge cards or stewardship drives.
And they are, by meeting and becoming Christians and encouraging others to do so, breaking the laws of the places in which they live. They are often imprisoned just like Paul was. Are these people sinning? If the Bible enjoins them to preach the word and the law of their country says it is unlawful, how then could they then NOT sin under Romans 13? Would you be willing to smuggle a Bible into one of these countries? Would doing so be a sin? When Brother Andrew was smuggling Bibles across the iron curtain, was he engaged in sin? How and why did God bless his work, then? Does God bless sin? Did God establish the godless Soviet empire?
There is no end to this.
There are clearly those who occupy positions of authority who do NOT have God’s stamp of approval. Those people occupy positional authority by virtue of having a bigger army, police force or whatever. But that is not true and authentic authority. And truly, only the Holy Spirit can help us divine the truth of it. When Ehud killed Eglon (Judges 3) instead of just paying tribute, he had a revelation from God that it was time to put an end to Moabite rule. Eglon served his purpose and God put an end to his life. This sounds pretty cruel, but it is true of us all. We can be swept away as easily as dried grass. Again there is this bind with Ehud: he obeys God and kills this earthly ruler (thus sinning) or he disobeys God and still sins.
So in this way, we do have a paradox that we need to figure out how to reconcile. Jesus was pretty explicit that in His kingdom the greatest would be the least and the servant would be the master. Our concept of authority is not the same as God’s, and in every case, God’s will is clearly sovereign. God can make a silk’s purse out of the sow’s ear every time. Is that the way He wants it? I think God would like it if we would simply do what He tells us, but He recognizes that we are going to do certain things based on our own free will and sets things up accordingly.
We only know in part right now and one day we will know the fullness of the plan, whatever it is. That’s sort of what faith is all about.