More than Just Conservative (20)

Resistance to Church Lockdowns: What About Romans 13?

Gary North – July 30, 2020

I reported on their defiance in yesterday’s article: https://www.garynorth.com/public/21145.cfm.

The elders made their defiance clear. They did not weasel.

Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings—sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on those biblical principles. As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture. Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.

In the next paragraph, they cut off those pastors who prefer compliance, and who would be willing to cite Romans 13 as justification for this compliance. Here is Romans 13, verses 1 through 7.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

The elders correctly understand the context of Paul’s statement — the tyrannical Roman Empire — and also how Paul’s words should be applied today.

Some will think such a firm statement is inexorably in conflict with the command to be subject to governing authorities laid out in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Scripture does mandate careful, conscientious obedience to all governing authority, including kings, governors, employers, and their agents (in Peter’s words, “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” [1 Peter 2:18]). Insofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not. In other words, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 still bind the consciences of individual Christians. We are to obey our civil authorities as powers that God Himself has ordained.

Later in their manifesto, they wrote this:

Accordingly, the honor that we rightly owe our earthly governors and magistrates (Romans 13:7) does not include compliance when such officials attempt to subvert sound doctrine, corrupt biblical morality, exercise ecclesiastical authority, or supplant Christ as head of the church in any other way.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote this:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour (I Timothy 2:1-3).

Paul was clear: civil government is legitimate. Churches even owe public prayer for civil rulers. He could not have been more clear on this point.

Peter was equally clear: Christians don’t owe obedience to civil laws that undermine the church of Jesus Christ. They are not morally obligated to obey these laws.

There is another issue: the language of plural governments. Paul was not writing just about civil government. He uses the word authorities. That is a plural word. I have explained this elsewhere.

LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENTS

In 2001, I published my economic commentary on Paul’s letter to the church at Rome: Competition and Dominion I had it professionally typeset in 2012. It is posted as a PDF here. Chapter 11 presents my analysis of Romans 13:1-7: “Legitimate Governments.” Here is what I wrote, but without the footnotes.A. Plural Authorities

Paul speaks of higher powers. Strong’s Concordance defined the Greek word exousia as follows: “(in the sense of ability); privilege, i.e. (subj.) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (obj.) mastery (concr. magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence: authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength.” It means, basically, lawful authorities. There are more than one. There is no single hierarchy in this life. God has created competing jurisdictions in order to eliminate the possibility of an absolute centralized tyranny. “And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city” (Gen. 11:6– 8). A national civil government or empire has always faced competition: from foreign civil rulers, local civil rulers, families, kinship groups, churches, voluntary associations, and businesses.

Paul says here that lawful authorities deserve obedience. He does not say or imply that there is only one lawful institutional authority that must be obeyed. In his confrontation with the high priest, he made this point clear. Even though he was an apostle and in possession of lawful authority, he did not deliberately challenge the high priest. “And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people” (Acts 23:2–5). Paul honored lawful authorities. But when one authority could be used to offset another, Paul set them in competition to gain his freedom. “But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided” (Acts 23:6–7). The Sadducee party, which denied the bodily resurrection, was associated with the temple’s priesthood. Paul’s words to the Pharisees immediately undermined Ananias’ power to prosecute Paul on the authority of the priesthood.

No power is established on earth that is not established by God. On this point, Paul is clear. “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (v. 1). This English phrase—“the powers that be”—has come down through the centuries to describe the supreme rulers in a society. Therefore, obedience to them is biblically mandatory. “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (v. 2). Because God has established authorities to rule over men, men are required by God to obey rulers.

Paul lived under the rule of Nero, a tyrant by any standard. Yet he writes: “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good” (v. 4) Christians are to do good deeds, gaining praise from their rulers. God has set rulers in seats of authority to be a terror to evil-doers. Let these rulers devote their efforts to overcoming their enemies, not look for rebellious Christians to prosecute.

There are rulers who themselves are evil and allied with evil men. Nevertheless, Paul says to obey. The goal of governments is to defend social order. Every government has rules. It enforces standards with sanctions. Most civil rulers want more authority for themselves. They want things to run smoothly. God has built into human nature the desire to live in a predictable world. For predictability, there must be rules and sanctions. This is why rules and sanctions make life easier. Tyrants want predictability. The closer to righteousness the civil laws are, the more voluntary cooperation that rulers will gain from their subordinates. Rulers cannot rule without subordinates who voluntarily cooperate. If everyone refused to obey a law, there would not be enough police to enforce it. This is why rulers prosecute a representative figure. This sends a message to the public: “If you don’t obey, and everyone else does, we’ll get you.” But there comes a day when many people take a chance and deliberately disobey the law. They refuse to cooperate with the civil government. On that day, the illusion of state omnipotence ends.

The early church lived under a pagan civil tyranny. Rome mandated idolatry as a means of extending the power of the empire. This polytheistic system of civil rule sought intercultural unity by divinizing the emperor. But Christians refused to offer public sacrifices to “the genius of the emperor,” for they understood the theology of ancient empires: the divinization of man and the state. For this rebellion, they were intermittently persecuted for almost three centuries. They did not rebel by taking up arms. They merely refused to participate in false worship. Over time, they gained the reputation for being good citizens and reliable subordinates. In the fourth century, they inherited the Roman empire. They had served under tyranny, and they became rulers when this tyranny collapsed into the chaos of civil war and bankruptcy. Nonviolent disobedience to civil authority on this one point eventually gained Christians civil authority. Otherwise, they were obedient. This is a biblical principle of authority: he who seeks to rule should first serve. Jesus told His disciples, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:25–26). But there is another principle of biblical authority. “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Both principles must be honored. Both principles must be intellectually defended by covenant-keepers. Both must be honored by the flock.B. The Legitimacy of Governments

Paul’s discussion of institutional authorities follows a passage that challenges personal vengeance. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). If personal vengeance is wrong, then how does God bring vengeance in history? Through civil government. The text does not say that vengeance is wrong. It says that God possesses final authority to impose vengeance. He has delegated the authority to impose physical vengeance to two governments: civil and family. Peter agreed with Paul on this point. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully” (I Peter 2:13–19).

Neither Peter nor Paul demanded obedience to civil government at the expense of obedience to other lawful governments. Again, Peter explicitly told the Jewish leaders, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b). Yet they had the authority to beat him, which they did (Acts 5:40). He submitted to the beating, but not to their command to stop preaching the gospel. He disobeyed, but he submitted to the sanctions for the sake of his disobedience. So did Paul.

The point is this: Peter and Paul self-consciously operated within the existing Roman legal system. Paul understood Roman law, and as a Roman citizen, he invoked it. “But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me? Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar” (Acts 25:9–11). His words, “I refuse not to die,” affirmed the legitimacy of civil government, including capital punishment. But, at the same time, he appealed to Caesar to escape the jurisdiction of Festus, who Paul believed was acting on behalf of the Jews. This was consistent with his affirmation of the ministerial office of civil magistrates.

The anarcho-capitalist rejects all forms of civil government. He can point to every kind of tax as distorting the free market. He sees the free market as legitimately autonomous. But then come the problems of violence and sin. How can these be predictably restrained? The biblical answer is government, including civil government. In an anarcho-capitalist world of profit-seeking private armies, the result is the warlord society. Militarily successful private armies will always seek to establish their monopolistic rule by killing the competition, literally. Civil governments always reappear. They are one of God’s four ordained systems of government: self-government, church government, family government, and civil government. All four are sealed by an oath. All four involve sanctions.

Christians cannot legitimately adopt the libertarian quest to establish a world devoid of civil government. Sin mandates civil government and civil sanctions. The right of civil rulers to impose physical punishments is affirmed clearly by Paul in Acts 25. He affirms in Romans 13 the legitimacy of civil government among other legitimate governments. He says that rulers are ordained by God as His ministers. This is powerful language. It invokes the authority of God on behalf of the state. If Paul is correct, then anarcho-capitalism is incorrect. There is no way around this.C. Crime vs. the Division of Labor

The threat of crime forces men to allocate scarce economic resources to the defense against criminals. The state is the primary institutional means of crime prevention. The state imposes negative sanctions on convicted criminals. The goal is to uphold justice by means of fear. “And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut. 19:18–21). Fear adds to the cost to criminal behavior. As the economist says, when the cost of anything increases, other things remaining equal, less of it is demanded. This is the goal of negative civil sanctions: less crime.

The expense of crime-prevention reduces men’s wealth. They believe that this expenditure prevents an even greater reduction of their wealth by criminals. Men find it more expensive to cooperate when crime increases. Their lives and property are less secure. This makes them more cautious about entering into cooperative ventures with people they do not know well. The information costs of dealing with strangers are high, and some people choose not to take these extra risks. Because of sin, the division of labor is reduced. Crime-prevention activities are a means of removing risk and increasing the level of cooperation. Institutional authorities seek to reduce crime by imposing negative sanctions on law-breakers.

To maximize the division of labor in a world of sin, the state must impose negative sanctions only on law-breakers, biblically defined. By adding laws that go beyond the Bible, or even go counter to it, civil rulers reduce the division of labor. Legislators and bureaucrats who go beyond the Bible in seeking to stamp out illegal activities make it more expensive for people to cooperate voluntarily to achieve their ends. This reduces the division of labor. It therefore reduces people’s wealth. The state thereby produces the same condition that criminals produce. The difference is, good men feel justified in defending themselves against criminals. They feel far less justified in defending themselves against the state. The predator state can become a greater threat to economic and social cooperation than the predator criminal class. In some cases, the state allies itself with the criminal class.Conclusion

Paul speaks of the illegitimacy of personal vengeance. He does not deny the legitimacy of vengeance as such. He says that God has restricted vengeance to legitimate civil governments. Civil power is supposed to restrain unpredictable personal violence, family feuds, and gang warfare. The free market is not autonomous. It is an extension of the individual or the family, both of which operate under civil law. The free market is under civil law. Civil law covenantally is superior to the free market. The civil covenant establishes the conditions of the free market by shaping public behavior and attitudes. Civil law is enforced by rulers who are ministers of God. Taxation as such is not theft, contrary to some libertarian theorists. Most forms of taxation are theft, and all levels above the tithe surely are (I Sam. 8:15, 17), but not all. Lawful authorities are entitled to economic support. Taxation supports the state.

Paul calls on Christians to obey lawful authorities. This may mean challenging one authority in the name of another. Authorities are to some extent in competition with each other. It is not unlawful to pit one against the other, as Paul’s tactics in Acts indicate. Freedom is sometimes achieved by using one authority to reduce the power of another. Paul used Roman law to undermine Festus’ desire to please the Jews. He lawfully removed himself from Festus’ jurisdiction. A legal system should not be allowed to become monolithic.

CONCLUSION

Rev. MacArthur and the church elders presented a biblically accurate assessment of Romans 13:1-7. I hope other congregations that face tyrannical lockdown laws will do the same when they defy these unjust, illegitimate laws and rules.

More than Just Conservative (17)

Earthly slavery, as manifested clearly in the history of the Exodus, involves at least three factors: slavery to food, slavery to the past, and slavery to the present. The Hebrews cursed Moses, for he had served them as a deliverer. He had enabled them to cast off the chains of bondage. They looked to the uncertainty that lay before them (the Red Sea) and the chariots behind them, and they wailed. They had lost what they regarded as external security in Egypt, a welfare State existence, and they resented Moses’ leadership.[1]

For some two hundred years, believers have been developing a dismissive view of the Old Testament law. “Oh, that’s from the Old Testament, and we don’t need to bother with that anymore,” is largely   the usual attitude in evangelical circles.

But we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath-water. There are aspects of both continuity and discontinuity in relation to God’s law from the Old Testament, which the Bible explains or infers. The Ten Commandments remain eternally, but the focus of enforcement of the Fourth Commandment (dealing with the Sabbath) has shifted to the individual:

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind (Ro.14:5).

This is a very important Biblical principle. It has been the basis of the West’s liberties, which are now in decline. It means that every person is responsible to God for their actions.

You want to go overseas, go to university, get married or start a business? No problem. It’s your life. It may or may not be a mistake, but it is your responsibility. And it has been this Biblical culture of individual responsibility (with the associated opportunities and risks), which has been at the root of the West’s rapid development in the last 300 years.

People should remember this fact: you can’t replace something with nothing. Yes, there are aspects of Old Testament law (such as the animal sacrifices, the food laws, the seed laws and the land laws) which are fulfilled in the New Testament, because the focus today geographically is not a tiny piece of land in the Middle East, but on “…all the nations…” (Mat.28:19). God’s law is His plan for every nation.

But when people replace the Bible’s overall law and culture, there is always a price they’ll pay. If you refuse individual responsibility, someone else will have to take it up for you, and in the modern era, that has generally been the State. And the State’s representative has generally been an inefficient, self-serving, tax-funded bureaucracy.

Think of law-enforcement in the United States. It began with local police, then early in the twentieth century, they added the FBI. Its 2011 budget? $7.9 billion. Then in the 1940’s the CIA came along to supposedly deal with matters of international security, and since 2001, the US has a Department of Homeland Security, and a Transport Safety Authority.

Is US law-enforcement any better now? It’s hard to believe. Bureaucratic institutions tend to grow not because of need, but because it’s a matter of status. The leaders want the power and prestige (and money) that comes with leading a growing organisation. So they say to their political superiors, “Give us more!”

Efficiency? Irrelevant. Ethics and justice? Forget it.

Because individual liberty and responsibility are largely ignored, massive, inefficient and sometimes corrupt bureaucracies have to keep finding justifications for their existence. And they do, even if they have to invent them. And what seems to frequently happen? The innocent suffer abuse.

Can the innocent do anything about it? Mostly, no. How things have changed. Today, if your home is targeted by a SWAT team for a drug bust in the US, you could easily be killed. Law enforcement agencies can be effectively above the law. As Will Grigg writes,

The Milwaukee Police Department holds down the number two spot in the national police brutality rankings. Its distinguished contributions in the field of state-sponsored crime include a lengthy and growing list of suspicious deaths of people in police custody.[2]

Furthermore, plausible allegations about both the FBI and the CIA have been made, linking them to many assassinations, including that of President Kennedy in 1963, and his brother Robert in 1968. But you thought it was the “land of the free and the home of the brave?” It’s time to wake up to how things have deteriorated.

When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they just left; there were no border restrictions. When Joseph and Mary decided at God’s direction to flee Israel to evade Herod, they simply got up in the night and left for Egypt (Mat.2:13-15).

What if you had to do the same thing? Got a passport? Got a permit? And what if you decided to go on a Friday night? Well, you would have to wait till the relevant office opened on Monday. Sorry about that.

And what if the bureaucrat essential for your approval takes exception to you? That’s why all restrictions on international movement (including passports) are generally oppressive in nature; the Berlin wall was not built with a Biblical world-view in mind. When a nation declares to its people, “you have to have our permission to leave,” they are saying in effect, “you are our slaves.” This was the attitude of many Eastern Bloc countries up until about 1990, and is reminiscent of the oppression of the Israelites under Pharoah.

A church acquaintance who immigrated from South Africa recently told me he had to pay $80,000 to come to Australia with his wife.

Something else: what if I have been visiting the south of France, and return to Australia with a few bottles of champagne, along with some Belgian chocolate, and some vintage, valuable French pistols that I’m fond of?

Anything wrong with that? Biblically, no, but according to the present laws, it would probably raise major issues with the Customs Department, and I wouldn’t be let out of the airport.  The guns could be confiscated. After all, I could be about to commit a crime!

 The irony is, that a well-armed populace of law-abiding citizens has a very great defence against criminals, gangs, and those who wish to do harm to the citizen base. An unarmed public, on the other hand, can do virtually nothing to defend themselves.[3]

This goes to the heart of Biblical liberty. The Bible never focuses on what I might do with whatever is in my hands, as a potential criminal; every person is a potential criminal. It deals only with what I have done. The difference is very important in how people are treated before the law.

In Australia, we have seven State and Federal Education Departments. Why?

Well, we ignored the fact that the Bible makes parents responsible for education, and so we handed that task to the State, and the results have been horrific. Not only is it costing the taxpayer $15,000 in 2020 to send a child to a State school, but we’ve put the people with a vested interest in the Department’s perpetuation in charge.

Thus education (as in Nazi Germany) is subject to political control, the foxes are in charge of the hen-house, and parents had better not sneeze without Departmental permission. They could be prosecuted for taking responsibility for their children’s education. What a bizarre perversion of God’s justice.

In a free Biblical society, you can generally do as you wish, within Biblical boundaries. It represents a level of libertarianism we would be shocked by today. But in our present evil “nanny-state” environment, the key thing is to get permission first, even for something totally innocuous like buying a gun. Even advertising at sporting events, and labelling on cigarette packets are State regulated. Thus decision-making processes are shifted from individuals and families to the State, something God never intended.

And the worst of it? The Church accepts it.

When Israel turned from God and wanted a king “…like all the nations” (I Sam.8:5), God made it clear that “they have rejected Me from being king over them” (v.7), and that there would be consequences (v.10-18).

And what were some of these? A high tax rate of 10%, property confiscation, a general expansion of government control, and State sponsored murder (see I Sam.22:16-23).

We in the West have shown we are no different to Israel in Saul’s day. There have been, and there will be painful consequences for our poor and evil choices: massive, overbearing bureaucracies, social oppression by government and high tax rates in place of godly freedom and responsibility: God’s just judgments on us for running back to the slavery of Egypt.

But all this can change. It must change, if the West is to have a future of blessing and prosperity under God.

John the Baptist was a Biblical prophet: a radical in the Biblical tradition. He preached that “the axe is already laid at the root of the trees…” (Mat.3:10).  We need his solution today.

Conclusion:

Individuals, families and churches must begin the long religious and cultural walk out of Egypt, to the promised land of God’s glorious purpose.

This may take us generations to accomplish, just as it took us generations to get to the bad state we’re in. The time is not the issue, the issue is that we start to move. And the first and simplest place to begin to act in obedience to God, is in taking responsibility for our children’s education.

It’s time to move, and it begins with obedience and repentance on the part of God’s people. Are you ready?

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Gal.5:1).

 

 

[1] Gary North, “Moses and Pharoah,” 1986, p.256.

[2] Will Grigg, “Meet Ed Flynn – Milwaukee Crime Lord, Citizen Disarmament Advocate,” Lew Rockwell’s website, 1/3/2013.

[3]Anthony Gucciardi, “A Brief and Bloody History of Gun Control,” (courtesy of Lew Rockwell’s website,) 23/2/2013.

 

Restoring the Foundation of Civilization: God’s Government or Chaos

Jul 24, 2020 by Gary DeMar

The following is from the Introduction to my new book Restoring the Foundation of Civilization: God’s Government or Chaos that should be available in late August or early September of 2020.

There are many Christians who will not participate in politics because they believe (or have been taught to believe) that politics is outside the realm of what constitutes a Christian worldview. “Politics is dirty,” “Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics,” “Politics is about law, and Christianity is about grace,” “Government is not our savior; Jesus is,” “Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world,” “The Christian’s only task is to preach the gospel.” [1]

 

Myths Lies and Half Truths

Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths

Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths takes a close look at God’s Word and applies it to erroneous misinterpretations of the Bible that have resulted in a virtual shut-down of the church’s full-orbed mission in the world (Acts 20:27). Due to these mistaken interpretations and applications of popular Bible texts to contemporary issues, the Christian faith is being thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matt. 5:13).

Buy Now

The thing of it is, a biblical worldview includes politics, the civil dimension of biblical government. The British poet and literary critic T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) makes the point better than I can:

Yet there is an aspect in which we can see a religion as the whole way of life of a people, from birth to the grave, from morning to night and even in sleep, and that way of life is also its culture…. It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have—until recently—been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning…. If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. [2]

The entire Bible speaks about the subjects of governments and politics just like it speaks about everything else. Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), Prime Minister of the Netherlands and Professor of Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam and editor of the daily newspaper The Standard, summarized this truth with these words: “[N]o single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!’” [3]

If holiness means “Thou Shalt not steal” for you and me, then it also means the same thing for you and me if we decide to become a civil official. Politics, actually “civil government,” is not morally neutral territory just like self-, family, and church governments are not morally neutral. If we follow the reasoning of some Christians, we can’t speak out against a civil minister when he violates his oath to uphold the Constitution and violates some biblical law, for example, the specific law against man-stealing. Would we remain silent and passive with a husband who violates his marriage oath or a minister of the gospel who violates his ordination vows? Of course, we would not. There are procedures to deal with these violations. The same is true in the civil realm. It includes organizing people to oppose civil oath violators to remove them from office.

So, if thieves break into your home and burn it down, what should you do? What if they beat and rape your wife and steal all your stuff? If the chief of police and the mayor don’t do anything about it, are these non-involved Christians telling their fellow-Christians that they should not protest but just take the persecution “for righteousness’ sake”? Would he be considered “proud,” “pompous” and a “power monger” to rally his neighbors to vote the mayor out of office in the next election? According to God’s Word, the civil magistrate has the power of the sword (Rom. 13:1–4). Without limits on the civil minister’s authority and power, that sword can do a lot of harm to a lot of people.

I suppose as Christians like Corrie ten Boom (1893–1983) and her family were being dragged off to a concentration camp for helping Jews escape from the Nazis, their fellow-Christians should have told them, “This is what you get for not being willing to be oppressed and disenfranchised for righteousness’ sake. You should have made peace with the Nazis not protest against them. Persecution is the Christian’s lot in life.”

If Christians had been involved in civil government decades before and understood its limitations and their responsibility to speak out against oppression, Germany would never have had an Adolf Hitler. In 19th-century Germany, a distinction was made between the realm of public policy managed by the State and the domain of private morality under the province of the gospel. Religion was the sphere of the inner personal life, while things public came under the jurisdiction of the “worldly powers.” Redemption was fully the province of the church while the civil sphere was solely the province of the State. “Religion was a private matter that concerned itself with the personal and moral development of the individual. The external order—nature, scientific knowledge, statecraft—operated on the basis of its own internal logic and discernable laws.” [4]

Christians were told that the church’s sole concern was the spiritual life of the believer. “The Erlangen church historian Hermann Jorda declared in 1917 that the state, the natural order of God, followed its own autonomous laws while the kingdom of God was concerned with the soul and operated separately on the basis of the morality of the gospel.” [5] Sound familiar? It’s what many Christians believe and practice.

  1. See my book Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2010).[]
  2. T.S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949), 29, 126.[]
  3. Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty” (1880) in James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.[]
  4. Richard V. Pierard, “Why Did Protestants Welcome Hitler?,” Fides et Historia, X:2 (North Newton, KS: The Conference on Faith and History), (Spring 1978), 13.[]
  5. Pierard, “Why Did Protestants Welcome Hitler?,” 14.[]

Getting it Right with Government (6)

And the government will rest on His shoulders… (Isa.9:6).

The twentieth century was not a bright one for the general population of nations, all around the world. Why? Governments abused them, and after this century’s 20 years, nothing indicates the pattern’s changed.

Why does this happen? People don’t take much notice of what the Bible says about human nature, and what the Bible says is not flattering. Take this example:

There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one (Ro.3:10-12).

When people think that they can expect their government to somehow be benign, caring and loving towards its citizens, they are believing something that the world has never seen. It just doesn’t happen.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) commented,

time after time mankind is driven against the rocks of the horrid reality of a fallen creation. And time after time mankind must learn the hard lessons of history; the lessons that for some dangerous and awful reason we can’t seem to keep in our collative memory.

Our problem has not really been with government, it’s been with us. We were the ones who believed wrong things about what government could and should do, and it’s hurt us. It’s still hurting us, because right around the world, people haven’t learned their lesson. Governments of whatever persuasion seem to over-promise and under-deliver, but an ignorant, Bible ignoring populace seems to keep coming back for more of the same, and they get it.

If we really want to get close and personal, it goes deeper than the general population. We in the church have not taken the Bible seriously. In the face of seductive government handouts that most of the church has been bribed by now for generations, we’ve made a terrible error. We’ve said in our hearts,

What counts is the money. Biblical integrity takes the back seat. In fact, it can go out the door. Just keep that cash flowing, Mr Government Man.

The modern church has made Judas look like a rank amateur, and God in heaven has heard it all. He knows where our hearts are. And He has ensured that the church’s authority has been systematically reduced all this time, because where there is no responsibility or integrity, authority ebbs away like the disappearing tide.

But this principle is true:

Where responsibility rests, authority lies.

If we really want to be influential, effective and authoritative in the community again, we have to go back to the basics of Biblical integrity, and doing things God’s way. That’s what Josiah did, when he knew Judah was under judgment for its sins (see II Kings 22-23). Hearing the word of God, he set about removing from Judah those symbols of entrenched idolatry, that had plagued Judah for generations.

North has written,

Mosaic civil law did not compel anyone to offer positive sanctions. Rather, it imposed negative sanctions for evil acts. It should be the ideal for every system of civil law to remove all positive sanctions by the State and impose only those negative sanctions authorized by Biblical law. The State is to impose negative sanctions only: punishing public evil. It is not a wealth-creator; it is a wealth-redistributer. It is not safe to entrust to the State the power of making one man rich at the expense of another. It is also not moral.

God’s way begins with the integrity, obedience and faithfulness of His people to His Word. If those who are supposed to be leaders in the church fail to represent Him, God will get rid of them and institute a whole new set of leaders who will faithfully represent Him. It’s happened before such as in Eli’s era, it was about to happen in Jesus’ day, and it will happen again, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb.13:8). He warned the church of Ephesus that He’d remove their candlestick unless they repented of their sin (Rev.2:5).

But knowing that’s the easy part. Here’s the question that will separate the sheep from the goats. Will you be a part of the problem, or part of the solution?

God’s requirement is government from the bottom up in terms of His law. It begins with the self-government of the Christian man, with the family as a government, the church, the school, a person’s vocation, society and its various voluntary groups and agencies, and finally, civil government, one government among many.

Conclusion:

No nation will ever be able to get it right with government, apart from getting it right with God. Good government is not a mechanical process. If we really do want good government, God’s people had best begin by seeking the Lord, and going to the scriptures for His solution.

For the Biblical promise (see Isa.55:6-7), is that He will be found.

 

Getting it Right with Government (5)

There are those who believe it is the State’s duty, through its judicial process, to right every wrong. This concept carries human courts beyond the Biblical system of justice. While some might desire such a State function, history shows us that it is impossible and dangerous. Only God can right every wrong, and His chosen means was by Christ’s atoning sacrifice for those who believe in Him, and eternal punishment in Hell for those who do not turn to Jesus in repentance and faith. The State is not God.

Everyone likes the idea of justice, but the means of achieving justice is what has always split humanity. Traditionally, humanistic concepts of justice have led to greater political intervention, higher taxes, less liberty and commonly violence. These were evident as far back as the reign of King Saul in Israel around 1,000 BC, and have been predominant now in the West for two centuries.

But a Christian view of justice requires that we go and ask God for it, and employ Biblical methods to obtain it. And when there is endemic injustice in the community, the Bible teaches us that it is not firstly a political problem; it is related to the attitudes prevalent in that community, which need to be repented of, renounced and changed, individually.

Humanistic attitudes to justice declare that our problems are largely political, with political remedies, but a Christian view declares that our problems begin in the hearts of men, so political change (if required) will be modest indeed. It is men who must change and repent of their sin.

No doubt men could ascribe the changes in Israel in Saul’s time to merely political changes and motivations, but God had a different view. Hundreds of years later, He explained to Israel through the prophet Hosea,

It is your destruction, O Israel, that you are against Me, against your help. Where now is your king that he may save you in all your cities, and your judges of whom you requested, “Give me a king and princes”? I gave you a king in My anger and took him away in My wrath (Hos.13:9-11).

For God was ordaining events in Israel in Saul’s day, not men. He has His views on what constitutes justice, and sinful men have theirs, and these two positions are poles apart, and reflected in the scripture:

By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly. I love those who love me, and those who diligently seek me will find me. Riches and honour are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield better than choicest silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice… (Prov.8:15-20).

So whilst men apart from God may acknowledge their need for a Saviour, in their rebellion they seek this saviour through other means, in denial of God. For man to acknowledge God means he has to humble himself which he hates to do, so he seeks a kind of back-door saviour. The most common manifestation of this is the political process, something clearly evident in the era of Saul.

Remarkably, the degeneration then as now, began amongst the leaders of the people of God. The priesthood under Eli had been corrupted (see I Samuel 2), and so Israel as a nation followed suit, politically (see I Samuel 8).

In his 2013 commentary on 1 Samuel, “In the Midst of your Enemies,” Joel McDurmon made reference to this:

1 Samuel addresses, among other things, the direct link between social freedom and God’s Law, national security and God’s Law, as well as specific politic issues such as biblical principles of warfare, kingship, national defence, the right to bear arms, taxation, military conscription, national greatness, political candidacy, political parties, party rivalries, jurisprudence (including biblical “common” law versus arbitrary civil or “statute” law), how to remain faithful under a regime hostile to biblical law, expatriation, political compromise, voting, the lesser of two evils, the surveillance state, and more. And it is simply staggering, once you understand the narratives involved, just how closely Samuel’s and David’s situations parallel our own in many ways, and how often the political expressions of modern Christians more closely align with Saul’s than with David’s (p.x).                                  

And this has been the pattern through history. The Russian Orthodox Church before the Revolution in 1917 had been corrupted for decades with mysticism and unreality, and it was unbelief born out of Darwinism and Higher Criticism that led to the effective sterilisation of the Church in Germany, making room for the rise of Hitler. In both these nations, the leaven of the kingdom of God had essentially departed. So yes, these manifestations of totalitarianism were clearly evil, but the degradation and evil had commenced decades earlier, amongst God’s people. One made room for the other.

It was William Penn who wrote in 1682,

Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But, if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavour to warp and spoil it to their turn.

When a nation is in rebellion against God, life gets more and more complex. Government becomes their supposed Saviour, to accomplish everything for them. So government gets bigger, requires more of the people’s taxes, and freedom diminishes. From Saul’s era 1,000 B.C. till today, nothing changes

But when a people turn to God, their political requirements become much easier to accomplish. They can be summed up as: small government-less tax-more freedom.

Conclusion:

Men need a Saviour, but in their sinful rebellion they refuse to acknowledge Him, commonly turning to the religion of politics and the State to solve their problems.

But God will not be mocked. He requires that His people the church, lead the way out of darkness, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, including the State and politics. We are the ones required by God to lead the way out of the darkness humanism has gotten us into, into the light of God’s wonderful purpose.

Are you ready for your role in this?

 

Getting it Right with Government (3)

The reconstruction of civil government begins with the Bible. Jesus wants us to return to the standards of God’s law so the whole world will marvel and follow. First, to show men everywhere that they are sinners and are in need of redemption. Second, to set forth a blueprint for living in a world of contrary opinions. This was Israel’s task (Deuteronomy 4:1-8) that has now fallen upon the church, the New Israel, to be “a city set upon a hill (Mat.5:14), to give “the people who were sitting in darkness…a great light” (Mat.4:16; cf..Isaiah 9:2).[1]

Christians should never be embarrassed by Biblical texts; it’s God’s Word we are talking about. What we must do is apply scripture to ourselves, to our families, our churches and our nation. There is no sense in applying it to the nation, unless we have begun with the individual, the family and the church, first. The Bible warns us along these lines:

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me (Ps.130:1).

David had to prove himself as a faithful shepherd boy in his father’s house and with his flocks, and faithfully carrying supplies to his older brothers, before he came to any kind of national prominence (see I Sam.16-17).  When he volunteered to go and fight Goliath, and Saul was astonished at his unusual level of confidence, he explained that dealing with Goliath would merely be like the lion and the bear he’d killed before, while serving his father (see I Sam.17:31-37).

And this pattern applies to all of us. As we learn to be faithful in the smaller tasks, we can ask God to add to us the bigger ones. According to Luke 16:10-11, that will be His plan.

For nations in God’s eyes are made up of individuals, families and churches. The nation and the church should never prey upon the individual or the family, but rather be committed to their health and well-being, first of all. This attitude of overall care for individuals was exhibited in David’s case, when he and Israel were being judged. David prayed:

…Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house (II Sam.24:17).

Trees don’t grow on top of the ground. If they are going to grow tall, they’d better have deep roots, first. Otherwise, strong winds (especially if the ground is soft from rain) will bring them down. So, the idea of a meteoric rise for individuals is not normal in scripture. What is normal, is a track-record of consistency and faithfulness, that begins with the family and with church. This was what occurred with Timothy.

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him… (Acts 16:1-3).

Socialists couldn’t care less about this, because they are opportunists. Family faithfulness and  an individual’s integrity within the church mean nothing to them. On the contrary, they are likely to espouse the doctrine espoused by Walter Duranty, who was Moscow Chief of the New York Times, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1932, and an American apologist for Stalin. Concerning Stalin’s policy of deliberate Ukrainian genocide, when millions of Ukrainians starved to death, Duranty said,

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Thus there can be no lasting social integrity without individual, family and civil government faithfulness to scripture. Without an adherence to Biblical guidelines, the human heart will always go astray, down sinful and self-destructive paths. The twentieth century, which proved to be a harvest of humanism, was a frightening example of this fact.

But the Biblical promise is forever true:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance (Ps.33:12).

Conclusion:

Patience really is a virtue. We Christians must be prepared to show ourselves faithful to God in lots of our fundamental responsibilities relating to family and church, before we can hope that God will add greater things to us.

For this is what times of Reformation (like the Puritan Revolution of the seventeenth century in England), have required in the past, and will require in the future: the steady application of scripture to our personal lives, to the family, the church and the nation. And when this takes place, God will add more tasks to us.

Is that what you want to see?

God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us-Selah. That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations (Ps.67:1).

 

 

[1] Gary DeMar, “Ruler of the Nations,” 1987, p.203-4.

Getting it Right with Government (1)

The word government meant, first of all, the self-government of the Christian man, the basic government in all history. Second, and very closely and almost inseparately linked with this, government meant the family. Every family is a government; it is man’s first church and first school, and also his first state. The government of the family by God’s appointed head, the man, is basic to society. Third, the church is a government, with laws and discipline. Fourth, the school is an important government in the life of the child [and is an extension of family government]. Fifth, business or vocations are an important area of government. Our work clearly governs us and we govern our work. Sixth, private associations, friendships, organisations, and the like act as a government over us, in that we submit to these social standards and we govern others by our social expectations. Seventh, the state, is a form of government, and, originally, it was always called civil government in distinction from all these other forms of government.

Christians of every era are required by God to think carefully about the kind of government they should want and expect. This is not a light thing. Like marriage, it is something we ought to consider thoughtfully and prayerfully, because the attitudes of God’s people towards governments historically, have more often than not been far from God’s plan.

When this occurs, we can be sure that it will not end painlessly. In Hosea’s day, God spoke to Israel about her poor political choices in Saul’s time, centuries earlier.

Where now is your king that he may save you in all your cities, and your judges of whom you requested, “Give me a king and princes?” I gave you a king in My anger and took him away in My wrath (Hos.13:10-11).

So when the church makes its errors in relation to government, it means pain for everybody, including the church. Minimally, we finish up with egg on our faces, but commonly it’s much worse.

How do we stop this?

We have to realise that God has created spheres of responsibility. These apply to individuals, to families, the church and to government, or the State. This requires that we understand the Biblical limits of institutions. As Clint Eastwood once said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
Government actually begins with self-government.

As an individual, I have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill, firstly to God, and secondly to others. The Bible says that “…each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Ro.14:12).

Adam began life as an adult individual under God, and there was much for him to learn and to do. Before long God gave him Eve, and so he had responsibilities towards her, too. He’d been alone with God, so he was to teach and explain to her what God had given him to do, for she was now part of this whole picture. Their tasks began with cultivating and keeping the Garden, but there was much more. Dominion is a many-sided responsibility.

But it was just the two of them, a family of two, for now. The formal institutions beyond the family, the church and the State, were non-existent for the moment.

If God says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex.20:14), and “I hate divorce” (Mal.2:16), this should be reflected in law as well. When it is not reflected in law, it tells us we have pagans in the Parliament and an ineffective, toothless, silenced church. This is not looking good.

Yes, divorce is sometimes necessary, but it ought not to be something treated in law with the contempt that it is today. Since 1975, Australia has had No Fault Divorce legislation, which means that the innocent, aggrieved spouse will not be financially protected in the breakup.

Could this have been deliberate? Of course.
No Fault divorce legislation was introduced by a socialist, Lionel Murphy, who was Australia’s Attorney General. Like all real socialists, he was contemptuous of the family, and happy to see it destroyed. He wanted individuals to be able to destroy their marriage without facing financial penalties. Thus from the day of that law’s passing, divorce rates in Australia rapidly accelerated.

Because the family is important to God, the apostle Paul taught that the responsibility of husbands is to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph.5:25).

He also taught that older women in the church were to train younger women to “love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonoured” (Titus 2:4-5).
Thus from a Biblical perspective, we see that the health and well-being of the family is basic to any community. The Biblical family needs to be protected in law, and also to be left alone to do what it chooses to do. It doesn’t need to be propped up by government payments which only teach the family dependence anyway, and are a manipulative tool of destruction. Dependence is a very bad habit for anyone to get caught up in, including the family.

Conclusion:
Just as in the Garden, true government begins with the individual and his personal accountability to God. The Biblical institution of marriage means there is at least another person to consider, so the family is a place of accountability (both to God and to one another), and teamwork. The idea of “one another” which is so important in the church and society, commences in the family.

A Christian attitude towards government teaches that “less is best,” because accountable people need less oversight. The more civil government we have, the more likely we are to be abused by that government, for it has gone beyond its Biblical limitations.

The challenge for people is to learn to be accountable: “…each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Ro.14:12).

Gunnison, Colorado: the town that dodged the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic

A century on, what can we learn from how US mountain community dealt with viral outbreak

Spanish influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, US in 1918.
 Spanish influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, US in 1918. Photograph: Associated Press

In late 1918 the world’s greatest killer – Spanish flu – roared towards Gunnison, a mountain town in Colorado.

The pandemic was infecting hundreds of millions of people in Europe, Africa, Asia and across the United States, overwhelming hospitals and morgues in Boston and Philadelphia before sweeping west, devastating cities, villages and hamlets from Alaska to Texas.

Gunnison, a farming and mining town of about 1,300 people, had special reason to fear. Two railroads connected it to Denver and other population centers, many badly hit. “The flu is after us” the Gunnison News-Champion warned on 10 October. “It is circulating in almost every village and community around us.”

What happened next is instructive amid anew global health emergency a century later as the world struggles react to the emergence of a new coronavirus. Gunnison declared a “quarantine against all the world”. It erected barricades, sequestered visitors, arrested violators, closed schools and churches and banned parties and street gatherings, a de facto lockdown that lasted four months.

It worked. Gunnison emerged from the pandemic’s first two waves – by far the deadliest – without a single case. It was one of a handful of so-called “escape communities” that researchers have analysed for insights into containing the apparently uncontainable.

“Gunnison’s management of the influenza situation, one hallmarked by the application of protective sequestration, is particularly impressive when one considers that nearly every nearby town and county was severely affected by the pandemic,” the University of Michigan Medical School said in a 2006 report for the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency. “The town of Gunnison was exceptional.”

Now it is the turn of coronavirus to race around the world, rattling governments and stock markets and prompting a desperate scramble to contain and control. Tourists stuck in Spanish hotels, Italian streets eerily empty, schools shuttered in Japan, pilgrimages to Islam’s holiest sites banned, international sporting fixtures suspended – a multiplying list of measures amid confusion over how to respond.

The experience of a small town in the Rockies at the end of the first world war does not provide a failsafe blueprint for a different disease in a far more populous, and far more interconnected era. It does however offer tantalising nuggets about about eluding a cataclysm that infected about a third of the global population and killed between 50 million and 100 million people.

Instead of face masks and anti-bacterial hand gels, Gunnsion relied on the guidance and authority of local newspapers, doctors and police – a trust in institutions that may now seem quaint – and on people’s capacity for patience. And on luck.

According to the state health board, influenza arrived in Colorado on or about 20 September 1918 when 250 soldiers from Montana – 13 of them seriously ill – arrived in the city of Boulder. The deadly flu – mistakenly sourced to Spain – swiftly spread.

On 5 October health officials issued a warning and on 16 October the governor, Julius Gunter, issued an executive order banning public and private gatherings across the state. By then towns near Gunnison were already reeling.

Gunnison moved swiftly thanks partly to the News-Champion, which from late September carried at least one front page article on influenza, including practical advice on avoidance and treatment, in each weekly edition.

Dr FP Hanson, the county physician, took a leading role. “An epidemic, terrible in proportions and resultant deaths, is sweeping over the country,” he wrote. “I have caused a strict quarantine to be placed on Gunnison county against the world. Barricades and fences have been erected on all main highways near the county lines.”

Lanterns and signs warned motorists to drive straight through or submit to quarantine. Train passengers who disembarked were quarantined. “Any person may leave the county at his will; none may return except those who will go into voluntary quarantine,” said Hanson. Any violators would be be “dealt with to the fullest extent of the law, and to this we promise our personal attention”, he added.

Officials fortified defences by giving another physician, Dr JW Rockerfeller, “entire charge of both town and county to enforce a quarantine against all the world”. He meant business. When residents reported two motorists and a rail passenger who tried to evade quarantine the sheriff jailed them. “This little instance should show outsiders what Gunnison county’s stand is. We have no flu, and we do not intend to have any,” said Rockerfeller.

The screws tightened. Quarantine was extended from two to five days. Several train stations around the county were shut, facilitating monitoring.

By early February, with state-wide flu cases ebbing, Gunnison lifted restrictions. It was premature: a third wave in March infected about a hundred people in the town. The cases were mild and all survived.

Other “escape communities” in the US included Princeton university, a New York tuberculosis sanatorium, Yerba Buena island in San Francisco bay and the Vermont town of Fletcher. The Michigan Medical School study attributed Gunnison’s feat to strict measures, low population density and luck – no infected person arrived before quarantine.

But a mystery endures: how did residents endure the cabin fever? Those currently under quarantine in Spain, Italy, China and elsewhere could benefit from tips but Gunnison does not appear to remember. Little documentation exists, leaving an information void. “The issue still remains of how to keep up morale and cooperation at a time of heightened stress,” said the study. In 2015 the Guardian appealed to readers of the Gunnison Country Times – a descendant of the News-Champion – for any letters, journals or folk memories about the lockdown. No one replied.

Caring for neighbors during epidemics has long Christian history

ST THECLA

St Thecla praying for plague victims/Tiepolo, 1759

Acting on the Gospel message of charity, Church has been on front lines since early times.

The current pandemic of COVID-19, the lung infection caused by a new coronavirus, has naturally summoned up thoughts of medieval plagues. For at least one commentator, it has also been a reminder that while the world has been through terrible epidemics before, the Church has been at the center of the response to them as well.From the earliest days of Christianity, the community of believers has by and large been motivated by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ to not run away from by persevere in the midst of suffering and take risks in the interest of charity.

To be fair, Christians don’t have a monopoly on public service and charity, writes Lymon Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an advisor at the consulting firm Demographic Intelligence, in Foreign Policy. But, he says, “while people of all faiths, and none, are facing the disease, the distinctive approach to epidemics Christians have adopted over time is worth dusting off.”

Stone provides an insightful overview of Christians’ response to plagues through the centuries, focusing in particular to his own religious tradition, that of the Lutheran Church.

There was, for eagle, the Antonine Plague of the Second Century, which, Stone says, might have killed a quarter of the population of the Roman Empire. It also might have led to the spread of Christianity, some historians suggest, as “Christians cared for the sick and offered an spiritual model whereby plagues were not the work of angry and capricious deities but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God.”

The Third Century Plague of Cyprian, which might have been related to Ebola, helped set off the Crisis of the Third Century in the Roman world, Stone notes. “But it did something else, too: It triggered the explosive growth of Christianity,” he writes. “Cyprian’s sermons told Christians not to grieve for plague victims (who live in heaven), but to redouble efforts to care for the living. His fellow bishop Dionysius described how Christians, ‘Heedless of danger … took charge of the sick, attending to their every need.’”

The pattern repeated a century later, when the “actively pagan” Emperor Julian would complain bitterly of how “the Galileans” would care for even non-Christian sick people, ….

…while the church historian Pontianus recounts how Christians ensured that “good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.” The sociologist and religious demographer Rodney Stark claims that death rates in cities with Christian communities may have been just half that of other cities.

This habit of sacrificial care has reappeared throughout history. In 1527, when the bubonic plague hit Wittenberg, Martin Luther refused calls to flee the city and protect himself. Rather, he stayed and ministered to the sick. The refusal to flee cost his daughter Elizabeth her life. But it produced a tract, “Whether Christians Should Flee the Plague,” where Luther provides a clear articulation of the Christian epidemic response: We die at our posts. Christian doctors cannot abandon their hospitals, Christian governors cannot flee their districts, Christian pastors cannot abandon their congregations. The plague does not dissolve our duties: It turns them to crosses, on which we must be prepared to die.

“For Christians, it is better that we should die serving our neighbor than surrounded in a pile of masks we never got a chance to use,” Stone sums up. “And if we care for each other, if we share masks and hand soap and canned foods, if we ‘are our brother’s keeper,’ we might actually reduce the death toll, too.”

Stone notes that early Christians created the first hospitals in Europe as hygienic places to provide care during times of plague. Attention to hygiene, he says, was important early on, as Christians were well aware of the fact that serving the afflicted was limited by concern for not infecting the healthy at the same time.

The director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seemed to second what Stone said this week, when he was quoted by the Catholic Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

“I have witnessed firsthand the impact of the faith community’s work in global disease outbreaks,” said Dr. William Redfield, director of the CDC, in a statement. “The same compassion, counsel and care will be just as important as we confront this new virus and as many Americans and others around the world experience disruption in their daily lives.”

The Catholic Review article was about Redfield’s life as a Catholic. “The faith community has always stepped in to enhance response efforts where our public health and clinical settings lack the capacity or expertise to comfort patients, families and whole communities,” he said.

Christians in Parliament (3)

Jesus reminded the devil of the requirement for maintaining the kingdom grant: obedience. Prosperity is not a matter of power; it is a matter of covenantal obedience. His power over the stones was unquestioned. The devil did not suggest otherwise. In fact, the temptation rested on the presupposition that Jesus possessed such power. The nature of this temptation was an appeal to power. This was one more example of the power religion vs. the dominion religion. Jesus refused to invoke power rather than ethics.[1]

Almost inevitably in human history, the getting of power leads to the abuse of it. We don’t need to go to the conventional text-books of history to discover that: it’s in the Bible. Before David became king of Israel, he essentially had charge of hundreds of armed men.

On one occasion when a deputation from him to a wealthy landowner seeking assistance was offensively rejected, he very nearly abused his power, in a nasty display of vengeance (see I Samuel 25). The fact was he had military power, and only the intervention of a shrewd and wise woman in the person of Abigail, prevented him from murdering innocent people.

The abuse of power, and even the threat of it, is commonplace in the modern world. Some years ago, US Presidential candidates were being interviewed. The Republican candidate Ben Carson (purportedly a believer) had this to say years ago, about his views on defence:

… if we get defense wrong, nothing else matters, because we live in a hostile world. So you’re going to see our military capabilities improve quite substantially… Recognizing that we have a 14 percent decrease in people applying for our volunteer military. That’s going to hurt us badly in the long run.

You’re going to see us beef up our cyber capabilities substantially, you’re going to see us respond to people who attack us in a way that they will never forget.

You’re going to see much more proactive stance towards someone like Putin, you know, we’re going to be much more active throughout the whole Baltic basin area, Eastern Europe, we’re going to reestablish missile defense program, we’re going to have more than one or two armored brigades in that area. We’re gonna stand up to him, every place in the Middle East, we’re not gonna back down.[2]

Ben Carson doesn’t know it, but the Middle East is reeling from the abuse of power by the US, over generations. The last thing it needs is more US meddling and warmongering; more “armored brigades” in the area. The best thing for the US would be to leave the Middle East alone.

Pride in an individual’s heart is what leads to the abuse of power. This was Uzziah’s sin, when he foolishly entered the temple and tried to usurp to himself the role of a priest (II Chron.26:16-22). God judged him with leprosy.

There is one thing that can keep a political leader from the abuse of power: the law of God. When God instructed Israel concerning the legitimacy of it choosing a king, He gave specific conditions for this (see Deut.17:14-20). He commanded that when this man became king, he

Shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing the words of this law and these statutes, so that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen… (Deut.17:18-20).

This was the difference shown by Jesus when He was tempted by the devil. The scripture shows (Mat.4:1-11) that His first recourse was the law of God. In response to temptation, He quoted from Deuteronomy.

Power never corrupted anyone, but it surely reveals what’s in people. When corrupt people are given power, they very quickly manifest their true nature.

If a leader really wants to do people no harm, his first recourse should be the law of God. Why? Because it will be a restraining influence. It confronts any tendencies he has to think too highly of himself. The Bible promises,

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers (Ps.1:1-3).

Consider Joseph. He’d already shown he’d be faithful to God under pressure, and he never made expansive claims of his own abilities. When he was brought before Pharoah, who had heard he could interpret dreams, he immediately acknowledged, “…It is not in me; God will give Pharoah a favorable answer” (Gen.41:16).

Joseph knew he didn’t personally have the solutions to Pharoah’s difficulties. He was merely a communicator of God’s truth to Pharoah, which is just what every believer ought to be. He had to pass on some facts that God has shown him. As a result, Pharoah promoted him.

Conclusion:

You really want to serve God from political office? There’s nothing wrong with that. But there will be a lot wrong with that, if you don’t read the law of God, every day of your life, and obey it.

 

 

[1]Gary North, “Priorities and Dominion,” 2000, ch.1.

[2] Quoted in Laurence Vance, “Ben Carson: Welfare/Warfare Statist,” (www.lewrockwell.com), 20/10/2015.