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Volume 11, Issue 1: Magistralis


Nathan Wilson

When a civil government has overstepped its bounds, as ours has, many Christians tend to react in one of two ways. The first group rolls over and takes it in the gut, submitting at every opportunity because the civil magistrate is "appointed by God." The second group begins talking overthrow, immediate secession, while dreaming big dreams about constitutional intricacies and founding-father technicalities.

Of course there are also those Christians who have continued to play the game against the administration, in the hope that there might be a fluke upset. These Christians are to be commended for their perseverance, but it is only a matter of time before they realize that nobody can beat the system at its own game on its home court, with bribed refs. You can only become part of the travesty. When they realize this, most make-the-system-work Christians will then fall into one of the two categories already listedócomplacent victims or scrappy fools. Membership status in either of these two clubs is not something to be desired. Thankfully, there is a third option.
First, let us look at the premises of the complacent victims. We are told in Romans 13 that the civil magistrate is God's deacon. He is placed over us by God, and his authority comes from God, regardless of whether or not he admits it. We have no authority to overthrow God's deacon. He is there for a purpose and it is not our place to dispute what he does, whatever he does. We may think what he does is wrong, but we can not resist it because it is from the Lord.
While this sounds initially noble and righteous, if it is carried to its conclusion, it ends in insanity. Those who hold this position would say that if our ruler requires you to give up half your income so somebody can vomit on a canvas, then you must not resist. He is from God. If this follows, then it must also follow that if the same ruler requires the same theft, we must not vote against him. He is an incumbent, still from God. How can we, mere men, vote against God's anointed? We must not try to hinder him. While it is obviously true that our ruler is in place because God put him there, this in no way necessitates that we must keep him there for as long as we live. If he breaks covenant, if he rebels against the promise he has made, the covenant is broken. He remains our ruler . . . unless we want to do something about it.
For example, if in a local election a man is elected sheriff, and in his oath of office he swears to protect the people from violence, and in his first term crime increases, the solution is easy. The locals can vote him out of office. That is part of the covenant. Suppose, however, the sheriff is elected and then promptly brings in the mob to help run things. If he ignores the people, and the mob keeps him in office through illegal balloting, then the sheriff has not failed in his covenant, he is in high rebellion against it. The solution is equally easy to see. The people could throw him out by force, although it could be a rather difficult and possibly bloody operation.
Revolt is never an option. It is always a sin. But in this case it is not the people who are in revolt-it is the sheriff. It is the people who are putting down the revolt. They are acting in defense of the covenant. The American Revolution has been very poorly named, for it was exactly such a case. The king, a legitimate authority over the colonies, allowed Parliament to take control. Parliament was a foreign government, and therefore illegitimate. It was the king who was in revolt, not the Americans.
But before the scrappy group gets too excited about the thought of legitimate use of violence, we must also take a look at their premises, which are really quite simple. They usually agree with all of the above, and then they run with it. The problem is this: just because the governing authority is wrong, or illegitimate, doesn't mean it is weak. This goes back to the sheriff analogy. The locals would be entirely in the right if they fought, but a try might also get them slaughtered. At that point it would be better just to live with the problems and bide your time. Wait until victory is an option, and then go for it.
There are only two times when Christians should be willing to get violent with the establishment. First, thinking Christians may attempt to oust the big guys if the government is in rebellion against the covenant it has made with the governed, but only when victory is possible. Second, Christians must fight if it would be a sin not to. If the state required you to turn your children over for a week-long summer camp on homosexual techniques, you are entirely without blame if you ignore them. And if they come after your kids, your local church shouldn't be worried about your salvation if you waited for the Feds on your front porch with your uncle Leonard's shotgun.
It is foolish to fight if you are guaranteed a loss, but it is evil not to fight if compliance is sin. If a man mugs you in an alley, and then sets his gun down and starts counting the loot, a good Christian man would kick him in the head-not tell him about the $500 he missed in his boot. Neither would a wise man resist the mugger to the death over five dollars.
In our position today, we can't win; nor are the tyrannies extreme enough to cause sin in us if we submit to them. We must bide our time and pick our battles carefully. We must not resist when we are not ready for war, especially a war that would ensure us a loss. And even if we won by some fluke, we are in no position spiritually to govern any more justly than those who are already in power. We must not fight, and we must not roll over. We must wait, and learn.

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