This Is A Vital Study!

A Christian's View Of Civil Government

As a young man, I wore the uniform of our military forces. Many times I stood at attention and saluted as our flag passed in review while a military band played a Sousa march. Deep and moving emotions stirred within me. Two of my brothers and two of my sisters also served our country in uniform.

As an American history teacher I told the story of Nathan Hale to young students, quoting his words, "I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," my eyes have misted. Many hundreds of work days have begun with the entire student body standing, hand over heart, reciting:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, And to the Republic for which it stands:
One Nation, under God, indivisible, With liberty and justice for all.

I insisted, year after year, that my American history students memorize:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I awarded extra credit to each student who memorized:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Hearing Kate Smith sing:

God bless America
Land that I love.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

-is still a moving experience. I have felt a sense of shame and outrage at seeing college students walk around campus with our flag sewed to the seat of their pants.

All of this is for a single purpose: to clearly establish that what I have to say about a Christian's relation to his civil government comes from a citizen who deeply believes in the principles upon which our country is founded.

The Issue

It may appear to be the height of presumption for any one person to publicly discuss all Christians' relationship to civil government. The apparent indication would be that the writer, or speaker, knows the answers to questions that have plaqued Christians these hundreds of years; at least he would appear to think that he knows. That is not the case with this writer. I do not have the answers for all the questions for every Christian. But I do know where the answers may be found. I do not believe that there is a single, simple answer for each question that may confront any Christian as we do our best to live as we believe that God would have us live and "Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake," at the same time. Most often the questions are simple and straight-forward:
1) May a Christian kill in support of his government?
2) May a Christian seek and hold public office? That is, may a Christian be Caesar?
3) May a Christian refuse to obey public laws that violate his religious convictions?
4) May a Christian actively resist "unjust" laws? That is, may a Christian participate in "civil disobedience" demonstrations?

We mean, of course, may a Christian do these things and remain without guilt before God? And these are only a small sample of questions and circumstances that we find repeatedly before us.


Some assumptions are necessary as a basis for any discussion of questions such as these. We must assume agreement on a definition of "Christian." We must assume agreement on a definition of "Caesar." And other assumed common views will be necessary as our discussion develops.

We begin with an assumed agreement that a Christian is any person who has been born into the spiritual family of God through obedience to the gospel of Christ; he is any person who has made an informed decision to give his life to Christ in the sure and certain hope of eternal life; he is no longer his own, for he has been bought with a price; he has been converted to such an extent that his entire view of life has changed so that he seeks first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. We must also assume that time, place, and identity are irrelevant. The circumstances of a person's birth has no bearing upon his right to believe and to become a child of God. All men are promised, without reservation, "the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: A black man born of impoverished parents in Soweto, South Africa, a white woman born of wealthy Christian parents in Atlanta, Georgia, or a Mosquito Indian born in Nicaragua of illiterate parents each has equal standing before God. Different circumstances of birth are cited merely to remind us of the vast complexity of life settings in which people find themselves when the invitation of Christ's gospel is heard, believed, and answered. Any circumstances that can be imagined in which people have lived must be susceptible to living as a faithful Christian. This must be true, or the universality of Christ's invitation is questionable. That we cannot accept.

We begin with an assumed agreement that "Caesar," "the powers that be," and the "ordinances of man" represent civil powers without reservation. We assume also that time, place, and form of civil government are irrelevant. The circumstance of a person's domicile has no bearing upon his right to believe and to become a faithful child of God, nor does the character, or nature, of the civil government under which he lives mitigate his civil duties or responsibilities. It may be Russia, Haiti, the United States, or any country at any time one can think of, the principles of New Testament Christianity can be followed faithfully.

A Complex Question

There are generally two views held as to whether a Christian may fully participate in the political affairs of his country, with God's approval. One view holds that Christians may not participate fully, in the same ways and to the same extent, as all citizens are permitted by the laws of his country; to do so violates God's will. The other view holds that Christians may participate fully in the political affairs of his country. Most of this persuasion believe that Christians not only may participate, we should or must participate; God requires it.

We will not question the integrity, honesty, or sincerity of any believer's faith on this question. We believe that each Christian who has developed and publicly expressed his faith on this question has arrived at his conclusion through careful and prayerful study of God's word. He believes that his faith on this question reflects God's will. This being so, the complexity of the question is apparent.

The Anti-War Position

Christians who oppose full participation in the nation's political affairs generally begin with opposition to Christian's killing Christians in national wars. Just a few examples of the reasoning behind this view will have to suffice as representative.

Alexander Campbell's "Address on War" was entered into the Congressional Record. In it, among many other. things, he said:

"The basic proposition to be explored is 'has one Christian nation a right to wage war against another Christian nation.' This statement would therefore be predicated on the premise that there is such a thing as a Christian nation. Many nations have Christian communities within them, but does this make that nation a Christian nation? A literal Christian nation is not found in any country. The only Christian nation that might exist is that nation composed of all Christians on the earth...Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. Had my kingdom been of this world, my servants would have fought' Therefore, there is no Christian nation or kingdom in this world, but that the kingdom of Christ is composed of all Christians in the world. Since there is no Christian nation, the proposition must be rewarded as follows: Can Christ's kingdom or church in one nation wage war against his kingdom or church in another nation ?"

Then Campbell lists eight or so arguments against Christians inflicting suffering on others, submitting to the leadership of the "Prince of Peace" in working toward "peace on earth and good will among men," avoiding "wars and fightings which come from men's lusts" and "following peace with all men."

David Lipscomb probably held the most extreme view on this side of the question. In his "Civil Government" he wrote:

"Religion is that which embraces every duty of every relation of man including every thought, purpose and action. Even in times of strife, war and bloodshed, man should do only what God has commanded him. The Savior plainly declared that his children could not fight with carnal weapons, and yet disciples in times of war are seeking the lives of their feilowmen with murderous weapons, making their sisters widows and their sister's children orphans."

Lipscomb believed that human governments originated in man 5 rebellion against God, with the purpose of superseding the Divine rule with the rule of man. Nimrod, grandson of Ham, whose family was accursed, established the first human government in rebellion against God. Because of what he did God willed that his family suffer under the institution which he founded. Lipscomb quotes Josephus:

"Nimrod, the founder and leader, appealed to them that it was too humiliating and degrading for wise human beings capable of forming governments of their own, to submit to the government of another."

Lipscomb believed that since-

"God and the early inhabitants of the earth named things, persons, and institutions from their chief and distinguishing characteristic, it cannot be doubted, that God intended in the calling of this first government established by man 'confusion,' and in so speedily confusing the language of its founders, to foretell that the chief and necessary results flowing from the displacement of the Divine will and the establishment and perpetuation of human government, would be confusion, strife, bloodshed, and perpetual warfare in the world. The results have vindicated the truth of the prophecy couched in the name. THE CHIEF OCCUPATION OF HUMAN GOVERNMENTS FROM THE BEGINNING HAS BEEN WAR."

He also said: "The God of this world is served in the kingdoms of this world." He believed that civil governments are ordained by God, but:

"this higher power is ordained of God, as all human government is, to punish those who refuse to obey God. The civil ruler is a minister of wrath, whom God uses to punish wickedness and rebellion."

Lipscomb believed that a Christian's relation to civil government extends no further than to obey the laws under which one lives and to pay taxes levied, while praying that those in positions of civil power rule in such a way that we may live peaceable lives. He said:

"The Christian has been clearly forbidden to take vengance or execute wrath, but he is to live peaceably with all men, to do good for evil. Then a Christian cannot be an officer or executor of this higher power."

Of course, David Lipscomb was not alone in his views. Few men have exceeded his influence at the height of their life's work. Many others have come to the same or similar conclusions, particulary with respect to Christians killing in support of civil governments. Most could be moving, eloquent, and passionate in making their plea, as was W. K. Pendleton when he wrote:

"Shall we give up our right to reason, throw conscience prostrate at the feet of power-abandon the right to think - forget that we are Christians - obey men rather than God-beat our plowshares into swords and our pruning-hooks into spears-study war instead of peace-labor to send men violently and prematurely to hell...Oh, my Christian brother, think of it! When you shoulder your musket and equip yourself with all the instruments of death, ask yourself have you the right thus to take the life of your fellow? Who gave you the right? What has your brother done that you may shoot him? I am anxious for the peace of Zion. Let not brother meet brother in battle. Let not two Christian souls perish by mutual violence, going down to death, frantic with the rage of mortal combat, hope to rise to the climes of celestial peace from such a struggle! There is a nobler work for the people of God."

Many others among restoration writers, and in more recent years also, have expressed a similar faith. Benjamin Franklin, Tolbert Fanning, Moses E. Lard, F.G. Allen, J.W. McGarvey, H. Leo Boles, A. S. Croom, James D. Bales and many, many others did not believe that a Christian may take up arms in defense of his country and kill while at the same time remaining faithful to the principles which govern the lives of the children of God.

The Other Side


O Beautiful For Spacious Skies,
For Amber Waves of Grain,
For Purple Mountain Majesties Above the Fruited Plain!
America! America!
God Shed His Grace on Thee
And Crown Thy Good with Brotherhood
From Sea to Shining Sea!

"Every coin minted in the United States bears, along with the bust of a past hero, these words: LIBERTY - IN GOD WE TRUST. It was not lightly that our forefathers chose these inseparable words, for they knew the tremendous cost and sacrifice that had been paid to secure our freedom. In gratitude, they continually acknowledged that God had made and preserved our nation. They were confident that God was blessing their endeavors because they acknowledged Him and sought His aid in all their doings. They warned future generations that the day God was not earnestly revered in America, she would become a byword among nations.

We would do well today to review their urgent admonitions and the wisdom that was theirs when they forged the greatest and most prosperous nation in all history.

Americans have lost their way in part because they do not know their own Christian heritage ...Several times in the history of our nation widespread revival has put God's people back on course. Each time it has reversed a downward moral trend in society and ultimately unleashed profound social impact.

For in Jesus Christ lie all the secrets of the universe, the origin of life, the direction of history, the life beyond. Without at least an elementary grasp of God's sovereign hand behind all history, which our founding fathers so clearly understood, modern Americans will overlook the true meaning of their own land.

If many of America's citizens have missed it, then let today's generation know now the mighty sweep of spiritual events in our heritage and the story of how, and when, and why "God shed His grace on thee." (The Rebirth of America: pub. The Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation)

"To read the Constitution as the charter for a secular state is to misread history, and to misread it radically. The Constitution was designed to perpetuate a Christian order." (R. J. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System)

No relationship sustained by people is so binding as that of family. "But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel," so wrote Paul. Any man or woman who wills not to provide for the family has reached the lowest esteem. There is no virtue left. Husbands know how important it is to provide as well as he can for his wife and children. Wives know how important it is to provide as well as she can for her husband and children. That is, to provide as well as we can for all the needs of our family. Economic and physical well-being are only two of the needs of our families that we are willing to sacrifice most to provide. Those responsibilities are not quite as intense for our extended families as for our immediate families, but they are still there, and we will sacrifice for our extended families, when the need is there.

These internalized responsibilities extend beyond identifiable degrees of consanguinity, that is, beyond those with whom we can trace blood relationships. Tribes are bound together on this basis. Ethnic, racial, cultural, religious groups are bound together on this basis. Nations are bound together on this basis. We "belong" together. To "belong" is one of the most powerful motivations known. All of us know about "peer pressure." All of us remember things that we have done for no better reason than "it was expected of us," or "that's what I thought I was supposed to do," or "everyone does it." Tradition carries a massive weight. This is not bad in and of itself. We are bound together. We do have so many common needs that can be met only if we are united in our efforts to achieve them. We feel the need to contribute to the welfare of our nation, our national family. I owe something to my country. What do I owe?

Many devoted Christians believe that we owe "the last full measure of devotion" to our country. Not only are we obligated to support our country in times of peace, we must be willing to kill our country's enemies and give our lives for it, if need be, in times of war. Thousands have done so.

Earl West, in his "Search for the Ancient Order,' described some of the effects of the Civil War on brethren. Brethren from the North and the South were caught up in the excitement of war fever. Gospel preachers on both sides encouraged and participated in the war effort. James A. Garfield, a full colonel led the forty-second Ohio Regiment, including about 250 young men from Hiram College (a Christian college training ministers), into battle at Paintsville, Kentucky and Shiloh, Tennessee. Garfield was made aid to General Rosecrans at Murfreesboro where the Union push to Chattanooga began and which ended in defeat at Chickamauga. Most of the 250 students from Hiram College served under Company A commander J. S. Ross. During succeeding actions "Major F.A. Wrniams, a very faithful member of the church, was killed early in the war. Charles P. Bowler, another member, was killed at Cedar Mountain. Wallace Coburn, also a member of the church, was killed at Winchester, Kentucky in 1862. Major Delos R. Northway, a faithful Christian was killed in the Wilderness in 1864." And on and on.

Of course, James A. Garfield was the well known and active member of the church and very successful politician who became our 20th President, and who was assassinated in 1881 while in office. The opposite of Garfield in' many of the actions was T. B. Larimore, later an outstanding gospel preacher. Larimore joined the Confederate army the first year of the war. He served at Shiloh, Fishing Creek in Kentucky, in the retreat to Corinth, in the Sequatchie Valley, and was finally captured by the Union army at McLemore's Cove.

B. F. Hall, a preacher of considerable influence before the war, was chaplain of a regiment of Texas Rangers commanded by Barton Stone, son of the renowned Barton W. Stone. The regiment was encamped at Fayetteville, Arkansas. Shortly before the battle of Pea Ridge, two gospel preachers, Robert Graham and William Baxter, paid a visit to Hall. Earl West's account of the visit portrays Hall as "advocating strongly the Southern cause and, all in all, acting more like a friend than a Christian gentleman. He.. expressly requested of all friends that if a 'Yankee' appeared, please let him get his share. During the conversation with Graham and Baxter, Hall mentioned not one word about the church, about the gospel, or what one might ordinarily expect of a preacher, but spoke only of his rifle and how many Yankees he hoped to kill."

One may think it unfair to select examples such as these as representative of Christians who believe it our duty to support our government even to the extent of killing our brethren if they happen to be among the "enemy" in times of war. In considering these issues we are not at liberty to choose the circumstances under which these duties are to be exercised. If it is our Christian duty to take up arms and kill our country's enemies, that duty must be exercised at any time our government calls upon us.

Some of our brethren appear to believe that being a Christian requires a willingness to do whatever our government calls upon us to do. Citizenship and Christianity requires us to participate actively in the violence necessary to protect the security of national interests.

Foy E. Wallace, Jr. writes in his "The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State:"

"The Christian who does not know how to deport himself in time of war, does not know how to deport himself in time of peace-the instructions are the same. The attitude that causes a Christian in time of war to appear as freak specimen of humanity (a conscientious objector), and to be placed in a concentration camp, or in a federal prison, when the world is in distress and there is so much work to do, is no more practical in time of peace. A crisis merely brings it to light. The only problems raised by war are in the application of the principles and instructions to what may be to the individual unaccustomed conditions. These principles do not change with map-making...If any Christian has repudiated his citizenship (meaning anyone who objects to personally taking up arms), he should in all honor and fairness register as an alien."

Christians who are required to make conscious decisions as to what we are required, or permitted, to do in support of the government we live under are not all Americans living under the most successful democracy ever conceived. With all the flaws, mistakes, and dishonest public officials in our country's history, we still live in the most free, richest, most powerful nation ever. To love our country is almost the same as to love our family. To many of us to serve our country is practically the same thing as to serve God. But there are Zulu Christians living under apartheid in South Africa. Are those Christians required to feel and act toward their government in the same way that we do? Filipino Christians, until very recently, lived under the Marcos military dictatorship. Were those Christians required to feel and act toward their government in the same way that we do? Christians who live in Russia live under a civil government which has officially decreed that there is no God and which has terrorized its citizens who have attempted to practice their religious faith. Are these Christians required to feel and act toward their government in the same way that so many American Christians believe that all Christians should feel and act? Paul, and Timothy, and Titus, and all their fellow Christians of the first century lived under and were a part of the Roman Empire. It was their Emperor about whom Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's." Nero was the Emperor that Paul instructed Christians to pray for and to submit to. He was the Emperor who came to the throne by the murder of his adoptive father, the Emperor Claudius, by his mother, Agrippina. He murdered his step-brother, Britannicus, and finally his own mother, to secure the throne for himself. Nero didn't like the way Rome looked. It wasn't imperial enough, and besides, parts of it smelled awful. So, he had the city burned, killing thousands of his own subjects, blamed Christians for it, and had a new city built more to his liking. Were Christians of that time required to feel and act toward their government in the same way that we Americans do? I do not believe so.

One Christian's View

Jesus said:

"Take heed that no man lead you astray. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places. But all these things are the beginning of travail."

What does that mean?. I believe that at least a part of his meaning is that from that time until the end men will arise saying not just that "I am the Christ," but "I know Christ, I understand Christ's message. Listen to me and I will share my understanding of Christ's message with you. Follow me and I will lead you to a clear understanding of Christ's message for you!" That is the way men are led astray. Jesus said that nations shall wage war against kingdoms, until the end. kingdoms and nations are temporal, passing, rising and falling. Not a single nation today is more than a few hundred years old. Most Roman citizens who thought about it believed that the empire would stand forever. It lasted a few hundred years. A few years ago the Shah of Iran celebrated 2,500 years of rule by his "dynasty." The Shah's father, an army officer, led a coup, a military revolt, in 1921, overthrowing the Qajar Dynasty and making himself the chief of state. In 1925 the national assembly "elected" him Shah. So much for the continuity of that nation. Our nation is just over two hundred years old. Young, as nations go.

The point of this is that nations, all nations, all kingdoms of this world are just that; they are a part of the temporal nature of this world. In the world to come it will not matter whether I lived my life as an American, Mexican, Greek, or any other nationality. What will matter, and the only thing that will matter, is that in that day-

"we shall all stand before the judgement-seat of God.
For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, to me every
knee shall bow, And every tongue shall confess to God.
So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God."

I am responsible for what I believe. I am responsible for what I do. You are responsible for what you believe and do. Does that mean that we may hold very different views of Christian duty to civil government and each be judged on a basis of his individual faith? I am not competent to answer that. But consider this:

"All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor's good. Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat asking no question for conscience sake; for the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof. If one of them that believe not biddeth you to a feast, and ye are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you eat, asking no question for conscience' sake. But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice, eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience' sake: conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other's; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ."(1 Cor. 11:23-33)

I must adjust my behaviour. I must not press my views on some matters of my faith because of the possible effect on others. Exactly. But why?

"Overthrow not for meat's sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean; howbeit it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth. The faith which thou hast, have to thyself before God. Happy is he that judgeth (condemneth) not himself in that which he approveth. But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin."(Rom.


Is this a principle that must operate at all times in my life as a Christian? Yes, certainly. I must know what God expects of me. We have continually emphasized this principle.

"Study, give diligence, to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth."

The Beroeans "were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so."

That word, his message must dwell in me richly. It will, we hope it has, made us new men. Our primary concern is no longer the affairs of this world, our treasure is no longer of the sort that can be lost or stolen, for by faith we have joined Abraham as a sojourner in a land not our own as heirs with him of the same promise, looking for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and' maker is God.

What kind of people are these? They are in the world, but they are not of the world. They are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession that show forth the excellencies of him who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light, who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. They are poor in spirit, they mourn, they are meek, they hunger and thirst after righteousness, they are merciful, they are pure in heart, they are peacemakers, they are the salt of the earth, they are the light of the world.

These people also live in this world. They all live under some form of civil power. What must, and what can they do as subjects of their governments? They must submit to it. They must pay taxes, tribute, dues, custom, fear and honor. They must submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake. What else? Cornelius was a Roman military officer; he was not required to resign. True. Paul was a Roman citizen, a very valuable possession in those times and he used his citizenship. True. Jesus performed a miracle to pay taxes to the corrupt Roman occupation forces. True. Paul taught while a prisoner in Rome, probably converting members of the Emperor's personal military guard. True. What does all this say as to what Christians must, or may do in support of their government? To me, it says that paying taxes is a duty, even to the most corrupt government. It says that military personnel of any government are subject to the invitation of Christ and that military service of some kind is not prohibitive to faithful Christian living. It says that the benefits extended to citizens by their government may be used freely. All of this says to me that Christians are subject to a set of principles that the rest of the world has not accepted. Our behavior under any circumstances must conform to those principles. Each of us will give an answer to God for the way we behave. I cannot live by your principles and I would not ask anyone to live by mine. Knowing that I will stand before God and answer for the way I live my life is enough for me to handle. - Protrepo.