Sub-Christian Nationalism? (Part 6)

WE AFFIRM that civil officials are God’s deacons of justice. Therefore, they must obey His commands and rule under His authority. We affirm that all human authorities, including civil officials, possess authority only as it has been delegated to them by God and, accordingly, are accountable to Him for how they wield their delegated authority in accordance with God’s prescriptions for civil government as revealed in His Word.1

WE DENY the authority of civil officials and documents to contradict what God has said in His Word or to govern beyond the bounds God’s Word has established for them.

Scripture: Romans 13:1-4; Acts 5:29; Exodus 1:15-22; Daniel 3; John 19:11; Psalm 2:10-12; 1 Timothy 6:13-16.

For orthodox Christians, there should be no doubt that the civil magistrate is God’s servant/minister/deacon. Scripture plainly says it. The framers of the Statement transliterate Paul’s word diakonos (διακονος). The question is: what did Paul mean by that word? As discussed previously in this series, did Paul intend by that word (and by the rest of his teaching in Romans 13) to make the legitimacy of the magistrate contingent upon his obedience to God? The Statement has not yet raised that issue, but it seems to loom in the background in the words “therefore,” et seq.

What does the Statement intend when it says “his commands and rule”? Which commands and rule? The Mosaic judicial laws? The tables of the Ten Commandments (i.e., those regarding our duty to God and our duty to man)? The Statement does not answer these questions and is thus ambiguous at a very important point. Again, it is basic Christian orthodoxy that all human beings are obligated to the moral law of God: love God with all your faculties and your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37–40). This is the divine summary of the Ten Commandments. To deny that is rank antinomianism.

That principle, however, does not answer the question of the magistrate’s obligation to the various biblical laws. Since Augustine, we have known that there are two cities. Since Gelasius, we have known about the two swords. Since Luther, we have known about the two kingdoms. Since Calvin, we have known about the two spheres in God’s kingdom. Because of the two cities, two swords, two kingdoms, and two spheres, even the Christian magistrate has different obligations in each realm. As an individual, when slapped he may not retaliate but as magistrate, he has an obligation to defend his city (Matt 5:39). Paul says nothing about the magistrate instituting the Christian religion, but he does say that the magistrate bears the sword (an instrument of violence and coercion) for a purpose. A Christian magistrate lives in both spheres, but a pagan magistrate does not. He is outside the sacred sphere of God’s kingdom. In Augustine’s scheme, he is only in the city of man. Olevianus said that there are two kingdoms, that of God and that of the devil, and outside of Christ one can only be in the latter.

The Statement will speak to this but it has not yet. It cites Romans 13:1–4:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (ESV).

Is not Paul’s point that all civil authority, even Nero, was instituted by God? Was not Paul saying to the Roman congregation, “Listen, I understand that Caesar is no friend of Christians and capable of great evil” as Nero would soon demonstrate, “but he was put in place by God. Therefore you must submit to him”? As I have noted previously, Paul’s silence on the magistrate’s obligations to God is striking. Paul knew the Caesars. He knew how Julius came to power, how the Senate had been marginalized, and the evil of which magistrates are capable (e.g., Herod’s slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2:16–23).

Nevertheless, despite the depravity in the heart and mind of every ruler and perhaps especially in the hearts and minds of the Caesars (and their minions, e.g., Pontius Pilate, who is known to history only for murdering Christ), Paul calls them God’s ministers. He still expects that, generally, they execute civil justice. On what basis? Did Paul expect Claudius, Nero, or Domitian to consult the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses)? He did not. Paul had already explained that every human, including pagan magistrates, has the moral and natural law inscribed on his conscience (Rom 2:14–15).

It is interesting that the Statement does not cite verses 5–7 of Romans 13, which are an integral part of the passage and relevant to the concerns of the Statement and the questions surrounding Church and State and Christ and culture.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (ESV).

Just as interesting as what Paul did not say is how pointed he is in what he did say. Paul says nothing about the magistrate enforcing the Mosaic judicial laws (Paul was no theonomist) nor of the magistrate enforcing Christianity as the state religion (Paul was no theocrat) but he did speak directly to the Christian’s obligations to the magistrate. We are to obey. Twice he says in Romans 13:1–7 that Christians are to submit to the magistrate, even to wicked magistrates such as Pilate, Herod, and Nero. Where he says nothing about the magistrate respecting the rights of Christians, he is explicit about the Christian’s obligation to honor, show respect, and pay taxes to wicked tyrants.

Does the Statement have the same clarity, teaching, and emphases? What do they intend when they deny that the magistrate has the “authority” to contradict “what God has said in His Word or to govern beyond the bounds God’s Word has established for them.” Again, the vagueness of the Statement leaves significant questions unanswered. The rabbis counted 613 commandments in God’s law. Traditionally, since the early fathers, we have distinguished between those that have abiding validity (e.g., the Ten Commandments or the moral law generally), and those that were fulfilled by Christ and have expired (e.g., the ceremonial and judicial laws). As the Statement stands, one might infer that the magistrate is required to enforce Exodus 21:17, “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.” Yet that did not occur to Peter in Acts 2, when, after he charged the crowd with the murder of Jesus, he did not tell them to flee to a city of refuge according to the Mosaic judicial laws (Num 35:9–34). Instead, he called them to repentance and faith in Christ alone for their salvation. Why? Because Christ is our city of refuge, and the judicial laws have expired “with the State of that people” (WCF 19.4).2

WE AFFIRM that God has armed civil magistrates with the sword of justice to promote citizens’ welfare without partiality by (1) writing and enforcing just laws (as God defines just) which are a terror to those who do evil (as God defines evil), (2) defending and approving those who do good (as God defines good), and (3) avenging victims of crimes with proportional punishments for evildoers.

Agreed but again, by what standard? The question is not whether God defines justice and goodness, but where?

We affirm that civil authorities must ensure that the church shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions without violence or danger. The civil authorities must discharge this duty without showing favoritism to, or bias against, any Christian denomination for their historic beliefs and teachings; this includes, but is not limited to, their teachings and beliefs concerning the immutability of biological sex, the union of marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman, and other historic Christian teachings on sexual morality. We affirm that the government has the right to intervene to prevent or stop any ceremonial “religious” practices that violate the natural law and welfare of mankind, including but not limited to child sacrifice, polygamy, child sexual exploitation acts of religious masochism, and so forth.

Yes, the magistrate has a duty to uphold religious liberty for Christians. In the USA, which is the context of the Statement, the religious liberties of Christians are protected by the first amendment to the Constitution, and so are the religious liberties of other religions. The Statement says nothing about those liberties. This omission is notable for a statement drafted by Americans.

In this regard, their rhetoric regarding “any Christian denomination” is telling. Who defines what is a Christian denomination? The Statement appeals implicitly to a sort of “mere orthodoxy” of the ecumenical creeds and explicitly excludes confessions beyond the creeds. Yet the meaning of those creeds is in dispute, hence the existence of different denominations. In this putative Christian Nationalist state, someone shall have to make a judgment about which groups qualify as Christian. What about Oneness Pentecostals? They are heretics against the ecumenical faith because they deny the ecumenical doctrine of the Trinity, but that is a theological judgment. As a matter of civil life and politics, they have every right to hold their views and to do so in peace. What about the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Christian Scientists? No orthodox Christians should want the state to declare them Christian. They are not. In the judgment of the orthodox Christian denominations, those are sects or cults. Then there is the case of the Seventh-Day Adventists, some of whom seem to be broadly evangelical and more orthodox in their theology; yet some more traditional Adventists hold seriously errant views. Again, Christians have no interest in the magistrate wading into these matters.

The Statement does affirm natural law when it uses it as the basis for forbidding religious practices (why did they put that word in quotation marks?) that are inherently dangerous, violent, or entail murder. If natural law can do that, what else can it do? So far the Statement has not said.

WE DENY that civil authorities are tasked with being the primary caretakers of citizens or educators of children, as these duties belong primarily to families and the Church. We deny that the civil government should endeavor to take on these responsibilities, and we deny that they do so to the benefit of society. Rather, such “charity” displaces families by creating a culture of dependence upon a “nanny” state, and its education often debauches children with godless philosophies and perverse instruction. We deny that, in Scripture, God ever approves of tolerance toward depravity like child sacrifice and mutilation and drag queen story hour. We would follow our King, and He does no such thing.

Scripture: Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:22-25; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Deuteronomy 16:18-20; Romans 13:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:2.

I agree with the Statement here, but I would ground my argument in natural law. Here Johannes Althusius is helpful. He argued that, by nature, the family is the most basic unit of society and that political authority begins there. That authority is only delegated to other, broader institutions and organizations. Astute readers will recognize in his formulation the principle behind the tenth amendment to the Constitution.

I agree that Scripture regards as an abomination those things mentioned in the denial but it is interesting that, in the affirmation, the framers appealed to natural law. Here, however, they appeal to Scripture against “depravity like child sacrifice. . . .” If natural law was sufficient before, why is it not now?

We would follow our King but there are, as Calvin said, two spheres in his kingdom, “two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority.” Does the Statement recognize the existence of those “two worlds,” “different kings,” and “different laws” for each sphere? These are questions that remain to be answered.


1. The Statement is published online and marked as a draft. I began this series working with what they now call “Draft 1,” which was published on May 1, 2023. The framers of the Statement released “Version 2,” on May 23, 2023. This installment is based on Version 1. In the revised version, Art. VI, under review here now says, “civil authorities are God’s servants” and “who must know who their Master is and what he requires of them.” This language only intensifies the theocratic character of the document.

2. I am grateful to my friend and colleague Steve Baugh for his illuminating comments on Peter’s speech at Pentecost.

We will continue our interaction next time.

You can find this whole series here.


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One comment

  1. As I have become far more confessional in my own belief & practice, reading deeply of Presbyterian history has opened my eyes. The establishment elements in Westminster & the more extreme stance of the Covenanters are so different from what I had learned through broad evangelicalism, and even through years in the PCA. I have since learned of both “Escondido R2K” theology as well as the ‘American Covenanters’ and the split of the Reformed Presbyterians (shameful behavior on both sides) in 1833. After living well over half my life believing in “separation of church & state” I still wrestle with these matters. That said, I do NOT wish the civil magistrate to be involved in doctrinal issues!

    Years back while preaching through 1 Peter, the late Dr. Harry Reeder took a position I highly respect: in his exegesis of ‘obey the emperor’ he noted that our emperor is the Constitution. As a military officer I took an oath to protect & defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign & domestic. When the Constitution is ignored by the civil magistrate, he has given up his authority. While the Constitution was an imperfect document, there has been nothing better penned by man (as noted by one faction of the RPs in 1833, but publicly stating this led the other contingent at synod to excommunicate them!).

    Finally, one comment on Jesus & cities of refuge: the Crucifixion of Our Lord was NOT an unintentional or accidental act, therefore fleeing to a city of refuge would not be applicable. “CRUCIFY HIM!” removes any question of intentionality.

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