Christians are to be people who respect authority. God’s word reminds us that all authorities are ordained by God for our good and his glory and should be obeyed. This is true for all the spheres in which we operate family, church and civil government.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. – Ephesians 6:1
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good – Titus 3:1-2
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. – Romans 13:1
Ultimately, of course, we are subject to God’s authority but these earthly institutions, family, church and civil government, are instruments of God’s common grace to promote righteousness within this earthly realm and they, in turn, are accountable to God for how they administer their office.
But, and this is important, notice that more than one authority is mentioned in scripture. We’re not just to be subject to the civil government or to parents, but to both. The implication is each sphere has an ordained area of responsibility and no sphere’s authority is absolute. Abraham Kuyper spoke of this concept in his book “Lectures on Calvinism” about which I’ve written before.
For example, parents, not the state are responsible for the education of their children. The state, not the church, is responsible for the punishment of criminals, etc.
But, what happens when one sphere decides to usurp the authority of another sphere? Nothing good. Ever.
This is especially true when the one doing the usurping is the civil government. History is littered with the bodies of victims of government hegemony. The Bible speaks of governments who assume authority over every aspect of their citizens lives. It calls them evil. Such governments are manifestations of what the Bible calls the Beast:
Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 13:14-17
I believe the beast John writes about is a specific person in ancient history, a persecutor of the church, perhaps a Roman emperor. However, in warning the early church about this person, John also warns future Christians about those who govern the same way, who usurp the authority of all other institutions and accrue it to themselves. (There may also be a final manifestation of this type of ruler before the return of Christ who is worse than all those before him. So he could be a specific person in the future as well).
Recently, in the United Kingdom, we’ve seen just such a usurpation of authority.
Alfie Evans, a terminally ill child, was prevented by government force from leaving the hospital where he was being treated. The NHS (Britain’s socialized healthcare system) decided, despite the wishes of his parents, that they would no longer treat Alfie because NHS doctors said he had no chance of recovery. That was bad enough but authorities in the United Kingdom took things further. They decreed that Alfie’s parents could not remove him from the hospital and could not leave the country with him to pursue treatment in Italy, even though that would have cost the NHS and the British Government nothing. They essentially held Alfie hostage insisting he die in their facility, the wishes and beliefs of his parents notwithstanding. This is the spirit of the Beast – a government that accrues to itself, authority reserved by God for other spheres, in this case, the family.
I’m going to make a bold statement but one I believe to be true: the more power we hand over to the government beyond that which God has ordained for it (Romans 13:1-7), the less we are loving our neighbor. Many, in the name of Christ, insist that socialism is loving and should be supported by believers as a way to care for the poor and vulnerable. But, feeding the Beast is not loving your neighbor. Does anyone doubt if the recent addition to the family of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge had suffered from the same condition as Alfie that it would have been handled differently?
The scriptures tell us to expect the Beast but they do not tell us to enable it. We should, therefore, heed John’s warning, be on the lookout for it, and oppose efforts on the part of the civil government to usurp the authority of the family and the church. The price of not doing so is more Alfies – a lot more if history is any indication.
Photo credit: moz278 on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND