Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thoughts on Government

As a Christian, the foundation for my opinions on government must be based on the Bible. The most relevant passages in the New Testament on this topic are Matthew 20:25-27, Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1,2 and 2 Peter 2:13-17. In these passages we see that in ideal governments, those who are rulers do not lord it over the people. Governments are ordained by God and we are to submit to them, including those that are less than perfect. One of the purposes of governments is to punish criminals. Another purpose is to commend virtuous behaviour. Those who rule full time have a right to be financially supported through various forms of taxes. We are also to pray for our governing officials.

I live in a country which is considered democratic. It is considered to be an act of good citizenship to be involved in the political process and to express our opinions. As such, I feel the liberty to offer constructive criticism as well as suggestions for how government can be improved. I do not believe human effort will usher in the Millennium. In fact, I am very much a Dispensationalist in my doctrine. But I do believe governments have a stated purpose and a Biblical role to play, and anything that helps them achieve that purpose is good. Furthermore I must acknowledge that God’s plans work best. It is not good enough for an individual to act in a moral manner; it won’t get them into Heaven. But when a society functions according to Biblical principles it is best for all citizens.

So how does this work itself out for a Christian in a democracy? First of all, rights are not something the government gives. And restrictions on rights are not something the government withholds. These are established by a higher law than any constitution or earthly court. So for example, the government does not give me the right to educate my children; God does. Likewise the government does not restrict my “right” to act violently; God does, and governments are a God ordained means of ensuring that certain behaviours are punished. Ultimately governments have the right to punish certain crimes with the death penalty, which is something individuals do not have the right to do.

Likewise governments can be a blessing in the lives of citizens, when a government reflects the will of a people who either consciously or unconsciously desire the types of righteous living God wants (again note that we are talking about righteous living, not the problem of what an individual needs to do when he has lived unrighteous and needs forgiveness from God). And so the collective will of the people may be to help widows and orphans, or to show mercy to the poor. I have no issue with our governments acting as agents of mercy with regards to the compassionate use of accumulated wealth. This can very well include minimum wage laws and laws which prevent the tendency of some people to act in an unrighteous manner towards their employees. Such laws must be carefully balanced against the Biblical examples of private ownership of property and use of invested capital to generate a profit. The individual who owns property must also carefully ensure that he is not putting his trust in his wealth, but gives thanks for God’s blessing in his life.

But governments tend to fall into a number of problems. First, some people serving in governments like spending other people’s money. Second, governments start to ignore God’s righteous law and make their own arbitrary laws all powerful. Third, people become dependent on their government and see their rights as being granted to them by their government. And finally the State becomes an independent entity, theoretically run for the benefit of its citizens but in actuality run for the benefit and continuance of the State. Let’s examine these pitfalls in more detail.

First, some people serving in governments like spending other people’s money. And some of those people have ideas for spending your money which are not in keeping with God’s righteous standards. In Canada, the new Conservative government just reduced the Goods and Services Tax from 7% to 6%. Some on the political Left were outraged. About $4 Billion was cut out of government revenues, when there were all sorts of programs that could use funding. My personal view is that the government was taking $4 Billion too much from the Canadian people, and finally recognized the fact. As far as unrighteous spending, I’m not sure I need to point any further than government funded abortions.

Second, governments start to ignore God’s righteous law and make their own arbitrary laws all powerful. In some ways Canada is further down the path to the nanny-state than the United States, but no people on earth have a more misplaced reverence for a constitution than the Americans. And as such, the American Constitution has replaced higher moral law. Don’t get me wrong. The American Constitution is a great document, for a people who are conscious of God. But for a people who do not have a God-consciousness, the American Constitution will eventually be an instrument of national corruption or national suicide. An example from American Law (though not yet argued at the Supreme Court level) is editing out swearing and nudity from American films. Filmmakers went to court, and won a ruling that people are not allowed to edit their films. Of course their argument was based on copyright law, the integrity of their creative product and their freedom to express themselves. Well it’s always expressed as an issue of freedom, isn’t it. But it’s still corruption.

Third, people become dependent on their government and see their rights as being granted to them by their government. Whatever the problem, let the government fix it. My Dad did me a great service when I was growing up. He told me that whenever you hear someone say “They should do something about that”, ask yourself who “they” are. When the government is seen merely as a means of “we the people” organizing ourselves for a task, it’s noble. When the government becomes the answer to every problem, we’re in trouble. Again, let me reiterate the statement I made above about demonstrating mercy and compassion. I do not say that all people should pull themselves up by their boot straps and make something of themselves. Some people live in very unfortunate circumstances and need a helping hand. But there is a difference between my approach (that our government is an expression of our desire to help and that government assistance is one of several important ways of demonstrating mercy and compassion) and the Left-wing approach of creating a government entity which is separate from the people and which will solve all problems. People also fall into the trap of thinking that the government grants their rights. I hear this all the time… “does the government allow you to educate your children at home?” That’s not the real question. The real question is whether the government has taken away your right to educate your own children.


Finally the State becomes an independent entity, theoretically run for the benefit of its citizens but in actuality run for the benefit and continuance of the State. This is the ultimate separation of the people from the government. The government now becomes the Government. It becomes a separate entity, with it’s own rules and purpose. All rights are removed from the citizens in exchange for cradle to grave social programs. In some cases a dictator is at the top, and in other cases a bureaucracy. No matter, because the net effect is the same for the people at the bottom.


Perhaps a summary is in order. In a democratic system and keeping in mind Christian principles for government, our responsibility is not to the government, but to our fellow citizens. Governments don’t grant rights, but God does. Governments can restrict rights in order to further the sort of righteous society the Bible describes. Individuals are still sinners and need salvation, but a righteous government is a blessing to saved and unsaved alike. Even if a government is not righteous, Christians are to submit to that government and pray for the governing authorities. Nevertheless, in a democratic country, Christians are not doing anyone any favours by being silent about what a righteous government and a righteous society require.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

< I live in a country which is considered democratic. >

This is SUCH a misconception-you hear this everywhere but it is untrue. America is a REPUBLIC-big difference. Read more of what the Founding Fathers had to say.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

Whose Founding Fathers? I live in Canada. 8-)

But yes, I understand that America is a Republic rather than a direct participatory Democracy. Apparently American military training manuals from 50 years ago made this quite clear to incoming recruits.

However both our nations can be considered democratic even if neither is a direct Democracy.

Thanks for your comments! Perhaps for the sake of other readers, you'd like to list some of the differences between a Democracy and a Republic?

6:37 AM  

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