The Role of Government is much debated these days. Republicans argue for limited government. Democrats argue for progressive government. Both sides look at government from a secular perspective, where the role of government ebbs and flows on the basis of human whim and ideology. Likewise the will of the people ebbs and flows between a liberal and conservative role of government, depending upon conditions in society.
Yet, we see such a stand doesn’t bring much progress. Congressional Approval Ratings hover near all-time lows, bearing witness to the toll of political discord. President Obama’s numbers are better, but also demonstrate the trending frustration of the public.
Limited Government is not exclusively the answer. There will be times in which restraint becomes necessary. There will be instances when the power of Government must be checked. There will be occasion for scaling back the size of Government to protect the people from the tyranny of Government. However, there will be times when progressivism is required.
Nevertheless, progressivism isn’t exclusively the answer either. There will be moments when Government must be heavily involved in society life. There will be seasons where Government must intervene to protect the people from each other. There will be spans where the role of government will be establish peace and order.
Yet, how does fallen humanity begin to determine when is the time for which perspective?
The Role of Government in Christian Perspective
Many will argue that Church-State separation precludes the Gospel from having any place in politics. Yet, my dad (Krim Menelik Ballentine) would say: “Let Church separate from State, but let not that State separate from God!”
That said, the question for Christians (and all people of God) is: what does the Bible say about the role of government?
This study begins with Romans 13:1-7. St. Paul describes Government as “God’s Minister.” In this respect, Government was established to represent God to the people and to be a visible manifestation of God’s grace and righteousness.
This perspective was rooted in the people’s begging for a king in 1 Samuel 8. In this passage, after becoming frustrated with the corrupt leadership of Samuel’s sons the people demand a king to be their judge. Rather than relying on their God and Heavenly King, they required an earthly lord. God warned them of what would happen to them under an earthly king. Because of human failing, He advised them of the tyranny that would result. But the people still requested a king. And God relented, allowing a king to be anointed over the people.
Now, because of the goodness of God we know that when God makes allowances for His people He also gives grace by which to bring them to the right path. (Hence the Grace of all grace, His sending His only-begotten Son to redeem us and reconcile us to one another and to Himself.) So, when He allowed for a king to be established He also did so with the “mind” that such a government would rule according to God’s will.
Role of Government: God’s Minister
It is this role of government that is expressed by Romans 13, Government as God’s Minister. And, there are three ways in which I want to explore this concept.
First, Minister as protector. Romans 13:4 first defines the ruler (or Government) as God’s minister for our good. Rather than taking advantage of the people and exploiting them, godly Government provides for the prosperity and posterity of the people. It does not build/support/enforce a system that fosters disparity and inequality in any facet of society. Decisions aren’t based upon political expedience. Rather, rulers of opposing perspectives see those perspectives as means to a shared end of the people’s good.
Second, Minister as avenger. Romans 13:4 again states that Government is “God’s Minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” And those who practice evil are not necessarily those who disagree with the State but those who disagree with the Gospel. Justice is not an arbitrary ideal that fluctuates with geopolitical interests. Rather, it is a guidepost that holds us accountable to the straight and narrow way.
Lastly, Minister as provider. In Romans 13:6, the role of government is further defined as to protect and defend the people of God according to the will of God. It is for this reason that taxes are paid: Government is continually attending to protecting and avenging the people of God, who have been wronged.
The Role of Government and the Obedience Required
I know this passage is a bit revulsive. As a descendant of slaves and of those who endured Jim Crow, I understand why some would dismiss St. Paul’s edict to be obedient to governing authorities and honor the role of government herein expressed.
On the one hand this passage is saying that to defy Government is to defy God. But that would suggest that the Civil Rights Movement was wrong because it defied Government. Yet, the Church says “this principle holds true so long as the civil ordinance is not in opposition to God, but promotes good works. When civil rulers are in direct opposition to God, the believer must follow God” over Government. This statement is supported by the Apostles’ witness in Acts Chapters 4 & 5, when they disobeyed the governing authorities proclaiming it more important to listen to and obey God.
The role of Government is to represent the grace and righteousness of God to the people…to remind the people of what God requires. The role of Government is to tend to the people as God tends to the people, holding itself accountable to the Gospel by knowing the greater responsibilities of leadership.
Let Church separate from State, but let not that State separate from God! That is a true statement and a necessary desire. But it is clear that our State has separated itself from God. If we are to survive our economic crisis, our partisan stalemate and our social polarization, we must shift our perspectives of the role of Government to one that aligns with the call of the Gospel. If the people are to be protected and defended…if we are to forge a “More Perfect Union,” shouldn’t we begin by reconciling the State to God?