Of the Civil Magistrate

It’s the Wednesday following the Presidential Election of 2020, and we are a long way off from knowing who the winner of the election will be. I’ve had several conversations with people who wondered what would happen if there was a tie in the Electoral College, so I directed them back to Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. It’s interesting reading, but I hope we don’t have to go through all of that.

As it’s good to get a refresher on the Constitution every now and then, it’s also good to get a refresher on our Confession. Perhaps, in light of the election, it would be good to once again read through what the Westminster Confession teaches us from Scripture about the role of the Civil Government and the Christian’s responsibility. (Next week I’ll return to the study through Jude).


Chapter XXIIIOf the Civil Magistrate

1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (Rom. 13:1–4, 1 Pet. 2:13–14)

2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: (Prov. 8:15–16, Rom. 13:1–2, 4) in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; (Ps. 2:10–12, 1 Tim. 2:2, Ps. 82:3–4, 2 Sam. 23:3, 1 Pet. 2:13) so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion. (Luke 3:14, Rom. 13:4, Matt. 8:9–10, Acts 10:1–2, Rev. 17:14, 16)

3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; (2 Chron. 26:18) or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; (Matt. 18:17, Matt. 16:19, 1 Cor. 12:28–29, Eph. 4:11–12, 1 Cor. 4:1–2, Rom. 10:15, Heb. 5:4) or, in the least, interfere in the matter so faith. (John 18:36, Acts 5:29, Eph. 4:11–12) Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the Church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. (Isa. 49:23, Rom. 13:1–6) And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his Church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. (Ps. 104:15, Acts 18:14–15) It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance. (Rom. 13:4, 1 Tim. 2:2)

4. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, (1 Tim. 2:1–2) to honour their persons, (1 Pet. 2:17) to pay them tribute or other dues, (Rom. 13:6–7) to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’sake. (Rom. 13:5, Tit. 3:1) Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: (1 Pet. 2:13–14, 16) from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, (Rom. 13:1, 1 Kings 2:35, Acts 25:9–11, 2 Pet. 2:1, 10–11, Jude 8–11) much less hath the Pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretence whatsoever. (2 Thess. 2:4, Rev. 13:15–17)

 The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.

On the National Election (part 3)

“And in that day you will cry out because of your king,
whom you have chosen for yourselves,
but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
(1 Samuel 8:18 (ESV)

(This post is an updated reprint of a post from 4 years ago.)

As you stand in the voting booth on election day, or as you fill out the early voter ballot, do you have to stifle that voice inside you saying, “meh.”  Lackluster.  Unimpressive.  Indistinguishable.  Pompous.  Arrogant.  Windbag.  Are these words that could be used by you to describe both candidates?  Cue up Simon and Garfunkel – “Laugh about it, cry about it, when you have to choose. Anyway you look at it you loose.”  With every election cycle I hear the phrase, “lesser of two evils,” and I wonder, have we become that jaded and cynical, or are the candidates always that bad?

Then I hear Sting singing, “You could say I’d lost my belief in our politicians; they all seemed like game show hosts to me.”

So what do we do when we vote this year and we really don’t like the candidates on the ballot?  Samuel warned the Israelites that they could complain about their king once he came to power, because he would conscript their sons and daughters to national service, take the best of their crops and livestock in taxes, and lead them in places they did not want to go.  The people would cry out to God because of their king, and we are crying out to God because of our candidates.  Not much has changed.

But that should be a reminder for us, and is the first point of today’s devotion:

1)  We are a fallen people.

Since Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden, all of humanity has been subject to sin, and continues in rebellion against God.  We are a fallen people living in a broken world.  Even when we come together with a form of government that has checks and balances built in to help curb the corruption of power that flows from the pervasive sinfulness of the human heart, it is still a human government in which sin permeates everything.

We are a broken people led by broken leaders living in a broken society as part of a broken world.  Politicians will lie.  They will make empty promises to gain political favor and power.  They will disappoint, deceive, and disgust us.  Even when we find a candidate who is a follower of Christ and pursues the righteousness of the Word of God in his life and his politics, they will eventually let you down.

I don’t write this to make you more cynical and have you give up in disgust.  Rather, I write this so that maybe, just maybe, we can see our candidates and elected leaders for who they really are, and treat them with a little patience and grace.  Our political leaders are not, and cannot be our saviors.  If you are looking for a savior, look nowhere other than Jesus Christ, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Instead, let us remember to pray for our elected leaders and candidates, to pray for God’s grace to transform them (and us), and that God’s sovereign hand would guide them.

2) You will never find someone you agree with entirely

Think about this: when two people agree with each other on everything, one of them is unnecessary.  You love and adore your spouse, but you know you don’t agree with him or her on everything.  You appreciate and support your pastor, but there are areas where, after faithful study of God’s Word, you find that you disagree – not on things of primary importance, but on secondary things.

Friends, this is just a fact of life.  Put 10 people in a room and you will have 11 different opinions – yeah, because some people even hold conflicting views in their own minds.  Unless you are running for office, you will not find a candidate that you agree with entirely.  So give yourself, and everyone else around you, a break – stop looking for the perfect politician.

Instead, know yourself.  Identify what your key principles are, the values that you hold most dear, the positions that you feel are essential.  And keep the list short: If everything is an essential priority for you, then nothing is really an essential priority for you.  Maybe your top three concerns are, 1) A reasonable and balanced budget, 2) A strong national defense, and 3) The protection of the unborn child.  Find a candidate who supports these things, and bear “with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

3) Vote your Conscience and Faith

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of voting your faith, that is, letting your faith influence how you vote and for whom you vote.  If, then, your faith and conscience are at conflict with the candidates presented, what are you supposed to do?  Remember this, there are always more than the main two candidates.  It may be hard to find information on the alternative, “third-party” candidates, but they are out there.  There is tremendous pressure from the mainline parties not to “throw your vote away,” saying that a vote for the third-party is a vote for the “other guy” – both parties use this line.  We have become such a hyper-sensationalized society that everything is life-or-death, win-or-lose, “this is the most important election ever – until the next election, that is.”

Take a deep breath. “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  When you go to the polls this year, your vote is precisely that: your vote.  You are answerable to you and to the Lord, no one else need know how you have voted.  As long as when you pull that lever (does anyone pull a lever to vote anymore?) your conscience is clear (Acts 24:16), then you know you have done the right thing.

May God’s grace and peace be with you!