God is First … Politics is Fifth (And Maybe Tenth)
Religion and liberty are the meat and drink of the body politic. Withdraw one of them and it languishes, consumes, and dies. If indifference to either, at any time, becomes the prevailing character of a people, one-half of their motives to vigorous defense is lost, and the hopes of their enemies are proportionally increased. Here, eminently, they are inseparable.
Without religion we may possibly retain the freedom of savages, bears, and wolves, but not the freedom of New England. If our religion were gone, our state of society would perish with it and nothing would be left which would be worth defending. Our children, of course, if not ourselves, would be prepared, as the ox for slaughter to become the victims of conquest, tyranny, and atheism…. ((President and professor of divinity of Yale College from 1795 to his death in 1817. A sermon delivered on July 4, 1797.))
The made-for-TV film Brian’s Song (1971), starring James Caan as Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Sayers, was loosely based on Gale Sayer’s autobiography I Am Third (1970). Sayers was a star running back in the NCAA and for the Chicago Bears in the NFL. Brian’s Song is the story of his friendship with his teammate Brian Piccolo who succumbed to cancer at 26 years of age. The title of Sayers’ book is based on Sayers’ credo, “The Lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third.”
Sayers’ credo has relevance to a lot in life, including the basic order of governmental hierarchy: God is first, and politics is fifth. A case could be made politics it’s farther down on the list than fifth if it’s done right.
Most people, when they hear the word “government,” think that civil government has the exclusive right to the term. In terms of the Bible, the word “government” includes: (1) God as the original and ongoing Governor of all things (Gen. 1:1), (2) the individual in self-government (a person who governs his own behavior without the need of external restraints). The positive: the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23, especially “self-control”) and the negative: the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21; cf. 2 Tim. 3:2-7); (3) the husband, wife, and children in family government (“if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God,” 1 Tim. 3:5); (4) ecclesiastical officers in church government (“tell it to the church,” Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 6); (5) civil rulers in civil government (who are described by Paul as ministers “of God to you for good,” Rom. 13:4).
My book God and Government deals with the biblical view of governments in all their manifestations.
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Notice the use of the plural in Romans 13:1: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.” There is more than a single all-embracing civil authority. Civil government in the Bible is limited and decentralized. If Paul has “authorities” in general in mind, then he is referring to multiple family, church, and civil authorities (governments).
The rejection of God as the original and ongoing Governor leads people to look for a substitute god to rule over them. There is no neutrality. The domino effect of poor self-government leads to the corruption of the family and church and capitulation to the messianic State (Judges 17:6; 21:25; Deut. 12:8 and 1 Sam. 2:12, 22, 13; 1 Sam. 8; also see Judges 9).
In terms of history, the word “government” was never limited to civil affairs, the realm of politics and bureaucracies. This is evident in early dictionary definitions, for example, Noah Webster’s 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language.
“GOVERNMENT, n. 1. Direction; regulation. ‘These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct.’ 2. Control; restraint. ‘Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.’ 3. The exercise of authority; direction and restraint exercised over the actions of men in communities, societies or states; the administration of public affairs, according to the established constitution, laws and usages, or by arbitrary edict. ‘Prussia rose to importance under the government of Frederick II.’ 4. The exercise of authority by a parent or householder. Children are often ruined by a neglect of government in parents. ‘Let family government be like that of our heavenly Father, mild, gentle and affectionate.’ Kollock. 5. The system of polity in a state; that form of fundamental rules and principles by which a nation or state is governed, or by which individual members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions; a constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined; as a monarchial government, or a republican government. ‘Thirteen governments thus founded on the national authority of the people alone, are a great point gained in favor the rights of mankind.’ J. Adams.”
In the Preface to Alex L. Peterman’s Elements of Civil Government (1903), we find the following, “This text‑book begins ‘at home.’ The starting point is the family, the first form of government with which the child comes in contact” (5). “The family … is a form of government, established for the good of the children themselves, and the first government that each of us must obey” (18). “The office of a parent is a holy office, and requires wisdom for the proper discharge of its duties” (19).
Failure to make distinctions among the various forms of government can and often does lead to tyranny by giving to civil government alone an illegitimate monopoly of power, authority, ministry (Rom. 13:4), and sovereignty. The individual is of no consequence unless he or she functions in service to the State. Adolf Hitler said: “It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole … that above all the unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual.”1
Conde Pallen’s utopian novel Crucible Island depicts what happens when the God of the Bible is rejected and the State becomes God. Man looks for a substitute provider so that “the individual should have no thought, desire, or object other than the public welfare, of which the State is the creator and the inviolable guardian. As soon as the child is capable of learning, he is taught the Socialist Catechism, whose first questions run as follows:
Q. By whom were you begotten?
A. By the sovereign State.
Q. Why were you begotten?
A. That I might know, love, and serve the Sovereign State always.
Q. What is the sovereign State?
A. The sovereign State is humanity in composite and perfect being.
Q. Why is the State supreme?
A. The State is supreme because it is my Creator and Conserver in which I am and move and have my being and without which I am nothing.
Q. What is the individual?
A. The individual is only a part of the whole, and made for the whole, and finds his complete and perfect expression in the sovereign State. Individuals are made for cooperation only, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.2
Lech Walesa, winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize and president of Poland from 1990 to 1995, said the following about Ronald Reagan and his strong stand against Communism in word and deed: “He was someone who was convinced that the citizen is not for the state, but vice-versa, and that freedom is an innate right.”3
The family is of no consequence unless it is in service to the State (e.g., the estate/inheritance tax). The church is viewed as a competing authority, a parallel government and, thus, a danger to the State’s claim of absolute sovereignty. Civil government impacts every area of our life. Those who hold civil positions of power can create laws
- that can put you in jail for real or manufactured crimes.
- take your property (tax code, Social Security, the abuse of eminent domain).
- send you or your children to war.
- put you to death for crimes against the State.
We better understand the proper function of these various governments if we do not want to be overwhelmed by the potential for abuse by civil governments that is the only government that has the legitimate “power of the sword.”
- Adolf Hitler at Buckenburg, October 7, 1933, in The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1929-39, N. H. Baynes, ed., 2 vols. (Oxford, 1942), 1:871-72. Quoted in Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (New York: Stein and Day, 1982), 3. [↩]
- Conde Pallen, Crucible Island: A Romance, an Adventure and an Experiment (New York: The Manhattanville Press, 1919), 109-10. [↩]
- Lech Walesa, “In Solidarity,’ The Wall Street Journal (June 11, 2004), A8. [↩]