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Do Christians have the right to govern?

God states in Romans 13 that all governments which exist have been established by Him. He did not say that He established only democracies, or only monarchies, or only good governments, or only those that are established on the principles of His word. In fact, He says this about the Roman empire -- a government which practiced nearly every form of depravity and oppression imaginable.

Clearly when God says He established governments, He was not saying that He sanctions all of their actions. Instead, God declares throughout Scripture that He uses governments, just as He uses the actions of all men, good and evil, to bring about His will. The Lord causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God raised up Pharaoh of the hard heart and established him as an oppressive ruler of His own people in order to display His glory and majesty (Exodus 9:13-17). God used arrogant Nebuchadnezzar to discipline His people, Judah. (In fact, even though He tried desperately in the book of Daniel to call Nebuchadnezzar unto Himself, He also declared in Isaiah 14 that He would punish Babylon for this sin of rising up against His people. The action was wicked. The result was used by God for good. But those who took the wicked action bore their guilt.) God used Judas to betray the Lamb of God for crucifixion.

So God commands Christians to submit to government, and declares that He uses government and has established it Himself, but does not sanction everything governments do or declare them to be perfect.

Are Christians permitted to govern other people?

To ask this is to ask the question: are Christians permitted to engage in the actions that governments engage in?

We have already seen that Christians may not engage in taxation because Christians are not permitted to take what does not belong to them.

God has placed a sword in the hand of government in order to punish evil (Romans 13:4). May Christians punish those who practice evil?

What is a Christian supposed to do to someone who practices evil in the church? The most famous passage about this is found in Matthew 18:14-20: Christians are to reprove other Christians when they practice evil, first privately, then with witnesses, with the intent of restoring the wayward Christian so that he will not be lost. Ultimately if a Christian will not repent of practicing evil, he is to be put out of the church. This practice may also be seen in I Corinthians 5 and I Timothy 1:20, where it is referred to as "delivering a person to Satan," and again in these passages the idea is that the person is put out of the church, back into the world tormented by Satan, with the hope that he will repent after such a consequence and be restored to fellowship. (You might also see I John 5:16-17.)

What about a person outside of the church? Christians are absolutely forbidden to judge those outside of the church. I Corinthians 5:9-13 declares: "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges." Persons outside of the church cannot be "delivered to Satan" (put out of the church), because they are already in the grasp of Satan.

So, for those inside of the church, the maximum penalty that Christians may oppose is to put them out of the church, and for those out of the church, no penalty may be imposed.

Therefore, it is wrong for Christians to take upon themselves the role of government, to attempt to punish evildoers. Within the church, Christians are under the government of God, the kingship of Jesus, and the administration that He has set up (with accountability to fellow Christians, to elders, etc.). Outside of the church, I Corinthians 5:13 states, people are judged not by us, but by God. One means God uses to judge people and punish evil is government, as we have seen from Romans 13. So, if God is judging them and we are not, then government is clearly not our domain.

Remember this the next time someone tells you that Christians need to vote on a measure outlawing sin.

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