The Governing Authorities

J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple

Category: Exposition

The Lord crystallized the truth concerning the authority of Pilate, the Roman Governor in Jerusalem, when He said, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above", John 19. n. In agreement with this, we read, "The powers that be are ordained of God", Rom. 13. 1; cf. Dan. 4. 32. Hence the argument, he that "resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God", Rom. 13. 2. Human passions might motivate a coup d'etat, or a revolution and the establishment of a fresh order; but no matter what the moral character of the governing authority may be, the fact that it has judicial power is to be referred ultimately to the "God of heaven and earth". So it is that, of ten kings yet to be revealed, we read, "God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast", Rev. 17. 17.

Israel is the only earthly people God has recognized nationally. Laws of government were entrusted to Noah, Gen. 9. 5-6, but it was through Moses that Jehovah revealed His will concerning the organization of national life. The legislation God granted to Israel was never superseded or withdrawn. The office of Israel's sovereign was to administer the divinely given laws and precepts. As a result of national sin among the twelve tribes, dominion was transferred to Gentile powers. But though more remote, as it were, God is still in supreme control.

The current process by which God is gathering a people for His Name out of "every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" results in the formation of a heavenly body, the Church. Its origin, position and destiny are all "in the heaven-lies". Christ is the Head, Eph. 5. 23, and the Holy Spirit operates in the maintenance of divine rule, distributing gifts among the saints so that order prevails. Men may attempt to disrupt God's pattern. It may be, in these solemn times, that very few will heed "what the Spirit saith unto the churches". Yet it is nevertheless valid that God has made known His mind as regards church government, just as He showed His intentions for Israel nationally.

While it is mainly the Old Testament to which we turn in ascertaining God's thoughts about national administration in Israel, it is from the New Testament, and the Epistles in particular, that we discover the Lord's will for the practical organization of church life.

It is noticeable that in the New Testament the Lord has messages for husbands, wives, parents, children, employers and employees, but no instruction for a Christian ruler. Scripture visualizes believers as subjects within a country, yet no passage contemplates a Christian in the capacity of authoritative rule in earth's apostate kingdoms. Such omissions in the Holy Bible are not without significance.

The believer's heavenly new birth makes him a "stranger" in this world; his heavenly destiny makes him a "pilgrim". Like a stranger travelling through our land, so every saint is passing through. Each is subject to the country's laws and penalties, and each will attempt to "do good unto all". But to be a legislator is not permitted by his "foreign citizenship". Only submission is inculcated, I Pet. 2. 11-17. During His earthly life our Lord, the One meek and lowly in heart, avoided membership of any political or religious party. When He returns it will not be as a suffering Saviour but as a sovereign Saviour. In His kingdom, Col. 1. 13, we have a place, and shall indeed exercise authority, 1 Cor. 6. 3, etc., in a future day. Meanwhile, however, we thank God for the liberty we enjoy; we pray earnestly for all brethren and sisters who are today suffering as Christians, persecuted for their faith within the kingdoms of this wicked world; we honour the sovereign and seek our Father's face "for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty", 1 Tim. 2. 2.