POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Judging It

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” (Reference: 1 Peter 2:13-17 )

The historic Anabaptist who were imprisoned at Trieste wrote in their confession, “We also believe and know that there is a holy Christian church and a godly and Christian communion. This church is the body of Christ, and he, Christ, is the head and governs the whole body. This church is holy and without spot (Eph. 8[5:23, :27]). If an offensive member is found on the body which cannot be corrected in any way, it is expelled from the church and regarded as a heathen (Matt. 18:17). No other penalty is used in the Christian church (Mark 9:43). It was forbidden by Christ and he did not desire to rule in an earthly kingdom (Matt. 20:22-23; Mark 10:39-40). My kingdom, he said, is not of this world (John 6:15, 15[18:36]). But to all authority, emperor, king, or regents we give interest, tithes, rents, discounts, and tax following the teaching of Paul and Peter, as long as it is not used for war (Rom. 13:6-7). Peter, the holy apostle, says that we should be subject to all human authority (1 Pet. 2:13-14). We also know how he himself did it when the government demanded from him what was contrary to God. He refused to obey like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, and many other examples in the Old and New Testament (Dan. 3, 6; 2 Matt. [Macc.] 7).”

I told you, beloved, of modern Anabaptists/Mennonites who do not pay some or all of their taxes in order to not support war. I told you also about growing up with little knowledge or interest in political authority, civic authority or government. And because I had little interest in government and such things, I did not judge government in any way. And then I moved to the United States.

My husband-to-be introduced me to civil disobedience – the mildest of ways let me add. Being a US citizen and of the age where the military would have liked him to investigate the possibilities of joining of their branches of service, he had opinions on that. He declined showing even the mildest of interests and refused to offer up any identifying information about himself. It was a very “gutsy” move for the times. At that point in my life I was highly into judging political authority. And judged all of them to be not worth much! I did come to learn of some who merited good regard.

But over time I came to realize that all “political authority” are actually individual people, and it is only fair to judge them according to their individual actions. I am not sure it tipped the scale to think better of them. But what it did result in is my asking “Are they doing the best job possible under the circumstances?” And, “Are they trying NOT to do harm to the people they have pledged to serve?” And most of the time my answer is, “Yes.” That does not mean I agree with their policies. Nor does it mean I think they are without agenda or personal bias. But that could be said of a lot of people who are NOT political authorities. So it does not good to jump on political authorities for what I see non-political authorities doing.

My opinion has been, and will probably be for a long long time, politics just divides us. And keeping within my pledge to be non-political about being non-political that’s about all I have to say.

Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world.” That is a truth I believe in strongly. If we would live as if our behavior in this world has implications for what happens to us in the world to come, I suspect that a lot of politics would just drop away. I’d like that.

May you beloved judge people using the measuring stick of our Lord God. And I pray you not fall short of that yourself. Selah!

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POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . As instituted by God

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” (Reference: Titus 3:1-3 )

The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible have a clear understanding of both historic Anabaptists and modern day Anabaptists/Mennonites, for they capture perfectly the perspectives of both groups in regards to governmental authority. The editors said, ”Submission to rulers and authorities is due as God ordained.” They also said, “many Anabaptists saw the rulers of their time as standing outside the saved community.” And they provided a wonder illustration of that by citing what Paul Glock related concerning an incident during his imprisonment.

The chief overseer said, concerning the government, that he was surprised that God should condemn the government and not pronounce it saved, for God had ordered and instituted it. Answer: Pay close attention, gentlemen. God has two kinds of servants on earth today, as he did in times past. . . . The worldly government exists outside the kingdom of Christ. The kingdom of Christ and God is his church, his congregation. They are his servants and children . . . his kingdom and church is spiritual. . . . the government is worldly and not spiritual . . . You overlords are to punish unrighteous sinners and evildoers, but guard and protect the devout people who fear God. That is why Paul says to us his brethren, Rom. 13:6, that we are to pay taxes to you for it. But you practice the opposite upon us. You do indeed take the taxes, let the godless sinner go free, but punish the pious, torture, kill, and imprison them, as you openly show in our case. Therefore the punishment you receive from God will be all the greater.”

When I was growing in the sheltered Mennonite environment of small town southern Ontario the greater authorities and rulers were in my home church, and backed up my mother 100% on everything she told me and taught me. The civic government was far removed from me and I knew very, very little about politics. Canadian politics is not for the faint of heart, nor for the straitlaced and procedural oriented. In short, I didn’t pay much mind to politics and neither did anyone else I knew. And if God ordained and instituted the government in Ontario, Canada, the Lord used a delicate hand and a refined sense of humor.

And then I moved to the United States. After living here 30 plus years, I believe that if God instituted and ordained government here, somewhere along the way humanity took over the planning and implementation. This is one area where my view and perspective has changed over the last five years. Five years ago in my post for this day I made the mild suggestion that Christians could and should be involved in governing and government. In our present day of 2014 I would back away from that suggestion. Christians should not being involved in the higher levels of government. Not that government could not benefit from it – I believe it would! But government and politics would chew up and spit most Christians. And the Christians who could and would stay, I fear, would be pulled off course from Christian living.

God instituted and ordained governance and control of society, keeping within laws and insuring fairness. Humanity, I think, has taken that noble aim and turned it for their own agenda and gain. That is not so say there are not good people and good outcomes; but the preponderance is personal gain and greed. If we are keeping score, that is one point for living in historic Anabaptist times.

May you gentle reader obey God’s laws and humanity’s laws, always keeping in mind the way God would have instituted and ordained political authority. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . For us or against us?

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers–and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.” (Reference: 1 Timothy 1:8-10 )

Historic Anabaptist Ambrosius Spitelmaier wrote, “All government which has existed from the time of Adam until now has been instituted by God. But it has not remained in God for it has exceeded its power and still does today. . . . Now . . . the government begins to judge words and deeds which it thinks to be against God, but which are for God. And in this sense it is like Pilate when he condemned Christ. The true, real Christians who are Christians in Spirit and in truth, of whom he says in Matt. 11: “Learn from me, for I am kind and of a humble heart,” do not require a government, sword or power, for they willingly do righteousness. Paul says in 1 Tim. 1, “To the righteous no law is given.” But those Christians who are Christians only in words, “Lord, Lord,” they require their government at all times for their piety, otherwise they would put out each other’s eyes. A piety which must be enforced does not please God. God wants a voluntary spirit as he said to the rich young ruler (Matt. 19).”

I had pondered yesterday whether the times we are living in are closer to New Testament times or historic Anabaptist times or something in between. You may say, beloved, the times that we are living in now are unique and like no other. But I am not sure that is accurate.

I remember a time like the writer of 1 Timothy writes, when laws were only relevant to lawbreakers, who were not typical; and most people abided by the law or did not even need the law to remind them how to live. That does not seem to be the case now. (I will not say more than that or I will be on my soapbox all night.) But I would hate to think that we are in historic Anabaptist times where the government itself accuses its citizenry of breaking laws when they live according to God’s laws.

But is not to say there is only those two poles of existence. There is middle ground, and many middle grounds in many countries and communities – places where the law does not accuse people but protects them from outside sources that would hurt them. That is the sort of place I would like to live in. And for the most part I would like to believe I do. And would like that for you too beloved.

The one place we do have assurance of that is life in God. Maybe that is why historic Anabaptists passed down to the spiritual descendents reliance not on civic or governmental/political leaders but religious leaders. People who receive their laws for living from God. May you dwell in places where God’s law rules and where your faith community is strong. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Remembering the past and looking to the future

“While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law–settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” So he had them ejected from the court.” (Reference: Acts 18:12-16 )

The editor’s of Reading the Anabaptist Bible had an interesting comment pertaining to this scripture passage and the historic Anabaptist they quoted for this day. They said, “The government of the New Testament was more lenient than those of the sixteenth century, argued Dirk Philips in “Sending of Preachers.” And Philips does make a compelling argument. He said in part, “We also see before [our] eyes how perilous the times now are, much more than at the time of the apostles. Then the apostles and Christians could flee form one city to another, Matt. 10:23, but now all lords and princes, cities and lands have made a covenant against us. Then the heathen government was so reasonable and proper that they did not wish to oppose strongly the faith and affairs of the Christian religion, Acts 17:9; 18:14-15; 23:22. But now almost everyone wants to be a lord over the conscience [of others] and a judge of faith (which after all belongs to Christ alone). Now the papal caesardom with all who are included therein, persecutes our faith as abominably as Antiochus persecuted the God-fearing Jews.”

An equally interesting and compelling post was written by my former writing partner, Will Fitzgerald, five years ago. He said at that time; “Gallio’s legal theory–that that government shouldn’t be involved in religious disputes–is much more profound than he realized, I think; and eventually became one of the bedrocks of the US constitutional law: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” I can’t get the government to take my side, or fear the government taking another’s side, on a purely religious matter. Further, of course, Paul was engaging in “speech,” and the US government is prohibited from “abridging the freedom of speech.” The Jews’ case against Paul would be thrown out in US courts just as it was in this Roman court. It is no wonder that many people from the Anabaptist heritage have come to the US and Canada where their freedom to exercise their religion is less restrained.

So, on this Veteran’s Day in the US, and Remembrance Day in Canada, let us be grateful for the religious freedoms we have and (though we be pacifists) let us be grateful for the bravery of men and women who fight to protect those freedoms.”

I have to wonder though, beloved, where we are currently in religious freedoms. Not in the same place as the historic Anabaptists – at least it is my hope that there is more freedom than the oppression, persecution and death than was known to the historic Anabaptists. But globally I do not think there is the level of freedom that Fitzgerald identifies. Perhaps we are in “New Testament” times. The Orthodox Jews and the Christian Jews were in tension conflict over the emerging Christian faith. The Gentile Christians also felt pressure and censure from their fellow citizens. We see in the United States the divisions between Christian groups, as I am sure there are divisions in other countries. It is a good thing to appreciate what freedom we have to practice our faith; it is also good to realize that animosity between groups does harm to the Christian story.

Now for a bit of a surprise. I also agree with Fitzgerald on thanking the men and women who have laid their lives on the line defending our freedoms. And November 11 is a good day to remember that. It is also my fervent hope and prayer that the day will come soon – today or tomorrow in fact – that no more men and women have to do that. While I thank them for their dedication, I so wish that dedication could be directed to bringing peace without the use of military hardware and software.

It was political authority that sent them out to endanger their lives; but it was also political authority that caused the situation in the first place. It wounds me that faith and religious conflicts and dissension has been a part of that. While constitutional law may intend to keep government and religion separate, it does not always work out that way. And less so it seems at times in our global society. Good intentions do not guarantee good outcomes.

May you, beloved, remember this day those you know who have risked all for the good of others. May you keep a firm divide between political authority that is contrary to your faith beliefs. Selah!

 

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Sometimes Christians need to be contrary

We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, he said. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood. Peter and the other apostles replied: We must obey God rather than men!” (Reference: Acts 5:28-29 )

Peter and the other disciples had been told not to preach about and proclaim Jesus’ name. Jesus was not very popular with the Jewish religious leader – this rising from the dead, in addition to how he disrespected their authority, was just too much! But Peter and the other disciples paid about as much attention to what they Jewish religious leaders wanted as Jesus had done.

Sometimes the call of living a Christian life puts one in direct opposition to political authority. The historic Anabaptists had plenty of experience in that. From day one the historic Anabaptist disputed everything the religious leaders of the established church of their time demanded. Oppression, persecution, and death was pretty inevitable. This was as true for Jesus’ disciples as it was for the historic Anabaptists, and other committed Christian in the history of Christianity.

The adversarial relationship politics and Christianity have seems to prove again and again that the two do not mix well. The only thing worse is when people try to mix the two; what results is just a mess of “biblical proportions”! But of course, beloved, you know my opinion of politics. Even I am trying to wean myself off of being “politically” non-political. And yes, it is very easy for me to be opposed to political authority.

Admittedly I have never had to defined my beliefs against political authority; I suppose I should be grateful that I have not been “tested” in that way. I think that is because I am committed to the way of peace as well. I do not set out to make enemies and try to conduct my life so that I live at peace with everybody. Not that I give in; I can be very adamant about things. But I try to be gentle with all people; and I find ways to relate to others, even in the event of potentially adversarial relationships.

May you, beloved, establish firmly in yourself what you belief taking guidance and direction from our Lord. And when you have to face those who oppose your faith, may God be with you. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Giving what is due

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Reference: Matthew 22:21 )

The imposition of taxes on a populace has a long and strong tradition. When Christ spoke these words he was holding a coin of the realm that has Caesar’s face on it. But discerning what is Caesar’s and what is not can be a tricky thing. Peter Riedeman wrote a very good guide and explanation for how the historic Anabaptists felt about it, He wrote, “The governments always do wrong when they set out to exterminate nations. [Isa. 10:1-16] Whoever pays them taxes for that, aids them in their wrongdoing and participates in the guilt of their sin. If they try to force us to it, we say with Peter that we must obey God rather than people. [Acts 5:29] We will not obey them in this matter; we will give them nothing that makes us take part in the sins of others. [1 Tim. 5:22] Many governments use Paul’s statement to defend their right to these taxes, [Rom. 13:7] and support themselves with the words of Christ: “Pay Caesar what is due to Caesar.” [Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25] Yet we fear they do so only to avoid the suffering which the cross of Christ brings. They want the approval of people, which results in the disapproval of God. [Gal. 1:10; James 4:4] . . . However, neither Christ’s words nor Paul’s words were intended to permit rulers to carry out every whim . . . the words make a distinction between two things: First, Paul says, “Give what you owe,” and “Pay to whom it is due.” [Rom. 13:7-8] Second, he does not say, “Give to anyone who wants it, and pay whatever someone wants.” Christ also commands us to give to

Caesar what is Caesar’s. [Matt. 22:21] He does not speak at all, as many interpret it, of taxes for warfare and slaughter. The Pharisees asked Christ whether it was right to continue paying an annual tax. History tells us that this annual tax began when Christ was born, during the rule of the emperor Augustus, [Luke 2:1-5] and there was peace in all the world. Thus this tax was not imposed for war or bloodshed.” [Emphasis mine]

The sentence I highlighted I feel applies very well to the U.S. Government, although I would not say congress passing resolutions (or whatever) to send soldiers (also known ironically as “peacekeepers”) is a “whim.” But as a deliberate choice, it is even worse. Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites have a long history also of refusing to pay taxes on the theory that they support war. But as Riedeman points out, not all taxes are for war. Some modern Anabaptists/Mennonites take this into consideration and pay a portion of their tax withholding the percentage that it is reported goes to the war fund. Others live below the tax line so as to avoid the issue. There are many responses.

I am aware, as a consequence of my job, how many other programs are supported by taxes, truly worthy ones that help people in need. For that reason I pay my taxes and pray that the “whim’s” of the government are wise and peaceful ones. And accept the fact that I might be for the time being praying for a losing cause.

I have also thought long and hard for myself what is “Caesar’s” and what is God’s. “Caesar” is entitled to much less things of mine than God is, and I save all the “good stuff” for God, and for my fellow believers. May you, beloved, only give to “Caesar” that which will help humanity, and may you give to God all of your heart, soul, strength, and body. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . A rundown of who’s who!

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Reference: Matthew 20:25-28 )

This an interesting pairing – these verses and the theme “Political Authority.” It works because Jesus is warning his disciples not to fall into “position & power, pomp & circumstance” trap. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible note that Michael Sattler saw the connection between authority and this verse, and applied it to the situation of the historic Anabaptists. He said “. . . concerning the sword: whether a Christian should be a magistrate if he is chosen? This is answered thus: Christ was to be made king, but fled and did not discern the ordinance of his Father. So we should do as he did and run after him. Then we shall not walk in darkness. For he himself says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” Matt. 16:24. He himself further forbids the violence of the sword when he says; “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, etc. . . . It will not be so among you,” Matt. 20:25.”

Historic and modern Anabaptists/Mennonites based their church structure on this very premise, that those who are seen as “leaders” if a faith group must actually be their servants – ministering to them, consoling them and tending to their religious needs. Now that is not to say the historic and modern Anabaptists/Mennonites are immune from power struggles. We/they are just as apt to abuse position and power as anyone else. And all the while claiming it is for the “good of the group.”

Now, this pairing of the “violence of the sword” with power and authority is interesting. It touches not only on servant-leadership but also non-violence and non-resistance – a tangled muddle all together beloved! For the historic Anabaptists it was not just who had the “say so” but who wielded the might to back it up – all the way to aggression and violence. The magistrates of that time could order the “sword” if they felt it was needed. Rest assured though, there are more checks and balances in place now than there were then.

Also be aware, beloved, that Jesus did not just “run away” from kingship (as Sattler tells it) but “ran towards” sacrifice and crucifixion – not very common on most lists of qualifications for leadership!

What then of us, who are not Christ but neither are we leaders. How does this apply to us? Should it apply to us? Interesting considerations. Jesus was speaking to his disciples after two of them had voiced the desire to be seated as Jesus’ right and left hand, in other words places of honor and leadership. So Jesus was speaking to who ever might seek leadership. But what if one does not seek this? Does this mean these verses do not apply? Again, interesting considerations. But this does not excuse us beloved.

As modern Anabaptists/Mennonites NOW understand this, we are to be helpers and servants to fellow believers as they are helpers to us. We all need help and it behooves us as being the “face of Christ” to help whoever is in need. Christ came for us and modeled that compassion. We can do no less! Selah!