An Overview of Biblical Idea of Civil Government

Reading a question about the meaning of biblical view of civil government in PPTF reminds me of my lecture notes on “Calvinism and Politics” by Abraham Kuyper, books written by Rousas Rushdoony and the state of Zambia, which claimed to be implementing the principles of Christian Reconstruction. However, my notes will only work if Kuyper’s book is with me.

Since I do not want to be hampered by this limitation, I go to the web to search for relevant data intending to refresh myself about the subject and also add some new ideas. And of course to share what I found as my personal contribution to the PPTF thread.

Originally, I just want to cite authors’ names, their sentences and paragraphs relevant to the subject. As I began to write, I changed my mind and decided to summarize their thoughts and just insert a hyperlink to direct readers to the original source.

I am aware that what I am about to share is a minority voice of one sub-tradition within the Reformed camp.

For John Frame, belief in the biblical view of civil government entails a Christian responsibility to be active agents of change in the society. However, this does not mean that we are to coerce non-Christians to behave as we do. Our responsibility lies in restraining both their sin and our sin by promoting godly standards.

So I think for Frame, remaining silent when both government and society are sinning against God is equivalent to tolerating those offenses. Forms of these offenses vary. It could be in the abuse of executive, legislative and judicial power. Legislating same sex marriage and abortion are contemporary examples of such abuses.

I find the reviews of Timothy Terrell on three books helpful. He claims that Samuel Rutherford’s “Lex Rex” is a good source using Scripture as the rule judging the actions of civil government. Like Frame, he believes that resisting misuse of power is part of Christian responsibility. Rutherford was actually referring to tyranny.

For Terrell, Rousas Rushdoony’s “Christianity and the State” is one of his most beneficial books on Christian political philosophy. He perceives Rushdoony as thoroughly proficient in Christianity, civil government, and important sources, which are almost forgotten. Rushdoony even traced the “historical development of a Christian theology of the state.”

David Hall’s “Savior or Servant: Putting Government in its Place” according to Terrell serves as a useful textbook for a subject on the biblical view of the state. The ideas of great thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Beza, Calvin, Knox, Kuyper, and others are discussed in this book.

Lee Duigon thinks that the state together with the church, family, and individual are various spheres of authority, which ultimately are accountable to God. He claims that biblical view of civil government has the following characteristics:

  • Accountability
  • Decentralized government
  • Localism
  • Individual responsibility, and
  • Self-government

Bill Graves’ idea for civil government is directly taken from various passages in the Bible. Due to the difficulty of restating his overview, let me just conclude this article with a full quote from him:

 “Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ ‘is Lord of Lords and King of kings’ (Rev. 17:14) and is ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Rev. 1:5) who are instructed to submit to Him (Ps. 2:10-12). He is to be ‘pre-eminent in all things’ (Col. 1:13-18) which includes the cultural, political, and legal spheres. Christians are to be ‘salt and light’ to the culture (Mt. 5:13, 14) and exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). Jesus’ Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) is an extension of this cultural mandate. There, Jesus said, ‘All power is given … me in Heaven and in earth.’ He said to not just disciple all nations, but also to teach them to observe His commands.”

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