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What Is Government? Part II

Last week, we examined the first three questions regarding the nature and design of government: (1) its essence, (2) its purpose, (3) its functions. This week, we will overview the final three questions: (4) its types, (5) its place in society, and (6) its laws.

  1. Types: What are the types of government?

We find two common answers in history:

  • Teleocratic means leader: he is out front and citizens follow him. (Telos means goal.)
  • Nomocratic means bodyguard: he is at the side of the citizens to protect them, but not their leader.

Like in a parade, the leader is the one with the flag out in front leading them toward a destination; but a bodyguard walks alongside the crowd only as a protector. Teleocratic governments tend to be Care Givers or Moral Tutors. Nomocratic governments tend to be Protectors, or those whose mission it is to merely “keep the peace.”

  1. Place: What is the place of government in a society?

What do you think about the role of a government in society? Should it be small? Medium? Large? What do you think about the role of a church in society? In which one — a church or a government — do you place more faith and hope? Which one should have more power? Where should power be placed? Where do you place trust for progress? Progress means increasing goodness or decreasing badness.

  1. Laws: What four laws does Christianity affirm?

Christianity affirms four types of laws: 

    • Human Law — e.g., laws from government 
    • Natural Law — laws based upon human nature and known by intuitive reason,   e.g., our conscience detects basic right-and-wrong; laws written on every man’s heart (Rom 2:15) 
    • Divine Law — laws from God directly such as in Scripture, e.g., Ten
    • Eternal Law — God’s essential nature (design) of perfect love, agape (I Jn 4:8)

Should Christians always obey government? Some support nearly unqualified submission and obedience to government. This view quotes the Apostle Paul: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. . . . For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” This view quotes Paul’s letter to Titus: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities.” This view quotes Peter: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.”

Yet the majority of the Christian tradition offers a more qualified view. It proclaims: Christianity believes that government is one authority in a society, but it is not the highest authority — earthly authority is always derivative from some higher source. The allegiance of our hearts should be higher up, the Christian tradition says, and to God alone. As recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, it says: “But Peter and the apostles answered: ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” Or in modern language: “We have no King but Jesus.” Jesus is the “only Sovereign, the King of kings.”

To cite practical examples, Peter was crucified for disobeying government; and the Apostle Paul was beheaded for the same. Were they violating their own sacred, inspired writings? The majority says, No. They both knew there is a higher source of morality above what any man says, above what any culture opines, above what any ink from government says on a piece of paper. Thus, this view continues, by their sacrifice of life-and-blood such courageous moral reformers help move society closer to the eternal, unchanging, universal, objective Good. They awaken people. This view also cites “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963) where Martin Luther King, Jr. writes:

One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.” Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law [i.e., the natural moral law] or the law of God [i.e., the divine or eternal law]. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. . . . We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal.”

We hope this two-part series has helped you build a foundational understanding of the nature and design of government, helping you better form your political worldview based on Biblical values. For more content like this, visit our resources page. 

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