The civil government is instituted by God for the welfare of society. This article discusses the responsibility of the government and the Christian's duty towards it.

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The State

Christians must respect civil government🔗

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Romans 13:1-2

Civil government is a means ordained by God for ruling over communities. It is one of a number of such means, including ministers in the church, parents in the home, and teachers in the school. Each such means has its own sphere of authority under Christ, who now rules the universe on his Father’s behalf, and each sphere has to be delimited by reference to the others. In our fallen world these structures of authority are institutions of God’s “common grace” (kindly providence), standing as a bulwark against anarchy, the law of the jungle, and the dissolution of ordered society.

Basing itself on Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, the Westminster Confession sets forth the sphere of civil government as follows:

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good; and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.... The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. (XXIII.1, 3)

Because civil government exists for the welfare of the whole society, God gives it the power of the sword (i.e., the lawful use of force to enforce just laws: Rom. 13:4). Christians must acknowledge this as part of God’s order (Rom. 13:1-2). But civil authorities ought not to use this power to persecute the adherents or nonadherents of any particular religion, or to entrench any form of evil.

The state may properly collect taxes for the services it renders (Matt. 22:15-21; Rom. 13:6-7). But should it forbid what God requires or require what God forbids, some form of civil disobedience, with acceptance of its penal consequences (thus showing that one recognizes the God-given authority of governments as such), becomes inescapable (Acts 4:18-31; 5:17-29).

Christians are to urge governments to fulfill their proper role. They are to pray for, obey, and yet watch over civil governments (1 Tim. 2:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14), reminding them that God ordained them to rule, protect, and keep order but not to tyrannize. In a fallen world, in which power regularly corrupts, democratic institutions that divide executive power among many and make all its holders answerable to the people ordinarily offer the best hope of avoiding tyranny and securing justice for all.

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