e^SCcKsrnChristianity and the Legitimacy of Governmentrnby Harold O.J. BrownrnThe late Paul J. Tillich (1886-1965)-not exactly a hero tornconservative Christians, Protestant or Catholic—spoke ofrnthe rival impulses that cause agony in personal and communityrndecisionmaking, which he defined as the clash between autonomyrnand heteronomy. In autonomy—literally, “self-law”—individualsrnthink of themselves as a law unto themselves; in heteronomy,rn”other-law,” they see themselves as subject to alien rule.rnThe solution to this tension, according to Tillich, is theonomy,rn”God-law.” It is easy to affirm this advice in principle, on the personalrnlevel, at least for the Christian, because, as Jesus said, “If thernSon tlierefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”rnThe problem arises at the social level. “Theonomy” has becomernthe slogan for a small group of theologians called reconstructionists,rnwho believe that it is the duty of Christians to createrna social order that will install and enforce the biblical law ofrnthe Old Testament. This principle has not worked all that wellrneven when it has been energetically tried, as in the English Republicrnunder Oliver Cromwell, or in Puritan New England.rnFor the Christian, the proper motive for obedience is love. Jesusrnsaid, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).rnUnfortunately, such being the human condition, this principlerndoes not work very well even in the Christian community, andrnit cannot be expected to prevail among the general public. Thisrnis the basic reason why society requires government.rnAt its foundation, the new North American republic wasrnwhat Jacques Maritain called “descriptively Christian.” Biblicalrnprinciples were enshrined in many institutions and were frequentiyrncited in court decisions, so that we mav properly sayrnthat a measure of attention was paid to theonomy. However,rnthe concept of theocracy, or, more practically, rule by thernChurch, was not even considered. The principle of a nationalrnchurch was rejected in the First Amendment, which was laterrnapplied to the states.rnEven if it had not been prohibited by the U.S. Constitution,rnthe concept of theocracy would have been nearly inconceivablernin the United States from the beginning and is even less conceivablerntoday, in a society that has become pluralistic and multiculturalrnand where there is latent prejudice against religion inrngeneral and Christianit}’ in particular. It is evident, and recognizedrnby both Protestants and Roman Catholics, that duplex inrnhomine regimen—the government of man is two-fold. There arernsmall Christian communities which regard civil government asrnthe worldly realm that “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19), Duringrnthe Vietnam War, a few disillusioned Christians actually advocatedrnanarchy. Nevertheless, for virtually all Christians, therernis a “necessity and sanction for civil government.”rnThe question for Christians today is not whether but what:rnWhat should we think about the relationship between the secularrnand the spiritual, or more specifically, what spiritual prin-rnHarold O.]. Brown is religion editor for Chronicles and arnprofessor of theology and philosophy at Reformed TheologicalrnSeminar,’ in Charlotte, North Carolina.rnciples should bernkept in mind as wernattempt to carr’ outrnour civic duty inrnconstituting andrnmaintaining civilrngovernment? Paul’srnEpistle to the Romansrnoffers guidance,rnand chapterrn13 stiesses the legitimacyrnand the limitsrnof government power:rn”The powers thatrnbe are ordained ofrnCod,” and “he [thernruler] is a minister of God to thee for good” (verses 1,4). Wliilerngovernment, all government, has a principle of legitimacv, arngovernment can become illegitimate when it ceases to rewardrngood and punish evil; therefore, under extreme circumstances,rnresistance, een armed revolt, can be approved. In the context,rnCalvin requires that revolt be determined by the “lesser magistiates”rn—in other words, by people who already have a measurernof divinely approved authority. This principle was followedrnsuccessfully in the American War of Independence, which wasrna revolt of the colonial authorities, not of the people, and unsuccessfullyrnin the German officers’ revolt against Hitler. In bothrncases, people who already possessed authority and responsibilityrndetermined that the supreme authority was flawed or, in Hitler’srncase, demonic. Government is therefore legitimate but limited:rnIt cannot command what God forbids, nor forbid what Godrncommands (see Daniel 3:1-18, 6:6-11; Acts 4:19, 5:29), and itrnmust not invert its mandate and begin to punish good and rewardrnevil.rnChristians are not expected to establish a theocracy or an officiallyrnChristian government, although Christians from A.D.rn300 have done so, sometimes with more, sometimes with lessrnsuccess. What Christians can expect of any state, and especiallyrnof a state in which they are the numerical majority, is suggestedrnby Paul’s warning in Romans 1:21, where he says of thernpagans of his day, “When they knew God, they glorified himrnnot as God, neither were thankful.” The consequences he says,rnwere that they “became vain in their imaginations and tlieir foolishrnheart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they becamernfools” (verses 21, 22). Under the inshructions of our mostrneminent and highest court, the United States government has increasinglyrnforbidden public acknowledgement and expressions ofrngratitude toward God, and we experience the prophesied consequencernin growing governmental folly—for example, in the exaltationrnof abortion, “gay rights,” and even homosexual “marriage.”rnPerhaps if a future government again determines to give God atrnleast a measure of formal honor and thankfulness, we may learnrnnot to treat folly as wisdom, darkness as light. crnJANUARY 2001/21rnrnrn