The sword of the state

Let every soul submit to the ruling authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the existing authorities are by God’s appointment. So that the one who resists authority resists that appointment of God. Those who set themselves against it shall receive judgment. For rulers are not a fear to good deeds, but to evil deeds. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have its praise. For it is the servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, fear! For it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant, an avenger of wrath to the one practicing evil. (Romans 13:1-4)

We don’t live in a nice world. Human sin has messed it up. In Romans, the apostle Paul tells what God did in Christ for his enemies. He lived a good life to replace the bad lives of his people, he died for the sins of his people and then rose from the dead to show that the judgment against those sins is finished. This work of Jesus reconciles people to God. By trusting Jesus Christ, we can know that we have peace with God. This is good news.

Yet, we still live in a messy world. In Chapter 13, Paul indicates that we should be thankful for civil governments. Their job is to restrain human evil as it manifests itself in violent crimes and war. According to the Bible, it is quite appropriate for civil governments to protect their people by dealing with those who threaten them.

The apostle Paul said that the state does not hold the sword in vain. The civil state is the servant of God. Its sword is for the protection of those who do good and for the fear of those who do evil.

Now the word ‘sword’ may include such things as fines for speeding or drink-driving, and having your driver’s licence cancelled. But, the use of the sword also implies that deadly force might justly be used in the work of protecting and punishing. In fact, the state has a God-given responsibility to use the sword in times of war or terror to protect its people from attack and to deal with those who do the attacking.

As individual Christians we are to love our enemies and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ; as a church we are to love our enemies and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ, but the state has the responsibility to protect and punish. Christians are not to hinder, but rather to encourage and pray for the state as it tries to fulfil that God-given responsibility.


Book Review — A short history of the church in scotland

A Short History of the Church in Scotland, AD 300 – 2015, New Melbourne Press, 2015.

In fewer than 130 pages, Rowland Ward has provided a very useful account of Scottish church history. The first thousand years are dealt with respectfully but briefly in two chapters in preparation for the main events of the post-reformation period. Since the days of John Knox and his fellow reformers, the struggle has been to establish and maintain in Scotland a protestant-reformed witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to assert and defend his sole right as king and head of the church.

As Ward points out, the reformers’ original intention was to establish one national church, built upon the principle that Christ rules the nations as well as the church, and that these two — the church and the state — were to act Christianly in their separate spheres. As it turned out, those who came to rule in Scotland had different agendas. Mary, Queen of Scots, was a convinced Roman Catholic and would not adopt the teaching or practice of the reformed church. Her son, James VI, preferred episcopacy to Presbyterianism and famously said, ‘No Bishop, No King’, and immediately began to provide the Scottish church with a cut-down version of bishops which the Presbyterians did not want. James’ son, Charles, issued a liturgy for the Scottish church, the use of which provoked a famous 1637 riot in Edinburgh. Charles II declared himself supreme over both the temporal and spiritual jurisdictions in his realm, and demanded all churchmen submit to him or lose his permission to preach. Things became grim as hundreds of ministers walked out of their churches and conducted unauthorised meetings in private homes and fields. These ministers faced large fines, imprisonment, and summary executions for resisting the royal will. Divisions between those Presbyterians who conformed and those who didn’t only added to the church’s troubles.

After the revolution of 1688, which replaced the catholic James II with protestant William and Mary, the Scottish church had a more peaceful relationship with the crown, but the hope of ‘one nation, one church’ was fading. The small Episcopal church in Scotland was to be tolerated, and discontent with doctrinal decline in the Established Church led to the formation of a number of rival Presbyterian communities. By the 1780s, a majority of ministers in the Established church were seemingly indifferent to the gospel and Biblical truth. From about 1811 onwards, revivals, divisions, reunions, and subsequent deflections from — and rediscoveries of — gospel truth, have been features of church life in Scotland. Rowland Ward has managed to compress these and other events into a conveniently small package, while aiming to dispel some historical myths and to give an objective rather than a partisan account. This book may be ordered from the author ($15.00 including postage within Australia) rowland dot ward at gmail dot com .