Sexuality and Our Public Lives: When Laws Are No Laws
In this age when Christians find themselves on the “wrong” side of the arc of history, especially on the losing side of legal disputes, the questions quite naturally arise, what exactly is our relation to the laws of our land and to the promulgators and enforcers of those laws, the state? These are good questions and I would like to consider some answers to them.
The Most Basic Relationship
Let’s start with a basic relationship that determines all our other relationships in this world. We are creatures created by the Creator God of Scripture. We have been created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) and we are dependent upon God for our very existence and our ability to think, speak, and relate to God and each other. We are subservient to God and his will. This is all true because we are created. But we are also in rebellion against our Creator and so we are naturally inclined to war against God and his revealed will. While God could have left all of us in this fallen rebellious state, he has taken gracious pity on those he has chosen to save out of this world through the historical drama of salvation which has culminated in his Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4). All of this is to say as Christians we cannot consider the questions of our relation to the laws of our land and the state without taking into consideration our creatureliness and our natural condition of fallenness and (for some of us) gracious inclusion in the people of God through Holy Spirit-worked faith Jesus Christ.
Divine Law and Human Law
So we have nailed down the basic narrative context in which we can now ask the questions, what is the relation of the Christian church and individual believers to the laws of the land and to the state called to promulgate and enforce these laws? Human laws are not intended by God to be autonomous formulations. But in fact in view of human rebellion actual laws often are at variance with divine law. God has revealed his will (i.e., law) in both nature and Scripture. He has inscribed his law upon our hearts and minds and in a book (Romans 1:18-32 and 2:12-29; Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21). This single, two-form revelation of God’s law is the basis for human laws. It serves as the foundation either as the template for various human laws (positive foundation) and/or as the antithesis which man is attempting to reject (negative foundation) in his formulation of laws. There is no sense in which human laws do not reflect God’s moral law imprinted in nature and as explicated in Scripture. We should note that fallen rebellious humanity is naturally incapable of receiving and holistically and therefore properly and accurately interpreting and understanding God’s moral law revealed in nature nor can man receive God’s will revealed in Scripture (1st Corinthians 1:18-2:16).
No Unconditional Obedience to Human Laws
Now, if God’s law is the foundation and standard to which various human laws must conform, then human laws which stand in opposition to God’s law are in fact no laws at all. Human laws reflect divine law either in agreement with that law or in opposition to it. The church and individual Christians are called upon to give honor and respect to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7 and 1st Peter 2:13-17). But we are not to give unlimited or open-ended or unconditional obedience to political leaders (or leaders of any kind, per the “in the Lord” limits on human power in Ephesians 5:2-6:9).
Christians are exiles and pilgrims (1st Peter 1:1-2 and Hebrews throughout). This has always been the case. The era of Christendom may have disguised this fact. This is not to say that Christians can’t or shouldn’t comprise a large portion of a given country and therefore shouldn’t serve in governmental posts or participate in government or argue for just laws (as Daniel and his three compatriots did in Babylon who exemplify what is referred as the doctrine of the lesser or lower magistrate), but we are never promised that Christians will always be in positions of power and influence. Certainly in this land (as elsewhere) Bible-believing Christians are feeling the tide of culture (including legal philosophies behind the formulation of laws and expressed in these same laws) going against us. True churches and true Christians may be in a minority. God in his providence may deem it right that we experience this cultural downgrade.
Two Divine Principles for Christians to Follow
In the end, we are to honor and pray for our political leaders. We should certainly pray that they hear the gospel and embrace Christ. We should pray that God curtail or otherwise limit the influence of wicked rulers and give wisdom to Christians in government and to those who are at least civically righteous. We should do what we can to encourage and argue for the promulgation and enforcement of just laws that are positively congruent with divine law. We should do what we can to repeal unjust laws. If we are faced with human laws that require us to disobey God’s law or to do things God’s law forbids, we must obey God rather than man (as Daniel and his compatriots did and as the apostles did in the early church as recorded in Acts). God’s law is the standard by which human laws are to be judged. When we must disobey human laws in order to obey God’s law, we must also honor the powers that be as we also see throughout biblical history.
God’s law stands over human laws. We must never forget this.
Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum. Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.