Article Image

IPFS News Link • Religion: Believers

A Reasoned Approach to Romans 13

• Bionic Mosquito

Regular readers here will know the commenter RMB.  He has recently written an extensive post examining the church-state relationship – whose dysfunctionality has recently been brought to the surface by the recent corona: The Church And State in Romans 13.  I will touch on a few aspects of his post, but encourage those interested to read through it in its entirety as it is well documented and well thought-out.  Just to set things up properly:

[Romans 13] is commonly used as a throw away statement to say that churches must obey whatever the government says in light of the pandemic. …But is that God's will?

RMB begins by examining the original meaning of the terms used in this well-known passage, concluding:

So "governing authorities" means those who are placed at a higher rank over us who are given the right to make decisions for those underneath. In each case the words have a broad meaning of leadership.

This could mean any properly ordered governance structure.  These range from family to an HOA to political leaders to what are referred to in shorthand as spiritual beings.  The modern idea of a nation-state does not hold exclusive rights to this concept, and depending on behavior, may not hold any rights in it at all (more on this to come).  RMB concludes this passage:

There is no way to honestly deny that Christians are to be in submission to authority, including governments in a broad sense. That is the plain language of Romans 13. But what does that mean?

And it cannot be denied; but the meaning does not give carte blanche to the authorities.  In Acts, when Peter was ordered to stop his preaching, he replied: "We must obey God rather than men."  From here, RMB examines some of the conditions placed on these governing authorities; he does it through the lens of natural law.  First, he makes an important clarifying point:

While [Natural Law] isn't Scripture, [Aquinas] makes important observations about the created order of the God of the Bible.

Why do I find this point important?  On the one hand, anything written by Thomas must be considered through the lens of Scripture: does it conform, or at least not contradict, a proper Scriptural understanding?  On the other hand, as we all know even in our day-to-day communication: difficult concepts require explanation; these require further development to make them understandable and meaningful to our lives.  This has been the ongoing work of Christian scholars since the first century.

But on to RMB's important point regarding the conditions placed on governing authorities at all levels:

The obligations in Natural Law are applied to all persons, including those in Authority.

The authority must act properly.  This means acting in a way supportive of – and not hindering – one's pursuit of his purpose or telos, as long as this pursuit is performed in a manner respecting the same for others.