1st Peter 2:13-17 [ESV]
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
On Sunday mornings in the congregation where I serve, I am preaching through the book of 1st Peter verse by verse. Two weeks ago on Sunday we reached 1st Peter 2:13-17.
The Apostle Peter is writing to dispersed Christians throughout the Roman Empire; and the directive he gives these dispersed Christians is, “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” He mentions specifically the Emperor.
This is shocking. For those that do not know, the Emperor at that time was no friend to Christians, did not hold Christian prayer meetings in their chambers, and did not bow the knee to the Lord – that Emperor was a Caesar. He was wicked, evil, and cruel. His governors often ruled with iron fists. The Roman government was known for violence and often questioned people, “by flogging.” Yet, Peter makes it clear that as far as they were able Christians were to be subject to that wicked ruler – even suffering unjustly for doing good. They were to do all of this, “for the Lord’s sake.”
The key when dealing with a text like this, however, is to attempt to apply the principle to the modern-day American Christian. We have no Emperor. We have no Roman governor. Yet, the principle remains – be subject, for the Lord’s sake, to every human institution.
So the key is to answer the question, “what is the human institution that God has placed me under to which I am to be subject to?” That is a very important question and I am afraid that many Christians have no idea how to answer that question; and it is our collective ignorance of the answer to that question that is the root cause of the degeneration of our freedoms in our beloved country.
Let me explain. I live in Maryland. The Governor of our state is a Republican, Gov. Larry Hogan. I live in Southern Maryland and my U.S. House of Representative is Steny Hoyer, a Democrat. No matter your political persuasion, the example will hold – so in your head choose either of these men and either of their positions in the following example.
Suppose the Governor or Congressman Hoyer appeared at my house and said, “I am the authority. I am the Governor/Congressman – this house now belongs personally to me.” Would I acquiesce to this request? He is the authority, is he not? He is the Governor. He is the Congressman. I think we know the answer to this question – of course I would not. I would fight the directive of the Governor and the Congressman precisely because by making such a declaration the Governor and the Congressman would be stepping outside the clearly enumerated authorities given to them and attempting to usurp authority not vested in them by the people. Basically, they would be breaking the law.
This is an important distinction between the differing human institutions between the one Peter lived under and the one 21st century Americans live under. When Peter wrote, there was an Emperor. As I write, I live under a Constitution; of which gives powers to the President, the Congress, and the Judiciary. The powers of these authorities are clearly articulated and enumerated within the Constitution. The President, Congress, and Judiciary receive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence has within it amazing words. It reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…:”
We live in a place where our documents acknowledge that our rights are gifts from God; no President, Congress, Or Judge can possibly take them away or bestow them. The purpose of civil government is to protect God given rights.
I have done a very unscientific poll [meaning I have simply asked a bunch of people J] and I ask them the question, “where do our rights come from?” Most people answer, “the government” or they answer, “the constitution.” Both answers are incorrect. According to the Declaration, our rights come from God and we the people formulated a government to protect those rights.
I write all of this simply to say that when people seek out the government to, “bestow” rights we live in a dangerous place. We live in a place where if government can, “give” rights they can also take them away.
We now live in a country where unelected lawyers on the Supreme Court drastically usurp the authority of the people, and the other branches of government, by judicial fiat; and the sad thing is that many of our politicians declare when five unelected judges make a judgment that it is, “the law of the land.” Umm….according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers are vested in a Congress…” Can someone show me the Law that says that two men can marry as it has been passed by a Congress and signed into law by a President? Can someone show me the law where a Congress passed and a President signed into law that children can be murdered in the womb? It does not exist. Yet, everyone simply acquiesces. Governors, state legislatures, and local officials simply say, “well…the Supreme Court says…”
Justice Scalia perfectly encapsulated this with his dissent in the same-sex marriage case that was recently decided in June. He writes below:
The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me. The law can recognize as marriage whatever sexual attachments and living arrangements it wishes, and can accord them favorable civil consequences, from tax treatment to rights of inheritance. Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the right to govern themselves.
The decision was tyrannical and unconstitutional, yet it is blindly followed. Why? Sadly, for too many I believe it is an underlying belief in a misapplication of 1st Peter 2. The human institution that we live under in America is the Constitution. That is what we are to obey.
Now, this is going to be a little inside Lutheran baseball. For many Lutherans we believe in the doctrine of the two kingdoms or two, “governments.” The kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right. The kingdom of the left is the kingdom of government. The Kingdom of the right is the Kingdom of the church. We do not want the government handing out our sacraments and we do not want the church arresting criminals. Both Kingdoms are ruled by God but have separate purposes. The Christian, according to Lutheranism, has no need for the Kingdom of the left, for they ought by the Spirit of God be doing the things the law requires. However, not all people are Christians. Therefore, the Kingdom of the left is absolutely necessary to enforce the Law and to restrain evil.
For too many Lutherans I hear them use the, “two kingdoms” approach to why it is no big deal for government [in particular our govt.] to do clearly ungodly things. However, the doctrine of the two kingdoms states clearly that God rules over both kingdoms – and the government’s duty is to protect the citizenry through the 1st use of the Law; so when the government begins to clearly punish righteousness and reward wickedness, it is the church’s duty to proclaim righteousness to the left-hand kingdom. When the government condones what is clearly immoral activity and no longer functions according to the dictates of its duty to protect and when the left hand kingdom clearly goes over the authority given to it by God [and in our system, by the people] then it needs correction.
We must begin with education. We must re-educate the population of the United States of America as to what the purpose of civil government actually is. We must re-educate the Christian populace of the clearly enumerated powers of the different branches of government. If we do not, I honestly fear for the Republic.
You see, as a Christian it is absolutely important – indeed commanded – that I be subject to the human institution under which I live. Yet, how can I truly do that if I cannot even identify who that authority is?