Summary: Exploring the limits of government authority through study of God’s Word.
“Pilate said to [Jesus], ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’”
Government is divinely charged to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good [see 1 PETER 2:14]. There is certainly room to discuss the ramifications of such a broad mandate or to argue how such a mandate should be implemented. Nevertheless, it remains true that beyond this divine directive, if government wishes more power over the individual, it must arrogate to itself authority that has not been conferred by the Creator. For instance, governments have no right to define morality or to coerce the conscience. That governments do assume such authority ensures continual tension between state and church.
There would be no disagreement between students of biblical morality and political science if a fixed standard were applied to determine what is moral or ethical. However, with the advent of modern evolutionary judicial thought standards of morality and ethics have grown pliable; consequently, they are in a constant state of flux. Increasingly, parliaments and legislatures seek to regulate thought, doing so through redefining both moral and ethical behaviour. As a result, conscientious Christians experience considerable tension as they endeavour to discern the boundaries of governmental authority that God has set.
Modern western governments do seek to control thought and to redefine morality. However, in this effort, they intrude into realms over which they have no authority. Definitions of morality and ethics are the domain of religion and not that of the state. Ultimately, the morality of a particular society will be what is permitted by the citizenry, usually resulting either from silence of or through the consistent teaching of the churches.
Increasingly, churches in the present, liberal-minded, world are under assault. Christians are expected to be tolerant of every form of wickedness, silently acquiescing to practises that are utterly repugnant to godly convictions and antithetical to righteousness. Faith, according to the contemporary mindset, is a private affair that must not be allowed to colour any other aspect of life. Churches are virtually commanded to submit their faith and practise to the approval of government bureaucrats or to the judiciary.
Modern governments have become notorious in their attempt to regulate every facet of life, intruding even into the sacred right of the individual to hold private opinions. Society seems to have concluded during the past several decades that the state must protect the feelings of all people—save for conscientious Christians. We are taught that we must not make any statement that may hurt the feelings of any individual that considers himself or herself to be a racial minority, or who happens to represent a “minority” religion, or who seeks to normalise moral deviance. The state has therefore become the protector of feelings, a champion appointed to avenge hurt feelings.