Monday, 10 June 2019

Christian Political and Legal Doctrines

If Man Be God, What Then?

What is the "Christian view" of politics and politicians, of governors and rulers?  During and after the time of the Reformation this question was debated and argued through by the Reformers and throughout the general Protestant world.  

The central political doctrine of the Protestant Reformation was plain and straightforward:  there is only one Sovereign over all mankind, the Lord Jesus Christ.  All human kings and governors are ministers of the self-same Christ, and must rule in subjection to Him.  This meant that the Divine Law was king. 

When Samuel Rutherford, the esteemed Puritan preacher wrote an extensive thesis on kings, politics, government and justice he called it Lex Rex: "the law is king".  The "law" in this case was not secular, but Christ's law.   In around 1551 a Puritan preacher called John Ponet published A Short Treatise of Political Power.  He had been appointed Archbishop of Winchester in 1551, but was later forced to resign by Queen Mary in 1553.

Here is Ponet's doctrine of kings and civil rulers and magistrates:

Ponet argued that political rulers are "ordered to do good, not to do evil" since they are the ministers of God "to punish the evil and to defend the good."  He insisted that since these rulers are "but executors of God's law", no law enacted by them can be "contrary to God's law and the laws of nature." 

With citations from both the civil and canon law, a chapter in his book is titled "whether is be lawful to depose an evil governor and kill a tyrant".  This chapter informs us that, "if a prince robs and spoils his subjects, it is theft, ans as a theft ought to be punished.  If he kills and murders them [in such a manner as to be] contrary or without the [fundamental] laws of his country, it is murder, and as murderer he ought to be punished."  [Augusto Zimmermann, Christian Foundations of the Common Law.  Volume 2: The United States.  (West End, Queensland: Connor Court Publishing, 2018), p. 48f.]
Kings and magistrates, rulers and governors, then, were servants and officers of Christ Jesus.  They were bound to observe and keep God's law or "natural law" in all their rulings and actions.  Ponet's view, let it be clear, was not that of a radical extremist on the edge of civilisation, but the heart and soul of reformation doctrine.

The tyrannical doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings was hereby being dismantled in the West.  Not only was the law to be a reflection of God's law, but kings, magistrates and political authorities must also, in their manner of life, reflect the law and character of King Jesus.
The political office must be protected against the sinfulness of the political official.  Political power, like ecclesiastical power, must be distributed among self-checking executive, legislative and judicial branches.  Officials must be elected to limited terms of office.  Laws must be clearly codified, and discretion closely guarded.  If officials abuse their office, they must be disobeyed.  If they persist in their abuse, they must be removed even by revolutionary force and regicide.  These Protestant teachings were among the driving theological forces behind the revolts of the French Huguenots, Dutch Pietists, and Scottish Presbyterians against their monarchical oppressors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  [John Witte, Jr, 'Introduction', John Witte, Jr and Frank S Alexander (eds), Christianity and Law: An Introduction (Cambridge/UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 23.]
The growing rejections of these fundamental doctrines of justice, law, and civic righteousness throughout the West does not represent a step forward.  Rather it represents a return to evil law enacted and applied by evil men.  When man self-asserts his own deity, tyranny and injustice inevitably emerge.  If man be god, head for the hills. 

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