"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.V No.IV Pg.10
November 1942


Comments On A Criticism-- P. W. Stonestreet

Among the comments, pro and con, on the article titled "We must obey God rather than men," published in the Gospel Advocate of Sept. 17, 1942, is an admirably terse, though courteous, criticism, which is made the subject of this article in the form of objections. It is encouraging that not a single misapplication of the apostle's decisive statement, which was the title of that article, has been noted. And since all who have convictions on the Christian's relation to civil government belong either to the class of conscientious objectors or to the class of conscientious approvers, and since the respective courses of these two schools of thought were recognized in the article, there could be no personal grounds for objections, for under its teaching self-classification was allowable.

Objection: "Do you . . . consider it fair and proper to try to make a general commandment nullify a specific commandment?" No. Neither is it logical to make a specific command to an individual, who is not divinely ordained in a personal capacity to take vengeance, nullify a general command to an individual to obey the government whose divine mission is to take vengeance. Moreover, God's general command becomes a specific command when God's ordinance, the government, specifies anything to do that is in harmony with its divine mission. Hence, divine authority for doing a thing, rather than the thing done, determines its scripturalness.

Objection: "Furthermore, do you think Paul was telling Christians to be subject to government; or, to take upon themselves the duty of seeing that others are subject to government?" Both are enjoined to the extent that the government's commands to "Christians" relate to the enforcement of tolerable behavior on the part of "others," which is preeminently the divine mission of government. And the querist's alternative question assumes that a Christian can be subject to government without obeying it, even within the realm of its divine mission. Some assumption! Some submission! But the querist's question is only alternative in form, not in substance, for Christians are not commanded "to take upon themselves the duty of seeing that others are subject to government." The government does that very thing in performing its divine mission. All that Christians are "to take upon themselves" is the disposition to obey God; and to obey God's ordinance, within the limits of its divine mission, is to obey God. That alternative question also assumes that it is not so essential to civilization for "others" to obey the laws to preserve civilization as it is for "Christians" to obey them, which ignores the fundamental purpose of civil government as divinely appointed.

Objection: "Of whom is the command, `Thou shalt kill,' under the New Testament?" (The querist omits the "not" in that command; perhaps intentionally, so I answer accordingly.) The substance of that command with "not" omitted is indirectly of God through his ordinance, the civil government, "for he ("it" --margin) beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath (anger, punishment, etc.), but also for conscience's sake" (moral sense's sake or for the sake of one's moral sense, Romans 13:4, 5). Thus two reasons are given for submission. Observe that this text is ground for conscientious approvers, as it reflects genuine knowledge, yet other texts teach respect for conscience even when it only reflects spurious knowledge, except of course as it may demand that which is a menace to society, such as religious people endangering other by handling snakes. So conscience is scripturally on either side of the question, depending on the quality of the knowledge it may reflect. Let us, therefore, have scriptural respect for the conscience of others, which sometimes may be far from respecting the logic of others.

Objection: "How do you reconcile what you teach with Romans 13:9?" (The latter part of the verse is evidently meant): "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self." It is understood in the light of Romans 12:18: "If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men," which implies that it may not be possible in all cases. So how does the querist reconcile what he teaches with Romans 12:18?

Objection: "Do you suppose that you can, in defiance of God's specific commandment, teach Christians to kill and still be innocent?" (No leading of the witness, please!) No, not in defiance of God's specific commandment, but in harmony with God's general commands, one can teach Christians to obey the commands of God's ordinance, the civil government, to the extent that such commands are in harmony with its divine mission, and still be innocent. Does the querist suppose that he can teach Christians to refuse to obey the commands of the government that are in harmony with its divine mission and thus, so far as Christians are concerned, nullify the divine mission of government, and still be innocent? If so, here is where respect for his conscience continues and respect for his logic (?) on this point ends.

Objection: "You had better do some more thinking before you put the home, government and church (or duty to God) all in the same category." On the importance of distinguishing between what is and what is not a divine prerogative of government, the following observation was made in the article the querist criticizes: "This principle is equally true and applicable in the matter of obeying parents and elders, for all authority divinely vested in the human element of government, whether home, church, or state, is relative; and no violation of this principle can in the least logically vitiate the principle." The querist would have contributed to our edification if he had specified anything erroneous in the statement. Since God calls for obedience in all three realms, and since the human element inheres in all three realms, and since we sustain a "relative" obligation in all three realms, I am unable to see anything wrong with the statement; and since the querist only asserts but specifies nothing wrong with it, I am forced to conclude that he knows nothing wrong with it. So the readers may determine who was nodding on that point, whether the writer or the critic.

On this subject, like the divorce question, some sincere people, in their reasoning, are inclined to become more righteous than God. On divorce, God says: "I hate putting away" (Malachi 2:16), yet under certain extreme conditions, provides for putting away by making it allowable. So one may now say, "I hate war," and yet, under certain extreme conditions, engage in it and still be consistent with that principle of truth. Let us not allow idealism to obscure the truth on any subject.