"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.IX Pg.8-10
April 1943

The Christian In Government Versus The Sinner Only Theory

Glenn E. Green

I attended part of the recent lectureship at Abilene Christian College. Most of what I heard was good and true to the book. Nor would I have it appear that the college authorities are responsible for the statements I propose to comment upon. I simply mention the lectureship as the place and occasion.

Romans 13 in Japan and Germany

The subject of the morning talks was "Loyalty to Christ." One of the speakers stressed the duty of rendering supreme loyalty to Christ in the various relationships of life. He introduced the question of loyalty to the government, and said "there are those who teach that we ought to be loyal to the government above Jesus Christ in time of war, but this we can not as Christians do." He then proceeded substantially as follows, to illustrate and enforce this assertion. Said he, "Romans 13 will read the same to Christians today in all nations, Britain, Germany, Italy, the U. S., and Japan. What Paul says to one he says to all. The powers that be, which are ordained of God,' to the individual Christian in every land must be his own particular government; therefore, if Romans 13 is made to embrace the obligation to bear arms in time of war, for the support of any government, it would involve Christians supporting every government; hence such a construction would authorize Christians going forth in carnal war to kill other Christians. Thus the Christians in Japan, made by Brother McCaleb, if they responded to Hirohito's draft law, could have been among the number who bombed Pearl Harbor!" I was about to shed some "salty tears" at the prospect of the Japanese Christians doing such a terrible thing when it dawned on me why the brother stopped there, and did not in so many words, set out the full conclusion which inevitably followed; that if Christians in the United States should respond to our draft law, and fight the attacking Japs, we would be just as dirty as the sneak gangsters who stabbed the United States in the back at Pearl Harbor, while they mouthed words of peace at Washington.

If this was not his point, then his illustration had no point. The facts of the case are, this is his point, but why did he not proceed as boldly to drive home his point as he did to lay his premise? Because when he got Bro. McCaleb's Christians to the slaughter at Pearl Harbor, it was less dangerous to his theory to leave the picture of Christians "participating" in such butchery than to leave the picture of Christians participating in the defense this nation is making against such butchery.

As a matter of propaganda this was wise, for it is characteristic of all, who argue against a Christian employing force, to obscure the principle of "self defense"; both for the individual and the nation. They must and they do, put the murderer and his innocent victim, if he fights, in the same sack. The rapist and the victim who resists him, are in the same sack; the thief and his victim, if he resists, are in the same sack; and the Jap who assaults, and the American who is assaulted are in the same sack" according to this idea. If you fight a murderer, and both die in the fight, both are murderers according to that idea. You may argue with a murderer against attacking your daughter, you may quote scripture to him, plead and reason the cause of virtue, but the moment he resorted to brutal force, all opposition must cease, you could not lift a finger to stop it. Of course, after the event you could try to bring him to repentance! In this idea of things, there are no innocent and guilty where force is resisted by force.

This is not overdrawn. This is the thing in operation, when an attempt is made to sentimentalize Christians in the United States aiding in the defense of the nation (and it is suggested that we borrow Mahatma Gandhi's loin cloth as an emblem of Christianity) it is necessary to show the real issue, "that defense against brutality is not the same thing."

A Defeatist Attitude

One of the most deplorable things about this position is, that it betrays those who adopt it into a defeatist attitude toward our government. I do not say they are such intentionally; but I do say their argument is defeatist propaganda.

The speech under review paid a glowing tribute to our great government. All that heard it were bound to tingle with gratitude, for such a great government, but as the sequel proves, this was not done to show to us Christians that we should support this blessed government, in its fight for existence, but that we should not fight for its existence. Thus the conclusion nullifies the premise. It is like a son praising his father for his good home, and many blessings, and then when the father is attacked by murderers and robbers, and is fighting for life and home, this model son declares, he cannot fight for his dear father's existence. The grateful son concedes that the bad sons may fight, nay, he will encourage them to fight, he even offers to provide arms with which to fight-but that does not change the status of his attitude one whit. Providing fighting weapons, without fighters to fight with them, is sheer nonsense. Far better would it be on these principles, to make us coffins, instead of cannons!

The why the speaker takes this attitude toward "Uncle Sam" has nothing to do with the fact of it. I am showing the necessary consequences which flow from his principles. The facts are: This government has been attacked by brutal force, therefore, this government must perish unless its citizens kill to defend it. This citizen says that he will not kill to defend it: Therefore it must go down, so far as he and his principles are concerned. This is defeatist propaganda, that plays into the hands of Hirohito and Hitler, to perfection. It makes no difference that other men will fight to defend it: and that they do so successfully. It will not be because of their argument, or any action flowing from it, but in spite of it.

The fact that most who hold this theory about war, will in practice reverse it, by working in non-combative capacities, does not help the theory any. It just proves their practice is better than their theory. If I help a neighbor who is butchering his hogs, I am helping to butcher the hogs whether I actually cut their throats or only tend the fire! The all-out conscientious objector is the only nearly, consistent man on that side of the question.

While we are being properly horrified at the prospect of American Christians committing a great sin against the saints from Japan, "who might have been among the number who rained death and destruction on Pearl Harbor," let us not forget that the speaker also said, "God ordains all human governments alike." Then it follows, that God's blessing was upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the brother's deep concern, over the Jap Christians endangering their salvation by being a party to it, is wasted sympathy! They acted under the blessing of God. For if as you say, "one government is as much ordained as another, German, Italian, Japanese, and the United States," it follows, that this government is also under the same "blanket endorsement" and can therefore bomb right back, with the same divine blessing! If not, why not? If, as I am told, "God has ordained all governments alike," but only in the hand of sinners, then you still have God ordaining sinners to mutually destroy one another; thus making God condemn the sinner, and ordain his act, at one and the same time! From this predicament there is no escape. It cannot be denied God has ordained civil government. Taking the Christian out, therefore, does not take God out, it only leaves God a full partner with the sinners. It only makes the Christian say: "The killing has to be done; but I am too good to do it. Let God and the sinners do it, and I will stand on the side line shouting praise God, pass the ammunition, sic 'em sinners'!"

Government As Defined in Romans 13

The truth of the matter is God has never ordained any particular civil government in toto, as a corporate body, but the institution of civil government as defined in Romans 13:1-7. He ordains civil government, just as he ordains marriage, but not everything men and women do in the name of marriage. Men can and do use the marriage institution as a vehicle of adultery, just as wicked men can and do get control of a given government and use the institution as a means of oppression and murderous brutality. But this abuse of the function of the institution does not invalidate the institution. It only invalidates the unit which thus operates. The way some brethren reason that a Christian cannot participate in civil government because some governments are wrong would prove that a Christian cannot marry because some marriages are wrong.

Now Paul has plainly set forth the God-ordained function of government. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?" What power? The power that rules according to good, and is a terror to evil, but if a given power reverses this, and becomes a ruler which is a terror to good works and rewards the evil, it manifestly ceases to be the power Paul is talking about. We have the whole moral teaching of the New Testament to guide us in determining what is good and evil.

Now I submit, in the light of what Paul defines the God ordained function of government to be, the three great powers fighting the United States-Germany, Italy, and Japan-are by their own deeds, criminal, outlaw powers. In the hands of ambitious warlords they have been transformed into instruments of internal oppression and external aggression. By the same standard I contend that the United States government is everything they are not, and is functioning as Paul defines in Romans 13, and is therefore ordained of God. If any of my critics want to deny this, and say, "we are no better in fact than the others," I simply ask him, if the same means were provided for his support would he rather live under Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, or the Stars and Stripes? This will take care of that.

This government is not perfect. Nothing human is. But it is not a criminal nation, and no peaceful nation on earth fears it. There is nothing it requires any Christian to do that New Testament morality does not teach him to do, and he being the judge, that applies to the sword question also, for the government even makes provision for the genuine conscientious objector. It even treats him better than he proposes to treat himself, for whereas, he would let the Jap "cut his throat" without resistance, the government will protect his throat from the murdering Japs.

Now to get back to Bro. McCaleb's Christians in Japan. I suggest that any Christian brethren who may be over there, size up their "imperial Japanese government," by Paul's specifications laid down in Romans 13, and act accordingly. They have the same book we have, and therefore should have the same moral sense and standard. It might not be out of order for them to remember who brought it to them in the first place. No opponent of mine can object to my suggesting that they refuse to come and kill us, because that is exactly what they say themselves. It will be no greater hardship on them to refuse to support the Japanese government because it has degenerated into criminality, than to refuse to support it upon the theory that "a Christian can under no circumstances bear arms for any government." Therefore, if the Japanese Christians go to war under Tojo, and get killed, that is what is liable to happen to any Christian, if they run with a bunch of criminals, when justice overtakes them. I deplore that possibility, and all crime and war, but I refuse to go "cockeyed" over it, and teach my brethren over here, that this nation has no more right to defend itself, than Japan had to attack it; that our nation is no more ordained of God than the Japanese nation, and that the American Christian, in order to be a Christian, must let anybody kill him that wants to!

Paul obeyed Caesar when he stayed in his God-ordained place. When Caesar got out of his place, and interfered with the religion, and the things of Christ, Paul obeyed God, and suffered for Christ's sake. So ought we.

I have never believed or taught blind servile obedience to the government, if it contradicts the law of God. There is no issue here. The issue is whether the law of God authorizes an individual who is a Christian to wield the sword of a righteous government. I say that he may. Those who say that he cannot, with the exception of the strict non-resistant, hold that the sword of government in the hands of the sinner is right, but that it is wrong for the Christian to use it. The single point at issue then is, who can use this righteous sword? They say the sinner only!

The Question of Moral Law

Now I ask the question, how can a Christian know what he can do, or not do, as a matter of moral right or wrong in anything? The answer is bound to be that he cannot do that which God condemns, and he can do that which God approves as right. This is not a question of what a sinner must do to be saved, or of worship, or procedure in the church, but of what he can do in the field of the common life of men, in the social state, which is governed by moral law. He has to settle it by the same method he settles all other such questions in life, "is the thing itself right or wrong?" If a Christian considers going into a business, or a profession in life, what does he ask? Will it violate any of the moral commandments? Does God approve it. Now, let the Christian apply the same reasoning toward this question, that he employs in all other questions of common life, and what does he find? Why, he finds that Paul has anticipated this vital point, and plainly settled it for him. "For he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Rom. 13:4.)

Therefore God having settled his approval upon the "ruler sword bearer," can the Christian who believes God have any hesitancy that he may be a sword bearer in the government, unless he is afraid of being "a minister of God for good" and "a terror to evil works"?

If a Christian boy was thinking of becoming a doctor, and was wondering whether it was right or wrong, and came to a passage in his New Testament which said, "For the doctor is a minister of God to thee for good." I wonder if he would have any hesitancy in deciding that it was right for him to become a doctor? But if the same Christian boy is wondering if it is right to become a sword bearer for the government, as thousands of ours are now doing, and he reads in his New Testament, "For he beareth not the sword in vain: he is the minister of God to thee for good;" other things being equal, would he hesitate any longer whether he may become such or not, any more than he would about becoming the doctor? He would not, if some preacher did not rise up and say, "Oh yes, son, I know it says that but it means the "sinner only sword bearer." But the text says no such thing, and means no such thing. The man who puts "sinner only" in the text adds to the word of God. God says the "sword bearer" is his "minister," and he puts his approval upon the official ruler, and not upon the personal character of the officer, be he saint or sinner. Ruler is an official term, like priest, king, or governor, who can fill the office is another matter entirely.

When it is admitted that the thing done is right, as it is in this case, it remains that a Christian can do what is morally right, unless it can be proved that it is wrong to do what is right! That is absurd on the face of it, yet it is exactly what the "sinner only" advocates are up against. They have to prove that it is wrong for a Christian to do what they themselves say is right!

I am wondering, too, just which variety of sinners are best qualified to fill the various governmental positions any way? I would like for some of these experts in the "classification business" to enlighten me on this head, so when I go to vote for my "sinner rulers," I can get the sinner best fitted for the job. We all know it to be a fact, that there are degrees of sin, hence greater and lesser sinners. So in rounding out this idea in a practical way, if we accept it as a principle, that being a sinner is the fundamental qualification for holding office, then it follows of necessity that the more proficient a sinner is in sin, the better fitted he is for any particular office. Therefore, the way to get efficiency in office, would be to elect experts in sin. Those who have demonstrated a sinful career, great aptitude in sin, paralleling the office they are to fill. Thus I suppose we should elect a slick confidence crook for governor, a bank embezzler for treasurer, disbarred lawyers for legislators, perjurers for judges, and well seasoned murderers for sheriffs and policemen, while the common mill run of thugs thieves and manslayers will do for the army and navy! If as I am told sin is an indispensable qualification for governmental office, then it must logically follow, that I should try to select the greatest sinners for the greatest offices, and the lesser sinners for the lesser offices. If not why not? According then to this most pious theory of "sinners only" in public office, we have made a grave mistake in putting Al Capone in prison, killing "Pretty Boy Floyd" and John Dillinger. We ought to have made "Al" president, Dillinger, vice president, and Floyd secretary of state!

I well know that those who say, "Oh yes, we admit government is necessary, and right, but God has ordained it in the hands of sinners only," always have in mind the nice, moral and courageous kind of sinners, "the good sinners." But good does not belong to sin. Good is from God only. John says that "sin is the transgression of law." Therefore, a person cannot be a sinner without being a transgressor. Hence when it is said that a sinner is appointed of God to do any thing, because he is a sinner, as this theory does, it involves the principle of transgressing God's law, and therefore makes transgression an inherent qualification, thus the more he transgresses, the better he is qualified. There is no way to escape it but to abandon the idea.

For instance if we say "marriage is ordained of God," but only for the virtuous, would not all agree, the more virtuous the persons are who enter into it, the better the marriage will be: Certainly so. But if we say government is ordained of God, but only sinners shall administer it, would not it be equally as true that the more sinful the sinners, the better the government? All will admit the first proposition is true, but all can equally see the second proposition is not true. Yet the same principle is applied in both cases. Why, then, the difference? Why do the advocates of the sinner only theory of government prefer the weak sinners, instead of the robust? The reason is, because their theory is false and breaks down of its own weight. The only thing sin can qualify any person for is to go to hell, not to fill a government office! The only reason any sinner is fit for anything is not because of his sins, but because of the good that is in him, in spite of his sin. The theory is preposterous, illogical, and subversive of the whole law of God.

As has been said in this paper before: "God does not have two moral laws, one for the Christian and another for the sinner." The thing that makes a Christian is obedience to this one law, and the thing that makes a sinner is disobedience to the same law. There is nothing God commands any Christian to do that he does not command every sinner to do: to cease to be a sinner and become a Christian. Therefore, when God ordains government, for the protection of the good, and the sword, for the punishment of the evil doers, as being right, it is as right for the Christian to wield it as it is for him to do anything else, God authorizes in the moral realm.

Example of Christ and Apostles

Frequently some type of objector comes up to me with that more "holy than thou" look, and with touching pathos asks: "Can you conceive of Christ and his holy apostles, under any circumstances, killing or executing a person?" My answer is I can, and I will give you an instance of it-Acts 5:1-10. The case of Ananias and Sapphira. They lied to the Holy Spirit. An apostle pronounced their doom. Christ executed them on the spot. And the young men carried them out and buried them. Christ killed them, and the apostles were a party to it. This is not introduced to prove anything, except the single point that Christ and the apostles are not inherently against the idea of taking human life under certain circumstances. This was a stern piece of business. It was cold death, instant retribution, stark and terrible. It doubtless would have "turned the stomachs" of some of our sweetest brethren, had they been present, who think too much of the guilty and not enough of the innocent.

In Romans 13:1-7 the same Christ has ordained the sword of punishment for those who deserve it.

Judas Iscariot is often brought up as an example of God using sinners for some special work. He seems to be the favorite example of the sinner only theory of government. That the sin of Judas played a part in the ordained plan of salvation is not denied. So did all the others who participated in the Lord's death, but what they did was wholly wrong, and they were condemned for it, while the good connected with their acts was not due to their sinful deed but through God's intervention. But the sinner in civil government performs a good act in bearing the sword, and what he does is right and God approves it. If things are parallel their essential points will fit. But there is not a single circumstance in the case of Judas that fits the case he is supposed to model. Let us compare them. In the first place, the sinner who is to administer the government performs a deed that is right, the punishment of the evil doer, but Judas performed a deed that is wrong, the betrayal of Christ. Second, the sinner of Romans 13 is an official in the government, but Judas was only a stooge accepting bribe money from the government. The sinner of Romans 13 is supposed to be appointed because he is a sinner, but Judas was appointed an apostle, and only became a sinner after he was in office (unless we turn Baptist and say he was always a sinner). Finally, when a government sinner dies in office, another sinner is supposed to take his place, never a Christian, but when Judas died in office a Christian, Matthias by name, was appointed to take his place. Therefore, they being the judge, the sample sinner example winds up on my side of the proposition! As a model of sinners serving in civil government, he turns out to be as big a traitor as he was in life. No wonder if old Judas knew at the time that he was intended to be the great type of the "sinner only theory of civil government" when he saw what a sorry flop he had made, went out and hanged himself!