We continue our comment on “Taxes, the Church and Government” with a response to Ned Netterville’s “Distorting the truth” Letter of Friday, 16 March.
Ned Netterville disagrees with the “institution of government” being God ordained. He says this is distorting the truth and that God did not “ordain, sanction or approve of human government” which he says is “rule by force, violence or coercion.” Ned Netterville is wrong in both claims. Biblical proof will be provided where God specifically ordains, sanctions, approves and actively supports the institution of government by human agencies.
Proof will also be provided to show that Ned Netterville is wrong to assume as he seems to have done, that all forms of government by human agency is by “violence coercion and force.” One has only to look around to see that this is not the case. We live in a fallen world; “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) There is violence, coercion and force to be found in varying degrees in many governments in the world today. But to say that all forms of human government are governed that way is distorting the truth.
We see for example thousands of refugees from places in the Middle East and Africa where the rule of law has broken down. But we also see them being received and given safe refuge by other governments all run by men and women and not angels, in spite of the monetary cost and the political and social disruption they are causing in the receiving states.
Ned Netterville quotes two incidents from the Bible to support his claims, the first one is from 1 Samuel 18, where God is speaking to the prophet Samuel about the Israelites wanting a king to rule them instead of God doing so with help of judges He appoints. The second one is from Luke 4: 2-5 about the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness.
The Bible will always interpret itself if allowed. We will show that in both cases, Ned Netterville has taken one or two verses from the Bible and used them out of context to come up with a wrong and misleading interpretation of the truth.
But first, here is the apostle Paul writing to the Christians in the church in Rome (Romans 13: 1-7) about their obligations to the institution of government, in this case, the pagan Roman government. I quote relevant parts from this long passage because they speak for themselves; “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God……..(Verse 2): “Therefore whoever resists authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves……(Verse 6): For because of this, you pay taxes for they are God’s ministers (Government) attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore all their taxes to whom taxes are due……..”
Scripture can’t be any clearer on the subject. And if this is not biblical confirmation that God has ordained the institution of government by human agencies, then I don’t know what is. But note in the above text that Paul uses the word “subject” and not “obey.” Because while telling the Christians in Rome of their obligations to civil authority, he is also fully aware of the fallen nature of human government, and the fact that like the fallen men and women that preside over them, they are liable to put aside God’s guidance as revealed in His Word, and to followed their own wishes and machinations.
In fact not long after Paul wrote this, the Roman government started persecuting the Christians in Rome for their faith. Paul himself was martyred in Rome as were thousands of other believers.
Christians have an obligation to earthly governments but only in so far as their laws are not in conflict with those of God. When the latter happens then, allegiance to God’s government comes first as Peter and the other apostles did when brought before the Jewish church leaders for preaching the name of Jesus.
“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5: 29). Jesus himself explains the nature of our dual obligations as citizens and Christians, one to God and the other to earthly governments, when he told his Jewish detractors to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mathew 22:21) ) Again the Bible can’t be any clearer.
Ned Netterville has used two incidents from the Bible to support his claim of the truth being distorted. One is the interchange between God and Samuel in 1 Samuel 18 about the Israelites’ desire to have a king like their neighbours. The exchange takes place during the time of the Judges, a period when Israel’s government was in the hands of judges that God appointed as His mouth pieces.
Samuel who was both prophet and judge was coming to the end of his long service as leader. He had appointed his two sons as judges to help, but they did not have his integrity and ability or the trust of the people. One of the results was the people wanting to have a king ‘’like all the other nations. (1 Samuel 8: 20)
Chapters 8,9,10 tell the full story of how God responded to the wish of the Israelites for a king. Ned Netterville has quoted only a small part of what was said and done, but the three chapters should be read for a fuller understanding.
It will show that not only did God agree to the Israelites’ wish for a king, in other words a government by men, but he also helped them get a good start with their new system of government. Firstly, God had Samuel forewarn the people about the burden of a monarchy, (I Samuel 8: 9-18). Secondly; God identified someone suitable for the position. (I Samuel 9:16) And thirdly, God’s Spirit helped prepare the hearts of both Saul and the people so they could accept him as their new king in spite of their own tribal differences and divided loyalties.( 1 Samuel 8: 9, 10) (10:25, 26)
Later in his reign, Saul failed to follow God’s guidance and was replaced by David as Israel’s king, again under God’s guidance and instructions. David’s rule and that of his son Solomon formed the pinnacle of Israel’s greatness as a nation. The history of Israel afterwards showed God continuing to be engaged with and to support and chastise and correct the governments of Israel that followed. The episode quoted by Ned Netterville and the whole history of the Jewish nation show a God that was fully engaged in supporting governments by human agency that he also used for his purposes. This is in spite of man‘s short comings and failings. Eventually, after failing to heed God’s pleadings to repent and honour the covenant with him, Israel ceased to exist as a nation and its special role as a light bearer for God ended.
The second incident quoted by Ned Netterville is taken from when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, (Luke 4:5-8). Satan offers Jesus authority over the kingdoms of the world which he claims had been delivered to him. All Jesus had to do he said was bow down to him. Jesus refused quoting from Scripture as follows (King James Version);
“Get behind me Satan. For it is written; You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall serve”
Note that the point of the temptation here as Jesus clearly identified and answered is false worship and the Ten Commandments. It is not about the character of the governments or kingdoms of the world as wrongly assumed and used by Ned Netterville to base his argument. We are to worship God and Him only. Ned Netterville has a totally different take on the temptation Satan had for Jesus.
He infers that Jesus refused to accept the offer by Satan of the world’s kingdom because as he claims “they are the devil’s domain” Jesus said no such thing. These are Netterville’s own words and are a distortion of the truth. Jesus refused to worship Satan because that will have transgressed the Ten Commandments that he himself gave to Moses at Mt Sinai.
But what of Satan’s claim about “authority over the kingdoms of the world and their glory being delivered to him?” During his mission on earth, Jesus referred several times to Satan as “the ruler of this world” or “prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) That reflected the reality of Adam’s loss of stewardship and dominion over God’s creation given at Eden when he and Eve were misled by Satan to disobey God. (Genesis 2:28, 2:8,15) From the beginning, Adam only had limited dominium with God being the creator and owner of everything as shown by the Tree that was beyond his authority to eat. So whatever powers Satan won over from Adam were still subject to God’s rule and authority.
Note also that after the fall, God in his love did not simply leave man to Satan’s rule. He immediately put into place His plan of redemption with a declaration to the serpent that “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers, and he will crush your head and you will strike his heal;” the very first declaration of the promise of a “Saviour” of the world (Genesis 3:15).
Fast forward some four thousand years later to the temptation in the wilderness of Jesus, the woman’s seed of the promise in Eden, now come to crush the serpent’s head as promised, and among other things take back the dominion lost through Adam.
We also know from the promise in Eden that the serpent would “bruise his heal” in the process.
But this is the full background to this encounter in the wilderness between Jesus and Satan that Ned Netterville has used to support his point. With the cross still ahead of Jesus, Satan took the opportunity to offer him the dominion he came to win back simply by acknowledging his lordship and without going through the agony of what lay ahead of him. The rest is history (sacred history) as they say.
Jesus rejected Satan’s deception and went on to die on the cross and rise again, and completed the plan of salvation he came to put in place. John 12: 31, Revelation 12:12 and Romans 16:2 are some of the biblical references about the defeat of Satan as “ruler of this world”
God’s plan of salvation also included a revelation from the start of God’s will through men and women who acted as his light bearers to combat the rule of Satan as sacred history shows. God is a god of order and has entrusted to human agencies the institution of government, His church, communities and of the family to take the gospel to the world, and to bring order and organization to the affairs of men.
And it is for that very reason Satan makes a point of defiling and corrupting them all whenever he can.
Ned Netterville uses strong language about distorting the Word of God and the truth. I simply leave it to the readers to judge for themselves where the distortion and manipulation is coming from.