Thursday, March 16, 2006

Restraining the Sword

The sword is dangerous and the political sphere will always tend to expand. People with political power will always see new problems to solve and their people will often expect them to solve them. Rulers will always face the temptation to expand their power. Pressure to do more good is dangerous, because the state can use force to expand its role. This is a great dilemma for political theory. The state needs force to punish criminals and protect society. However, this monopoly of force makes it almost impossible for citizens to prevent their government from expanding its power. We cannot resist the state, because it is stronger than we are.

History suggests that this is a serious problem. Throughout the twentieth century, the power of the state, whether dictator or democracy, has increased immensely. Even where political powers start out with modest intentions, they seem to end up with more power and control. Democracy does not prevent this from happening, but tends to make the situation worse. It tends to produce leaders who pander to the desires of the people by expanding political power. The United States constitution was carefully designed to limit political power, but the United States government has now amassed incredible power over its citizens.

The only antidote to the expanding state is Christian prophets proclaiming the law in partnership with God. When the church is functionally correctly, God will raise up prophets to the nation, who can speak his word to its rulers. These prophets will confront their rulers, whenever they take up power and responsibility that does not belong to them. Biblical law sets out the boundaries on the power of the state.

The Prophets of God will challenge any political ruler who takes powers that are not authorised by the law. If the rulers do not heed these warnings, the prophets will announce God’s judgement against them. If the rulers then persist in taking power that God has not given to them, they will experience his judgement. If they will not voluntarily shrink their power to the size specified by God’s law, he will cut them down to size. The law and the prophets are the key to limiting the power of the state (Rom 3:21).

This earth belongs to the Lord, so all rulers are his servants. They do not have absolute power, but exercise delegated power given to them by God. If they take power that has not been delegated to them, they are in rebellion against him. When a ruler ignores God’s will, the prophets will warn of God’s judgement. If the rulers refuse to surrender to God, they can expect his sanctions to fall upon them. The best restraint on the power of the sword is the power of the trumpet.

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Very interesting post, Ron. I think I'm in basic agreement with you, even from my largely Anabaptist stance.

Certainly I see nations, specifically the United States, all too willing and seemingly eager to head off to war. And in so doing, I believe, misusing the authority God has given them.