January 20, 2009

Inauguration meditation

From R.C. Sproul's, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, this would be good for us to remember on this "history-making" day. No matter who our president is, he is responsible to obey God, as are all men. And no matter who our president is, we are to obey and pray for our authorities.

Let's commit ourselves to doing what God demands from us with respect to our civil government.

In America much is said and written about the separation of church and state. Originally this idea called attention to two distinct institutions both created by God, ordained by God, and accountable to or “under” God. Each institution had its distinctive tasks to perform and neither was to usurp the other's sphere of authority. It is the task of the church to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, nurture the souls of its members, etc. These are not the tasks of the state. It is the state's responsibility to order society, raise taxes, govern business and society, maintain a standing army, protect life and property, etc. These are not the tasks of the church. The state is given the power of the sword, the church is not. The apostle Paul declares:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:1–4)

In Paul's view, civil government is authorized by God. When a civil ruler is invested with power he is, in a sense, thereby “ordained” as a minister of God. His rule is not independent of God. The Westminster divines wrote:

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good: and to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. . . . Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere on matters of faith.

There is one sense in which the gospel is unabashedly political. It declares that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He sits in the seat of ultimate authority. All lesser magistrates are ultimately accountable to Him for how they exercise their rule.

Things to remember
  1. Church and state are two distinct institutions ordained by God and answerable to Him for their respective tasks.
  2. Civil authority is ordained by God and is given the power of the sword.
  3. No government is autonomous. No government can be separated from God.
  4. When governments seek to be autonomous, it is the duty of the church to criticize them.
  5. Obedience to governmental authority is a sacred duty for every Christian. Civil law must be scrupulously followed unless it is contrary to the Word of God.

The civil magistrate is given the power of the sword. The state is authorized to use force to insure justice and to defend its borders. Governments do not rule by request or suggestion. They rule by law, which is enforced by legal coercion. Although the government with the power of the sword is authorized to exert capital punishment and wage just war, its use of the sword is always accountable to God.

The Bible urges Christians to be models of civil obedience wherever possible. We honor Christ by praying for those in authority over us and for being submissive and obedient to their rule. We are to bend over backwards in our civil obedience. We must obey the magistrates unless they command us to do that which God forbids, or keep us from doing that which God commands. In both of these cases, we not only may, but we must disobey those in authority.

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith,
by R. C. Sproul, © 1992


  1. These were thought-provoking reminders.

    -Ruth Gelina

  2. Good post, Rich. I will enjoy today because our form of government is still working. I believe the American way of life is resilient, and although I won't agree with every decision, I am proud I at least get a say. And we have a voice every few years. Now if we can grab the hearts of the people with the glorious gospel...

  3. I love to watch inaugurations and notice the smooth transition that our nation displays to the world every 4 or 8 years. Presidents, often of vastly differing views, stand side by side in solidarity and one passes the reigns of power of the most powerful nation on earth to the other. They stand as comrades and even as friends, in spite of their differences. All this courtesy of the best form of government ever developed by man.

    And with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance (possibly millions today), including our entire congress and senate, multiple presidents, Supreme Court justices, and other leaders of our nation all gathered out in the open, there's little likelihood that any of those leaders - or even those gathered in the crowd - will be hurt. Safety provided courtesy of the best defense system in the world.

    It is quite a statement to the other nations of the world, many of whom could never dream of such a stately, cordial, and safe transfer of power. Much less to see it repeated every four to eight years.

    This really is the greatest nation on earth! God has truly blessed America.


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