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John Piper contorts the meaning of Romans 13

John Piper, who has done some great work rebutting Word-Faith doctrine, takes a position on guns and the state that I believe is inconsistent with Scripture. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-christians-be-encouraged-to-arm-themselves In his commentary, he contorted the meaning of Romans 13. Objectively, he leads believers to amorality by using the “might makes right” interpretation of Romans 13. Pursuant to Piper’s calculus, an entity that calls itself government is ipso facto ordained by God because it has power and calls itself government. But not only that, non-believers would have a monopoly on the use of force if we followed Piper’s advice, since only non-believers would be armed.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

As we can see, verse 1 tells us that there is no legitimate power outside of that which comes from God. This says nothing about everybody who wields power on earth having God ordained power. If a big man knocks down a little old lady and steals her purse, he certainly had power over her. But did he have God ordained power? There’s legitimate power and illegitimate power. Verse 1 is saying that if God hasn’t given you power, then you have no legitimate power. The true source of power is not a secular civil government, but God. Might doesn’t make right.

Far from begetting lawlessness, this is all about lawfulness, recognizing that even governments can do wrong. There’s a higher power than civil government. Verse 1 tells us we are subject to higher powers. As Christians, we have an even higher standard than manmade statutes. Just because something might be legal doesn’t mean we should indulge.

2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Many government statutes conflict with Biblical Christianity. I don’t mean the failure to proscribe all sinful behavior with statutory law. I mean that there are unjust statutes that proscribe non-criminal behavior, mostly for the purpose of enforcing some type of price fixing scheme. The government in Washington engages in evil as a matter of policy. There are many instances in the Bible where somebody defied civil authorities in order to carry out the Lord’s work. The Apostle Paul even spent time in prison. Nowhere is verse 2 implying that we must obey whatever civil government commands.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

Verse 3 actually defines legitimate, God ordained power. But by verse 3, it’s too late for John Piper. Why? His position is that Romans 13 is talking about secular civil government, and that we are to obey whatever it commands. In which case, there’s no room left for making moral decisions. Piper is stuck in a paradox. No longer is Scripture the authority, yet he uses Scripture to make the case that civil government is the authority. Piper needs to make up his mind. Do we appeal to Scripture or civil government to determine right and wrong?

And if there be no room left for making moral decisions, then why does verse 3 define legitimate power in such a way that requires us to discern the difference between good and evil? As verse 3 informs us, legitimate power must be a terror to evil, not good works. In other words, if it isn’t a terror to evil while buttressing righteousness, then it has no legitimate power. To the extent civil government complies with God’s teachings, then it ought to be obeyed. Statutes proscribing murder ought not be disobeyed.

Piper’s theology implies that there’s some sphere of life God is disinterested in or indifferent towards, as if He isn’t concerned about the righteousness or wickedness of governments. Yet, if Romans 13 is properly understood, it becomes self-evident that God is very interested in how righteous or wicked is the government.

For sake of argument, let’s run with the idea that Romans 13 is talking about secular civil government, and that it must be obeyed at all times. Pursuant to that calculus, it would be a sin to overthrow the government. But if a group of people succeeded in overthrowing the government and became the new government, then it would be a sin to disobey that new group of people. In that paradigm, might makes right. Or suppose the government banned the Bible and criminalized Christianity. Do we obey? If so, pursuant to what? Romans 13?

Or when it comes to war, I can’t think of a more compelling case against war than John Piper’s interpretation of Romans 13. After all, if secular civil government is sacred, then wouldn’t it be a grave sin for government leaders in one government to try to topple government leaders in another government? Think about it. Saddam Hussein was the government leader in Iraq. That implies he was ordained by God with power. He would have been the only one who could legitimately use any kind of deadly force in Iraq, and people were duty bound to obey him. And then it would imply that government leaders in the U.S. government committed a sin by attacking the God ordained government in Iraq. Or is the only government God ordained with power the one in Washington?

This begs the question: why aren’t men like John Piper calling out the government for its wars against other governments, the latest of which is taking place in Syria with the U.S. trying to topple the government of Bashar al-Assad? That’s right. We are supposed to submit to whatever the government does, even if it leads into a paradigm of paradoxes and contradictions.

4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; 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.

5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Romans 13 isn’t even talking about ungodly civil government. It’s talking about ecclesiastical governance, which has been usurped by secular civil government. It’s not saying we are duty bound to pay taxes to secular civil government. It says tribute to whom tribute is due. Custom to whom custom. This is where believers are compelled to use discernment, applying a Biblical worldview, in order to determine who has legitimate authority and who doesn’t. It’s not hard for me to discern that the government in Washington is a criminal organization that ought to be resisted by all believers.

Pacifism and self-defense aren’t mutually exclusive. There is nothing about defending human lives that’s antithetical to a spirit of Christian love. We must use discernment. Just because somebody wrongs me in some way doesn’t mean I retaliate. Our mission is to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ. We ought not relish the opportunity to take a life. The goal should be to never take a life. But we do have a responsibility to protect human life. Romans 13 makes it clear we must be a terror to evildoers and buttress righteousness. Even if you aren’t a Christian, would you prefer godless, anti-human, amoral agents with guns, or people with the love of Christ? I can think of nothing that would make us all safer than if every Christian were armed. As Christians, we have a responsibility to own and carry firearms, that we be able to defend not just ourselves, but others. John Piper is evading his responsibilities.

Updated: November 15, 2017 — 1:17 am

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