PREMISE Volume III, Number 3 / March 29, 1996
page 4

From Reformation
to Revolution: 1500-1650

CHAPTER 10: Savior or Servant? Putting Government in Its Place

The following excerpt is taken from David Hall's new book, Savior or Servant? Putting Government in Its Place (Copyright, The Covenant Foundation 1996). For Information about ordering, send email to: covpca@usit.net with "GET SS info" in the body of the email message.

Immediately prior to the Protestant Reformation, the beginning point for most theologies of government was that the Christian citizen was obligated to submit to the civil ruler. Even moral corruption or incompetence alone were hardly sufficient reasons to revolt against the ruler. Government was viewed as established by divine providence. The early sixteenth century consensus held the following: "[G]overnment per se is divinely ordained by God in the Scriptures; bad rulers were sent by God to chastise the nation for their sins; rebellion causes more harm to innocents than to the guilty." [1] William Tyndale stated: "God hath made the king in every realm judge over all, and over him there is no judge. He that judgeth the king judgeth God, and he that layeth hand on the king layeth hand on God . . . If the subjects sin, they must be brought to the king's judgement. If the king sin, he must be reserved unto the judgement, wrath and vengeance of God." [2]

The Reformation created a confessional landscape in which a ruler of one faith often confronted a sizeable number of his subjects who espoused another faith. At a time when toleration was seldom thought of and almost never practiced, such monarchs would typically try to impose a uniformity of belief, giving nonconformists a painful choice between conscience and crown. Medieval sources contained precedents for rebellion, but Protestants became especially animated in their search for theological foundations for more democratic expressions. [3] Karl Holl summarized the major effects of Reformation thought as: "on the one hand, a deepening of the theory of the state; on the other, a definite limitations of its powers." [4]

Over time, delimitations to this principle of unqualified submission became increasingly acceptable. In light of some of the abuses and excesses of civil rulers, most Protestants came to accept a modified resistance (passive) if the ruler mandated something explicitly opposed to revealed matters. Despite the Protestant unity on this issue, there was a division on the question of whether or not it was permissible to actively resist the civil magistrate. And if such active resistance was recognized, to whom was this responsibility entrusted: to the masses or to the lower magistrates?

John Knox, for example, agreed that people should revolt against a tyrannical ruler, even going so far as to permit deposition and execution. [5] In 1558, Knox's co-pastor, Christopher Goodman, published How Superior Powers ought to be obeyed of their subjects; and wherein they may lawfully by God's word be disobeyed and resisted. This Reformation revolution affirmed:

When kings or rulers become blasphemers of God, oppressors and murderers of their subjects, they ought no more to be accounted kings or lawful magistrates, but as private men to be examined, accused, condemned and punished by the law of God, and being condemned and punished by that law, it is not man's but God's doing . . . When magistrates cease to do their duty, the people are as it were without magistrates . . . If princes do right and keep promise with you, then do you owe them all humble obedience. If not, ye are discharged and your study ought to be in this case how ye may depose and punish according to the law such rebels against God and oppressors of their country. [6]

Huldrych Zwingli also recognized that resistance was legitimate if a civil ruler ordered the squelching of true religion (as in Acts 4). However, he qualified that such resistance should only occur with the support of the large majority and without murder or war. [7] Nonetheless, by the Peasants War (a rebellion by sectarians against the King of Germany), Protestant extremists scandalized the movement with their rebellion. The Peasants War (1521) slowed the momentum of Protestant support for resistance, and itself was an instance of existing conditions shaping a theology of the state.

Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), one of the earliest reformed pedagogues for England, advocated a strong role for the church in matters of state. He defined the civil magistrate as: "A person elected, and that of God, to defend the laws and peace, and with punishments and the sword to repress vices and evils, and by all manner of means to advance virtues." [8] He spoke of civil government as having its efficient cause in God; its formal cause in the good of humanity; its material cause in the human ruler; and its final cause as the "preservation of law and peace, the banishing of vices, and the increases of virtues." [9] Contrary to the Anabaptists and Libertines, Vermigli recognized the state as a lawful sphere ordained by God, but certainly not unlimited. A recent study summarizes Vermigli's views:

We must be subject to the civil ruler `only as touching his function and office, which if he at any time goes beyond and commands anything that is repug-nant unto piety, and unto the law of God, we ought to obey God rather than men., This resistance, however, is by way of exception to Scripture's general command. In a sinful society, we cannot do without authority, for we all want to be lords and anarchy would inevitably be the result. Authority comes from God to fathers, husband, masters, rulers. Without it, we have only `infinite brawlings and endless contentions, in church, state, work, and family. [10]

Vermigli wrote an influential commentary on the Book of Judges which quickened many to the basis of resistance to evil leadership. Still, he recognized that tyrants may restrain certain vices, and that God occasionally permits bad governments "to use wicked and ungodly princes to punish the wicked" acts of the people. The purpose is for God's people to repent and seek more moral magistrates to execute "the ordinance of God." Neither nobility nor ecclesiastical leaders are exempt from this ordinance of God. Good government punishes law-breakers and protects law-keepers, with the civil magistrate functioning as a "Vicar" of God on the earth. [11] Typical of the thought in his day, Vermigli believed that the civil ruler was to enforce not only the second table of the law, but the first as well.

Vermigli's influence was long lasting in political matters. [12] Not only the European reformers, but the American colonial clergy were also indebted to Peter Martyr's thought. John Cotton, a pastor in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, appreciated Martyr, stating: "It is necessary, therefore, that all power that is on earth be limited, church power or other . . . It is therefore fit for every man to be studious of the bounds which the Lord hath set." [13]

Not all of the Protestant reformers left behind full treatises of their mature views on this subject. Much of their understanding must be gleaned from their commentaries or assorted tracts; so it is not always consistent. However, we have substantive treatments on the role of the state from Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, John Knox, John Calvin, and Theodore Beza.

Martin Luther

Similar to Calvin, Luther believed that God had ordained both church and state as separate, but legitimate, spheres. Luther thought of these two basic institutions as each wielding its own sword: the church, the sword of church discipline; the state, the sword of civil force. As long as each tended its respective business, all would work well. Luther's construction, however, does not resolve many of the modern issues stemming from entanglement and confusion between the spheres. Luther did not believe that the church had a right to impose its belief on unbelievers or the state. He is purported to have quipped that he would rather have a "competent turk rule than an incompetent Christian."

Helmut Thielicke provides an adequate summary of Luther's views. [14] He summarizes five main aspects of Luther's theology of the state. First, it is the Fall that leads to man's self-destruction: "It produces a centrifugal tendency which drives men apart from one another, witness the fratricide of Cain and the dispersion at Babel." "Second, God puts a stop to this self-destruction in order to give man a kairos, a space in which to repent." Third, the institutional form of this preservation is the state: "The state is not an order of creation but an emergency order evoked by the Fall." Even so, the state is "an awful remedy by which harmful limbs are cut off that the rest may be preserved. Thus the state is to be understood theologically in terms of its function within salvation history, and hence as an ordinance of God." Fourth, the state is entrusted to human reason. Fifth, the state must be limited against violating God's orders. [15]

Thielicke admits: "Since government is tied not to theocratic directives but to the rational judgment of man, Christians are not the only ones qualified for political office." [16] He also cautions that, "Reason does not itself concoct the idea of the state. Neither does it produce the state . . . Its task is simply to make the most of what it had received." [17] Earlier, he had distinguished: "In other words, is not a commissioning of the state by the people something radically different from its creation by the people?" [18] He also warns that, following Luther, "The totalitarian state alone departs from this pattern, and in so doing shows that theologically it is no longer a state but a pseudo church." [19] According to Thielicke, "Luther pointed out again and again that the state must not concern itself with man's salvation. There must be no theocratic tendencies. The state must limit itself to matters of secular order, to life and property, and leave the soul alone. Wherever the state attempts to do more than this, it must be resisted." Luther called the state to serve as "a shepherd instead of a hangman." [20]

Karl Holl noted how Luther saw the state as indispensable: "Luther does not attempt to justify the right and duty of the state merely on the basis of its function to suppress evil. . . . The real Luther justifies the right of the state not by its negative aspects, but by its positive ones." [21] Holl affirmed that Luther "totally rejected the natural law concept," and that, "The Refor-mation everywhere plays down natural law and replaces the proofs derived therefrom with arguments that are taken from Christian morality." [22] For this reason, according to Holl, "Luther derives the state, not from below, but exclusively from above, from God's plan of salvation [and] insists on its distinct character as a state whose essence is authority." [23]

Attributing to Luther a large role in the advance of civic freedom of conscience and the adoption of the view which viewed the state as superior to the will of the individual, Holl noted: "at the same time it was the Refor- mation that first set a rigid limit to the absolute power of the state." Moreover, he conceded "to the Reformation respect . . . for being the first of all in modern times to have prepared the way for freedom of conscience in the state. All further victories with respect to tolerance rest on this first step . . . " [24] Civic freedom was a consequence of the religious freedom.

Martin Bucer on the State

Another early Reformation thinker to apply the Scriptures to matters of state was Martin Bucer (1491-1552). Bucer was a large influence on Calvin as well as on the progress of the Reformation in England. He wrote several tracts or books which carried much weight in the early stages of the Reformation. In the spring of 1533, Martin Bucer drafted 16 articles for discussion at the Strasbourg Synod. The fourteenth article (below) captures his view of the relationship between church and state:

The civil authorities, who exercise the sword and the highest outward power, are servants of God; they ought, therefore, to direct all their abilities, as God in his law has commanded and as the Spirit of Christ himself teaches and urges in all whom he leads, to the end that through their subjects God's name be hallowed, his kingdom extended and his will fulfilled,so far as they can serve thereto by virtue of their office alone. Therefore the spirit of those who want the authorities not to concern themselves at all with Christian activity, is a spirit directed against Christ our Lord, and a destroyer of all good. [25]

Bucer's comments were as normal for the day, as they were strong and uncompromising. His De Regno Christi (1551) was written as a blueprint for the operation of both church and state. In his thought, the leaders of state were subordinate to the ends of the church. Christians were to obey the secular leaders, who were in turn supposed to obey Christ. The civil magistrates were expected to be Christians and to rule Christianly. Bucer wrote: "Further, as the Kingdom of Christ subjects itself to the kingdoms and powers of this world, so in turn every true kingdom of the world (I say kingdom, not tyranny) subjects itself to the Kingdom of Christ, and the kings themselves are among the first to do this, for they are eager to develop piety not for themselves alone, but they also seek to lead their subjects to it." [26]

The civil authorities, far from being separated by a wall, were to be the chief instigators of piety. Although many will find this very notion foreign, it should be admitted that some earlier Christians thought the state had an obligation to uphold religion. Bucer went so far as to commission the civil leaders to spread true religion, which in this case also was a license to keep the heretics, hedonists, and Anabaptists from spreading. [27] Moreover, Bucer "granted considerable rights and duties to the political power in respect of not only the reorganization but also the direction of the church." [28] To be sure, Bucer desired an established church, but the reason is often over-looked: "[T]his promotion of a state church would crush the internal evan-gelical hostility and discord which until then had prevented the formation of a strong and effective reforming party in the city." [29] Bucer believed that Christians should hold public offices (as in the example of Nicodemus in John 7), that adultery should not go unpunished in the civil law, and that civil magistrates should uphold God's law. [30]

Another early Reformation thinker was Heinrich Bullinger. Bullinger's 1534 De testamento seu foedere Dei unico et aeterno (Concerning the One and Eternal Testament or Covenant of God) was one of the first Reformation treatises. In that Bullinger's work was prior to Calvin's Institutes, and noting that Bullinger was one of the most prolific and influential theologians of the Reformation, his work should be considered integral to reformation studies. Bullinger's shadow extended not only to the ecclesiastical, but to the civil realm as well. [31]

John Calvin on the Civil Government

Calvinism is also credited with immense political impact. Asserting that the state was not merely a necessary evil for Calvin, Karl Holl recognized that Calvinism,even more than Lutheranism,provided a theological basis to oppose unjust governments. [32] Everywhere Calvinism went, so did its views of putting government in its place. Calvinism "placed a solid barrier in the path of the spread of absolutism." [33] Holl claimed that even though precursors of human rights were found in the Middle Ages, nonetheless, "its formal acceptance into political theory is not completed until this period and only under the impact of religion. . . . The acceptance of universal human rights into the constitution was, however, not just the modification of a single point; it included in itself the transformation of the whole concept of the state." [34]

John Calvin (1509-1564) is frequently credited with massive impact on political and economical matters in modern Europe. [35] Abraham Kuyper summarized the political impact of God's sovereignty:

[T]he Calvinistic confession of the sovereignty of God holds good for all the world, is true for all nations, and is of force in all authority which man exercises over man . . . It is therefore a political faith which may be sum-marily expressed in these three theses: 1. God only,and never any creature ,is possessed of sovereign rights, in the destiny of nations, because God alone created them, maintains them by his Almighty power, and rules them by his ordinances. 2. Sin has, in the realm of politics, broken down the direct government of God, and therefore the exercise of authority, for the purpose of government, has subsequently been invested in men, as a mechanical remedy. And 3. In whatever form this authority may reveal itself, man never possesses power over his fellow man in any other way than by the authority which descends upon him from the majesty of God. Calvinism protests against State-omnicompetence, against the horrible conception that no right exists above and beyond existing laws, and against the pride of absolutism, which recognizes not constitutional rights, . . . Calvinism is to be praised for having built a dam across the absolutistic stream, not by appealing to popular force, nor to the hallucination of human greatness, but by deducing those rights and liberties of social life from the same source from which the high authority of government flows,even the absolute sovereignty of God. [36]

Calvin's primary teaching on these matters is recorded in his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. [37] The Genevan reformer believed that civil government was a token of "how lovingly God has provided for mankind" (IV, xx, 1). The task of the civil ruler was to provide "that a public manifestation of religion may exist among Christians, and that humanity be maintained among men" (IV, xx, 1). Calvin believed that if there was no civil government and if depraved men perceived that they could go "scot-free" (IV, xx, 2), they surely would and society would deteriorate into anarchy. On one occasion, he likened such irresponsible anarchy to living "pell-mell, like rats in straw" (IV, xx, 5). He argued that when Psalm 2:12 bids us to "kiss the Son," God does not at the same time bid persons to "lay aside their authority and retire to private life, but submit to Christ the power with which they have been invested, that he alone may tower over all" (IV, xx, 5). On Romans 13, Calvin commented that, "powers are from God, not as pestilence, and famine, and wars, and other visitations for sin, are said to be from him; but because he has appointed them for the legitimate and just government of the world. For though tyrannies and unjust exercise of power, as they are full of disorder are not an ordained government; yet the right of government is ordained by God for the well-being of mankind." [38]

Calvin recognized the holding of civil offices as entirely appropriate, even going so far as to speak of civil service as "the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of men" (IV, xx, 4). At one point, Calvin referred to these civil rulers as "vicars of God" (IV, xx, 6), and saw their role as "ordained protectors and vindicators of public innocence, modesty, decency, and tranquility, and that their sole endeavor should be to provide for the common safety and peace of all" (IV, xx, 9). Elsewhere, he stated the "appointed end" of the civil government as: "to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church, to adjust our life to the society of men, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness, to reconcile us with one another, and to promote general peace and tranquility" (IV, xx, 2). The use of the sword was the necessary correlate to human depravity. The civil magistrates were to be honored as "superiors" in keeping with the fifth commandment. Even evil rulers kept God's law to some degree, and disobedience was justified only for legislation contrary to God's law. The task of civil government according to Calvin was prescribed in Romans 13:4:

Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the well-being of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects, they are therefore debtors to them. [39]

Calvin believed that the Kingdom of God had indeed begun, but that it was not totally consummated: "For spiritual government, indeed, is already initiating in us upon earth certain beginnings of the Heavenly Kingdom, and in this mortal and fleeting life affords a certain forecast of an immortal and incorruptible blessedness" (IV, xx, 20). He also shared the common theo-cratic notions of his time: "Let no man be disturbed that I now commit to civil government the duty of rightly establishing religion . . ." (IV, xx, 3). Further, he believed that theology and politics were inextricably intertwined ("All have confessed that no government can be happily established unless piety is the first concern;",IV, xx, 9), and that the civil magistrate should see to both tables of the law (IV, xx, 9). Commenting on John 18:36, Calvin enunciated his view of the kingdom in these terms: "there is no disagree-ment between his [Christ's] kingdom and political government or order. . . the same doctrine is useful to believers to the end of the world; for if the kingdom of Christ were earthly, it would be frail and changeable, because the fashion of this world passes away; but now since it is pronounced to be heavenly, this assures us of its perpetuity. . . . though there are innumerable storms by which the world is continually agitated, the kingdom of Christ, in which we ought to seek tranquility is separated from the world." [40]

Clearer still are Calvin's comments on the next gospel phrase (Jn. 18:36) where Jesus stated that his servants do not strive for enforcement of an earthly kingdom. His view of separation of powers is still helpful.

He [Jesus] proves that he did not aim at an earthly kingdom, because no one moves, no one takes arms in his support; for if a private individual lay claim to royal authority, he must gain power by means of seditious men. Nothing of this kind is seen in Christ; and, therefore, it follows that he is not an earthly king.

But here a question arises, Is it not lawful to defend the kingdom of Christ by arms? For when Kings and Princes are commanded to `kiss the son of God,, not only are they enjoined to submit to his authority in their private capacity, but also to employ all the power that they possess in defending the church and maintaining godliness. I answer, first, they who draw this conclusion, that the doctrine of the Gospel and the pure worship of God ought not to be defended by arms are unskillful and ignorant reasoners; for Christ argues only from the facts of the case in hand, how frivolous were the calumnies which the Jews had brought against him. Secondly, though godly kings defend the kingdom of Christ by the sword, still it is done in a different manner from that in which worldly kingdoms are wont to be defended; for the kingdom of Christ, being spiritual must be founded on the doctrine and power of the Spirit. In the same manner, too, its edification is promoted; for neither the laws and edicts of men, nor the punishments inflicted by them, enter into the consciences. . . . It results, however, from the depravity of the world that the kingdom of Christ is strengthened more by the blood of the martyrs than by the aid of arms. [41]

Calvin wrote that if civil rulers properly understood their callings, i.e., "that they are occupied not with profane affairs or those alien to a servant of God, but with a most holy office, since they are serving as God's depu-ties" (IV, xx, 6), they would serve with more equity. He queried rhetorically:

For what great zeal for uprightness, for prudence, gentleness, self-control, and for innocence ought to be required of themselves by those who know that they have been ordained ministers of divine justice? How will they have the brazenness to admit injustice to their judgment seat, which they are told is the throne of the living God? How will they have the boldness to pronounce an unjust sentence, by that mouth which they know has been appointed an instrument of divine truth? With what conscience will they sign wicked decrees by that hand which they know has been appointed to record the acts of God? To sum up, if they remember that they are vicars of God, they should watch with all care, earnestness, and diligence, to represent in themselves to men some image of divine providence, protection, goodness, benevolence, and justice (IV, xx, 6).

Following Aristotle's morphology of the state and its tendency toward deteri- oration from monarchy to tyranny and from democracy to anarchy, Calvin advocated "a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy" (IV, xx, 8). He also saw a legitimate place for checks and balances, seeing the need for "censors and masters to restrain his [monarch] willfulness" (IV, xx, 8).

The civil magistrate did not act on his own, but "carries out the very judgments of God" in bearing the sword to punish lawbreakers (IV, xx, 10). He even cites King David as condoning the destruction of the wicked in the land (Ps. 101:8). Far from legitimating vengeance, violence, or undue cruelty, the magistrate was to avoid "excessive severity" and "superstitious affecta-tion of clemency" (IV, xx, 10). Alluding to the proverb from Seneca, Calvin concurred: "It is indeed bad to live under a prince with whom nothing is permitted; but much worse under one by whom everything is allowed" (IV, xx, 10). He argued: "Now if their true righteousness is to pursue the guilty and the impious with drawn sword, should they sheathe their sword and keep their hands clean of blood, while abandoned men wickedly range about with slaughter and massacre, they will become guilty of the greatest impiety, far indeed from winning praise for their goodness and righteousness thereby!" (IV, xx, 10)

Civil magistrates were to wage war as an "execution of public vengeance" (IV, xx, 11): "For if power has been given them to preserve the tranquility of their dominion, to restrain the seditious stirrings of restless men, to help those forcibly oppressed, to punish evil deed," then by extension rulers may oppose the fury of those who perpetuate immoral deeds (IV, xx, 11). Kings who act unjustly are considered "robbers" and worthy of censure. Yet, even in war, Calvin advocated restraint and humanity. The rationale for waging war is that conditions which justified it "of old still persists today" (IV, xx, 12), and "there is no reason that bars magistrates from defending their subjects" (IV, xx, 12). The civil magistrate was also warranted to execute the guilty in obedience to God's command: "Contend then do they with God who think it unlawful to shed the blood of wicked men." [42]

Calvin recognized the right of the magistrate to tax. However, he recommended prudent limits, arguing that taxes should only support public necessity; for "to impose them upon the common folk without cause is tyrannical extortion" (IV, xx, 13). Obedience is a Christian duty in this area; however, princes are not to indulge in "waste and expensive luxury," lest "in impious self-confidence [they] come under God's displeasure" (IV, xx, 13). Later, excessive taxation is alluded to: "Others drain the common people of their money, and afterward lavish it on insane largesse" (IV, xx, 24).

Another major topic of discussion for Calvin is the use of the OT judicial law, "the silent magistrate." Calvin believed that just as the ceremonial laws had been "abrogated while piety remained safe and unharmed, so too, when these judicial laws were taken away, the perpetual duties and precepts of love could still remain" (IV, xx, 15). He admitted that different nations were free to make laws as they saw best, but with this qualification: "Yet these must be in conformity to that perpetual rule of love, so that they indeed vary in form but have the same purpose" (IV, xx, 15). For example, he believed that different states were permitted to apply the death penalty for capital crimes with different specifics, as long as the capital sentence was administered: "For the Lord through the hand of Moses did not give that law to be proclaimed among all nations and to be in force everywhere" (IV, xx, 16). This statement must, of course, be balanced with other aphorisms.

What Calvin seems to say is that all the specifics and particulars of the judicial law are no longer binding. However, the equity of moral principle, which definition may depend on other scriptural passages,is to continue. The moral law,which Calvin viewed as "nothing else than a testimony of natural law" (IV, xx, 16),and conscience are never abrogated, contrary to the ceremonial and judicial codes: "Consequently, the entire scheme of this equity of which we are now speaking has been prescribed in it. Hence, this equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws. Whatever laws shall be framed to that rule, directed to that goal, bound by that limit, there is no reason why we should disapprove of them, howsoever they may differ from the Jewish law or among themselves" (IV, xx, 16). Since Calvin is seldom accused of laxness, his comments must be taken seriously. So taken, they do not call for disavowal of the equitable principles of the OT judicial law, but merely the abrogation of non-essential and non-moral aspects. One may even interpret many of the biblical passages as seeking to perpetuate not so much the specific manners of the OT law, as the moral heart of God's law. It is possible to maintain the bindingness of God's law, while not necessarily advocating all the Jewish specifics.

Helmut Thielicke agrees that one does not slight the OT law "if we prefer new and different laws suited to the situation. . . . This can hardly mean abrogation of the Mosiac law, since it was never enacted for us." [43] Moreover, along the lines of Calvin, Thielicke comments: "One has to take into account, therefore, the special privileged position of Israel, which is different from our own situation. We do not live in a theocracy such as was established in Israel by the fact that God will be a lawgiver especially to it. If we understand Calvin correctly, to take over the Mosaic Law would thus be not only to turn back from the manifested reality to the mere shadows, but also to arrogate to ourselves the special theocratic privileges of Israel which are not ours." [44]

Calvin also recognized the propriety of using civil law courts, as long as a Christian did not act in revenge, but entrusted himself "in the care of the magistrate" (IV, xx, 18). He obviously sought to support such in the face of the Anabaptists' claim that it was un-Christian to resist in any form (IV, xx, 20). In the same context, he called for the Christian to turn to the law of love which "will give every man the best counsel" (IV, xx, 21).

The duties of Christians toward the civil magistrate even included obeying unjust rulers. Calvin enumerated the duties of the Christian citizen as first to "think most honorably of their office" (IV, xx, 22). This opinion is not to see these as necessary evils, but as Peter teaches: "the word `to honor, [1 Pet. 2:17] includes a sincere and candid opinion of the king" (IV, xx, 22). Second, subjects should prove their obedience by paying taxes, obeying proclamations, and serving to protect the nation. Moreover, Calvin warned Christians not to intrude excessively into the authority of the magistrate (IV, xx, 23).

Unless arising in actual disobedience to God, even a wicked ruler should be obeyed as having "their authority solely from" God (IV, xx, 25). The reasons were: (1) "Scripture reckons all such calamities among God's curses (IV, xx, 25); (2) The Providence of God (IV, xx, 26); (3) General testimonies of Scripture on the sanctity of the royal person (IV, xx, 28); and (4) the Sovereignty of God (IV, xx, 29). However, even with such clear calls to submit to the civil ruler, in some cases, other magistrates are justified in overturning a wicked ruler; it is just not to be done by private individuals (IV, xx, 31). Calvin acknowledged that at times God's will has been done in the overthrow of wicked rulers (IV, xx, 31), but still preferred to allow the Lord to correct unbridled despotism. Concerning revolution, he advocated a peaceful, incremental revolution via the intermediate magistrates:

For if there are now any magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings (as in ancient times the ephors . . .), I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God's ordinance (IV, xx, 31).

The obvious exception to any of these rules, however, was that the Christian was not only free but also obligated to resist the magistrate who compelled ungodly activity. [45] Calvin taught that not only were there exceptions to the above considerations, but also that obedience to God was primary: "obedience is never to lead us away from obedience to him" (IV, xx, 32),a good illustration of qualified absolutism. [46] He reasoned: "And how absurd would it be that in satisfying men you should incur the dis-pleasure of him for whose sake you obey men themselves!" (IV, xx, 32) Still, this is balanced with Calvin's conclusion that we should "comfort ourselves with the thought that we are rendering that obedience which the Lord requires when we suffer anything rather than turn aside from piety" (xx, 32).

Calvin, it should be remembered, believed that any government was better than no government at all: "further, some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy." [47]

In sum, however, he concluded: "Now this passage [Romans 13] confirms what I have already said,that we ought to obey kings and governors, whoever they may be, not because we are constrained, but because it is a service acceptable to God; for he will have them not only to be feared, but also honored by a voluntary respect." [48]

The above notions notwithstanding, Calvin gave impetus to post-Reform-ation political upheavals when he reminded that even kings were not to "arrogate to themselves more than belongs to them." He commented on Psalm 82:

It is unquestionably a very unbecoming thing for those whom God has been pleased to invest with the government of mankind for the common good, not to acknowledge the end for which they have been exalted above others . . . but instead of doing this, contemning every principle of equity, to rule just as their own unbridled passions dictate. So infatuated are they by their own splendor and magnificence as to imagine that the whole world was made only for them. Besides, they think it would derogate from their elevated rank were they to be governed by moderate counsels; . . . To correct this arrogance, the psalm opens by asserting that although men occupy thrones and judgment-seats, God nevertheless continues to hold the office of supreme ruler. . . . The more effectually to overthrow this irrational self-confidence with which they are intoxicated, civil order is termed the assembly of God; for although the divine glory shines forth in every part of the world, yet when lawful government flourishes among men, it is reflected therefrom with pre-eminent luster. [49]

Later on the same passage, he reminds that, "Kings may lift up their head above the clouds, but they, as well as the rest of mankind, are under the government of God." He further warns against the depravity of rulers: "Moreover, there is a certain devilish frenzy which infatuates the princes of the world, and leads them voluntarily to pay greater respect to wicked men than to the simple and innocent. Even supposing that the wicked continue inactive, and use no endeavors to obtain for themselves favor . . . yet those who bear rule are for the most part inclined of themselves to the bad side. The reason why the prophet upbraids them is, that wicked men find more favor at their hands than the good and conscientious." [50]

Calvin's thought can also be gleaned from his 1544 tract, "Brief Instruction for Arming all the Good Faithful against the Errors of the Common Sect of the Anabaptist," [51] where he argued that if the civil office was so impious, how could so many believers and Judges occupy the temporal power in the OT. Further, he argued for the legitimacy of the power of the sword: "We worship the same God that the fathers of old did. We have the same law and rule that they had . . ." [52] Calvin found it inconsistent that Anabaptists could not admit that service as a civil officer was ordained, when "they do not deny that a Christian can be a tailor or a cobbler. And yet these vocations are not expressly mentioned in the Scriptures. Why then don't they permit a Christian to be a minister of justice, seeing that this calling is so amply approved with praise by the mouth of God?" [53]

Calvin strongly reproved the Anabaptists as "miserable fanatics [who] have no other goal than to put everything into disorder, to undo the commonwealth of property in such a way that whoever has the power to take anything is welcome to it." [54] His critique of the sixth article of The Schleitheim Confession concluded:

As for the end to which they lay claim, I only have two words to say: that in it they reveal themselves to be the enemies of God and of the human race. For they make war against God in wanting to revile what he has exalted. And we could not imagine a better way of trying to ruin the world and ushering in brigandage everywhere than in seeking to abolish the civil government or the power of the sword, which indeed is thrown down if it is not lawful for a Christian man to exercise it. [55]

Except for a few comments (e.g., on Daniel 6:22), Calvin consistently discourages rebellion. Both Luther and Philipp Melanchthon allowed resistance to the superior magistrate to be carried out by the inferior magistrate in a Roman Catholic Establishment. [56] This Lutheran claim was applicable, in their view, if a superior magistrate "undertook by force to restore popish idolatry and to suppress or exterminate the pure teaching of the Holy Gospel . . . then the lower godfearing magistrate may defend himself and his subjects." [57] Thus, tyrants were to be removed by the intermediating magistrates. Martin Bucer also held that the OT validated cases of intermediating magistrates preserving "the people of God from evil and defend[ing] their safety and goods. . . . [when] superior power falls to extortion or causes any other kind of external injury . . . [inferior magistrates could] attempt to remove him by forces of arms." [58] Planting the seeds which would eventually bear fruit in the American Revolution, Protestants generally came to agree that the overthrow of a ruler was acceptable under certain conditions (i.e., his opposition to true religion and through the intermediating magistrates).

Theodore Beza

A primary maxim of Protestant political thought was that anarchy was an extreme to be avoided. Anarchy, which relied ultimately on private judgment only, was not trustworthy. Theodore Beza left much comment on this, which comment must be understood as resulting in some measure from the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of the Huguenots. [59] Beza's The Right of Magistrates (1574), justified armed resistance led by intermediating magistrates against a king. [60] However, anarchy was more feared than the rule of an aristocracy, and Beza noted, "a thousand tyrants would arise on the pretext of suppressing one." [61]

The second generation of reformers briskly articulated a theology of the state, with the following seminal works appearing in rapid succession in less than thirty years: Martin Bucer's De Regno Christi (1551), John Ponet's A Short Treatise of Political Power (1556), [62] Christopher Goodman's How Superior Powers ought to be obeyed of their subjects; and wherein they may lawfully by God's word be disobeyed and resisted (1558), Francois Hotman's Francogallia (1573), [63] Beza's De Jure Magisterium (1574), George Buchanan's De Jure Regni Apud Scotos (1579), and Mornay's Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (1579).

Earlier, Beza noted that a limited resistance against a higher magistrate was countenanced. [64] Much of Beza's thought on these matters was further developed in the 1579 Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, probably written by Philippe du Plessis Mornay. [65] This work viewed the masses as essential covenant partners in the nation. Writing within the same decade as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Brutus denounced the arrogance of a state that assumed unlimited power unto itself, and maintained that the corporate body of the people is above the king. [66] The argument,radical for its day ,was: "Therefore, as all the whole people is above the king, and likewise taken in one entire body, are in authority before him, yet being considered one by one, they are all of them under the king." [67] The argument, therefore, was for legitimate government and individual submission; however, this treatise also put the government in its place, lodging the head of state under the authority of the civil corporation. Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos raised and answered the following questions:

  • Did the passage of time erode the rights of the people, if they had failed to resist tyranny?
  • Why were kings created?
  • Are kings themselves above the law?
  • May the prince make new laws, or are they made by the people?
  • Does the ruler have power of life and death over his subjects?
  • May the king ignore the law in granting pardon to those found guilty?
  • Does the property of the people belong to the king?
  • Is the king the lawful owner of the kingdom?

* May the king use the property of the people for his own ends? [68]

Even by these questions, radical for their times, this is not an argument that grants absolute sovereignty to the people. [69] Instead of arguing for populism, this powerful tract did not so much explicate an argumentum pro populum as it demonstrated "the impossibility of an absolute state." [70]

Since God had made a covenant with the king, the king also was to make a covenant with the people. [71] If he violated his covenant, then this king could rightly be seen as having forfeited the right to rule. Thus rebellion would be vindicated in a case of covenant abdication. Jurgen Moltmann has observed that flowing from this theology of resistance, "As opposed to the medieval discussion about the right of resistance, the Reformation brings with it the novel case of resistance for religious reasons against a change of religion decreed by the state." [72] Whereas Beza had defended the right of the intermediate magistrates to resist a ruler based on the fundamental rights of the people ("Everyone can resist those who in the violation of their official duties assume a tyrannical power over the subjects."), and whereas the premier Scottish theologian of the loci, George Buchanan, advocated that citizens were "relieved of their obligation of obedience if the ruler damages the contract of rulership," Junius Brutus (the pseudonymous author of the Vindiciae) went so far as to advocate that, "the traditional right of resistance of the estates against the crown is no longer defended but rather a new federalistic-democratic idea of the state is propagated." [73] The "double covenant" idea (i.e., that citizens covenant with both God and the ruler) advances the discussion by asking the following:

(1) Do subjects owe obedience to a ruler whose decrees contradict the law of God?

(2) Is one allowed to resist the ruler if he violates the law of God?

(3) Is it allowed to resist a ruler who ruins a state?

(4) Are neighboring rulers allowed to help foreign subjects based on religious or political grounds? [74]

Beza's thought is most succinctly set forth in his work, The Christian Faith. In his penultimate chapter (on the Church), he devotes the final two sections to "The Office of the Christian Magistrate" and "The Obedience Due the Magistrates." [75] If the magistrate is a Christian, then he is expected to rule in accord with his beliefs. Peace and public tranquility are not justly established, according to Beza, "without first re-establishing the true worship of God." [76] The Christian magistrate is to "follow the example of David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, in short, of all the holy kings and princes" and value well-ordered churches. [77] He calls for false prophets and heretics to be put to the sword by Christian princes. [78] However, two vital considerations qualify such use of the sword. First, "heretics must be discerned by the Word of God, and by judicial examination of the cause, for fear that good men may be punished." Second, distinctions must be made between: (a) "those who err simply by ignorance and misapprehension and those who sin through malice or arrogance;" (b) those who are individually obstinate as opposed to "the makers of sects;" and (c) questionable matters as opposed to clear articles of doctrine. [79]

Summarizing the civic scope of the office, Beza prescribed:

The magistrate must also attend to the affairs which properly concern this life, be it disputes and lawsuits, common order and public honesty, or the quelling of public violence. There must therefore, be laws established which are righteous and conformed to the Word of God as the general rule . . . ; and that justice be administered without corruption according to such laws (Ps. 82; Rom. 13:3-4), that their authority be maintained, that those who do evil be punished, that force be not used except for the very just and necessary reasons, and that war be conducted with great integrity and pure conscience (Lk. 3:14). In short, that all things concerning the public peace and the glory of God be done with great reverence of God (1 Tim. 2:2); and that, to this end, sufficient taxes and tribute be gathered to sustain these public offices. [80]

Notwithstanding, the limitation of the magistracy is seen as Beza noted that the power of the lawful magistrate is neither infinite [81] nor uncondi- tional. Corruption may permit an exception to the rule. If corruption is present in the thing itself (e.g., a chief of robbers or an imposter to a throne) or in the person, then resistance may be allowed. Even in those cases (and mainly in cases of internal corruption), the intermediating magistrates "are duty-bound to repress these tyrants who act wildly and commit outrages. If they do not do so, then they shall answer for their disloyalty before the Lord, as traitors to their own country." [82] Beza also qualifies that such overthrow is never to be violent; "the rule is steadfast and perpetual." [83] Thus, "we must not even lift a finger," but rather resort to amending our own lives and "take refuge in prayers and tears, which the Lord will not disregard but answer in his own due time." [84] Beza reminds that "on every occasion when we cannot obey the command of men without offending the majesty and despising the authority of the King of kings and the Lord of lords," [85] then we must not participate. A believer must obey God above all and not acquiesce, however, to mandated wickedness under the guise of civic obedience. His treatise concluded with a strong statement not to confuse these views with those of "the fanatical Anabaptists who abolish completely the authority of magistrates . . . and declare that trial and wars are unlawful things." [86] His stinging rebuke concluded that to so allege is "notorious; contrary to the Word of God, they set themselves above kingdoms and kings, there is no kind of person more rebellious to magistrates than they are; yet, they dare to charge us with a crime which they do not draw back from saying is permitted to them." [87]

In a 1591 work, The Grounds and Principles of Christian Religion, Beza argued that "by the common consent of men . . . this civil power was not instituted . . . for the hurt of man; but ordained by God for the preservation of mankind." [88] Moreover, he reviled the Anabaptists who were "to be detested [for] despising all government and speak evil of the superior powers." Beza affirmed that the duty of the magistrate extended to both tables of the law: "[I]t is their duty to provide that their subjects may not only live peaceably, but also religiously." Beza was quick to clarify, however, that the civil magistrate's responsibility differed in regard to each table of the law. Regarding the first table of the law, Beza believed that the ruler was not to invent religious law, but to see to it that true worship of God is practiced. Furthermore, the magistrates were to "compel" ministers to careful performance of their duty, specifying that they should punish blasphemers, heretics, schismatics, refugees from discipline, and others who oppose the faith. In the event of a doctrinal controversy, the magistrate, respecting a division of powers,is to convene a synod.

As to the second table, the magistrate is to provide just laws and protect public innocence, modesty, and peace. Accordingly, they are to be armed with power to punish the wicked and declare war. They are also authorized to exact taxes and annual revenues. Beza summarized:

No unchangeable rule of these laws, by reason of the variety of circumstances can be set down, save only this one: namely, that they be leveled and directed unto God's glory, and to the good of the subjects. We do therefore condemn those customs, laws, and constitutions, which decline from this eternal rule of the honor of God, and love towards our neighbor, and do permit, either theft, stewes, or any such monstrous disorders, and we account them for such constitutions, as unto whom no obedience is to be yielded. [89]

Beza balanced these sentiments by noting that private (individual) citizens were not to overthrow the magistrate, even if the rulers were very great tyrants, "for that is a far different thing from refusing to yield obedience unto impious or unjust laws." In addition, he called on Christians to avoid contentiousness, while not forfeiting the right to defend oneself against a tyrant. He concluded: "They are deceived therefore, who think it unlawful for Christians to seek and maintain their right by civil pleas, and to crave the help of the Magistrate." Beza concluded this summary: "As often as the Magistrate commands anything that is repugnant either to the worship which we owe unto God, or to the love which we owe unto our neighbor, we cannot yield obedience thereunto with a safe conscience. For as often as the commandment of God and men are directly opposed one against another, this rule is to be perpetually observed; that it is better to obey GOD than men." [90]

Some went so far as to urge that in these cases, indeed, overthrow was mandatory. [91] Of course, most of these views, as in the case of Scotland and England, depended on the notion of God establishing a religious covenant with a nation; thus implying a continuing corporate responsibility to such previous covenant.

John Knox deposited a legacy of teaching on this subject, some even attributing to Knox the title: the Father of the American Revolution. Prior to the accession of Mary I, Knox advised flight as the main option when faced with a tyrannical government. However, between the accession of Mary I and the accession of Elizabeth I (1558), Knox modified his views to allow for greater amounts of resistance to ungodly rulers. In his First Blast of the Trumpet (1558), Knox called on the lesser magistrates to punish idolatry and blasphemy. He charged them with the obligation of resisting such, even permitting the execution of the queen. Knox believed that ecclesiastical reformation should be supported by the magistrates, [92] and began to license even the masses to depose and execute an idolatrous civil leader: "punishment of such crimes, as are idolatrie, blasphemie, and others that tuche the Majesty of God, doth not appertain to kinges and chefe rulers only, but also to the whole body of that people, and every member of the same, according to the vocation of everie man, and according to that possibilitie and occasion which God doth minister." [93] Some construe that Knox went so far as to view non-resistance in such cases as a sin. In these incremental steps, the Protestant theology of the state evolved.

One of the earliest systematic treatises of matters of state was George Buchanan's The Rights of the Crown in Scotland (De Jure Regni Apud Scotos).

This work,perhaps "the most influential political essay of the century" [94], was an early (1579) integrated Protestant argument for limited government. Buchanan believed that lawful kings and tyrants were contraries. [95] With Cicero, Buchanan believed that nothing was more acceptable to the sovereign Deity than well-ordered states which were united in the principles of justice. [96] This early Protestant asserted that, "it was much safer to trust liberties to laws than to kings . . . confine them to narrow bounds, and thrust them, as it were, into cells of law . . . circumscribe [them] within a close prison." [97] That rulers were to be subordinate to a constitution is seen in Buchanan's statement: "Kings being accordingly left, in other respects free, found their power confined to prescribed limits only by the necessity of squaring their words and actions by directions of law." [98] Buchanan called it an egregious mistake to suppose that "nations created kings not for the maintenance of justice, but for the enjoyment of pleasure." [99] He maintained that, "the people from whom he [king] derived his power should have the liberty of prescribing its bounds; and I require that he should exercise over the people only those rights which he has received from their hands." [100] Buchanan noted: "The law then is paramount to the king, and serves to direct and moderate his passions and actions." [101]

According to this emerging Protestant consensus, a king exercised power on behalf of the people, whereas a tyrant wielded authority on behalf of himself: "For to make everything bend to your own nod, and to center in your own person the whole force of the laws, has the same effect as if you should abrogate all the laws." [102] Further, Buchanan argued:

But those who openly exercise their power, not for their country, but for themselves, and pay no regard to the public interest, but to their own gratification; who reckon the weakness of their fellow-citizens the establishment of their own authority, and who imagine royalty to be, not a charge entrusted to them by God, but a prey offered to their rapacity, are not connected with us by any civil or human tie, but ought to be put under an interdict, as open enemies to God and man. [103]

Johannes Althusius

Some think of the pinnacle of Reformation political thought as the mature work of Johannes Althusius (1557-1638). Daniel Elazar sums up: "The road to modern democracy began with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, particularly among those exponents of Reformed Protestantism who developed a theology and politics that set the Western world back on the road to popular self-government, emphasizing liberty and equality." [104] Althusius's 1603 Politica,a digest of "politics methodically set forth and illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples",recognized that the federal design was first exhibited in Scripture: "Moreover, . . . every aspect of the polity is to be informed by federal principles and arrangements in the manner of the network of biblical covenants. Also, it . . . is grounded in a realistic understanding of human nature, its limits and possibilities." [105]

Althusius noted an organic unity to human government: "For all govern- ment is held together by imperium [rule] and subjection; in fact, the human race started straightway from the beginning with imperium and subjection. God made Adam master and monarch of his wife, and of all creatures born or descendant from her. Therefore, all power and government is said to be from God." [106]

Althusius defined politics as "the association brought about by contrib-uting and communicating one with another in which political men institute, cultivate, maintain, and conserve the fellowship of human life through decisions about those things useful and necessary to social life." [107] Thus, the "final cause [of politics] is also the conservation of a human society that aims at a life in which you can worship God quietly and without error." [108]

The various spheres of government, for Althusius, were the church, the family, the collegium (professional association), the city, the province, and the nation. Combining both explicit and implicit Christian principles, he argued for limited government, checks and balances, freedom of association, the primacy of the family, and the need to apply ethics to government. Althusius anticipated much recent discovery, asserting that some trans-cendental basis for civil law is necessary: "For there is no civil law, nor can there be any, in which something of natural and divine immutable equity has not been mixed. If it departs entirely from the judgment of natural and divine law, it is not to be called law. It is entirely unworthy of this name, and can obligate no one against natural and divine equity." [109]

Althusius frequently iterated that "piety is required by the first table of the Decalogue and justice by the second, and the two together are further-more validated in human experience everywhere." [110] In the Preface to the 1614 (3rd) edition, Althusius stated: "I have included among other things herein, all in their proper places, the precepts of the Decalogue and the rights of sovereignty, about which there is a deep silence among some other political scientists. The precepts of the Decalogue are included to the extent that they infuse a vital spirit into the association and symbiotic life that we teach, that they carry a torch before the social life that we seek, and that they prescribe and constitute a way, rule, guiding star, and boundary for human society. If anyone would take them out of politics, he would destroy it; indeed, he would destroy all symbiosis and social life among men." [111]

Althusius extolled: "I consider that no polity from the beginning of the world has been more wisely and perfectly constructed than the polity of the Jews. We err, I believe, whenever in similar circumstances we depart from it." [112] In his first chapter, he noted that "Government by superiors considers both the soul and the body of inferiors." [113] Moreover, he argued that, "The right of the realm is twofold. It pertains both to the welfare of the soul and to the care of the body." [114] Althusius definitely did not confuse the realms of church and state; but neither did he believe that the state was only constrained by secular concerns, repeatedly asserting that one of the legit-imate concerns of the state was to encourage true piety. The first table of the law regulated true piety, while the second addressed true justice: "In the former, everything is to be referred immediately to the glory of God; in the latter, to the utility and welfare of the people associated in one body. These are the two foundations of every good association. Whenever a turning away from them has begun, the happiness of a realm or universal association is diminished." [115]

In one trenchant passage, Althusius applied the second table of the law:

Special duties are those that bind superiors and inferiors together, so that the symbiote truly attributes honor and eminence by word and deed to whomever they are due, and abstains from all mean opinion of such persons, the fifth precept of the Decalogue. General duties are those every symbiote is oblig-ated to perform toward every other symbiote. They consist of defending and preserving from all injury the lives of one's neighbor and oneself, the sixth precept; of guarding by thought, word, and deed one's own chastity and that of the fellow symbiote, and of not stealing, injuring, or reducing them, the eighth precept; of defending and preserving one's own reputation and that of one's neighbor, and of not neglecting them in any manner, the ninth precept; and of avoiding a concupiscent disposition toward those things than belong to our neighbor, and of seeking instead satisfaction and pleasure in those things that are ours and tend to the glory of God, the tenth precept. [116]

Although circumstances would change, the well-ordered state would seek to cling to both the moral law, or at least avoid being "contrary to the natural law or moral equity." [117]

Another hallmark of the mature thinking of Althusius was his doctrine of Ephors, independent supervisors who reviewed the work of the highest magis-trate. Ephors were to be chosen with the consent of the body politic as trustees or guardians of the interests of the state. These public custodians were to provide a defense against tyranny and restrain the magistrate from his "private attachments, hatreds, deeds, negligence, or inactivity." These Ephors provided an "abundance of counselors" to delimit ill-governing. Ephors (or any consti-tutional custodians) served the nation by defending "the law, or God, as lord and emperor when the king rejects and throws off the yoke and imperium of the law and of God, and ceasing as a minister of God, makes himself an instru-ment of the devil. . . . These ephors . . . carry the weight and burden of the people." [118] Rather than representing factious interest groups, or segments of the whole, the Ephors "are elected and constituted by the consent of the entire people." [119] Civil rulers who are acceptable to the supermajority guide the state better than rulers who only have the backing of a bare majority of the people.

A custodial layer of oversight protecting the interests of the people, ephors would continue to be necessary because, "It is the nature of polities that they degenerate easily, nay, that they are even transformed in nature and pass from one type to another, unless custodians are appointed in them by whom their administrators and kings are curbed and held within limits, and by whom petulance, license, insolence, luxury, and pride of kings are restrained. . . . For ephors either abolish or overcome the wicked actions or tyranny of the supreme magistrate." [120]

The duties of these Ephors are collected under five headings: (1) to constitute the supreme magistrate; (2) to "contain him within the limits and bounds of his office, and serve as custodians, defenders, and vindicators of liberty and other rights that the people have not transferred to the supreme magistrate, but reserved to itself;" (3) to serve as trustee between administrations, or if the supreme magistrate is incapacitated; (4) to remove a tyrannical ruler; and (5) to defend the magistrate and his rights. [121]

One of the contributions of Reformation era thought was the value of limited governmental power. The reformers saw all institutions under the sovereign administration of Christ. Thus, the power of the state could never be ultimate, nor complete. It, too, was always sub Deo. Althusius and others spoke of the power of state as limited and qualified by some objective standards outside itself. The state, if it failed to heed these, forfeited its legitimacy. State legitimacy was always contingent,contingent upon conformity to an objective, supra-national, and unchanging standard. It was noted that rulers "do not themselves have such great power, for no one gave them the power and jurisdiction to commit sin. Nor did the commonwealth . . . deprive itself of the means of self-protection, and thus expose itself to the plundering of administrators. . . . Finally, the wickedness of adminis-trators cannot abolish or diminish the imperium and might of God, nor release the administrators from the same." [122]

The pinnacle of Reformation political theology affirmed that the governor "is over and superior to the commonwealth so far as he governs by the rule of law . . . [however,] if he governs against the rule of law, he becomes punishable by the law, and ceases to be superior." [123] An objec-tivism of law is maintained, such that the rulers are subservient to several powers or realms. Far from being totalitarian powers, governors are objec-tively subordinate to "God, the law of nature and of nations, and the ephors." [124] The power of a ruler is, at best, relative,relative to other absolutes. "It is not absurd or contrary to nature that a king as the greater is subjected" [125] to the law, to the constitution, to his custodians, and ultimately to God. "All power," noted Althusius," is limited by definite boundaries and laws. No power is absolute, infinite, unbridled, arbitrary, and lawless. Every power is bound to laws, right, and equity. Likewise, every civil power that is constituted by legitimate means can be terminated and abolished." [126]

"The magistrate," cautioned Althusius, "exercises not his own power, but that of another, namely, the supreme power of the realm of which he is the minister." [127] Thus, is even the highest power limited. Reflecting a true grass-roots approach, the magistrate is reminded that the people are "prior in time and more worthy by nature than its magistrate, and has constituted him." [128] Accordingly, "the people can exist without a magistrate, but a magistrate cannot exist without people . . . the people create the magistrate rather than the contrary." [129] The nation empowers its governors precisely by a "covenant" or by the constitution. This covenantal instrument binds the magistrate "to the body of the universal association to administer the realm or commonwealth according to the laws prescribed by God, right reason, and the body of the commonwealth." [130]

The limited power of the governor was well circumscribed by Althusius:

The supreme magistrate exercises as much authority as had been explicitly conceded to him by the associated members or bodies of the realm. And what has not been given to him must be considered to have been left under the control of the people or universal association. Such is the nature of the contractual mandate. The less the power of those who rule, the more secure and stable the imperium remains. For power is secure that places a control upon force, that rules willing subjects, and that is circumscribed by laws, so that it does not become haughty and engage in excesses to the ruin of the subject, nor degenerate into tyranny. . . . Absolute power, or what is called the plenitude of power, cannot be given to the supreme magistrate. [131]

Althusius proceeded to give four reasons why "plenitude of power" is not transferable to the civil ruler: (1) for he who would employ such plenitude of power breaks the normal restraints of human society; (2) "by absolute power justice is destroyed;" (3) "such absolute power regards not the utility and welfare of subjects, but private pleasure. Power, however, is established for the utility of those who are ruled, not of those who rule, and the utility of the people or subjects does not in the least require unlimited power;" and (4) "absolute power is wicked and prohibited." [132]

Althusius was clear about the utility of punishment, noting five distinct aspects of the benefit of punishment as a form of "preserving external public discipline." [133] Althusius also stipulated seven legitimate causes for waging war "when all other remedies have first been exhausted and peace or justice cannot otherwise be obtained": (1) the recovery of goods taken by violence; (2) defense against violence afflicted by another, or the repulsion of it; (3) the necessity for preserving liberty, privileges, rights, peace, and tranquility, and for defending true religion; (4) when foreign nations forbid peaceful transit through their province without good reason; (5) when subjects are rebellious against their own prince, and disturb the peace; (6) contumacy by a nation or leader against the courts; and (7) when treaties are not kept or when tyranny is practiced upon subjects. [134] Althusius passed on this sage advice about the danger of excessive treaties: "A commonwealth ought to be cautious in contracting and covenanting such treaties that it not be carried along by them into unjust or disastrous activities, nor destroyed by the downfall of a confederated ally. Therefore, it ought to ponder the might of the confederating ally, his faithfulness and constancy in previous transactions, the similarity of his custom's to one's own, and the equity and honesty of the agreement among the confederates." [135]

Finally, it should be noted that Althusius affirmed the covenantal inter-relatedness of the rulers and the ruled. The principle of corporate solidarity, similar to that of the OT, is seen in the following:

God is the vindicator of this covenant when it is violated by the magistrate or by the ephors representing the people. One debtor is held responsible for the fault of the other, and shares his sins if he does not hold the violator of this covenant to his duty, and resist and impede him so far as he is able . . . . For this reason the ephors are expected to remind a deviating magistrate of his duty, and to resist him. Therefore, if the ephors do not do this, but by remaining silent, defaulting, dissembling, permitting, or submitting, they do not obstruct the violation of this covenant by the supreme magistrate, they are deservedly punished by God for this fault and surrender, as many examples indicate. [136]

Althusius paved the way for other governmental developments, as can be observed from his teaching that sounds like a precursor to the 10th Amendment (whatever powers are not explicitly delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states) to the U. S. Constitution: "Besides, whatever power the people did not have it could not transfer to its admin-istrators. Therefore, whatever power and right the administrators did not receive from the people, they do not have, they cannot exercise over the people, nor ought they to be able to do so." [137] "An administration is said to be just, legitimate, and salutary," said Althusius, if it "seeks and obtains the prosperity and advantages of the members of the realm, both individ-ually and collectively, and that, on the other hand, averts all evils and disadvantages to them, defends them against violence and injuries, and undertakes all actions of its administration according to laws." [138] Citing Augustine, Althusius noted, "when justice is taken away, what are realms, other than large bands of robbers?" [139]

The Anabaptist View of the State

At the time of the Protestant Reformation, another group set forth its distinctive view of the state. The Anabaptists, [140] "the left wing of the Reformation," had their own distinctive view of the relationship of Christians to the secular state. John Eidsmoe summarizes:

Many . . . of the early Anabaptists believed that the state was part of the evil world-system from which believers were to separate themselves. If Satan were not actually the founder of the state, he had at least taken control of it. Consequently, believers were to separate themselves from the state as much as possible; they were not to vote, hold public office, serve in the armed forces, or involve themselves with government in any other way. [141]

The Anabaptist tradition, which is the theological root of groups such as the Mennonites and Quakers, first enunciated its views on the state in the 1527 Schleitheim Confession. This Confession regarded the use of the sword as "outside the perfection of Christ" and considered the use of the "ban" (excommunication) as the only acceptable form of coercion. In addition, this Confession denied the propriety of Christians serving as civil magis-trates, so contrary was the secular order to the plan of God: "The govern-ment magistracy's is according to the flesh, but the Christians' is according to the Spirit; . . . the weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christians' weapons are spiritual . . ." [142] Such extreme dualism requires a separation from the world and worldly participation in matters of government. Anabaptists also extended this to deny the propriety of taking civil oaths. Although some recent efforts have been made to mitigate the earlier total "withdrawal" view, still the theological root of the Anabaptists disqualifies a full Christian participation in the public square.

John H. Yoder has proffered modified proposals, [143] but still limits Christ's redemption to matters of the soul, such that "Christ's redemption does not redeem the Powers; it results in his sovereign control of the Powers for his redemptive purposes." [144] To be consistent, Yoder also has to resort to exegetical gymnastics in his interpretation of Romans 13. Contrary to most interpretations, he concludes that Christians are not bound to support the "ministers" of state who wield the sword; rather those diaconal "ministers of God (Rom. 13:4) are Christians who obey God." [145] Instead of intending to impact the secular public square, Yoder calls for a strategy which relies nearly exclusively on personal redemption.

The traditional Anabaptist complex erects a wall between church and society, and limits Christ's redemption to saved individuals. There is little room for Christ's sovereignty over the unredeemed in practice. One result of this view is to imply that matters of state and culture are beyond the Christian calling. This pietism,while commendable in some of its motive, falls short of the scriptural realization that Christ is King over the Powers; he does express his sovereignty even over those unredeemed and uncooper-ative agents. Similarly, this extreme separatist view minimizes the salutary impact of Christians serving in government.

Calvin was quite critical of the Anabaptist approach, at times referring to exponents of that view as "men furiously striv[ing] to overturn the divinely established order" (IV, xx, 1), "certain fanatics who delight in unbridled license" (IV, xx, 2), and "anarchists" (IV, xx, 5) who manifested "their ignorance but devilish arrogance when they claim perfection of which not even a hundredth part is seen in them" (IV, xx, 5). He analyzed a flaw of Anabaptist thinking in the presumption that after true conversion, somehow after Christians "are transported to God's kingdom, and sit among heavenly beings, it is a thing unworthy of us and set far beneath our excellence to be occupied with those vile and worldly cares which have to do with business foreign to a Christian man" (IV, xx, 2). According to Calvin, these Anabaptists and libertines claimed that "there ought to be such great perfection in the church of God that its government should suffice for law. But they stupidly imagine such a perfection as can never be found in a community of men" (IV, xx, 2).

Calvin's critique in principle is stated early in his treatment of the state:

For certain men, when they hear that the gospel promises a freedom that acknowledges no king and no magistrate among men, but looks to Christ alone, think that they cannot benefit by their freedom so long as they see any power set up over them. They therefore think that nothing will be safe unless the whole world is reshaped to a new form, where there are neither courts, nor laws, nor magistrates, nor anything which in their opinion restricts their freedom. But whoever knows how to distinguish between body and soul, between this present fleeting life and that future eternal life, will without difficulty know that Christ's spiritual Kingdom and civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct. Since then, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and enclose Christ's Kingdom within the elements of this world . . . (IV, xx, 1).

Later, the Puritans would elaborate on some of these same themes. By the early seventeenth century, much of the Reformation Revolution had been accomplished. Most European nations were well on their ways to recognizing Protestant or Catholic establishments. Against this backdrop, the Puritans, Dissenters, and Congregationalists arose opposing establishments of religion. One may wonder if they, too, would have opposed establishments of religion had their religion been established.

The Puritans are important for two reasons. First, they paved a relatively uncut path by being the first organized group who denied that their end was to have their religion become the law of the empire. Heretofore, the religion of a nation had normally been that of the ruler (cuius regni cuius religio). It was fairly novel then, in the seventeenth century, to have believers separate their faith from the state. While many champion the freedom of personal conscience, at the same time this radical shift should be recognized. Prior to the Puritans, very few earlier believers contended for any form of disestablishmentarianism.

Second, the Puritans loom large because they were some of the spiritual ancestors of the New World which cultivated the strongest democracies in history. All sides,sympathetic to Puritans or not,admit that the Puritan faith was at the foundation of the New World Colonies. Since this New World led to such paramount developments of government, the underlying root is not unimportant.

Harmony of the Confessions on the Civil Magistrate

Creed
Latter Helvetia
Former Helvetia
Basle
Bohemia
French
Scotland
Belgic
Augsburg
Saxony
Irish
Ch. of Eng.
WCF
Ordained of God
30
26
7
16
37
24
36
-
23
-
-
23
Accountable to God
-
-
-
16
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
23
Duty
30
26
-
16
39
-
-
-
-
-
-
23
Advance the Faith
30
26
7
16
-
24
36
-
-
-
-
23
Protect Doctrines
30
26
-
-
-
24
36
-
23
-
-
23
Laws acc. to Word
30
26
-
-
-
-
-
-
23
-
-
-
Oppose Heretics
30
-
--
-
-
-
-
-
23
-
-
23
Christian hold office
30
-
11
-
40
24
36
16
23
-
-
23
Use Sword
30
26
7
16
39
-
36
16
23
-
-
23
Capital Punishment
30
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
37
-
War
30
-
-
-
-
-
-
16
23
11
37
23
Christian Duties
30
26
-
16
39,40
24
36
-
23
-
-
23
Qualified submit
-
26
-
16
-
-
-
16
-
-
-
-
Condemn Communism
-
-
-
-
40
-
36
16
23
-
-
-
No Foreign (papal) Authority
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
37
23
Not "Marks of Church"
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
37
23

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Footnotes
David W. Hall is Executive Editor of Premise and Senior Fellow at CAPO.

Copyright 1996 PREMISE. All Rights Reserved.


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