This article continues a series of weekly posts originally authored by David Lipscomb, an important figure in the Churches of Christ in the 1800s. Learn more about Lipscomb’s background here and here, and see other references to him on LCI here. The series is titled “The Church of Christ and World-Powers”, and it was also originally published as a series of 18 articles in The Gospel Advocate in 1866. (To read from the beginning of the series, start here.)
This seventh entry of the series is the longest thus far (so stick with me!), and in it Lipscomb continues his argument that the Kingdom of God and the state (human governments) are markedly different. He brings forward more evidence from the gospels that Jesus considers his work completely oppositional to that of the kingdoms of this world, including the so-called “temple tax” incident of Matthew 17 and the well-known “render to Caesar” teaching in Matthew 22.
Lipscomb finally addresses in this entry the looming question of Romans 13. He brings the chief similar Bible verses all out at once – Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, and Titus 3. His overarching point is that these verses actually support the radical idea that being “not of this world” means a measure of separation from “human governments” and that those governments are distinctly not the Kingdom of God. Lipscomb notes: “Now if the idea had not have crept into their minds that they were somehow not subject of these earthly kingdoms, there would not have been the necessity for this repeated admonition being given them.”
Jesus’ own experiences are crucial to observe here, and by extension those who follow after Jesus will have similar experiences. To wit, Lipscomb writes: “[Jesus] never came in contact with the prince of this world, or the governments of this world, but to be tempted to corruption or to be persecuted. The Church of Christ, we may safely affirm, has never come in contact with the governments of this world but to be persecuted or corrupted.”
Lipscomb’s indictment of the modern church rings perhaps even more true now than in 1866: “The alliances, friendships, and blandishments of the world-powers today are more fatal to the strength and purity of the church than the combined opposition of the world could possibly be.”
Finally, Lipscomb reminds the reader of his point from prior essays that while the Bible gives clear instructions on how people should conduct themselves in a variety of relationships (parent/child, husband/wife, etc.), there is no instruction whatsoever for the “Christian ruler.” Why is that? Lipscomb’s answer: because God doesn’t intend his people to be human government rulers.
The Church of Christ and World-Powers (7) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, Mar. 13, 1866, pp. 161-166.
Christ recognized the claims of the Tempter to the kingdoms of this world. Acknowledged by his action at the time, by his response to the wicked one, through his inspired apostles, Matthew, Luke and Paul, that the offer of the kingdoms of this world by the wicked one, was a temptation to the Son of God. This could only have been true on the supposition that they were actually the possession of the devil. The world had been delivered him by men to whose control God had committed it. Christ, we have found, came into the world to rescue it from the dominion or possession of the wicked one. He proposed to do this, not by entering into and controlling the kingdoms of this world, that had been established under the rule and in the interest of the wicked one, but by destroying and consuming these and establishing a kingdom, “not made with hands—one whose founder and builder is God.”
We find the Savior definitely marking his relationship to these kingdoms, when he asks Peter, “Of whom do the kings of earth take custom or tribute? Of their own children or of strangers?” Peter saith unto him, “Of strangers.” Jesus saith unto him, “Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up, and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take and give unto them for me and for thee.” He thus, by his own act, confirmed by a miracle, places himself and the Apostle Peter among the strangers to the kingdoms of this world. They are the children of no earthly government, although born and living under them.
The enemies of the Savior saw that his claims to be king were adverse to the claims of any earthly potentate or power, so they made this the chief ground of opposition to him. Matt. 22:17. The Pharisees ask him, “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute-money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, render, therefore, unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God, the things that are God’s.” Or as Tertullian, over fifteen hundred years ago, commented on this as follows: “The image of Caesar, which is on the coin, we give to Caesar. The image of God which is in man, is to be given to God. Therefore, thou must give the money, indeed, to Caesar, but thyself to God, for what will remain to God, if both man and money he given to Caesar?”
The enemies of the Savior knew that his kingdom was in opposition to all earthly kingdoms, so [they]* expected him to forbid the paying of tribute to Caesar, and to develop an open and violent hostility to Caesar’s government. They only mistook the nature of his weapons and kingdom, as well as the manner of establishing that kingdom. In accordance with this idea, the charge which they made against like at his crucifixion was that he claimed to be a king, therefore could not be Caesar’s friend. Mark 15:1, 2. Luke 23:2, 3. John 18:34, 35. He admitted the charge, but only answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It enters not the contest and strife for dominion after the manner of the earthly kingdoms. It uses no earthly weapons or violent means in its establishment. When Pilate is disposed to release Jesus, the multitudes cry at him. “Let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend.”
This same feeling of antagonism manifested itself in the persecution, punishment and martyrdom of the Apostles and primitive Christians by the rulers and powers of the earthly kingdom. This antagonism was foretold by the Prophets. Psalm 2:1, 2. “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the riders take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed.” Peter and John, after the healing of the impotent man in Solomon’s porch, were arrested and straightway threatened that they should speak no more in the name of Jesus. They quote the foregoing from David, and apply it. “For a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done, and now, Lord. behold their threatenings.” Acts 4:26.
Jesus Christ recognized, clearly, this antagonism. He recognized ever that the world governments were his enemies. They sought his life at his birth. To destroy him, Herod “destroyed all the children of two years old and under, in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof.” Matt. 10. Christ selects and sends out his twelve apostles. He tells them “they shall be delivered up to the councils, and by them be scourged in the synagogues, and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.” The taking on themselves the name of Christ, would bring on them the opposition and persecution of the political governments. But in these trials to which they are subjected, on account of Christ, he tells them, “Fear not them (the civil rulers) who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him (God) who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:28. Christ speaking of his death said, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” John 12:31.
In other words, now is the trial of the strength of the prince of this world and the Prince of Heaven. The power of the prince of this world will be triumphed over, and thus will his claims be regarded and his power overthrown. In the trial of strength, Jesus Christ permits the rulers of this world to exercise their utmost stretch of power by killing the body, he then rises a victor from the grave, thereby showing that when they have exerted their utmost stretch of power, he can overcome and destroy all their work. Paul, speaking of the triumph of Christ over the highest powers of the mightiest of earthly kingdoms, says, Col. 2:15, “Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” He spoiled them by destroying their prestige of superiority, and in his personal triumph over their utmost stretch of power, he gave the assurance that in the long controversy he had entered upon with the nations, his final triumph and their utter destruction were sure. He made a shew of his triumph over them, in shewing himself after his resurrection from the grave. He shews his superior power to them all. You can only carry down to the grave. I am superior to the prison bonds of death. Where then your boast[s]? But this antagonism is presented again, John 14:30. “Hereafter I will not talk much with you for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” Here he announces that the prince of this world—he that governs and rules the world, hath nothing in Jesus—no interest or prestige in his kingdom. Who is the prince of this world? The wicked one—the devil? Then he operates through and uses Pontius Pilate, the civil ruler. The civil ruler, the human government then, is the agency through which the devil works. But says one, the prince of this world was Pontius Pilate, who was coming. Then Pontius Pilate, the representative of the civil human government, “hath nothing in Christ,” no part, nor lot, nor heritage there. Civil government is the same today that it was then. This government, whose ruler or head, whether Pontius Pilate or the wicked one he referred to, is the same to which the Christians of primitive times were admonished to be subject by Christ and his apostles.
The impression made upon the disciples themselves, was that they were not subjects of the earthly kingdoms. Hence they looked for an earthly kingdom, the restoration of earthly power to Israel. Acts 1:6. “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?” The same impression upon their minds is recognized in the fact that the disposition to carry the idea to an unwarranted extreme, called forth the repeated admonition from the apostle, “Be subject to the powers that be.” Rom. 13:1. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,” &c. 1st Peter 2:13. “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates,” &c. Titus 3:1. Now if the idea had not have crept into their minds that they were somehow not subject of these earthly kingdoms, there would not have been the necessity for this repeated admonition being given them. Notice, too, they were commanded to do these things for the Lord’s sake, not for the sake of the governments. These admonitions certainly connect the Christian with these earthly governments under which he lives, in relationship that we will examine at the proper time. But they all show the Christian was not taught to regard himself as part and parcel of these kingdoms.
In accordance with this, too, the wicked one is ever* regarded in Scripture as the prince of this world. “Now is the judgment of this world: shall the prince of this world be cast out,” John 12:31. “The prince of this world is judged,” John 16:2. “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” Eph. 2:2. “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God. that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day,” Eph. 6:11-13. [These verses demonstrate the way]* in which the principalities, powers, the rulers of this world are certainly classed among the wiles of the wicked one that are to be withstood through the use of God’s armor. The wicked one is also sometimes called the God of this world, indicating his influence and power in this world. When the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of God and his Son, we presume the devil will no longer be called the God of this world.
We have thus found that the separation and antagonism between God’s institutions and man’s, or as they might now be properly termed, the wicked one’s, kept up and impressed through the four thousand years of the existence of the types, have fully maintained, by the teaching of Christ himself in the great antitype, the spiritual and eternal kingdom of God. We wish to call the attention of the readers here to the fact that the existence of Jesus Christ here on earth in his fleshly body, was to some extent a type of the existence of the spiritual body. His temptations, its temptations, his poverty, sorrows, trials, persecutions, betrayal, death, burial, resurrection and glorious, triumphant ascension, all typifying the same experiences that it must undergo. He never came in contact with the prince of this world, or the governments of this world, but to be tempted to corruption or to be persecuted. The Church of Christ, we may safely affirm, has never come in contact with the governments of this world but to be persecuted or corrupted.
The alliances she has made with the princes and governments of this world have ever been more fatal to her strength and purity than the persecutions she has undergone. Christ was above temptation when the wicked one offered an alliance—his followers have not been proof against the same kind of offers made by the emissaries and agents of the wicked one. Constantine weakened the church a thousand-fold more than Nero or Diocletian. The alliances, friendships, and blandishments of the world-powers today are more fatal to the strength and purity of the church than the combined opposition of the world could possibly be. Then her own experiences accord with the teachings of God, warning her against the association of the world or human institutions. They are the institutions of the wicked one. What fellowship hath Christ with Belial? What participation can a child of God have in the kingdoms of this world?
Again, the Scriptures have recognized every relationship of life into which it is possible for a Christian to enter, and given instruction that thoroughly furnishes the child of God with directions how he should act therein. They have given instruction how the parties should mutually conduct themselves toward each other as husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant, elder and younger, stranger and friend, and even as wrong-doer and wrong-sufferer—every relationship into which it is possible for a Christian to enter, has its appropriate instructions for the Christians guidance therein, save one if it be lawful to enter into that one. In one relationship of life, and that the most universally prevalent one with the human family, this instruction is in part wanting. That relationship is, subject and ruler in the earthly kingdom. One party to this relationship, the subject, is directed and guided as to the manner conducting himself in this relationship. But the ruler, the most important one of all the relationships of this world, because on him the peace and quiet of the world depends, in whose hands the happiness of millions rests, is left without one single word of instruction as to how he should direct himself.
Why this omission, why this painful silence of God as to the Christian ruler of the kingdoms of this world? The Christian father, child, the Christian husband, wife, master, servant, the Christian, that falls into wrong, the Christian that suffers wrong doing, the Christian subject of a human government, all have their rules of conduct laid down in the Scriptures of God, but not a solitary word in the volume of inspiration as to how the Christian ruler of the earthly kingdoms shall conduct himself. What means this omission, friends? “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable, &c., that the man of God may be perfect., thoroughly furnished into every good work,” and yet no direction furnished him how he shall act when he comes to assist in directing and conducting the governments of this world.
The Christian father, husband, wife, child, master, servant, subject, can walk by the light of divine truth, under the spiritual guidance of God, but the Christian ruler, governor, magistrate, law-maker, law-executor, must grope his way in the dark, directed only by his own frail and erring reason; no wonder he makes so many false steps. No wonder his wisest plans so often miscarry. But brethren we ask you seriously, what meaneth this omission? Was it inadvertence, omission, oversight in the law-maker? Who dare so affirm? How can we resist the conclusion that God never anticipated his children participating in the governmental affairs of these earthly kingdoms. He recognized these kingdoms as the kingdoms of the wicked one, and made no provision for his children participating therein.
* These denote either typos notice or small additions I made for clarity.
Posted with permission from the Libertarian Christians Institute.