Legislating Morality

I’ve made my opinion known here and elsewhere that I think the government should not legislate against homosexual marriage. That being said, I remembered a verse today that I want to share and maybe get some feedback on.

The Apostle Peter recorded in his first epistle (2:13-14) that Christians ought to submit themselves to “over ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,” meaning that we should be law-abiding citizens, insomuch as those laws do not conflict with loving God and our neighbors (Acts 5:29).

Moving on, Peter says that the reason we ought to submit to kings and governors (i.e., civil governments) is that they are ordained “for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”

What is the “evildoing” that Peter talks about here? Certainly George Bush has his ideas, but how shall we understand what the Holy Spirit meant when He inspired this text? Commentaries I have seem to agree that “evildoers” are those who break the laws of God and of men. Does this not mean that morality is already legislated for us in the Bible, and that a government is not fulfilling it’s God-ordained duty if it does not punish evil and reward good?

Or should we take what Peter said and let it speak only of times past, as many have done with other, less popular teachings from the same epistle, such as 2:18,19 (“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable…”) or 3:1,6 (“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands … As Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”)? I’m not prepared to do that!

Paul concurs with Peter, as in the thirteenth chapter of Romans he writes a defense of civil government: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”

One could preach on that passage for weeks and not exhaust it, but be sure of one thing: God has placed every ruler in his position since the beginning of time in order for them to be “an evenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” and to minister good unto those who do good. These are the only biblical responsibilities of civil government that I am aware of.

Now, obviously, there have been rulers who have failed miserably. Hitler did far more than punish the evil and reward the good. But, so have most (all?) American presidents.

Consider that Jesus–our Lord and example–is the King Eternal (1 Timothy 1:17). Does He not say He will reward the good and punish the wicked? Luke 19:27 is a fearful verse if there ever has been any, but as Paul said in the passage above, “Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.” Afraid of God? Believe in Him and do good, and you will have no reason to be afraid!

So where does this leave us on the legislation of morality? I realize that it is American to love diversity and to live and let live. But before being an American, Hoosier, or even husband, I am a Christian and want to continually be conformed to the image of Christ. Is it the government’s responsibility to be the avenging hand of God upon sinners? If not, how then are “evildoers” defined in the biblical context? As a corollary, are governments falling short by not praising those who share the gospel with others or otherwise do good?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in activism. I don’t believe that as soldiers of the cross we should entangle ourselves with matters of this life (2 Timothy 2:4). Such things are a distraction from real service.

Not sure what the conclusions of the matter should be, but I think this will sum it up:

  • Governments have a responsibility to punish the wicked and reward the good,
  • But it is not for Christians to dictate to the government what ought to be done for
  • The government–just as individuals–will have to answer before God for its (in)actions.

So, do I think people should lobby the government to punish certain sinners? No. But do I think the government should do better in its punishment of sinners? Yes.

It boils down to whether or not “evil” in the passages relevant to governments has to do with solely civil law, or if the laws of God are included therein as well. In the case of Israel, they had a civil law, but they also had a moral and a ceremonial law. To my shame, I don’t know much about Old Testament history; was the king responsible for enforcing just the civil law or was enforcing all aspects of the law included? What happened then was for our edification and as an example, so I would be very interested in how Israel dealt with evildoers.

Update: If you enjoyed this post and topic, be sure to check out the awesome discussion taking place at Open Switch!

6 thoughts on “Legislating Morality”

  1. It seems to me that marriage is simply a state of mind. You can get married withut the government having an issue with it whatsoever. If the idea is to get the benefits that go along with marriage, then it seems that you are going to have to find another way around it. The government legislates the age of marriage too, which certainly could be considered legislating the morality of it too.

    I think it is missing the point to ask Uncle Sam for his blessing. People should do what they want, and the power of following your gut will always beat some state law.


  2. I agree with you, Brad. People get married all over the world without getting Uncle Sam’s license to do so, but does that mean they are any less married? Of course not. Likewise, those who marry in America shouldn’t feel like they need a certificate to credential their devotion.

    Uncle Sam may be able to tell us what property rights or inheritance rights or whatever we are allowed to as married or unmarried people, but he does not own the state of being married itself, nor can he.

  3. Howdy – this site popped up in a search engine while I was looking for some background info on Matt Slick and CARM (I’ve already done my homework on David Cloud, but had not really looked at CARM critically as I haven’t found any of it to be objectionable – though that can just as well come as a result of my own misunderstanding…). Back on topic: You offer some interesting insights. I don’t mean to just jump on here and be a troll, but…

    I must take issue with your basic argument regarding federal marriage protection. First, as a democratic republic, every individual is a responsible agent in the process of governance. Our votes, our voices, and our opinions (which are hopefully submissive to the Lord) are central to the vision and direction of American government. I believe your call to non-intervention by the public IS germane to a monarchy situation, but the public bears an added responsibility under a democratic or parliamentarian nation.

    I take further issue because you discount the fact that our federal courts have largely been co-opted by the cause of homosexual advocacy. If we are to do nothing, we will be excercising political pacifism – which is very much on the same order as any other type of pacifism, none of which is Biblical or just in the eyes of God. What is “Christian” about allowing wickedness to flourish unopposed? The fact is that in a democracy, that which we do not oppose, we condone. The entire nation is without excuse when the result ends in a homosexual culture that grows in public influence, including our schools and elsewhere, to claim souls for Satan. The same logic applies to abortion, weak prison sentences, unjust tax laws and everything else. If the Christian cannot stand for justice on these basic principles, then how does the Christian maintain any credibility the the other spheres of his life and witness?

  4. This is certainly not to say that being “pro-life” or “pro-family” or having any other conservative political position is worth a hill of beans. My personal background is that of a conservative Republican who had all the right positions on issues but did not have Jesus in his life. I know what it’s like to live that way–topping my list were selfishness and lust–and I see many, many solid Republicans or just “good-person”, traditional-values types who are self-deceived in this manner. However, identifying this lie and living under Christ’s grace and in growing obedience does NOT mean that we ignore the critical issues of the day. Being pro-life or pro-family won’t get anyone into heaven, but being “pro-choice” or
    pro-homosexual ain’t gonna do it, either. The difference is that the unsaved conservative does not contribute to systematic societal decay, while the secular hedonist absolutely undermines social stability by advocating reprobate activity. While one does good works apart from God, the other does evil works to spite God. Neither is saved, but there is a difference and it affects our children, families, our friends and our neighboors in how they perceive evil and righteousness.

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