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Correspondence

Dear Prof. Hanko: 

Generally I am in agreement with what is printed in theStandard Bearer, yet I must express disagreement with your answer on picketing abortion clinics in the Sept. 1, 1986 issue of that periodical. Essentially the disagreement is not so much in what you stated but in the over-simplification and lack of clarification. Please let me explain. 

The peculiarity of you and me as citizens of the United States is that our government is not a monarchy, not a theocracy, not a dictatorship; it is not even what is called a democracy; it is a constitutional republic. It is a government of the people, by the people and for the people under a constitution. Our forefathers saw fit to set up a government in the following order: God, Ten Commandments, People, Constitution, following the Declaration of Independence, Government, and last of all Government Offices. They saw fit to set up a government in which Government Officials are servants of the People, government by a Constitution. The People are not servants of Government Officials. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution support this view. In contradiction to this there seems to be a popular view, especially in some Christian circles, that our government is in a direct relationship to God, contrary to the order listed above. You and I both know that when this occurs the result is tyranny as has been so graphically demonstrated, not only by Biblical history, but world history as well. 

I would assume that most Protestant Reformed people celebrate the Fourth of July, in other words the Declaration of Independence. This is a document which is, according to some, in direct violation to the extreme view of submission to government. Yet this nation under God has enjoyed a freedom that is unsurpassed by any other nation in the world today due to that Declaration which, by the way, is a constitutional document. However, this freedom is slowly being eroded by unconstitutional edicts enacted by Government Officials. 

I take issue when you say that abortion has been legalized in this country. It has not been legalized because it is in direct violation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and the Ten Commandments. You say that we must submit to the magistrates; I agree, as long as this submission is not in violation of the Constitution, the highest government law of the land. So we are placed before this decision, do we submit to Government Officials, or do we submit to the Constitution? Even Calvin, whom Reformed people love to quote, says this: “For earthy princes lay aside their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy to be reckoned among the number of mankind. We ought rather utterly to defy them (‘conspuere in ipsorum capita,’ lit: ‘to spit on their heads’) than to obey them.” (Footnote bottom of page 1519, Calvin’s Institutes by John T. McNeill and Ford Lewis Battles). Rather a strong statement, is it not? 

Abortion is an act of which not only the Supreme Court is guilty, but nearly every citizen of the land is involved in it. Government Officials have ruled that in some instances it must be funded by the tax dollars of the citizens. Some maintain that they are not guilty of what the government does with the tax dollars it extorts from its citizens. This really is a cop-out under our type of government. Christians, at least, should refuse to fund murder and we are liable to be judged in this matter. When the books are opened in the final judgment only names of individuals will be found, not governments or any other organizations, only people. 

Picketing has taken on an evil connotation because it is used illegally by some unions. However, I find it difficult to criticize those who wish to testify in public their protest against this evil as long as they perform this act without the use of destruction of property or physical harm. This may be a long shot but Joshua picketed the city of Jericho for seven days. Jonah picketed the city of Nineveh for three days and the Old Testament Prophets went up and down throughout the land protesting the evils that were there. 

I hope that I have not been offensive but I wanted to point out that the evils being perpetrated are not simple matters for Christians. Meekness does not always call for submission. 

Respectfully, 

Howard E. VanManen 

Grand Rapids, MI

Reply

The issue quite clearly is a difference in the view of government which Mr. VanManen holds and which I hold. While I do not claim expertise in political science, several remarks are in order in answer to Mr. VanManen’s assertions. 

1) The Scriptures are unmistakably silent on what form of government meets with God’s approval. Whether one favors a democracy, a constitutional republic, a monarchy, an oligarchy, or whatever, he cannot appeal to Scripture in support of his contention. The reason for this is simply that the Scriptures are totally unconcerned about this question and consider it to be irrelevant for the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as the God of our salvation. God’s people are, while in this world, citizens of the kingdom of heaven. They are, as Peter so eloquently expresses it in his first epistle, pilgrims and strangers in the earth. The only question with which Scripture concerns itself is: how must pilgrims and strangers in the earth, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, conduct themselves in relation to the magistrate? There is only one answer to that: Submit! There is no qualification added; there are no extenuating circumstances which alter this; there are no reasons which anyone can deduce by means of which he can escape from this, calling. The proof for this is abundant. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego submitted to Nebuchadnezzar; Daniel submitted to Darius; the apostles submitted to the Sanhedrin; Paul submitted to Festus, Felix and finally Nero; our Lord submitted to Pontius Pilate as an abiding example to us (I Peter 2:19-25). We are specifically enjoined to this in I Peter 2:13, 14Titus 3:1Rom. 13:1-5. No line of argumentation can ever alter these emphatic and sharp statements. We, belonging to the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, are enjoined solemnly and without equivocation to submit to our magistrates. It is the command of our own Lord and Master. To disobey is heinous sin. 

2) Confusion sometimes arises concerning this calling to submit, as if it means also that we are called always to obey. I do not know whether our brother is confused on this point; but let me briefly mention the distinction.Submit includes obey under all ordinary circumstances. But our obedience to magistrates is fundamentally obedience to Christ the Lord. We keep the fifth commandment too because we love God. If, therefore, the magistrate requires something that involves us in disobedience to our King in heaven, we may not obey. But disobedience does not preclude submission. In our disobedience, we still submit. In our refusal to do what our Lord and King at God’s right hand forbids, we nevertheless recognize the authority of the magistrate, love him, honor him, respect him and take the consequences for disobedience. That is, we still submit—as Abednego did, as Daniel did, as Paul did, as Christ Himself did, when He died for us. 

3) The question whether the form of government in this country is “Christian,” i.e., is Biblical, lies at the foundation of our discussion. Mr. Van Manen probably knows more than I concerning the political theory which was the intellectual womb of our form of government. But a few points are clear to me, and ought, I think, be clear to Mr. Van Manen. a) There is no way in which either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution can be considered in themselves to be Christian documents. No references at all to God are to be found in the Constitution; in the Declaration of Independence are only to be found vague references to divine providence while all mention of the God of Scripture and of Christ are absent. b) If these documents are, in any way, to be considered Christian, it has to be within the context of the political theories which prevailed in those days. While I do not know very much about them, I have read the Federalist Papers at one time; and, though differences of political thought undoubtedly prevailed among the colonists, one outstanding feature of many political thinkers was their obvious and undeniable Deism, a horrible heresy, coupled with a political philosophy developed by such empiricists as John Locke. There were Christian influences—who can deny the influence of a man like Witherspoon? but the prevailing political climate was inimical to the truth of Scripture. Mr. Lincoln’s description of this country’s political system would seem to me to support this contention: A government “of the people, by the people, and for the people?” Nothing could be more atheistic than that. A pilgrim and stranger in the earth would be satisfied with nothing less than a government of God, by God, and for God. c) The revolution of 1776 was rebellion against constituted authority, and was, therefore, contrary to the will of God. That God has given to the citizens of America unparalleled freedom is not because the form of government is itself Christian. We may not argue back from our freedoms to a Christian beginning in America. Time magazine was right when years ago in an editorial it observed that this country, born in revolution, was still reaping the harvest. d) To discover what Calvin believed concerning the implications of submission to authority would be an interesting and profitable study. I have not made it. I do know that Calvin consistently warned the French Huguenots against resorting to arms in defense of their position; and I know too that Calvin wrote in the context of a unique relation between Church and State which is foreign to American political thought and which, apparently, Mr. VanManen does not want either.

4) Finally, much of this is beside the point. Even if we granted all Mr. VanManen’s arguments concerning the origin of the political system to which we are heirs, Scripture makes it very clear that we are to be in submission to those whom God has set over us, not to some document. The government, God’s servants, have interpreted the Constitution. Right or wrong astheir interpretation of the Constitution may be, they are our God-appointed magistrates, and we had better submit to them. Nebuchadnezzar was a picture of Antichrist, but Shadrach submitted to him. Nero was a monster, but Paul submitted to him. Pontius Pilate was a weak-willed, wishy-washy political opportunist, but Christ submitted to him. Whether we live in Russia, in China, in Nicaragua, or in America, we too can only submit—as citizens of a kingdom which shall endure for ever. It is only a little time that we are strangers in a foreign land. 

5) It may be that our tax dollars are used for abortions. I know that they are used for similar heinous purposes: Congressmen use our tax dollars to support revolution in Nicaragua; Welfare agencies use our tax dollars to support whores who multiply their children in abominable ways so that they can feed more fully at the public trough; and the list could be lengthened. But Paul’s words ring out above all this: “For this cause pay ye tribute also, for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Rom. 13:6, 7). And God will some day right all wrongs. 

Abortion is a terrible sin. God’s judgments rest with terrible horror upon a nation which murders unborn infants. We must fight this evil with every means at our disposal. But to resort to rebellion, to fall back upon might and power, to try to right wrongs by means condemned in Scripture, all this will lead only to great sin on our part and make our work, too, an abomination in the sight of God. The weapons we are called to use are not those of carnal warfare. We have the Word. Let us preach the Word. Let us leave the results in the hands of God Who saves His Church and Who works all things to accomplish the goal of the great glory of His most holy Name. 

The spirit of rebellion which prevails among conservative Christians nowadays is a spirit which, if it infects the Church, will destroy her. Let us walk as citizens of the kingdom of our Lord Christ, and look forward with uplifted heads to the time when the kingdoms of this earth shall become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.