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Doctrine Illuminated: Civil Government

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[11 minute  read]

In these Doctrine Illuminated articles, the core beliefs of Addison Street Community Church are fleshed out in more detail. Begin by examining the section of the Doctrinal Confession, found at the top, and then discover an explanation of each of its lines below.

Section 14. Civil Government. 
“We believe that God ordains civil government for the interests and good order of human society. Leaders are to be prayed for and obeyed, except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

In our country, we are currently witnessing the divisive power of politics. This is the most our country has been divided in recent memory, almost entirely based on differing political beliefs. The chasm between Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservative almost seems insurmountable. Our churches are far from exempt from this societal phenomenon, as many feel the weight to give in to the pressures from either side. It’s as important as ever that we as Christians grasp what we confess about the role and purpose of civil government and can articulate it clearly.

“We believe that God ordains civil government.”

God is the one that puts the authorities that exist in place. Even in a country with a democratic election, the very office of leader, whatever their name or exact function, is one that has been established by God. He created the order that exists for these leaders to govern their people. In a similar way that God ordained prophets and priests in the Old Testament, he also ordained kings. Even though we are far from the theocracy (a government united under the recognized authority of God) of ancient Israel, he still ordains leaders today even under the New Covenant. Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Romans 13 is the go-to passage for civil government and the church. What’s important to note is that even though Rome was notoriously sinful and against God, Paul still instructs the Christians in Rome to respect the government officials. When one respects the government that God has put into place, ultimately it is God who they are respecting. Whether your candidate gets elected or not, whether the authority over you is even Christian or not, they are deserving of the respect that comes with their God-appointed office.

“[God ordains government] for the interests and good order of human society.”

It is in the best interest of a country that they have the organization and structure that comes with leadership and governance. That way they can protect themselves from threats both within and without. Having a government is in the best interest of any society, especially to have a government with the people’s best interests in mind. 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” Governments do not exist without instructions for how they are to behave. Any government that is harming their own people is being disobedient to God and are justifiably deserving of removal. However, those that do their job effectively will reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. This is them doing their God-given duty as the government. As the church, we are to seek to do everything we can—within the will of God—to avoid the wrath of our government and to seek to do good in their eyes. If the government sees us as being a benefit for the community, they will be more likely to support the church and allow her to do her own God-given duty.

“Leaders are to be prayed for and obeyed.”

The leaders of our land should have our support, whether we agree with their views or not. Ultimately, the views that our leaders have will likely affect our lives much less than we think they will. More important than getting the tax breaks we may want or funding for a specific organization, we should pray that the government maintains order in society. The church should be model citizens to this end, not needlessly inciting upheaval, but living peaceably and praying for our leadership. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” The church is not at odds with the government, for the church’s primary function on this earth is not political—in an earthly sense. Our primary function is to minister to people with the gospel of King Jesus and we can most effectively do this when the government is being the government. It’s the government’s job to wield the sword and the church’s job to wield the Word. Whenever we conflate these two jobs, we run the risk of forgetting our primary purpose. Let us be good stewards of the Gospel Word as we pray for those in leadership.

“[But the government is not to be obeyed] in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The great exception to the rule of quiet obedience is when the government acts in a way that actively opposes the gospel or does harm to its citizens. Both are instances where civil disobedience is not just optional, but necessary. Our maxim is that the church ought to be model citizens of supporting the government. But when those instances arise when she is called to civil disobedience, it should be evident to the surrounding world. Romans 13:5 (NIV) says, “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” This translation captures the meaning of this passage. This idea of a matter of conscience means that the Christian does not blindly submit to the government but does so conscientiously. However, when the government acts wrongly, their disobedience is a matter of conscience as well. A great and often-cited example is in the actions of German Christians in Nazi Germany. The government was opposing God in their utterly evil actions against the Jews, and those that harbored them in their homes were disobeying the government but obeying God. They chose to disobey as a matter of conscience. For the church today, sometimes obeying God means disobeying the government. However, we need to be discerning in the times that we choose to go against the government and be sure that we are in line with God’s will revealed in Scripture as we do.

“[Jesus is] the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Jesus is the highest King in all the land. As Christians, we confess that he is the King of kings and will reign on the highest throne for all eternity. While the rulers of this earth may sit on their thrones now, all their thrones are ultimately in subordination to the highest throne on which Christ sits. Revelation 4-5 documents this in glorious detail. However, as much as it’s true that Christ is the King who sits on the throne, he has not yet fully enacted his reign on the earth. John 18:36 quotes Jesus saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Jesus does not mince words, he is a King, but his Kingdom is not seen in this world. As Christians, we should have this attitude as we live in this already-not-yet stage. Christ has already proven that he is the King, but his Kingdom has not yet been fully established. So, we are to live in eager anticipation for the second coming of Christ when he will finally reign as King, a perfect King, under which we will be pleased to live as citizens of heaven. He is the King of kings, Lord of lords, and yes—even the President of presidents.

Navigating this current cultural time and place as a Christian can be tricky business. Perhaps the most difficult task is to apply Romans 13:5 and obedience as a matter of conscience. Yet, we do not navigate this task alone, but in the company of other brothers and sisters in Christ empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We should be swift to obey our government and not cause them any more strife than their position already allows. Yet, when the time calls for it, we should also be ready to hold our ground on the things we hold unwavering convictions about. In those moments when the world looks on, we should be ready to preach the gospel, even if it costs us our much—even our very own lives. Let us wield the Gospel Word with skill and diligence no matter what the world throws our way.



Doctrine Illuminated: The Fall of Humanity

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[8 minute  read]

In these Doctrine Illuminated articles, the core beliefs of Addison Street Community Church are fleshed out in more detail. Begin by examining the section of the Doctrinal Confession, found at the top, and then discover an explanation of each of its lines below.

Section 6. The Fall of Humanity. 
“We believe that humans were created good, but by voluntary disobedience of God’s law fell from their holiness and happiness. As a result of Adam’s sin, and by their own choice, all people are now sinners without excuse and subject to the just condemnation of God’s eternal judgment.”

What’s wrong with the world? Why is there so much injustice, disagreement, and suffering that we hear about (or even witness) on an almost daily basis? These questions resonate with all people because everyone feels the ugly repercussions of what the Bible calls ‘sin.’ Understanding what the Scriptures teach about sin helps us understand several things. For example, why can life often times be so incredibly difficult? Or, why does evil seem to prevail everywhere we look? We were originally created good, but have inherited a sinful nature from the first person who willingly disobeyed God’s gracious boundaries. And we, too, have become disobedient by our own rebellious choices. Read on to understand how to better live in light of these grim realities.

“We believe that humans were created good, but by voluntary disobedience of God’s law fell from their holiness and happiness.”

In the book of Genesis, we read that on the sixth day of creation God made man and woman in his own image. Everything the Lord had created up to this point was declared “good” (see for example Genesis 1:10). But once humanity was made, he said that everything was very good. He then put man in the garden of Eden to work it and keep good care of it. Adam and Eve, the first couple, lived a perfect life there with no wrong or injustice, in the direct and constant presence of their Creator. Further, God put in the garden of Eden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And he told Adam that he and his wife could eat from absolutely any tree they’d like except for that one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they disobeyed, God said, they would surely die. You may know the story–they voluntarily disobeyed and were subsequently expelled from that paradise, falling from their perfect state of holiness and happiness. Since then humanity has been cursed by sin and its troublesome consequences.

“As a result of Adam’s sin, and by their own choice, all people are now sinners without excuse.”

And this sin ultimately leads to death for all people. Romans 5:12 says that death spreads to all men because all sinned. Therefore, no one can blame Adam and Eve for all the suffering in the world. Ultimately, we all suffer because we’re all sinners. And this attempt to transfer guilt to someone else has been around since original sin. (We call it original sin not only because it was the first transgression but also because it is the origin of the human sinful nature.) When Adam blamed Eve—and even God—for what he had done, he said to the Lord, “The woman whom you gave me to be with, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). But he wasn’t alone. Eve, too, tried to transfer her guilt to someone else. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). Pointing the finger at others won’t help us get rid of the trouble and death that sin produces. Nowadays, the idea that injustice is only the product of what other people do to certain groups is propagated and widely accepted. While consequences may linger from what past generations have done, the Scriptures teach that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). And as Romans 3:23 clearly states, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Playing the victim game won’t fix the problem. But let’s remember that the gospel is the good news that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins. To apply this news to our lives it’s important to deny the tendency we have to transfer the hurt and guilt we carry in unique ways and deal first with our own sin and rebellion against God.    

“[Humans are] subject to the just condemnation of God’s eternal judgment.”

God is good. This is at the same time both a great and terrifying truth. Since God is good, he cannot let the guilty go unpunished. And we have observed experientially and biblically that all people have sinned. So God’s judgment is certain and right, and condemnation is just. But God’s goodness also provides salvation. At the cross of Jesus Christ, God punished the sins of his people through Jesus Christ, their substitute. That is why the psalmist prophetically stated that “love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss” (Psalm 85:10). What God told Moses about his own character was here most climactically and clearly seen. “The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…’ ” (Exodus 34:6–7). At the cross the Lord clears the guilty by punishing Jesus in their place, thus offering forgiveness for sin. All those who do not put their faith in Christ’s sacrifice will face God’s judgment and his just condemnation. 

The doctrine of sin has often been ignored, diminished, and distorted. The acceptance that something is wrong with the world is nearly universal, but most people tend to avoid what the Bible teaches about sin and its unfolding effects. Modern culture tries to fix the wrongs that have been done by focusing on the sin of generations past. At the human level, hardly anyone denies that the reason we suffer is because of human oppression and the consequences of the shortcomings of past generations. But at the Divine level we are not to see ourselves only as victims, but to deal with suffering in the face of our own sin and guilt. There was just one man in history who suffered even though he was perfectly righteous—Jesus Christ. We must understand that we all need a personal Savior because we can’t adequately solve our own biggest problem, the sinful nature inside of us. Only then will the gospel will make sense, for though it’s true that Jesus died for the sins of his people collectively, it can only reach each one of us if we accept our individual responsibility for sin.

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