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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: God the Son (18min read)

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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 4.  God the Son.  
"We believe that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human and, in Christ’s person, these two natures exist without confusion and without change, yet also without division and without separation. He was conceived supernaturally by the power of the Holy Spirit and borne by the Virgin Mary. We believe Christ lived a completely perfect and sinless life, yet he was tempted as all humans are. We believe that Christ came as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and of the three major Old Testament offices: prophet, priest, and king: As prophet, Christ reveals the Father; Christ, as our high priest, mediates between humanity and God; finally, as our king, Christ is presently ruling over the Church."

Every heresy is almost always at some level a Christological heresy. John Calvin is quoted as saying, “As Christ is the end of the Law and the Gospel and has within Himself all the treasures of wisdom and understanding, so also is He the mark at which all heretics aim and direct their arrows.” Correctly understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ is foundational to the Christian faith (hence Christ-ian). Where we misunderstand Christ, there is a trickle-down effect to the rest of our beliefs and lives. Christ is the crux of the Christian faith and the whole of Scripture ultimately points to him.

“We believe that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human.”

This is the most profound mystery of Scripture, yet it is the most elementary and foundational teaching of the Christian faith. Every other doctrine or teaching stems from this confession about Jesus Christ. John 1:14 says, “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word refers to the second member of the Trinity, the Son of God. John 1:1 tells about the eternality of the Word and now we see that he becomes flesh and dwells with mankind. The Greek word for dwell literally means “to tabernacle”, a reference to the Old Testament dwelling place of God before the temple. The Word, without ceasing to be God, becomes man in the person of Jesus. And this ought to be regarded as really good news, as God, who was distant and apart from us due to our sin, has drawn near to us by becoming flesh that he might redeem us.

“In Christ’s person, these two natures exist without confusion and without change, yet also without division and without separation.”

Jesus doesn’t just have two sides to himself, a God side and a man side, that he might oscillate between the two. No, Jesus Christ brings his two natures, Divine and human, into union in his own being. Christ, by nature of being fully God and fully man, brings reconciliation between God and humanity. Colossians 2:9 says, “For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Jesus, therefore, is not partly God and partly man. He possesses the fullness of deity in a body that is truly a human body. Furthermore, now that he has taken on flesh, he does not elect to “take it off” so to speak at either his resurrection or ascension. Instead of taking off flesh, he has taken up flesh. Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father where he currently exists. This means that the bodies we now have are important, as Jesus did not merely dispose of his body, but it is his very body glorified that he now exists in. Let us then not neglect our fleshly bodies or consider them to be of no importance. Instead, let us regard our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, considering that we do not exist apart from a body, but as embodied souls.

“He was conceived supernaturally by the power of the Holy Spirit and borne by the Virgin Mary.”

Christ’s birth is the most miraculous in the Bible. Matthew 1:22-23 says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Christ’s birth by the virgin Mary is significant in that it is the foremost example of God being the author of life. A virgin conceiving is something that can only be made possible by the miracle-working hand of God. Yet, Mary ought not to be regarded as a sort of human surrogate for the divine seed. No, but as Christ is truly begotten of the Father, he is truly begotten of Mary, that is of real flesh—sharing her own DNA. Christ has condescended so near to us that he has taken on our own flesh to redeem us. Rejoice, for Christ has real human flesh and can relate to us. We do not serve a God who is far off from us, but one that penetrates to the deepest parts of our existence to save us. 

“We believe Christ lived a completely perfect and sinless life, yet he was tempted as all humans are.”

Christ’s humanity is good news in that it is a humanity we are familiar with. Christ does not merely appear to be human, but in every respect, he is truly human! Along with this comes the reality we all face of temptation to sin. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” As Christ assumes a humanity in a condition in need of redemption, he himself lives sinlessly. He sinlessly assumes a sinful condition so that he could sanctify and glorify a body under that sinful condition. Where this affects us is that we now have hope in what was once a hopeless state. Our hope is that Christ accomplished for us righteousness, holiness, and glorification where we, plagued by sin, were unable to do so for ourselves. We receive all these things in Christ, which is to say basis on our union with Christ. Christ became flesh so that we might be made one flesh with him, and thus receive the aforementioned benefits. It is because of this union we have with him, a true one-flesh union, in which we receive these benefits.

“We believe that Christ came as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.”

The Old Testament is littered with prophecies on the coming Messiah. And this was certainly on the minds of Jewish people during the time of Christ’s incarnation when the Messianic expectation was rather strong. Luke 24:44 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” Jesus recognizes and declares that he is the fulfillment of prophecies put forth in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah. It’s not only that Christ fulfills everything in the prophets, but that he also fulfills everything the Law and the Psalms. There is no other one to come, nor does Jesus leave any stone unturned or prophecy unfulfilled. He meticulously fulfills all of Scripture when he comes. For this reason, we ought not to think about God as being of a different character in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. Furthermore, we ought not to think that there is a God behind the back of Jesus. Christ perfectly reveals the Father as he totally fulfills scripture, authenticating both Testaments of Scripture as an effective witness to God.

“[Christ fulfilled] the three major Old Testament offices: prophet, priest, and king.”

The doctrine of the three offices of Christ essentially says that there were three offices in the Old Testament by which God mediated his presence to his people. These three offices were prophet, priest, and king. In the following few paragraphs we’ll flesh out how Christ fulfills all three offices in himself.

“As prophet, Christ reveals the Father.”

Prophets in the Old Testament would often use the phrase “thus says the Lord” when addressing their crowd. Prophets of God were not sent to further their own agenda, but to simply and only speak as the Lord God gave them the words to say. In so doing, they are revealing the God whose words they are communicating. So it is with Christ. In John 5:30 Jesus says, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus is not intending to reveal anything or anyone but the Father who sent him. Furthermore, Christ can reveal God because he is from God, and because he is God. When Christ speaks, it is a perfect testimony to the Father. The Son only speaks according to the will of the Father, so when he does speak it is as an exact representation of the Father. There is no God behind the back of Jesus, for when Christ speaks it is truly the voice of the God being heard. For the church, we can take heart knowing that Christ reveals the Father to us.

“Christ, as our high priest, mediates between humanity and God.”

The priesthood in the Old Testament had the privilege of dwelling in nearness to God and spending their lives in service to God. Within the priesthood, there was one—the high priest—that had the distinct honor of going into the most holy place in the temple. This was only done once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when the priest would offer the sacrifice for the nation. Even though this was only one man and one day that he was permitted to enter the most sacred place of God’s presence, there were still many stipulations that must have been followed, or else the priest would be annihilated by the holiness of God’s presence. As such, the presence of God was mostly inaccessible. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Now, Christ is our perfect high priest. As the God-man, Jesus Christ mediates the presence of humanity to God as well as the presence of God to humanity. He exists constantly in the fullest measure of the presence of God. As for the saints, we can experience the fullness of the presence of God ourselves! Since we are made one with our Savior, we can enter the most holy place of God’s presence based on his righteousness. Would we have attempted to enter on our own we would fail, but in Christ, we can know the most real and true sense of God’s presence.

“As our king, Christ is presently ruling over the Church.”

Often lost on us is the marvelous privilege that the church has to have Christ as her king. While kings in the Old Testament contained a more obvious and visible role of authority, acknowledging Christ as king can be more difficult given that his kingdom is not of this world. Still, Christ is to have a commanding and authoritative presence over his church, to lead her, and to protect her. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “[God] put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” As our head, Christ is the one who makes the decisions and acts as the leader. His intention is to build up the church, to make his bride holy. As the church, we must know that Christ is our king, but our kingdom is not a political one. We need not seek to establish ourselves politically, nor should we be disheartened when our respective countries seek to discriminate against us. Our kingdom is a spiritual one, where Christ is on the throne. Ultimately, Christ will reign on the throne forever as our perfect and ideal king. We trust that Christ is reigning in the church now, and we look forward to the eternal kingdom that is yet to come.

I pray that this article—and more importantly the references to Scripture— proved helpful in obtaining a robust view of Jesus Christ. What we say about Christ is absolutely imperative as to the way we then function as his church. Knowing that we have immense benefits in Christ is only Good News since we know Christ himself. I pray that the Spirit would minister to you that very presence of Christ, who desires to know you in a nearness, not from a distance. For the sinner, who has never known Christ, I call you to repent and believe this marvelous good news, that God became man, true man, in the person of Jesus Christ. Today could be the day of your salvation. For the saint, no matter how long you have been walking with Jesus, I pray that you would continue to apprehend our Lord and press deeper into your union with Christ. I pray that you would continue to enjoy the blessings conferred to you based on this relationship and that you would find solace nowhere else but at the feet of our prophet, priest, and king—Jesus Christ.