David Held was one of the most loving individuals I had ever met. He was pastor of the First Congregational Church in Pasadena, California. The church building is adjacent to Fuller Theological Seminary. I was graduating from Fuller under the auspices of the US Army to become a chaplain and the Congregational Church. Pastor Held was guiding me through my ordination exams.
These exams included writing a paper outlining my personal beliefs. In that paper, I quoted Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” I made a statement to the effect, “Governmental authorities serve at the pleasure of God who raises them to power and removes them from power.” Pastor Held kindly suggested, “I’d delete this section. I think the Apostle Paul was in error here.” Wow! This rebuff of biblical truth was stark.
After serving in the Army Chaplaincy and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, it has been my privilege to pastor a Reformed Presbyterian Church and teach at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Westminster Confession of Faith 23:1 declares, “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good … ” The prooftext is Romans 13:1-4. The Reformed Presbyterian Testimony 23:19 states, “Both the government of the nation and the government of the visible church are established by God. Though distinct and independent of each other, they both owe supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ.” Again, one of the proofs is Romans 13:1.
God rules the nations and His church through Jesus Christ, the Mediator, and King. See my previous post, “The LORD is King.” Daniel 2:21 is forthright, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever … He removes kings and establishes kings.” If the LORD is not King, what is the alternative? Daniel 3 tells the story of the great image Nebuchadnezzar made. What is this image? “It is a symbolic representation of Babylon and the kingdom of this world” (Ferguson, 1988, p. 69). In ancient Babylon, ultimately, men and women worship either God or government.
Fast forward to the riotous breach of the capitol buildings in Washington DC on January 6, 2021. That same night, a US Senate leader said of the incident, “This is a special place. This is a sacred place. But this sacred place was desecrated by a mob today on our watch. This temple to democracy was defiled by thugs.” After the incident, another Senate leader declared that “this Temple to democracy was desecrated.” You may do an internet search of these words and find them in numerous publications.
Note the religious tone in these comments. The Apple Dictionary (Version 2.3.0) gives the following definitions. Sacred refers to that which is “religious rather than secular.” To desecrate means to “treat (a sacred place or thing) with violent disrespect.” A temple is “a building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling place, of a god or gods or other objects of religious reverence.” We are becoming more and more like ancient Babylon. Our culture leads us to acknowledge either Christ is LORD or government is Lord.
In the first-century, Governor Pontius Pilate set the same choice before the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’” (John 19:15). This choice was also that of first-century Christians. Was Caesar Lord, or is Jesus LORD? While we are becoming more and more like Babylon, we are, simultaneously, becoming more and more like the world the Gospels outline. But this fact is hopeful. God chose to plant and spread His Gospel message in ancient first-century Roman society.
Christ promises His disciples, “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This promise applies to the church today. Our cultural situation is ripe for spreading the Gospel. Part of understanding the times is to discern these hopeful signs.
Work Cited: Ferguson, S. (1988). Daniel. Dallas: Word.