By Derek Carlsen
A great hindrance in our thinking has been to equate the term “government” with the state, believing that all government falls under the jurisdiction of the state. Government, however, is a very broad concept and relates to the individual, the family, the church, business, and other areas, as well as to the state. The state is only one small aspect within the whole picture of governmental authority. It is God and not the state Who is sovereign over all things; and God has set the boundaries for the legitimate functioning of the state — just as He has set the boundaries for everything else. We cannot ignore these boundaries without destroying our own liberty.
The solutions to most of the problems in our nation (Zimbabwe) are not political because the authority and responsibilities that God has given to the political sphere are very limited. The modern state claims authority over everything — sport, culture, education, health, economics, welfare, private associations, business, individuals, information, technology, etc. — and wants to regulate all the details, saying that without their intense involvement such things would cease to have a meaningful existence. The state sees itself as god walking on earth. However, there is only one Lord of heaven and earth and the True Lord has not made the state the savior of mankind — God alone is the savior. The state’s authority has nothing to do with salvation; rather, it is restricted to the area of justice (Rom. 13:4; 1 Pet. 2:14); and justice is actually a very narrow area of responsibility. In God’s system, many other areas of government exist that are beyond the limits of the state and are thus free from its regulation and control — self-government being the primary and essential form of government in God’s eyes.
Since God made all things (Col. 1:16), everything in the earth belongs to Him (Ps. 24:1). The creature cannot claim priority over the Creator and exalt his ideas about government above the One who owns and is the supreme governor of all things (Isa. 9:6; Mt. 28:18-20). All authority comes from God and, therefore, no person or institution has any rightful authority over other people unless it has been delegated by God (Rom. 13:1). God doesn’t just give power or authority without also specifying the boundaries for that power. The modern state has taken the authority God has given it with respect to justice and has expanded it so that it now regulates and controls practically every area of life. The authority the modern state wields in any area other than justice and protection does not come from God and its claims to have a legitimate role in these areas are immoral.
The megastate claims absolute freedom and liberty for itself and is ultimately concerned only about its own freedom. While talking about its efforts to secure the freedom of others, it, in fact, ruthlessly deals with anyone who opposes its absolute claims of freedom — freedom to control and regulate every area of life, to make laws according to its own definition of right and wrong, and to tax anything it desires.
The Source of Law and Authority
The most basic struggle we face as a nation is essentially religious, for it has to do with determining what/who the source of law and authority is. Who is able to define the boundaries that make liberty possible? The question is never, “Are we going to have boundaries and laws or not?” but always, “Whose boundaries and laws are going to have the final say?” Our answer to this question sets us upon a path of either liberty or oppression. It is vital that civil government rest upon an underlying sound and just moral structure, but who can provide such a structure?
We don’t want a fickle moral standard that changes with each new fad. It is neither the will of the “elite” planners nor the will of the 51% that is to determine what justice is. The standard of justice must be independent of and equally applicable to both the governors and the governed. Justice must rest upon an unchanging standard or else there is no basis for security and progress. Arbitrary and manipulative standards of justice make a mockery of the very term “justice.” If what is right can be overturned in a moment by the “elite” planners or by a 51% majority, a nation will be shaped by the principles of power, fear, and greed. The issue in justice is not trying to determine who is the underdog, but who is right (Lev. 19:15). Thus, justice ought to have one standard of right and wrong that is equally applicable to all people, no matter what their standing in society. God alone is able to supply a just standard whereby we can build a truly just social order. His standards and principles are designed to bring liberty and prosperity to people living in community, giving them genuine freedom, stability, and a basis for long-term progress.
The Ungodliness of Centralization
Now, God, from the very beginning, has been opposed to mankind establishing a big, centralized controlling agency. Babel was a project designed to unite everyone under one central governmental system, with the tower serving as the focus of their political and religious lives. God’s swift judgment shows us that this whole system was the source of confusion rather than of godly development (Gen. 11:9). God broke up this centralized structure for the benefit of mankind, revealing that liberty and progress arise from a decentralized concept of authority and responsibility. This same principle of decentralization is seen in the nation of Israel. Though being a relatively small nation, God still divided its land among twelve tribes so no one tribe could dominate the whole nation.
God, in His wisdom, has limited the authority of the state to the area of justice and shown that judgment should essentially be carried out within small groups by locally known people who are recognized by those they judge as being just and honest. God’s structure has judges who have responsibility over ten families, others who are responsible over fifty families, others over one hundred families, and still others over one thousand families (Ex. 18:21, 22). Here we have true representation and an appeals system. These elected leaders are to administer justice and not interfere in the many other areas of life. There are clear guidelines showing what kind of character these leaders are to have and, since it’s all very localized, it is possible to know what kind of lives they are actually living. According to God, if a person’s private life is immoral, he is incapable of holding a public office. God’s structure works from the lowest level up to the higher ones. This means that commands and controls are not coming from higher up and being imposed upon the lower structures. The lower structures are where most of the judging is done and it is only when they are unable to resolve an issue that they refer the case up the chain. There is to be no dictating, controlling, or manipulating coming down the line from the top to the lower levels, as is so prevalent and accepted in modern politics. This is possible only when authority and responsibility are limited and leaders are truly accountable and known at the local level.
The present constitutional “discussions” start from a foundation that presupposes the legitimacy of the megastate. They then seek to make a few superficial modifications with the “help” of the rest of the nation. It is like telling someone that he is going to be involved in deciding what will be eaten today, when all he is really going to do is decide on which side of the plate the food is to be placed.
The constitutional route of my country (Zimbabwe), as it is, doesn’t supply us with any real hope for the future because it is a document that rejects God’s authority, ignoring His wisdom with respect to having a decentralized and limited civil government. Our only hope is to submit to the Lordship of Christ, bringing our every thought and action into line with His revealed truth. Unless we are prepared to bring our own desires and ambitions into submission to Him, we will never be able to control the civil government. If we are not going to assume our own responsibilities and look to God to supply all our needs, we will look to the state for these things. Looking to the state appears to provide a quick fix to our problems; however, it has no real workable solutions and its involvement only exacerbates the situation. It is because we think the state is responsible to provide all our needs and change all that is wrong, that it can demand excessive taxes and paperwork and have excessive interference in our lives and activities. It is greed and a lack of self-government that leads people to justify the existence of the megastate. The prevalent mindset in our nation is that people believe that they are owed something and the state has the responsibility to make sure they receive what they are owed. Too many people are irresponsible and expect great rewards for little or no effort. Greedy and self-seeking politicians perceive this in people and use it to attain their own political ends. They buy votes with other people’s money (taxes) by promising cradle-to-grave security for irresponsibility.
We should challenge the legitimacy of the state’s involvement in those areas that God has not specified and start the slow process of pushing back its encroachments by getting involved in the voting process. We must seek to publicize our desire for a small civil government that concerns itself with protection, providing justice, and allowing us to pursue our callings to the glory of God. Practically, we should encourage those who are disgruntled to vote and thus help bring about the changes they long for, discussing the principles of civil government with them so they can vote wisely. We need to take advantage of the channels that are available for getting our views heard — writing to the editors of newspapers and magazines and expressing our views at every opportunity, for example, on radio phone-in shows. At the same time, we need to be challenging the legitimacy of the megastate. We can even write to those in authority, telling them that we will not vote for a constitution that supports the existence of the megastate. We should encourage God-fearing, capable people in our nation to run for political office, and we should support those who call for a very small civil government and who desire to reduce the state to being God’s “minister of justice” alone. We must make it known that we do not trust people who want public office but who also support the megastate. Anyone who is truly concerned about justice and wants to serve the nation, rather than his own lusts, will reject the power and controls the modern state has amassed. We can make a difference if we cast ourselves upon the Lord and His wisdom.
If we truly love justice, we will recognize our responsibility to be involved in bringing about a change in the political realm. This realm belongs to Christ and is under His authority just as much as any other area of His creation. To deny we have a responsibility to be involved in applying God’s truth and justice in the political realm is a denial of His Lordship. We are not to think that the solutions to our problems lie in the realm of politics — they do not! All solutions are ultimately sourced in our relationship with Christ, i.e., submitting to His truth. Shining the light of Christ into the political realm is only one aspect of our responsibilities; however, it is a very real aspect and one that has been woefully neglected by the church in our day. May we rise up and labor for true justice, peace, and prosperity, calling on the name of the Lord and bowing to His Lordship!
Derek Carlsen is a native Zimbabwean and received his theological training through George Whitefield College, Cape Town, South Africa (L.Th. 1992) and Whitefield Theological Seminary, Lakeland, Florida, USA (M.Miss. 1999 and D.Miss. 2001). He’s served as a pastor in Zimbabwe and helped pioneer a Christian school with his wife Elise. His Reason of Hope Ministries in Zimbabwe prints and distributes Christian literature in southern Africa. Derek is the author of three commentaries: Faith and Courage: A Commentary on Acts; That You May Believe: A Commentary on John’s Gospel; and soon to be released, Grace and Law: A Commentary on Galatians. Derek and Elise have been blessed with three children.