W. H. Chellis
The origin of civil power
As we continue to discuss the claims of Christ over the nations, let us spend a month considering the origins of civil government. Within the evangelical and reformed community it has become increasingly popular to view state authority as a product of the fall. This perspective is far from new but reflects the historic teaching of the Anabaptist movement. Since the Anabaptists considered civil authority to be an institution established in response to manâ€™s sin, therefore they rejected Christian involvement in politics as worldly and sinful. The 1527 Schleitheim Confession declares:
Sixth. We are agreed as follows concerning the sword: The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christâ€¦ In the Law the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and for their death, and the same [sword] is [now] ordained to be used by the worldly magistrates.
Although less critical of Christian civil government, Pennsylvaniaâ€™s â€œQuakingâ€ founder William Penn (1644-1718) wrote in his Preface to the 1682 Charter of Liberties and Frame of Government of Pennsylvania in America:
When the great and wise God had made the world, of all his creatures, it pleased him to choose man his Deputy to rule it: and to fit him for so great a charge and trustâ€¦ But lust prevailing against duty, made a lamentable breach upon it; and the law, that before had no power over him, took place over him, and his disobedient posterity, that such as would not live conformable to the holy law within should fall under the reproof and correction of the just law without, in a judicial administration.
Again, Penn points to mankindâ€™s sinful rebellion as the origin of civil government. Hence, we inquire, is civil government a product of sin? Is the sword a necessary evil and therefore a vocation to be avoided by the godly? Should we wear rubber gloves into the voting booth and the jurors box?
According to the Anabaptist position, the sine qua non of civil power is the lawful use of the sword to impose order. If civil authority is defined by its relationship to sin, no civil authority could exist before the fall. It is precisely this assumption that this column intends to challenge, presenting and defending the biblical basis for recognizing civil authority as a Divinely instituted creation ordinance. As the German Reformed political theorist Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) wrote:
For all government is held together by imperium and subjection; in fact, the human race started straightway from the beginning with imperium and subjection. God made Adam master and monarch of his wife, and of all creatures born or descendent from her. Therefore all power is said to be from God.â€[i]
The cultural mandate
Undeniably, since the fall, God has ordained that order be preserved through the limited and lawful violence of the civil magistratesâ€™ sword (Gen. 9:5,6; Rom. 13:4). According to Scripture, the power to rightly order society preceded the rebellion.
In Genesis 1:28 God commands, â€œbe fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.â€ Theologians often call this commandment the cultural mandate. Later we read that although Adam was to exercise dominion over the whole creation, God had separated a portion of that creation to be the special arena of His glory. â€œAnd the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.â€ (Genesis 2:8). Here man was to go about the work of building Godâ€™s kingdom, transforming the raw materials of the garden into a glorious garden-city (compare Gen. 3 and Rev. 22). Eden was a holy kingdom.
A priest over a garden-temple
Since Godâ€™s covenantal presence dwelt with man in the midst of Eden, the Garden was not only a holy kingdom but also a holy temple where God and men communed in covenant fellowship. As God dwells in holiness and cannot suffer the presence of sin, so Adam was charged with the priestly and kingly service of defending the garden from rebellion and evil.
When thinking of priestly duties, we envision the alter of bloody sacrifice where the old covenant priesthood meditated between God and Israel by typologically presenting the divine drama of substitutionary atonement. Interestingly, when the tribe of Levi was chosen to serve the Lord, it was because of their proficiency at shedding blood rather than their zeal for godly worship that was central. The tribe of Levi had a history of violence (Gen. 34:30,31). Their bloodshed brought a curse from the Patriarch Israel, but curse was ultimately turned to blessing at the foot of Mount Sinai (Gen. 49:5-7). It was the sword of Levi that heeded Moses call to slay the idolaters gathered around the golden calf (Ex. 32:26). The LORD God, who is a jealous God, had a need of such men. God was seeking men who would be violent in their defense of His holiness, men who would preserve the holy character of His true worship. Thus, God made Levi the priests of Israel (Deut. 33:8-11). Likewise in Eden, Adam served as a priest defending the holiness of God in the midst of the primeval garden-temple.[ii]
A king over a garden-kingdom
A priest over a garden-temple, Adam was also a king over a garden-kingdom preserving godly order within society. We might imagine that order sounds a bit confining for our sinless parents. Did they not enjoy perfect freedom? Our minds betray a modernist tendency to divorce law and liberty. Rather, in Christian thought, true liberty is freedom to be conformed to the law of God. This was true in the state of innocence, is true today, and will be true in glory. Our freedom in Christ is always an ordered liberty.
As Adam fulfilled Godâ€™s command to be fruitful and multiply, his immediate family would have developed into a tribe, his tribe into a nation, and his nation into a confederation of nations united in their exercise of godly dominion. Thus, the need for organizational, cultural, and political order would have multiplied. While there would have been no need to exercise civil authority to punish sin, there would have been a need to preserve order among competing forms of good. Covenanter theologian Samuel Rutherford (1660-1661) notes:
though man had never sinned there should have been a sort of dominion of the more gifted and wiser above the less wise and weaker; not antecedent from nature properly, but consequent, for the utility and good of the weaker, in so far as it is good for the weaker to be guided by the stronger, which cannot be denied to have some ground in nature. [iii]
The sword of the priest-king
Finally, against all theories which refuse to recognize civil authority as a holy, just, and good ordinance of creation, I wish to insist that Adam, even in the state of innocence, was given responsibility to exercises the sword in defense of godly order. Under Adamâ€™s watchful care, a rebellious enemy attacked Godâ€™s holy garden-kingdom. By Satanic design, the lowly serpent rose up against the woman, and the woman, seduced by the serpent, rose up against her husband. The divinely established hierarchy of order was subverted. Godâ€™s holiness was impugned. What was Adamâ€™s duty when he heard the lying words of the subversive serpent? Adamâ€™s duty as the priest-king of Eden was to exercise the sword entrusted to him by God and to crush the head or the odious rebel.
[i] Johannes Althusius, Politica, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995), 20.
[ii] Priests also function as teachers of Godâ€™s law and leaders of public worship. In the state of innocence, Adam exercised these priestly duties as well.
[iii] Samuel Rutherford, Lex Rex or the Law and the Prince, (Harrison, Vg: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), 51