The following is Gregg Frazer's latest response to Jim Babka's thoughts on Romans 13, Interposition and Revolt.
The reason I talked about Romans 13 being read “poetically or allegorically” is because my position was identified in your post as “strict literalist.” So, since you identified it as such and obviously took issue with it, I assumed that you opposed a literally reading. My mistake, apparently.
To assuage your curiosity, I chose not to quote verses 3 & 4 because I did not consider them to be relevant to the immediate issue at hand — WHETHER we should be subject to government. Verses 3 & 4 are part of Paul’s argument as to WHY we should be subject, but they do not address WHETHER we should be subject — verses 1 & 2 answer that question clearly.
Since you are curious about my view of verses 3 & 4:
Verses 3 & 4 describe what governing authorities ARE — not what they SHOULD be. Paul says “rulers ARE not a cause of fear for good behavior” and government “IS a minister of God to you for good” and it “IS a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” He is not listing characteristics which must (in the eye of the individual beholder) be achieved in order to count something as a legitimate governing authority. He was already crystal clear in the first two verses that the fact of their existence proves that they are legitimate.
However, NO GOVERNMENT IS PERFECT — AND SOME ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS. So, while ALL governments restrain evil, all are run by fallen human beings and, therefore, ALL will also commit evil to some extent. [Just as Kobe Bryant and I could play one-on-one and both of us would be playing basketball, but one of us would be much better at it] To say (as do Rutherford and Mayhew and, apparently, you) that a government which does evil loses its legitimacy is to say that EVERY government is illegitimate, because they all commit evil at some level at some time. It is also to add something to the text (as I mentioned) which is not there. Paul never says ANYthing about ANY government being illegitimate in Romans 13, however. In the 1930s, the country with the lowest crime rate in the world was Hitler’s Germany. In the 1970s, the country with the world’s lowest crime rate was the Soviet Union. So, despite the evil being perpetrated by these governments, they were, nonetheless, restraining evil, as well.
Your position also begs the question of how much evil a government must do before it loses its legitimacy — what it the limit/boundary? Is it one really bad act or two pretty bad ones or three slightly bad ones or ….? How do you know the limit/boundary? From where do you get it? The Bible doesn’t give a limit because it doesn’t recognize such an idea.
Re: “even Calvin agreed that the ruler was forbidden from tyranny” — yes, but he said that it was up to GOD to punish the tyrant, not man! That’s an option that neither you nor Rutherford/Mayhew seem to recognize. Just because a ruler is a tyrant, it does not follow that we are authorized/allowed to remove him. The question is not whether a ruler will be judged for being a tyrant, the issue is WHO HAS THE AUTHORITY to judge him. Calvin and I say that God has not given that authority to man — He retains it for Himself.
Re: “ALL RULERS WERE PRIMARILY ACCOUNTABLE TO THE LAW — Lex Rex.” I’m glad you identified the source here — the source is Rutherford, not Paul (or God).
An actual plain reading demonstrates that the commands in these verses apply to “every person” — which is what it says! As for your question concerning magistrates, to them it would mean that if there was an authority above them (what you’d call the “higher magistrate”), then they must be subject to them. By definition, your “lower magistrates” have an authority over them — so there’s no “terrible” confusion — they are to be scared of that higher authority!
Re your concept of Interposition: you say that lower magistrates are not required to obey an “unlawful order from a higher magistrate” — but THERE’S NO SUCH THING, according to verses 1 & 2! You then say that the lower magistrate is more accountable to the law than he is the king — this is where you’re adding to Scripture what simply is not there. You’re citing Rutherford’s ideas here, not the Holy Spirit’s (through Paul). Where is the law even mentioned in Romans 13?
If you mean that lower magistrates are not required to obey an order which requires them to disobey God, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. And not only lower magistrates, but no Christian should obey an order which requires disobedience to God.
BUT such a command is not “unlawful” and it does not make the government or ruler issuing such an order illegitimate. Paul never even hints at such a notion. Why did Jesus affirm Pilate’s authority over Him in John 19:11? Why didn’t he say that, as a representative of an oppressive, militaristic, godless empire which had conquered Israel, Pilate had no legitimate authority over the common people — much less over the Son of God in human flesh?
The real problem, though, is in conflating disobedience and rebellion. In one paragraph, you’re talking about a basis for disobedience and in the next, you’re talking about rebellion. Do you not recognize a difference between them? I agree, as I said above, that Christians should not OBEY an order which commands disobedience to God (Acts 5:29), but that does not legitimize REBELLION — whether led by a lower magistrate or not.
Throughout Scripture, the same principle can be seen: we must obey the government unless/until it commands disobedience to God; then, we must disobey, but REMAIN IN SUBJECTION (that is, still recognize the government’s authority) — usually by taking the punishment. That’s why Shadrach & his pals went into the fiery furnace and Daniel went into the lion’s den and why Paul wrote Romans 13 from jail! There are, however, NO examples of rebellion approved by God in Scripture. I’m sorry you didn’t like my comments re the Exodus, but I thought it relevant because it WAS referenced by the Founders, unlike your Interposition theory.
The key flaw in the Interposition notion is, as I explained but you did not comment upon, that Calvin gave very specific historical examples of what he meant — lower magistrates who WITHIN THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT had the LEGAL AUTHORITY to “restrain the licentiousness of kings” and could do so “in accordance with their duty.” Calvin never says ANYTHING about rebellion or revolting on the part of the lower magistrates. He gave specific historical examples so that he would not be misunderstood on this point — but Interposition supporters ignore those examples and their implications and INSERT into Calvin’s discussion the idea of rebellion/revolution.
You ask “If a revolution is successful, and it results in a new government, wouldn’t that government also be established by God?” The answer, of course, is YES! It is irrelevant to the fundamental question, though — it has nothing to do with whether the revolution itself was right — unless you believe that the end justifies the means. Paul didn’t (Romans 3:8). So, if you’re asking me whether people living in the United States (like you and I) must be subject to the U.S. government, even though it came to be via revolution, the answer is: of course. Governments come into being through various means, but those means are irrelevant to the question of subjection. Paul was writing to Romans living under a ruler who likely poisoned his predecessor.
I wholeheartedly agree with you that what matters is what’s biblical — not what’s Calvinist. But when we discuss an idea which has no biblical basis, but supposedly originated with Calvin and is ascribed to him, we’re stuck talking about Calvin. The Bible doesn’t talk about “interposition” or “lower magistrates” or anyone’s right to rebel. I take up defense of Calvin because I believe he would not want to be identified with an idea he would find abhorrent.
I DID NOT DEFINE WHO IS OR IS NOT A CALVINIST or claim that people who call themselves Calvinists are not Calvinists! I denied that AN IDEA was Calvinist in the sense that Calvin taught it. He did not.
Apparently, you (like Mr. Van Dyke) have misunderstood my position regarding Protestant Christian influence in the Founding era. You seem to think that I reject any influence whatsoever by Christianity – which I do not do. I call your attention to the definition of my term, theistic rationalism: it was “a hybrid belief system mixing elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism; with rationalism as the predominant element.” I further argue that adherents of theistic rationalism were raised in a nominally Christian environment, but were educated in Enlightenment thought – and that they believed that these three elements would generally complement one another. But when conflict between them could not be resolved or ignored, reason must play the decisive role. So, adherents were willing to define God in whatever way their reason indicated and to jettison Christian beliefs which did not conform to reason. But they retained those Christian beliefs which they considered reasonable. I argue as vehemently against the notion that they were rank secularists, atheist, or deists as I do against the notion that they were Christians. In fact, I developed my term specifically to separate what they believed from deism and secularism as much as from Christianity.
Re our 2006 dialogue, please report what I said accurately. I did NOT say that Locke was not influenced by Rutherford. I said that there is NO EVIDENCE that Locke was influenced by Rutherford — and I have yet to see any, supplied by you or anyone else.
King George referred to the Presbyterian Parson’s Rebellion because there were many Presbyterian parsons involved in drumming up support for it. The question is HOW were they drumming up support? I said that Mayhew and West and others replaced Romans 13 with their own ideas, but they did not make the Interposition argument. No one in the Founding era made the lower magistrate argument — they followed Mayhew’s justification which allowed for all to participate in rebellion, not just lower magistrates.
Again, I did NOT say that what the Founders DID cannot be compared favorably to the Interposition idea in practice. I said that they did not mention such an idea or make a case for the Revolution based upon it. [I repeat: if someone has knowledge of a citation of this notion in the Revolutionary literature, I would appreciate seeing it -- I am interested to see if anyone at the time saw things in those terms or if, as I suspect, supporters of the idea simply read it back into their thinking] I will say that what they did bears far greater resemblance to the sources they DID CITE, such as Locke, than one they did not cite: Interposition.
Yes, Mr. Babka, God clearly used the American Revolution to bring about the government of this area which was ordained in His plan. Why would you think I would be hesitant to affirm such a thing? God often uses sinful acts of men to accomplish His purpose. [Judas's betrayal, Pharaoh's hard heart, etc.]
The “Doctrine of Interposition” was NOT “discovered by John Calvin,” but rather discovered by “his successors” (if, by that, you mean those who claim to be Calvinists — and I don’t care what you want to call them). The American Revolution looks a lot like Interposition in action to those who want to see Interposition in action. To others — AND TO THE REVOLUTIONARIES THEMSELVES — it looks a lot like Lockean theory.
Since you’ve discussed what amuses you about one of my points, I’ll say what amuses me. You can, in one paragraph, say that “what matters here is not what is Calvinist or not; what matters is what is Biblical or not” and then conclude that what the Bible (Romans 13) clearly says is not true “so long as it’s based” on a doctrine “discovered by John Calvin.”
Your final remark about me ignoring evidence concerning whether Calvinists were true to Calvin on this question makes me really curious to see what I’ve missed. I trust that it will be some explication of the historical examples given by Calvin to make sure that he wasn’t misunderstood. But wait, I’ve already investigated those in depth, so that can’t be it — because it’s something I’ve “ignored.” I suspect it will be quotes from Calvin saying that rulers are not free to be tyrannical — but that can’t be, either, because I’ve read Calvin in that regard and in context. So, I know that he said tyrants will be punished — but that we have no authority to do it.
So, you’ve got my curiosity stirred, Mr. Babka.
Potential readers: I apologize for the length, but without it I couldn’t answer most of Mr. Babka’s arguments/points without being misunderstood. I suspect I’ll be misunderstood at points, anyway.