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By Gordan Runyan
Religion columnist 

Self government is biblical government


September 23, 2020

“Pastor, God never instituted a particular form of government in the Bible!”

Actually, he did. When God took ownership of the nation of Israel, the form of government that appeared in his law was radically minimal. In fact, it was founded upon individual self-government, in accordance with divine, moral instruction. When that self-government failed, causing actual monetary or physical damage to a neighbor, then there was a system of appeals courts that could hear cases and pronounce verdicts. Even these courts, though, relied on the self-governing citizens to make sure that just sentences were carried out (and unjust sentences ignored). The judges had no coercive power to make sure their decrees were heeded.

Knowing this to be the case, we should chuckle softly whenever someone suggests that biblical law would produce a repressive society, or a Christian Taliban. The only government “agents” would be judges, with no power to enforce their edicts. Frankly, what would terrify most modern believers about this situation is how loosey-goosey and anarchic it would feel, compared to the locust-plague of government agents we deal with at every turn.

“But, Pastor, the law allowed them to place a king over themselves, too.”

This is true. This happens in the second half of Deuteronomy 17. However, this was an instance of God making a concession to their hard hearts, in the same way that he gave them instructions for how they could divorce their spouses, even though God hates divorce. (The divorce concession allowed for peaceful, legal separation, rather than having husbands force the issue of “till death do us part.”)

Similarly, God anticipated the hard hearts of a future generation in Israel, and gave them guidelines for installing their own king. When they actually reached this point, though, in 1 Samuel 8, God took this as a personal offense. At best, installing a king was Plan B. Tragically, it was regular for this Plan B to work out in disaster. The good kings and prosperous periods stand out to us, because of their comparative rarity.

By now, in America, we've all fully bought into the concept that, when things are going wrong for us, what we need is a better, often stronger, executive power. Our problems are the fault of a bad executive, and a better person in that spot would fix us. We believe this to be true, not only nationally, but locally, and in our churches and workplaces, as much as in government.

To bring this around to the gospel of Jesus Christ, let me suggest to you that, with God's law written on our minds (Hebrews 8:10) and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us (John 16:7-13) as a direct result of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we really have everything we need to return to Plan A. If ancient Israel should've been able to self-govern, how much more should we?

“No king but Christ” used to be a popular, political slogan in early America. It sounds seditious and scary to modern ears; and, hence, we are where we are.

Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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