Romans 13:1-7 – Paul and Empire (Part 2)

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In the previous post, I argued that Paul commands obedience to the government.  I pointed out that the Roman government at the time was as oppressive as any in history and permitted any number of practices that we modern American Christians would not put up with more a moment.  Yet Paul said quite clearly that the Christian was to submit to the government because it was God’s appointed minister of justice!

I think that over all the Occupy Wall Street is a law-abiding and legal protest.  Most of the time the people involved work with city officials, obtain permits, etc.  The issue that they are raising is important as well – America is incredibly rich and ought to do more to care for the less-wealthy.  There is no way anyone in America should be hungry, malnourished, uneducated, or lack access to health care.

Despite the fact that Paul says to obey the government in Romans 13, I am not as happy with the  solution offered by the OWS, that the government do something to spread the wealth.  It is not a capitalist / socialist issue, it is a matter of responsibility.  The responsibility party for caring for the poor in a society is not the government, but rather the Church.  As I read Romans 13, I see nothing about the government providing a social safety net, only that they ought to enforce law and keep the peace.  The church is to care for the poor and needy, so that there are no more poor and needy.

I hinted at the end of the last post that Paul did in fact have rather subversive plan to reverse the evils of the Empire.  Like Jesus, Paul is interested in transforming people from death to life.  These members of the new creation will then transform society.  Paul was interested in caring for the poor and underclass, and the followers of Jesus modeled their meetings after the table fellowship of Jesus himself.  All shared food and fellowship equally.  That all are equal in the Body of Christ is amazingly subversive in a society which was predicated on social strata and inequality.

An example of the sort of subversive action which had an impact on poverty in the early church is found in 1 Clement 55.  In this letter written at the end of the first century, Clement praises Gentile Christians who have risked plague in order to save fellow citizens, allowed themselves to be imprisoned to redeem others, and sold themselves into slavery in order to feed the poor.   I cannot imagine anyone in the twenty-first century taking out a second mortgage and donating the money to a local inner city ministry that cares for the poor.  Someone may have done this, but it is exceedingly rare.

I think the church does a good job on social issues, but given the wealth flowing through most American churches, so much more could be done.  I am not necessarily talking about throwing money at the problem.  There are many creative low-cost efforts to relieve the conditions which cause poverty.  What would happen if the Church dedicated itself to solving poverty in the inner cities of America instead of building big glass churches? What if a single mega-church dedicated their offerings to poverty relief rather than building improvements?  What if we spent as much on helping African orphans as we do on the sound systems for our churches?

What Paul started in Acts 13 brought down the Rome.