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!
The recent US election resulted in a bad person taking the office of president. I might have written this at any time in the last fifty years and made at least 50% of the US population happy. But in the days following this election the protests seemed louder and more bitter than the anti-Obama or anti-Bush protests. As an American, people have the freedom to protest within the limits of the law and there is nothing illegal about these kinds of protests. It is almost a traditional now to have a small segment of the population enter into a kind of apoplexy when their candidate loses.
Like the Occupy Wall Street movement a few years ago, many anti-Trump protesters are law-abiding and legal protests. 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. For most of these protesters, electing a billionaire who appoints other billionaires is not going to solve the problems American faces (unless you are a billionaire already).
Despite the fact Paul says to obey the government in Romans 13, I am not as happy with the solution offered by the Occupy Wall Street or any presidential candidate. They essentially argue the government is the solution to the real problems of America. The government needs to do something to “spread the wealth.” The highly charged rhetoric of the Trump campaign appealed to people by saying the government can “make America great again.” Trump got elected by saying he could save the country and make people prosperous gain.
For me, this is not a capitalist/socialist issue. It is a matter of responsibility. I do not think the government should be caring for the poor in a society, but rather the Church. As I read Romans 13, I see nothing about the government providing a social safety net. The government is ordained to enforce law and keep the peace. The church is to care for the poor and needy and do the job so well there are no poor and needy people. If we are looking to the government for our physical salvation or the president (emperor), are we really any different than the Romans who looked to Caesar as “lord and savior,” the one who makes the world peaceful and prosperous?
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 some social issues, but given the wealth flowing through most American churches, 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?
Remember that Paul is not talking only to modern America. Every Christian in the world had to work out what it means to “submit to the government” and impact their culture in order to present the gospel to their culture in a meaningful way. I would love to hear from some international readers on this issue, since I am sure my American eyes are not seeing things clearly.