Who rules Britain? (2): Non-Christian rulers and the Rule of Christ

 

general-election

This is the second article in a series ‘Who rules Britain?’. You can find the first here.

What has gone wrong with politics in Britain? Why are we faced with such a terrible choice at this election? How did we get to a situation where mainstream parties on all sides are led by such fundamentally untrustworthy people with policies both foolish and sometimes profoundly wicked?

The answer is that the first duty of rulers is to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and seek to implement his laws. Where this first duty is ignored, then all human attempts to frame good laws and govern justly will ultimately fail.

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.  Revelation 1:4

Jesus’ throne is a throne at the right hand of the throne of God the Father, carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit. And so he is the Ruler of kings on earth. They have their thrones by his permission, they derive their authority from him, and they owe him their allegiance. Jesus’ reign, in the unity of the Father and the Spirit, is the fundamental political fact.

But it will not have escaped any of our attention that this fact is not widely acknowledged by governments around the world. At best it is given lip service by some of the surviving constitutional monarchies of Europe. Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation service was clear about it, for example; but the Christian body politic of the United Kingdom survives today as no more than a wraith, universally ignored by politicians. In most nations there is no trace of it. So what is the relationship between the King of kings and the rulers who do not acknowledge him? Between Non-Christian rulers and Christ the world’s King?

First, whether they acknowledge him or not, all rulers derive their authority from him.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1)

The fact that rulers do not acknowledge that their authority is granted to them by Jesus Christ does not mean that it isn’t. The ‘governing authority’ which Paul said was ‘instituted by God’ was, as he wrote his letter, the emperor Nero, who used Christians as torches to light his garden in Rome.

And second, it means that rulers have a duty and a responsibility to implement his laws, rewarding right and punishing wrong:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3-4)

If they are to do good to those over whom they rule, the question arises, who defines what is good? The only answer to that must be: God himself, as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. And so the first duty of rulers is to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and seek to implement his laws. Until the very recent past this would have been acknowledged by all Christians. But in the last century many Christians have come to assume that Jesus’ Lordship only applies in some personal, private sphere, leaving politics as a kind of neutral space where it can safely be ignored. It is therefore necessary to show why this cannot be the case.

The statement that the rulers of the earth must bow the knee to the Christ is found consistently throughout Scripture. It is in Jacob’s prophecy to Judah (Genesis 49:8-10); Psalm 2, where the rulers and kings of the earth are commanded to ‘serve the LORD with fear’ and ‘kiss the Son’ (v10-12); Solomon’s great prophecy of the coming Messiah in Ps 72, ‘May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him’. Isaiah says ‘Kings shall see and arise; princes, they shall prostrate themselves’ before the servant of the LORD (49:7). Daniel’s ‘Son of Man’ prophecy (7:13-14) which Jesus so specifically applied to himself is all about how the nations must recognise that this man is the true king, appointed by the Most High God to whom all kings owe their power and their allegiance.

The New Testament does not change gear here. Jesus’ preaching is about ‘the Kingdom of God’. Granted this is not a rival kingdom to earthly kingdoms, but that does not mean that it is not one to which earthly kingdoms owe allegiance; indeed that would seem to be exactly what it does mean. Paul specifically called Felix and Agrippa to believe in the Christ (Acts 26:27-29). This is not surprising since he taught that Christ had been seated at God’s right hand ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (Eph 1:21). Peter says that Jesus ‘has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him’.

Indeed, how could it be otherwise? What other laws of human behaviour are there to apply other than the laws of the God who made man in his image? What else are rulers to do, once they have heard that God has enthroned Jesus as his eternal King? If the early chapters of Genesis teach us anything, it is that denying that God is God and seeking to set our own standard of right and wrong leads to moral collapse. Which is why God’s law ties together love for God and love for one another; the so-called first and second tables of the law. Commandments 1-4 necessarily precede commandments 5-10 in Exodus 20. Loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength is the first commandment; loving your neighbour is the second (Mark 12:28-31).

Which brings us to what is wrong with British politics. The fundamental problem with all our politicians is that they believe they can construct a second table of the law without the first; a programme of how to love our neighbour (or perhaps just love ourselves) while refusing to love God. Now by God’s grace, the image of God in us is real and strong enough that even when we refuse to love God and his Christ our morality always retains remnants of what is truly good. That is why it is better to live even under terrible government than under total anarchy. And it is why there is lots that is good in the manifestos of most of our parties. But the more detached from serving Christ rulers are, and the more committed to other pseudo-deities (such as individual liberty, or economic equality, or national identity) they are, then the further from true goodness their attempts at justice will be. Which explains why the destruction of the family, the denial of created reality as male and female, the corruption and sexualisation of children, and the murder of babies have become mainstream and accepted on apparently all sides. It explains why even well-intentioned laws, time and again, have disastrous unforeseen consequences. And it explains why truthfulness has become so hard to find in political discussion.

Now none of this means that the rule of non-Christian rulers is to be rejected. Far from it; Paul says we must submit to the governing authorities. Jesus himself commanded us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Our rulers, no matter how imperfect, rule with the authority of Christ, and we must submit to them for his sake. But it does explain why, in a nation which has so convinced itself that Jesus Christ can be safely ignored, we are reduced to a choice where all sides have mendacious politicians and deeply damaging policies; when political campaigning consists of soundbites, not policies, and misinformation, not truth; and when truly just government simply does not seem to be on offer.

What, then, should we do with our votes on Thursday? I will address that question tomorrow.

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