Again, I find my self in need of taking another step backwards in order to move forward. It was recommended that I needed to explore the foundational purpose or function of government before determining the best form of government. This makes perfect sense. After all, doesn’t form follow function? Some would disagree, but I would prefer not to get into a debate about art and architecture. It is simply that I must acknowledge that my own way of thinking proceeds most naturally where function is foundationally considered prior to determining form, nonetheless I recognize that God has created certain forms to solve certain functions (a manifestation of natural law, if you will). [As an interesting diversion, click on the architecture link above and read the article by Douglas Jones in Credenda Agenda substituting the word government for the word architecture.]
What is human government in its most foundational form?
Government, in its essence, is force. Precisely, it is legal force. Government is endowed legally with the right to use legal force to compel its citizens to do certain things and not to do other things.
Where does government come from?
The original form of government is rested in the rule and authority of God himself. God is the Author and Creator of the universe and is ultimately vested with the authority over it. God has delegated some of that authority to mankind. That means that government is tasked, by God, with the obligation and authority to enforce the laws which are established by it.
Why is government necessary?
Augustine made the observation that government is a necessary evil. He said that in this world, among fallen creatures, you will never find a morally perfect government. Governments, and government itself, are/is evil, but a necessary evil. The reason it is necessary is because fallen humans are predisposed to evil and require restraint from acting evilly. The Christian acknowledgement of a foundational necessity of government therefore precludes anarchism from being a political form of government consistent with a Christian political philosophy.
What is the fundamental purpose of government?
Romans 13:1-6 and 1 Peter 2:12-14 not only confirm the ultimate source of and necessity of government, but also provides us with some insight into the fundamental purpose of government.
The primary purpose of government is to exercise restraint upon human evil. The primary purpose by which government was created was to exercise restraint upon human evil to preserve the very possibility of human existence.
The first task of government is to protect, support, and maintain human life. That is the ultimate reason for government, to protect human life from the destructive impulses of others human beings.
The second task of government is the protection of human property. This not only means the restraining theft; but also to regulate agreements, uphold contracts, and insure just weights and measures which prevent human beings from defrauding other human beings.
Third, the government is not only to protect humanity from other humans, but also to protect creation itself from fallen humanity. Government has the responsibility to regulate how we treat animals, manage the environment, and ultimately all of His creation.
What is not a purpose of the government?
Dr. Steve Cowan has pointed out to me, in other correspondence, that Jesus himself tells us that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36); and Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven; and Peter reminded us that in this world we are pilgrims and strangers. Dr. Cowan further points out that, in addition to these statements, it is a fact that we never see the apostles combating idolatry or seeking to promote the Christian religion through political means.
Therefore, all of these things warn us against requiring too much of the civil government with regard to religion. It would seem, from these points, that God requires of government a secular purpose, the establishing and maintaining of justice and social order, not the establishment and propagation of the Christian faith. Instead, that authority, duty, and responsibility rests squarely upon the shoulders of the Church and God’s providence. These premises seemingly eliminate theonomy from being a political form of government consistent with a Christian political philosophy, at least federally. Even if not, they so weaken its case as to require almost overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In the next post, I will explore what the United States founding fathers believed about the purpose of government. While not all were Christians, never before (nor since) has a government been established (formed) that was more influenced by Christianity and Biblical principles.