Monday, June 27, 2016

6 Biblical Qualifications for Civil Rulers

Protestant Reformer William Farel proclaiming the authority of Scripture

by Steve C. Halbrook

As election day nears, we must consider what the Bible — which equips for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17)  says about civil ruler qualifications. 

Many Christians have embraced pragmatism when it comes to voting (e.g., choosing the "lesser of two evils"). The fruit of this philosophy is a continual lowering of moral standards for candidates, with the standards of what constitutes an acceptable candidate reaching an all-time low. Last presidential election, many Christians supported Mitt Romney, an adherent of the anti-Christian cult of Mormonism; this election, many are supporting Donald Trump, a horribly wicked man with perhaps the foulest tongue ever seen in presidential politics. (It has recently been said that Trump has recently converted to Christ; if so, I rejoice, but I am skeptical at this point.)

However, Scripture does speak to the matter of choosing rulers, and as far as I can tell, it never permits such pragmatism. And God's rules are not options, but mandatory; candidates must meet Scripture's qualifications  or not be voted for at all. The duty is ours; the results are God's.

Therefore, those who justify voting for the lesser of two evils without biblical warrant— even when there is no other candidate to choose from  are partaking in their candidate's evil deeds. Such pragmatism would be sinful, as it is doing evil that good may come (cf. Romans 3:8). 

Determining whether a candidate is qualified is not always easy; some candidates may seem borderline. Nevertheless, we must always strive to honor God by basing our decisions on Scripture. Below are qualifications (at least some) that all political candidates must meet when deciding whether a given candidate should be voted for.

1) Rulers must be Christians

Scripture says, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3b, KJV). Those who rule in the fear of God would, of course, be Christians. 

To whatever extent unbelievers fear God, it is a different kind of fear that is mingled with an unrepentant rebellion that is not conducive to justice. Again, “He that ruleth over men must be just," but unbelievers are naturally unjust. And so, 
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn. (Proverbs 29:2, KJV)
Non-Christians, then, lack the ability that Christians have to rule justly. They are unwise; their minds are darkened (Ephesians 4:17 - 19). They cannot submit to God's law (Romans 8:7). 

They are, in fact, idolaters, given over to foolishness and wickedness (Romans 1:18-32) — and the laws that they support reflect this. Romans 1, after discussing the depraved mindset of unbelievers that results in evil deeds, states "Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them," v. 32. Are these not by and large the kind of rulers we have today?

If God, in His grace, may at times cause non-Christian rulers to act inconsistently with their opposition to Him and to rule justly, then praise God. However, we are not to presume on such grace, but to obey God by choosing those who fear Him — Christians: 
Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God ... (Exodus 18:21a)

2) Rulers must acknowledge Christ as the Highest Political Authority

Jesus Christ is the highest political authority in the land — more so than the federal government, the states, the people, the Constitution, or anything else. He is "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15b; cf. Eph. 1:20-22), and therefore has "All authority in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18b) (emphasis mine). 

God, then, is foundational to government (as Romans 13 makes clear), and as such, rulers cannot rule appropriately without looking to Him. Moreover, Scripture gives rulers the following warning:
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10 - 12)
Consequently, those do not recognize Christ's political authority are treasonous to Christ — and therefore unfit to rule. The notion that there is "no king but Caesar" (John 19:15b) was responsible for the greatest atrocity of all time, the crucifixion of Christ. And such a philosophy that denies God  and therefore His moral standards over civil government  continues to promote atrocities to this day. Rulers can only foster peace by kneeling to Christ, the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6b).

3) Rulers must Rule by God's Law

Since rulers must acknowledge Christ, it logically follows that they are to obey His law (and therefore enforce biblical civil law); as King Jesus says, "Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46). 

A ruler is to "Serve the Lord with fear" (Psalm 2:11); he is God's servant (Romans 13:4b) (emphases mine) who must use the sword to terrorize bad conduct: "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad." (Romans 13:3a) Bad conduct, of course, is violating God's law, since God's law defines good and bad conduct.

Indeed, we must choose rulers who are wise (Deuteronomy 1:13), and wisdom comes from God's law (Psalm 119:98). God's word equips for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) — civil matters included. Scripture says, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3b/KJV) (emphasis mine), and by its very nature, God's law is the source of justice. 

As noted, rulers must serve God with fear (Psalm 2:11; 2 Samuel 23:3). Deuteronomy 17, when discussing obligations of the king, links the fear of God with knowing and applying His law to every area of life which leads to ruling justly:
And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)
And so rulers should seek to enact and enforce laws based on Scripture, especially via the general equity of the judicial law of MosesThis not only entails the Second Table of the Law (prohibitions against murder, theft, etc.), but the First Table of the Law (prohibitions against blasphemy, idolatry, etc.) (rulers are, first and foremost, servants of God; they do not exist simply for the people, but for God's glory). 

Of course, no ruler will seek to apply biblical civil law perfectly, and so one must use wisdom to decide how deficient in applying God's law a ruler can be to be lawfully voted for.

4) Rulers must not be Covetous 

According to Exodus 18, we must choose rulers who are not covetous:
Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe ... (Exodus 18:21a)
Covetousness subverts justice. For instance, regarding bribes, Scripture says:
And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. (Exodus 23:8)
One may take a bribe in a variety of ways; not just in the most obvious way, as when someone is given money by another in secret to favor one's cause. For example, one may take a bribe from an entity via campaign contributions in exchange for turning the other way while in office to that entity's immoral behavior. 

There is also the promotion of covetousness by some candidates, such as inciting one class of people to greed by promising to redistribute to them the wealth of another class. Civil rulers engage in covetousness in such ways as via the seizure of land, excessive taxation, and the military draft (cf. 1 Samuel 8:11-17). 

Indeed, a multitude of evils can result from covetousness; for instance, Ahab's coveting of Naboth's vineyard led to the murder of Naboth and the theft of his property (1 Kings 21:1-16). The covetous ruler naturally subverts justice by placing his own evil desires above obedience to God and the well-being of his fellow man.

5) Rulers must be Men

Rulers chosen by the people must be men: 
Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe ... (Exodus 18:21a) (emphases mine)
 Scripture does not consider the rule of women to be a good thing:
My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. (Isaiah 3:12a)
To this, many may say, "What about Deborah in the Old Testament? Doesn't this mean that women can be rulers?" It is beyond the scope of this piece to thoroughly analyze whether the Deborah example ever allows for women civil rulers, but we'll just point out that at the most, the Deborah example would allow for women in civil authority in rare circumstances; it would be the exception — not the rule

God created men to be the rulers of households and churches, and so it naturally follows that they would be the rulers in civil matters as well.

6) Rulers must be Competent to Perform Civil Matters

Rulers must be Christians — but it is not enough for them to be so; they must be competent to perform civil matters. Besides what has already been mentioned, Scripture requires rulers to be able, trustworthy, wise, understanding, and experienced:
Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe ... (Exodus 18:21a) 
Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads. (Deuteronomy 1:13)
They must not be incompetent infants. Again, Isaiah 3:12 reads:
My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. (Isaiah 3:12a)

Concluding Thoughts

The oppression by women and infants, per Isaiah 3:12, is what we have, and we can continue to expect this as long as we refuse to repent of our rebellion towards God — including the rebellion of choosing unqualified rulers. 
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:13, 14)
We must not be pragmatists and put our trust in princes (Psalm 146:3); not choosing rulers on God's terms leads to tyranny (1 Samuel 8). Rather, we must trust in God, the Supreme Ruler of the Universe:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! (Psalm 33:12)
Again, as we've noted, candidates must meet Scripture's qualifications  or not be voted for at all. The duty is ours; the results are God's. God is completely sovereign over all that passes; He "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11b). Our job is merely to trust, fear, and obey God: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). 

When we reject biblical qualifications in order to keep another candidate from getting into office (such as voting for Donald Trump in order to keep Hillary Clinton from getting into office), we are fearing man and not God. This is neither right nor safe.

Photo credit

Statue of William Farel
Rama (Collegiale Neuchatel mg 2433) (CC BY-SA 2.0 FR) (license). Retrieved April 28, 2016, from

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