************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 36 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 11, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 36
"The Civil Government"
Have you heard of QAnon? I knew nothing about it until I read a recent article in World Magazine. QAnon says its mission is to oppose a clique of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against President Trump. QAnon asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as "The Storm", when thousands of members of the clique will be arrested. Following me so far? So, on the one side there is QAnon and on the other side there is a clique of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who oppose Trump.
The theory began with an October 2017 post on an anonymous internet forum by someone identified as "Q." Q claimed to have access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States.
QAnon followers believe 5G networks caused the coronavirus; or, the pandemic was orchestrated by governments, Bill Gates, and others to control people. Q followers spread conspiracy theories, such as John F. Kennedy Jr is still alive, Mother Teresa was a child trafficker, and Dr Anthony Fauci is her son. QAnon distrusts the medical, political, governmental, and media establishments. They believe there is a plan toward a totalitarian world government.
These theories are to be found all over the internet. Because of web-surfing during the coronavirus, QAnon has expanded in popularity and has thousands of followers worldwide. However, using the language of 2 Peter, what they teach and claim is nothing but cleverly invented stories and destructive heresies.
As we look at Article 36 I want to raise four points: first, the reason for Article 36; second, the institution of civil authority; third, the task of civil authority; fourth, the duties of Christian citizens.
I The Reason for Article 36
Now, why would our Confession of Faith include a statement about civil government?
To answer this question, we must look at the historical context. During the Reformation, the government was still mostly in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. Kings and nobles, faithful to the Church of Rome, used their armies in an attempt to suppress the Protestant faith. One such ruler was Philip II, king of Spain and governor of the Netherlands and Belgium, who charged the Reformers with sedition, subversion, and illegal resistance. What Philip did not realize was that the Reformers were not the same as the Anabaptists.
Radical Anabaptists wanted to do away with all forms of government because they believed all government was evil and the state belonged to the realm of the Antichrist. They tried, therefore, to set up their own kingdom on earth in which the members equally shared all of their possessions. Some were so radical as to abolish monogamy, promoting the idea of open marriage.
In Article 36 the Confession defends the Reformers as being God-fearing and law-abiding citizens. It explains the Reformers view of the relation between church and state. When it comes right down to it, Article 36 is an exposition of Romans 13:1-7.
II The Institution of Civil Authority
A Our second point is the institution of civil authority.
Where did the idea that we should have government come from? Some form of government has existed since the beginning of time in the form of patriarchs, judges, kings, and dictators. Our democratic form of government is also very old as it goes back at least 2400 years to the "direct democracy" of the Greek city-states.
B Today, pretty well everyone follows the thinking of Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose influence led to the French Revolution of the 1790s. Rousseau was a thorough going humanist and secularist. Rousseau said government is only by the consent of those governed. The governed agree they need leadership, they promise to give up certain rights and freedoms to their leaders, and expect that their leaders, in turn, will rule over them in a benevolent way, always seeking their good. Rousseau called this "the social contract." It is this "contract" that underlies President Lincoln's ideal of "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
C We are Reformed Christians. We don't look for guidance from some secular humanist. We don't look for guidance from the Declaration of Independence. We don't look for guidance from the American Constitution. We are Reformed Christians. Meaning what? Meaning we turn to the Word of God which states God has instituted government. Which is what Rousseau ignored.
(Prov 8:15-16) By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just; (16) by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth.As Paul puts in, "there is no authority except that which God has established" (Rom 13:1). As the Confession puts it, "We believe that ... our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers." God, not we the people, but God establishes rulers. In line with this is the declaration of Jesus in Matthew 28 that His is all authority in heaven and on earth (cf 1 Cor 15:27ff). Which means the highest law of the land is God's law, not the constitution.
(Dan 2:21) He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
D Article 36 seems to indicate that government is necessary only because of man's fall into sin:
We believe thatFrom this we might conclude that if there had been no fall into sin, there would be no need for rulers. That is not the case because in heaven there is a perfect system of rule where God, in Christ, exercises His rule over the various levels of angels. And, keep in mind that God appointed Adam, as His image-bearer, to rule over creation even before the fall into sin.
because of the depravity of the human race
our good God has ordained
kings, princes, and civil officers.
With the fall into sin, however, government and authority has taken on a different character. In his rebellion, man no longer is a perfect image of God. And, God has found it necessary to give the sword to the authorities to punish evil.
I admire our system of democracy. But we need to recognize there is nothing sacred about it. Whatever form the government may take, we believe and are comforted by the knowledge that all authority is vested in Jesus. All power rests in Almighty God and all forms of government rule only by the permission of our Savior King. This is true even for those governments which become wicked and persecute the church. In such cases God's people hold on to the truth expressed by Paul in Romans 8:39, that nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
III The Task of the Civil Authorities
A Our third point is the task of the civil authorities.
Based upon our Bible reading from Romans 13, the Confession has this to say about the task of government:
[God] wants the world to be governed This is straightforward, isn't it?! However, the governing officials in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Boston did nothing to restrain the Black Lives Matter riots of the past six months. Members of Congress encouraged the tyranny. State legislators spoke in favor of what was going on and even participated. I say to all of them: YOU DID NOT DO YOUR GOD GIVEN JOB. And for that someday they will have to give account to Almighty God Himself.
by laws and policies
so that human lawlessness may be restrained
and that everything may be conducted
in good order among human beings.
The news also told us of police officers who wrongly killed black men. These officers were not doing their job either. Says the Confession, based upon the Bible:
They should do thisOf course, the Confession was thinking of King Philip II and his oppression of Protestants in the Netherlands.
[that is, restrain lawlessness]
while completely refraining
from every tendency
toward exercising absolute authority ...
B The next task of the civil authorities has to do with the spread of the Gospel.
They should do it in order thatThe original version of the Confession said it was the duty of government to uphold the sacred ministry and to remove and destroy all idolatry. The original Church Order of the Synod of Dort even states in Article 37 that the city council has the right to sit in on consistory meetings.
the Word of God may have free course;
the kingdom of Jesus Christ
may make progress;
and every anti-Christian power
may be resisted.
While we recognize that all men have a duty to worship the one true God, and that government ought to recognize it receives its authority from God, we also realize we live in a pluralistic society. Which means there are many different forms of social structure and religious expression, and governments should try to remain neutral. With sadness, we note that "neutrality" usually means a position against the Word of God. Nevertheless, in a pluralistic society government cannot favor one religion over another. You have heard me speak often against Mormons and JWs, Hindus and Muslims, but this does not mean they don't have the right to worship. So the job of the government is to provide an atmosphere in which true religion can flourish. By the way, this extends to Christian education as well.
When we look at how Christianity is suppressed or forbidden in other lands, we must be thankful for the freedoms we have in our land. There is also good reason to stand on guard that these freedoms be preserved and protected.
IV The Duties of Christian Citizens
A Our fourth point is the duties of Christian citizens. Four duties are listed.
First, we are to "honor and respect" those over us. The roots for this goes back to the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." Remember how the Catechism expands on this?
That I honor, love and be loyal toThe Catechism simply echoes what is written by Paul in Romans 13 and Peter in his first letter:
my father and mother
and all those in authority over me;
that I obey and submit to them, as is proper,
when they correct and punish me;
and also that I be patient with their failings--
for through them God chooses to rule us.
(Rom 13:1) Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
(1 Pet 2:13-14) Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, (14) or to governors ...
Paul says honor and respect for the Roman Emperor, Nero, though he knew he soon would be killed under Nero. In the Confession Guido de Bres says this about King Philip II even though he would be hanged by the king's officials. Think of what this means for us today. Honor and respect the governing authorities even if you don't like their policies. Honor and respect even if they are opposed to you and persecute you. This is not easy, is it?
B Second duty: pay taxes. All forms of fraud and tax evasion are condemned by the Word of God. We may not like the tax laws, but they are the law and must be obeyed. At income tax time, Christians prepare their taxes before the face of God.
C Third duty: obey them in all things that are not in conflict with God's Word. The best and easiest example is what happened to the apostles in Jerusalem. They were commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus. Yet, they filled Jerusalem with their teaching. Their response, "We must obey God rather than men!" Let me warn you, though, that we must be careful before we use this argument.
Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, received a revelation from God in 1831 to break the law and take multiple wives. Between 1834 and 1842 an angel came to him three more times. In the last such appearance, the angel brandished a sword and threatened to kill Smith unless he obeyed.You can't argue with that! Or can you? The lesson here? Think twice before claiming to obey God rather than man.
We may not like certain laws and rulings. We may think they are dumb. We may think they favor a non-Christian point-of-view. God doesn't care about any of this. Nor did Paul. Nor does the Confession. Your personal likes and feelings play no role in whether or not you obey. Be subject to the governing authorities. Not just the good ones. Not just the fair ones. Not just the ones you like. Not just the ones who share your view of the coronavirus.
D Fourth duty: pray for them. Last week a visitor came up to me and said I did something in worship most churches and pastors do not do: I prayed for the President. I told him I prayed for the last President too and the governor -- and that sometimes it is very hard to do this. Paul commands us to pray:
(1 Tim 2:1-2) I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- (2) for kings and all those in authority ...
Governments fall short. Citizens, even Christian citizens, fall short. Do you know who doesn't? Jesus, who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore, no one goes wrong when they follow Him.
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