15 Theses for Christian Social Doctrine (from Romans 13:1-7)

Romans 13:1-7 is the loadstar passage on government in the New Testament. Yet there is a dearth of deep reflection on this passage among Protestants. Our negligence is illustrated by the lack of any book length expositions in modern times on these seven verses. Below are fifteen theses that I believe can be enlarged and established by Scripture, which theses are rooted in this critical passage.

  1. In Romans 13:1-7, the Apostle Paul is not addressing a particular government, or type of government, but is addressing the essence of human government in general.
  2. God instituted human government in man’s state of innocence; therefore government is a necessary good, and not a necessary evil.
  3. God’s sovereign control extends even over wicked governments.
  4. The civil magistrate is God’s “penultimate” minister, charged with overseeing the temporal affairs of life. God’s civil ministers are essentially different than ministers of the Word in that civil government is an order of common grace, while the church is an order of redemptive grace.
  5. God’s will is that the civil magistrate uphold the common good by promoting justice through wholesome laws. The duties of justice are directed by the principles of the sanctity of life, family and labor.
  6. Justice has negative and positive duties. Positively, justice especially requires defending the defenseless: the poor, feeble, orphan, widow, and alien; protecting them against oppression, robbery and violence.
  7. Negatively, the state is tasked to uphold justice with the “power of the sword.” The external restraint of law and punishment is made necessary because of sin.
  8. Justice in punishment is defined by the principles of proportionality and parsimony and seeks to balance the goals of retribution, restitution and restoration.
  9. Commitment to the sanctity of life includes the obligation to impose capital punishment for those guilty of intentional murder.
  10. The power of the sword includes the obligation of the state to wage just war when the occasion arrises. Just War is defined by the principles articulated by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, which principles have become the common heritage of Protestants and Catholics alike.
  11. Taxes are not “theft” but are necessary to secure both justice and freedom.
  12. Politics and public sector work are honorable callings that calls forth a full time, and lifelong pursuit of excellence. Public service careers are honorable vocations for Christians to pursue.
  13. In the main, Christians owe obedience to civil rulers. Christians ought to be the best citizens. This is no way implies that Christians are to be defenders of the status-quo or reflexively side with privilege and power.
  14. The respect Christians owe to civil rulers requires a certain “anti-partisan” stance. When advocating for just and wholesome laws, we must bear in mind that we are “co-belligerents,” and not allies.
  15. No ministerial authority is absolute. Therefore, duty may require Christians to resist civil authority in specific circumstances; through protest, civil disobedience, and, in the most extreme circumstances, join an effort (under a lesser magistrate) to overthrow a tyrannical government.