The Christian's Duty to the Magistrate

Dear Church Family,

Though you’ll most likely be reading this on Wednesday, November 7th (the day after election day), I’m writing this on Tuesday, November 6th (election day). As I write, the number of decided electoral votes in the presidential election stands at zero. So, I thought that this would be a good time to reflect and write about what are our responsibilities as Christians with respect to the civil magistrate. And, I’ll email this out tomorrow after which time, hopefully, there will be some resolution in the elections; however, regardless of the outcome, our responsibilities as disciples of the kingdom of God remain the same.

Here, our confession of faith helps in giving us guidance in this matter. Chapter 23 of the Westminster Confession of Faith is called Of the Civil Magistrate. It helps in defining the biblical role of the civil government, the relationship between the Church and the State, and the relationship between the individual Christian and the State. In speaking of this last one (the relationship between the individual believer and the civil government), the confession says that:

“It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honour their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less hath the Pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretence whatsoever.” (WCF 23:4)

The reference to the Pope reveals what was a major issue in 17th century England, namely the erroneous exertion of authority by a leader in the church over the power that rightfully belonged to the state. We should add that this applies not just to the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, but all religious leaders – including our own (a biblical point that is too often missed in our day (Matthew 16:19; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; John 18:36)). Now, with respect to our relationship to the government as individual Christians, we can summarize our biblical responsibilities under three basic categories:

(1) Pray for magistrates – God’s Word exhorts believers to make entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all men – and particularly “for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Regardless of who rules over us in the civil magistrate, we ought to thank God for those who are in authority over us, and petition God to providentially guide and direct them. Specifically, because God has given the power of the sword (physical violence) to the civil magistrate to protect and encourage people who do good and to punish evil doers (Romans 13:1-7), we are to pray that that sword is wielded with justice and equity so that we live peaceful lives, free from molestation, in order that we might ultimately grow in Christ-likeness.

(2) Pay tribute to magistrates – The confession uses this language: “to honour their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues.” The Apostle Peter writes that we should honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, and he specifically says that we ought to “honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). Similarly, Paul states that because those who rule over us are servants of God in administering the power of the sword, we are to render all that is due them: taxes, customs, fear, and honor (Romans 13:6-7). Amazingly, Paul wrote this concerning the same government which crucified Jesus and on numerous occasions, imprisoned and persecuted Christians.

(3) Submit and obey magistrates – We are to submit and obey those who have authority over us in the civil magistrate not only out of a sense of fear of the power of the sword which they wield, but also for conscience’ sake – because God has commanded us to do so (Romans 13:5; Titus 3:1). Concerning the commands of the magistrate, the confession adds the descriptor ‘lawful’ (“It is the duty of the people…to obey [the magistrate’s] lawful commands…) for a reason: when the commands of men conflict with the law of God, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

So, whatever the results of the national, state, and local elections may be, let us at least do these three things, and do them joyfully and with thanksgiving to God that he has preserved us from civic anarchy through the provision of the civil magistrate. Who rules over us and how they rule over us in earthly kingdoms (whatever country or state Christians find themselves living in) is important as we seek to live tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity; however, our earthly citizenship is not of ultimate importance.

The Apostle Paul appealed to the laws of the state and his rights as a Roman citizen when he was about to be tortured and interrogated by a Roman centurion (Acts 22:22-30). Yet, at the same time, Paul’s ultimate hope came from his appeal to his “citizenship in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Praise God for those who rule over us in the kingdoms of this world. And, praise God for Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and King of the kingdom of heaven!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Reformation Day

Dear Church Family,

Happy Reformation Day! This day is a special day of remembrance for the Protestant Church. And, this day has some personal significance for me, as well. My full name is Peter Martin Dietsch. As a young boy, I asked my father why he and my mother had given me the names that they did. My father replied, “You were named for Peter, the rock upon whom Christ built His Church; and Martin, the man whom God used to reform His Church.” Though I personally look to John Calvin as the man who refined and best encapsulated the doctrines of the Reformation, I have learned much from Luther’s writings and have great respect for the man who formally began one of the most important turning points in the history of the church.

On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther published his ninety-five thesis, questioning – among other things – the Church’s teaching and practice of selling indulgences to members of the church (the giving of money to the Church for the purpose of reducing the need for penance in this life and in purgatory). Luther found this doctrine and practice reprehensible and contrary to the Word of God, as well as an abuse of the power which Christ had entrusted to the Church in the giving of the keys of the kingdom.

Here are theses 35-37 from Luther’s initial protest:

35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who buy off souls, or purchase confessional licenses, have no need to repent of their own sins.

36. Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence.

37. Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God without letters of indulgence.

What a glorious truth this is! Repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ are all that are necessary to enjoy full forgiveness of sins and the privilege of participating in all the benefits of Christ and the Church! Praise God for His promise to build His Church upon the confession that Jesus in the Christ (or Messiah), the Son of the living God, which was first made by the Apostle Peter (Matthew 16:16-18). Indeed, Jesus said that because He is the One who builds His Church, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it!” And, let us praise God for raising up a man who, through a return to the clear teachings of Scripture, reminded the Church to “not be ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

At Home in the Church

Dear Church Family,

Greetings in the name of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ! Once again, thank you for your gracious and welcoming spirit as my family and I have moved to Midland and begun to settle in. My wife and I, along with our children, have been overwhelmed with the hospitality and love of the congregation of Providence Presbyterian Church (PPC). We are truly blessed to be here, and I count it a great privilege to live, serve, and minister here in Midland as the pastor of PPC.

In the adult Sunday School class, we have been talking about ecclesiology (the study of the church) and how we as individual members fit into the body of Christ. Our Westminster Confession of Faith says that the visible Church is "the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no possibility of salvation" (WCF 25:2). In the next paragraph, our confession goes on to say that "unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life to the end of the world: and doth, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto" (WCF 25:3). This is what I love about the church and what I love about being a pastor. The Church has been given gifts from God for 'the gathering and perfecting of the saints.' We often refer to this as evangelism and discipleship. In other words, salvation and sanctification are gifts which we receive by faith, through the ministries of His bride, the Church. We grow as individual people and families, as we are built up in the 'body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:11-3). Therefore, there is no such thing as a 'hermit Christian.' A 'Lone Ranger Christian' is an oxymoron.

Spiritual safety and sustenance is found only in the Church. Outside the Church it is easy to remain immature, to be tossed to and fro by the waves and the carried about by every wind of doctrine, human cunning, and deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:14). The Lord has made a covenant with His people: He has promised to pour out His Spirit upon them, and to put His word in their mouths, and the mouths of their children forevermore (Isaiah 59:20-21). We are so very grateful to be here at PPC and to be a part of the wonderful things that the Lord is doing for and through His bride in the gathering and perfecting the saints.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch