God and Governments

The theology that came out of the Reformation was culturally revolutionary because it taught the total sovereignty of God in every area of life, but especially the government. Kings prior to this time were ruling as tyrants since they believed they were entitled to be the law makers of society. The Reformers taught that kings are also under the rule of God and that God lays out parameters for how they are to rule. When they fail to act as servants of the people, they act like tyrants and abdicate their right to rule. This was a pretty revolutionary concept based on the covenant theology that came out of Calvin's theology. It revolutionized the way governments operated and led to the rise of republic forms of government. This shows that ideas really do have major consequences in this life. In the following article Rushdoony describes the problem we are facing as our church leaders have compromised the relation between God and government. As a result, the government and our political leaders have become abusive of their trust as the church has failed to act in its prophetic calling.


ByRev. R.J. Rushdoony –

In the Ten Commandments, immediately after the command,"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me," is the prohibition of allgraven images. Few commandments are more badly interpreted. All too many readit as a total ban on any religious art. This is clearly not true. God Himselfrequired a variety of carvings in the tabernacle, on the ark, and on variousfurnishings (but not on the altar), and He Himself called and inspired men todo the work (Ex. 3l:l-6, etc.). While depictions of God were forbidden, more isin this law than is often recognized. No graven images, or any forms orlikenesses, are permitted as objects to use for worship in the sense of bowingdown to them, or serving them. "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them,nor serve them" (Ex. 20:4): these words are the key, and their meaningmust be understood in order to obey this commandment.

Paul had this commandment and more in mind when he cried outagainst the worship the people of Lystra gave him and Barnabas after thehealing of a cripple (Acts 14:8-18). The priest of Jupiter was ready to servethem, and the people to bow down to them.

To bow down and to serve is an ancient sign and symbol of therecognition of sovereignty. Because the pagan kings of antiquity claimedlordship or sovereignty, they required all men to acknowledge it on coming intotheir presence. This meant bowing down before them, sometimes prostratingthemselves completely. It also commonly meant bringing gifts, a token ofservice. Thus, the wise men came seeking the Christ child, the newly born king,whom they knew to be the great Messiah or God-King. They demonstrated thisfaith by falling down before the child, and worshipping Him; they thenpresented their gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, as tokens of theirservice to Him as Lord and King (Matt. 2:11).


Thus, the law, when it reads, "Thou shalt not bow down tothem, nor serve them," has reference to two related facts: firsttherecognition of lordship or sovereignty; the one to whom we bow is he whom weacknowledge as our lord; second, he whom we serve is the one to whom we pay ourtax or tithe, and to whom we bring gifts. (Hence, God requires both tithes andofferings, the tax and gifts above the tax, as evidence of our service andlove.)


In the Christian era, monarchs revived the pagan doctrine ofkingship. They claimed lordship or sovereignty. They promoted the doctrine oftheir divine rights. In the 18th century, both Protestant and Catholic kingsdisapproved of the use of Mary's Magnificat inchurches, because of the sentence, "He hath put down the mighty from theirseats, and exalted them of low degree" (Luke 1:52). They wanted no LordChrist who could put them down and scatter them.

The modern state is even worse, far worse. Itdoes not hesitate to claim sovereignty; it presents itself, after Hegel, as Godwalking on earth. It claims jurisdiction over Christ's church and school aslord, and it demands that we bow down and serve it as sovereign.


This is the meaning of the law: no graven images means norepresentations of sovereignty or lordship. Neither a man nor an image canrepresent sovereignty, nor can a church nor a state. God alone is the lord."I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me" (Isa. 45:5). All too many churchmen are balking at a cross over the church (asymbol of Christ's triumph over sin and death), while bowing the knee toCaesar, and serving Him. Alan Stang rightfully and wisely titled hisstudies of the statist persecutions of the church, ThouShalt Have No Other Gods Before Me - Including the State.

The Bible is emphatic that Christians are to render obedience towhom obedience is due. Again and again, this duty of obedience to, and prayersfor, all those in civil authority is stressed. Moreover, because the godly wayis regeneration, not revolution, Christians are warned against being humanisticsocial revolutionists (I Cor. 7:20-23), but they are at the same time to worklawfully to avoid being a slave people, i.e., "the servants of men."


At the same time, the nature of civil (and other) authorities isat all times and in all things limited by the word of God. Civil authoritiesare specifically spoken of as ministers of God,and the word translated as "minister" is in the Greek our Englishword "deacon," meaning servant. "Rulers" are thus to beservants under God, not lords or sovereigns. When the civil authoritiesdivorce themselves from God and His law-word, they become self-styled lords andlawless as well. As Augustine pointed out, godless civil rulers are no morethan bands of robbers, a more powerful Mafia, and a more dangerous one. Beinglawless in relation to God, they are lawless and predatory in relation to men.

There is an important aspect to this commandment which iscommonly neglected. Of the Ten Commandments, one other contains the promise ofparticular judgment, and one other of particular blessing. Honoring parents hasthe promise of life: "Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days maybe long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee" (Ex. 20:12). Thepromise of judgment is given in Exodus 20:7, "Thou shalt not take the Nameof the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless thattaketh his name in vain" (See Chalcedon Position Paper no. 2, "In theName of Jesus Christ, or, In the Name of Caesar?")

Here, in this law, we have the longest promise, and it is ofboth judgment and blessing: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any gravenimage, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in theearth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow downthyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God,visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third andfourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands ofthem that love me, and keep my commandments" (Ex. 20:4-6).

The judgment here promised is a lingering one: sin has socialconsequences. Where a false doctrine of sovereignty prevails, there is aradical social disorientation, and all life is warped and placed on falsepremises. A generation which asserts a humanistic doctrine of sovereignty willso alter life and society, and all the institutions thereof, that the evilconsequences will persist for three and four generations. On the other hand, atrue doctrine of sovereignty will affect the lives of thousands who do notshare it, because it will keep society on a godly foundation.

The prohibition is against any form of idolatry, i.e., any alienor ungodly doctrine of sovereignty. Sovereignty or lordship cannot be locatedon earth, in the heavens, or in the seas: it is in God alone. Covetousness,indeed sin in any form, is idolatry (Colossians 3:5), because sin assertsour will as primary, and our will replaces God's law in all sin.

Sovereignty or lordship is the source of judgment and grace,either directly or by delegation. In Scripture, parents, pastors, civilauthorities, employers, and others are instructed as to how to judge and rewardfaithful obedience and service. Their powers are under God; they are strictlydelegated. The Bible recognizes no power independent of God, "For there isno power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom. 13:1).For any of these delegated spheres of authority to speak of themselves aspowers which are independent from God is rebellion and sin. For courts, theInternal Revenue Service, and other civil agencies to speak of allowing us somany "days of grace" is blasphemy.

Today, however, autonomy is claimed by virtually every civilgovernment, autonomy from God. All see themselves as sovereign, and hence theirown source of law and power. We live in an age of statist idolatry, and we havebecome so blind that we do not see this obvious fact. All too many churchmenwill quibble about trifles but fail to see themselves surrounded and ruled bythe enemies of God, humanists, and their idol and false lord, the state.


We are ready to entertain the rule of other gods when weourselves have openly or quietly rejected the true God, or are secretly inquest of "freedom" from the living God. It is a very comfortingillusion to tell ourselves that evil men did this to us, or that a conspiracyis responsible for our captivity to false lords or sovereigns. Every conspiracybegins, however, in the human heart as a conspiracy against God. Theconspiracies of history, including our time, are all too real, but they make itconvenient for all too many of us to forget our own sins. All over thecountry, I find men retreating into Phariseeism rather than advancing intodominion, and their excuse is a false holiness. No church is good enoughfor them; granted, the church scene is a sad picture, but will withdrawalimprove it? Moreover, are we so holy that we cannot afford to associate withother sinners saved by grace? Again, many refuse to vote, failing to recognizethat voting is a means of exercising dominion.


Given the faults of all candidates, there is still a choice, and a duty. Paul, in writing to theCorinthians that they should discipline and excommunicate a fornicator, warnedthem against trying to require a like standard of the world, "for thenmust ye needs go out of this world" (I Cor. 5 :10). They are not to leavethe world but to conquer it. "Super-holiness" exalts us, not the Lord.

The law says, "Thou shalt have no other gods beforeme" (Ex. 20:3), including ourselves. It is not our will and law but theLord's which must govern. "Before me" means "beside me,"sharing to any degree lordship or sovereignty with Me. The relationship withGod can only be exclusive.

Moreover, the modern reading of the prohibition of graven imagesor idolatry in any form is seriously misread if its meaning is limited toworship, or the place of worship. There are all too many today whose idol isCaesar who have no images, symbols, or signs in their plain churches. To haveno other gods beside Me, beside the Lord God, means that no other lord hassovereignty over us in any and every area of life. It means that our total wayof life is governed exclusively by God the Lord. To limit the scope of thelaw to what goes on in a church building is to deny the sovereignty or lordshipof the living God. The Lord God and His law-word must govern, control,dominate, inform, and regulate every atom of our being and every sphere of lifeand the world. Anything short of this is idolatry.

There can be no substitute for God in any sphere. Moreover,since any and every created representation of God is banned, it is clear thatGod cannot be absorbed into or identified with this world and its aspects. Heis the eternal God, the Creator, not an item in an already existing universe.The creation cannot define Him: He creates and defines all creation. Man seeksto define and understand all things in terms of his experience, reason, andlife; this is at the heart of all idolatry, whether simplistic and primitive,or rational and philosophical. By means of this law, God rejects all man-madeefforts to define Him, or comprehend Him. He is to be known only in terms ofHis revelation. He also makes clear that the scope of His jurisdiction istotal: There can be no other gods beside Him in any sphere of life and thought.

An hour ago, I talked with a pastor whose church rebels againstany application of Christ's lordship to anything outside the church, especiallyto anything in the sphere of the state. I was reminded of one well-knowncountry where, at least until recently if not now, a husband's adultery givesthe wife no actionable ground for complaint unless the act or acts of adultery occurin the family home! All too many churchmen have a like view of idolatry: if itdoes not occur in Sunday morning or evening worship, it does not count.

The key to idolatry comes to the surface in Exodus 20:7,"Thou shalt not take the Name of the LORD thy God in vain." UmbertoCassuto rendered it thus: "You shall not take up the name of the Lord yourGod for unreality." To take God's Name for a valueless purpose is to treatGod as unreality, rather than as Lord and Creator. To limit God'ssovereignty and law to the church, and to the inner life and to the"private" morality of man, is to deny His lordship and to treat Himas an unreality. When we treat God as an unreality, we will prostrateourselves before false gods, including and especially the state, and we willserve them. Man is a religious creature; if he rejects the living God, he willserve other gods. And this God will not tolerate.

The jealousy of God (Ex. 20:5) is grounded in His absolutenessand His universal dominion. The "gods" of paganism were notjealous, because they were not universal. Their jurisdictions were limited toone nation, state, or people, and to a particular sphere within that realm.They were simply powerful "spirits" seeking to control the weather,or the sea, love, the family, or some like limited sphere. Even within thoselimits, their powers were faulty and uncertain. Such "gods" could notafford the luxury of claiming a broader sphere: they had enough problemsminding their own shop! The God of Scripture is a jealous God, because He hastotal jurisdiction over all things. "I am the LORD: that is my Name: andmy glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images"(Isa. 42:8). No other religion has anything comparable to this law prohibitingidolatry.

Gerhard von Rad, in commenting on this same law as it appears inDeuteronomy 5:8-10, noted: "This prohibition of idols must be understoodwith the purpose of the idols in mind, namely to manifest the deity."(Deuteronomy, p.57). God reserves the power to manifest Himself to Himself. IJohn 3:8 declares that Jesus Christ is God manifest, and I Timothy 3:16 tellsus also that "God was manifest in the flesh" in Jesus Christ. In allidolatry, physical, philosophical, or institutional, man seeks to determinewhat God's manifestation shall be. Wherever there is any talk of sovereignty,there is a claim to the manifestation of lordship, or deity.


Paul gives us some telling insights into idolatry. For example,in I Corinthians 10:7, he writes: "Neither be ye idolaters, as were someof them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up toplay." Paul's reference is to the golden calf incident of the Exodusjourney there were, clearly, fertility cult practices on that occasion; herefers to these in the next verse: "Neither let us commit fornication, assome of them committed..." (I Cor. 10:8). Thus, Paul separates two kindsof acts on that day; the simple eating and playing, and the fertility cultsexual acts. The word play in theGreek text is paizo, children's play, harmless play, as it were. Paul's point isthat even those who abstained from the fertility cult practices were guilty ofidolatry because they agreed with the general dismissal of God and Moses; theywere "moral" idolaters. They shared the general feeling, "for asfor this man Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wotnot what is become of him" (Ex. 32:1). The feasting and playing was in theName of the LORD (Ex. 32:5), but it was in contempt of Him and His authority.


In brief, Paul's meaning is that any aspect of life outside ofGod is idolatry. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).George Bush was right when in 1841 he wrote of this law that its meaning andspirit are "plainly exceedingly broad." (Exodus, l, 263). Churchmenhave limited its scope in order to lessen sin.

The time has come for us to confess, in the words of Isaiah26:13, "O LORD our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us:but by thee only will we make mention of thy name."

We must renounce and war against all statist and other doctrinesof lordship or sovereignty in the Name of the LORD. The great baptismalconfession of the early church, that "Jesus Christ is Lord," must beour confession and banner now. Jesus Christ is LORD: He is King of kings, andLord of lords (Rev. 19:16). Let the nations tremble before Him.


(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction,p. 84; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 19)