The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America] (RPCNA) (1980)

Chapter 23: Of the Civil Magistrate

1. We reject the belief that civil government is unnecessary or essentially evil.

2. God has given the exercise of all authority to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the Divine Lawgiver, Governor and Judge. His will concerning the purpose of civil government and the principles re- garding its functions and operation are revealed in the written Word of God. The Holy Spirit enables even unregenerate rulers to fulfill their proper functions. A true recognition of the authority and law of Christ in national life can only be the frtiit of the Spirit’s regenerat- ing power in the lives of individuals.

Deut. 4:39; Dan. 4:25, 32, 35; Matt. 28:18; Phil. 2:10; Eph. 1:22; Isa. 33:22; Deut. 17:18-19; Isa. 45:1-7; Ezek. 36:27.

3. God has assigned to people, both individually and collectively, the responsibility for establishing and maintaining civil government, and the people are accountable to Jesus Christ for the proper exer- cise of this responsibility.

Deut. 1:13-14; Deut. 17:15; 1 Sam. 8:22; 2 Sam. 5:3; Hos. 8:1, 4; Eccl. 10:16-17.

4. Every nation ought to recognize the Divine institution of civil government, the sovereignty of God exercised by Jesus Christ, and its duty to rule the civil affairs of men in accordance with the will of God. It should enter into covenant with Christ and service to ad- vance His Kingdom on earth. The negligence of civil government in any of these particulars is sinful, makes the nation liable to the wrath of God, and threatens the continued existence of the government and nation.

Phil. 2:10; Rem. 13:4; Ps. 132:12; Ps.103:17-19; Ps. 2:10-12,

5. We reject the view that nations have no corporate responsibil- ity for acknowledging and obeying Christ.

6. It is the duty of every Christian citizen to labor and pray for his nation’s official and explicit recognition of the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Preserver and Ruler of nations, and for the conduct of

all governmental affairs in harmony with the written Word of God. 1 Tim. 2:1-2; Phil. 2:9-10; Acts 2:1-39; Ps. 2:8-12; Esther 4:14.

7. We deny that constitutional recognition of Jesus Christ means union of church and state.

8. We reject the teaching that Christians should not seek the es- tablishment of Christian civil government.

9. No particular form of civil government is commanded in’ the Scriptures. Any form of civil government which observes the duties and limitations set upon it by God in His revealed Word is accept- able to God.

Ex. 18:21-24; Prov. 29:14; Deut. 1:16-17.

10. We deny that simply having a democratic or republican form of government insures God’s approval and blessing.

11. All officers and employees of a civil government are to be ser- vants of God for good. They are responsible to God for the discharge of lawful duties rightfully assigned to them by human authority. Neither their official position, however, nor the orders of their supe- riors, nor the will of the people, exonerates them from blame for any unscriptural action or inaction.

Rem. 13:3-4; 2 Chron. 19:6-7; Prov. 29:26.

12. We reject the view that it is wrong to wage war in defense of life, liberty or religion.

13. Citizens cannot abdicate their responsibility to determine the moral legitimacy of a particular war and to govern their participation accordingly. Such decisions should be made prayerfully in the light of Scripture and with the counsel of the church.

Acts 5:29; 1 Sam. 14:44-45.

14. When justly administered, capital punishment is a scriptural application of civil authority.

Rem. 13:4; Gen. 9:6; Acts 25:11; Num. 35:29-34.

15. The Christian, when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ, ought to be involved in the selection of and to vote for civil rulers who fear God, love truth and justice, hate evil, and are pub- licly committed to scriptural principles of civil government.

Ex. 18:21; Deut. 16:18, 2 Sam. 23:3; Rem. 13:3,

16. It is sinful for a Christian to take an oath which compromises his supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ. It is also sinful to vote for offi- cials who are required to take an oath which a Christian himself could not take in good conscience. Voting involves the voter in re- sponsibility for any act required of the official as a condition of hold- ing his office.

Deut. 10:20; Isa. 45:22-23; 2 John 1:11; 1 Tim. 5:22.

17. The Christian must profess publically and the Church must witness, that Christ is the Ruler of every nation. Whatever the official action of the civil government of a nation may be, the Christian in his civil actions must always exhibit his loyalty to Christ. The Christian must relinquish every right or privilege of citizenship which involves him in silence about, or denial of the supreme au- thority of Jesus Christ.

Matt. 5:13-14; Prov. 3:5-6; Ps. 37:7; Matt. 22:21; John 17:14-15; Mark 13:9. 18. We reject the portion of paragraph 3 after the colon. 1

1. This is the section in the Westminster Confession regarding the authority of the civil magistrate to punish blasphemies and heresies. It is this section that was repealed by the Presbyterian Church in America on May 28, 1788.

19. Both the government of the nation and the government of the visible church are established by God. Though distinct and inde- pendent of each other, they both owe supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ. The governments of church and state differ in sphere of au- thority in that due submission to the government of the visible church is the obligation of members thereof, while due submission to civil government is the obligation of all men. The governments of church and state also have different functions and prerogatives in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. The means of enforcement of the civil government are physical, while those of church government are not. Neither government has the right to invade or assume the authority of the other. They should cooperate to the honor and glory of God, while maintaining their separate jurisdictions.

Rem. 13:1; Matt. 22:21; Col. 1:18; Acts 15:10; Ezra 7:10, 25-26; 2 Chron. 26:18-19; Matt. 5:25; 1 Cor. 5:12-13.

20. Though responsible for maintaining conditions favorable to the spread of the Gospel, civil government should never attempt to convert men to Christ by the use of force or by persecution. It should guarantee to all its subjects every human right given by God to men. It should, however, restrain and punish its subjects for those sinful actions which fall under its jurisdiction.

1 Tim. 2:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rem. 13:4; Ezra 7:26; Neh. 13:17-21.

21. No civil government which deprives men of civil or religious liberty, fails to protect human life, or proposes to force men to do violence to the spirit and precepts of the Christian religion or inter- feres unjustly with private ownership of property, can in such mat- ters rightfully expect the submission of its citizens or the blessings of God promised for obedience to Him.

Acts 4:17,19,33; Deut. 27:19; Isa. 10:1-2; Ex. 20:15; Isa. 1:23-26; Dan. 6:13; Heb. 11:23.

22. Both the Christian and the Church have a responsibility for witnessing against national sins and for promoting justice. Amos 2:6-8; Amos 5:14-15.

23. The failure of a civil government, through negligence, ignor- ance, or rebellion, to recognize the authority of Jesus Christ does not cancel its just authority. A civil government, though guilty of many sins, still has authority in so far as it furthers some of the scriptural ends of civil government.

Matt. 22:21; Rem. 13:1; Rem. 2:14; Acts 23:5; Ex. 22:28.

24. Due submission of all persons, cheerfully rendered, to civil officers and to civil government in general, is pleasing to God. No person, however, is required by God to obey civil authority when such authority demands that the citizen or subject do that which is clearly contrary to the law of God as revealed in the Scriptures. In such cases the duty of the Christian is to obey God rather than men. The Christian has a special obligation to render due submission to civil authority in order to express his loyalty to Jesus Christ, to prove his concern for the welfare of all men, and to bring honor to the name of Christ.

1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rem. 13:5; Acts 5:29; Titus 3:1.

25. The only submission which a Christian may promise to any civil government is due submission in the Lord. Any promise of sub- mission or oath of allegiance beyond this is sinful. If and when the civil government of a nation requires, as a condition of civil service or of holding office, an oath which implies that civil allegiance transcends the swearer’s convictions of conscience and obedience to God, it is the Christian’s duty to refuse such an oath. It is within the corporate power of the Church, acting through its courts, to declare that facts or circumstances which may exist in a specific situation render the taking of a civil oath sinful.

Gen. 25:33; Matt. 22:21; Eph. 6:12; Matt 4:10; Deut. 10:20.

26. It is the duty of the Christian to ascertain whether any prescribed oath of allegiance to the civil authority involves accep- tance of unchristian principles stated or implied in its constitution of government. If the oath of allegiance to civil authority explicitly or by clear implication requires support of anti-Christian, atheistic, or secular principles, then the Christian must refuse on these grounds to take the oath of allegiance.

Acts 5:29; Acts 4:18-20.

27. In the matter of taking oaths required by civil authority, the Christian should seek the guidance and support of the Church.

28. It is the duty of the Christian Church to testify to the author- ity of Christ over the nations, against all anti-Christian, atheistic, and secular principles of civil government, and against all sinful oaths of allegiance to civil governments. When the Church by or- derly processes in her own courts determines that the oath of allegiance to a civil government compromises the Christian’s loyalty to Christ or involves the Christian in the support of sinful principles of civil government, the Church must require her members to refuse such sinful oaths.

Acts 4:24-29; Eph. 5:11; Rev. 3:15-16; Acts 15:28-29; Rev. 2:13-14.

29. When participating in political elections, the Christian should support and vote only for such men as are publically committed to scriptural principles of civil government. Should the Christian seek civil office by political election, he must openly inform those whose support he seeks of his adherence to Christian principles of civil government.

1 Chron. 16:31; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 2 Chron. 19:6-7; Dan. 2:48; Eph. 4:25.

30. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and the decisions of civil courts cannot determine for the Christian what is morally right and what is sinful. However, since civil government is an institution of God, it is within the legitimate province of the civil courts of a nation to determine what the nation’s laws and required oaths of allegiance mean or do not mean. A decision of a civil court cannot legitimize sinful conduct, but it can place before a Christian a factual situation upon which a moral judgement can be made. It cannot be proper for the Christian to assume that an oath of allegiance implies sinful re- quirements, when the civil courts have explicitly contradicted such implication. Every oath must be understood in the sense intended by the authority requiring the oath. It is for the Christian and the Church to decide whether this sense involves sinful requirements.

Matt. 22:21b; Rom 13:5; Eccl. 8:4; 1 Thess. 5:21.

31. We reject any inference that civil government has jurisdiction over conscience.

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