Sunday, March 11, 2007

Two Swords, Two Powers, and the Butcher of Wall Street

Both the church and civil magistrate wield a sword, the question is "What kind?"

The sword that Paul recognizes as belonging in the hand of the state is one that is "not borne in vain," being the weapon of him who "is an avenger who executes God's wrath on the evildoer" (Rom. 13:4). The sword wielded by the church, on the other hand, is called "the sword of the Spirit," "the Word of God that distinguishes the thoughts and intents of man's heart" (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12).

Here is the crucial point relating to our discussion of civil disobedience: The power of the civil magistrate is magisterial and legislative, while the power of the church is only ministerial and declarative. This means that, while the state is permitted to make laws, the church can do no such thing, but can only serve to administer the laws of Scripture by declaring them to the believing community.

This distinction helps answer the question raised in the comments of the previous thread concerning capitalism. Since the admission that believers are free to resist the state's power when it is manifested in something as insidious as the Third Reich is both easy (since it was so obviously evil) and unhelpful (since it no longer exists), what about a contemporary example of unjust power that is oppressive and can be legitimately resisted (the commenter suggested capitalism)? If it would have been unconscionable to allow Josef Mengele to the Lord's Table in the 1930s', what about Gordon Gekko in the 1980s'?

Rather than pursuing the course of either the "Christian Right" or the "Christian Left" (both of which ironically stem from similar ecclesiologies leading to dissimilar conclusions), ought not the church simply admit that its authority, being ministerial and declarative, does not extend far enough to determine such questions as whether capitalists may commune?

Or to put it more simply, the question may be interesting for Christians to discuss, but the answer falls outside the church's jurisdiction.