Religious liberty, freedom of choice, is of the utmost importance to God. The very thing that makes our love valuable to God is the fact that we do not have to give it. When we choose to give it, it makes it very valuable to Him. He gave us that freedom, that choice.
1888 Sunday Law
As some of you that are familiar with history—especially Seventh-day Adventist history—know, a lot of interesting things were going on during the late 1800s. In secular history, Senator Henry William Blair introduced a national Sunday law in the United States Senate. This proposed law was being discussed, and was ready to be voted upon. In church history, God had sent to E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones what the prophet called “the most precious message” that was to prepare God’s people for translation. (See Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, 128.) Because the church did not accept this “most precious message,” the message of righteousness by faith, God stopped what was going on in the Senate. A. T. Jones went before the Senate and argued against Senator Blair’s Sunday law. His arguments were so effective that even Senator Blair decided that Sunday laws were a bad idea.
The next large event that happened in the church, after the 1888 General Conference session, was a camp meeting held at Ottawa, Kansas, in 1889. In those days, camp meetings were a big deal; thousands and thousands of people would attend. So many people attended that sometimes the railroad companies would actually run tracks to the campsite so the people could ride the train right to that area! It was also common for the media to report the news of the camp meetings. At this camp meeting in Ottawa, Kansas, the Topeka Capital-Journal (Topeka, Kansas) published in its newspaper every sermon that was preached. A. T. Jones was one of the main speakers, and of the 31 sermons he preached during that camp meeting, at least 15 of them were on religious liberty. Other presentations included the topic of righteousness by faith. The message of righteousness by faith and the message of religious liberty were closely tied together.
Today, some of the laws that are introduced by our government leaders may come from good intentions. At times it is possible to see the logic in them, but it is a bit confusing to understand whether the proposed law is a good law or whether it is a bad law, whether it is going to take away personal freedom, or whether it is going to enhance the situation for everyone. In this article, we will study some principles in God’s Word that will help us to be able to judge these laws, to see where they are heading and the principles behind them. We are going to look at the subject of government through God’s Word. We are going to see what God thinks about civil government. Does He approve of it, and if He does, how much authority has He given it? What is its purpose? What should it regulate, and what should it leave alone?
First, let’s answer the question, Does God approve of civil government? Paul had some strong things to say about this in Romans 13:1–4: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
That makes it pretty plain that God definitely approves of government, does it not? He has ordained it and those who are in civil government, doing what they are supposed to do, He calls His ministers. But it seems that most of the governments in the world today are more evil than good. How can God condone that? As we look at history, perhaps we will find the answer to this question and others that have already been asked.
To start with, at some point of time in this universe, there may have been only one creature. What fact is evident if only one creature exists? If there is one creature, there has to not interfere, not try to force each other into their own belief system.
So a second creature called for a second principle of government, and Jesus stated this as the second commandment: “And the second [is] like, [namely] this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31.
Two = Ten
These two principles of government are just the simple dictates of reason and of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3–17). The Ten Commandments expand on these two principles, but they do not change them. The first four commandments basically tell us how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We do not have other gods before Him; we do not set up idols in His place; we do not use His name in vain; and we remember His Sabbath to keep it holy. The Sabbath is a memorial to creation. If we remember the Sabbath, the memorial to creation, we do not forget our Creator.
The last six commandments tell us how to love our neighbors as ourselves. They tell us not to steal, not to kill, and not to commit adultery, not to lie, not to covet, and to honor our parents. They tell us how to handle this secondary relationship.
These two principles are the original government. They are perfect government. They are the ultimate. People that live according to these principles live by self-government. Self-government does not mean that we let self do whatever it wants. Self-government means that we choose to be governed by reason—reason educated by the Word of God. That is the principle by which we live. God created all beings that He has ever made with freedom of choice. (Patriarchs and Prophets, 331, 332.) Men are free to choose. (See In Heavenly Places, 361.) God made us that way, and He always respects that freedom. When these created beings choose of their own free will to be in subjection to God, to His will and His design, then they are considered to be self-governed people. They choose it. It is a voluntary thing. It is government by the consent of the governed. It is a perfect government. It is self-government. The self-governed ones see the wisdom in God’s will, and they choose to be in subjection to it.
This perfect government ruled for an undisclosed period of time during eternity past. We do not know exactly how long it existed, but we know that the universe ran under this principle until the fall of Adam and Eve and that the rest of the unfallen universe—everywhere except this world—still operate under this principle. This planet is the only place where this principle is not in effect.
Everything went along fine as long as this principle governed. God did not use force to get His created beings to be in subjection to Him; it was voluntary. The beings saw the wisdom in it, and they submitted to Him and were governed by love.
But something went wrong. Someone chose not to give the Creator the love and honor that He deserved, and introduced a new and strange thing—selfishness—that led to rebellion, sin, and apostasy. It was the origin of evil. Any created being could have originated it, but Lucifer was the one who did. The important thing to realize is that everybody that follows his rebellion puts his or her stamp of approval on that type of government. A third of the angels changed rulers at that time and followed Lucifer. They put their stamp of approval on evil.
There would have been no way to ever return into God’s self-government, to choose Him as a ruler again, except He said to Lucifer, “I’m going to put enmity between you and the woman”—the woman being the church, and the church being those who choose self-government over rebellion. (Genesis 3:15.) God offered this enmity, but there was and is still the power of choice.
God had never before used force, but we are told that God had to use this new and strange thing that had never been used before in the universe. “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12:7–9.
God does not believe in forcing anybody to do anything. He does believe in removing people from society when they threaten the lives of self-governed beings. That is how He handles such situations. He does not force them to behave; He does not force them to obey; but He does remove them from society. That is what civil government is supposed to do. That is what it has been ordained of God to do. Civil government’s purpose is to protect God’s self-governed people from the rebels who choose not to be self-governed. Only those who again learn self-government will be safe to save for eternity, because God is not going to allow rebellion to happen again in heaven.
God is very patient in His dealings with us. He has dealt patiently with the human race for 6,000 years, and He dealt patiently with Satan for an unknown length of time in eternity past. God gave Satan every opportunity to turn around, to repent, and to come back into line with the two original principles of government that we have studied. He has tried through many generations to bring us back. Some people have learned, but most have chosen to not be self-governed.
In the lives of Cain and Abel, the first children of Adam and Eve, we see that one chose the way of self-government and the other chose the way of rebellion. We see the two principles at work in their lives. Abel, who chose self-government, worshipped God the way God had outlined. Cain did a thing that the Spirit of Prophecy calls partial obedience. He built the altar, kind of like what God said; he brought the sacrifice, kind of like what God said; but it was not right. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, 72.) He decided that he would do things his own way. Partial obedience is disobedience. That is what he chose. God accepted Abel’s worship, and He rejected Cain’s. Abel tried to persuade Cain to do things the right way. It is a good thing to try to persuade people; it is a bad thing to try to force people. Cain became very angry. He did not like being reproved. He became so angry that he killed Abel. That is the ultimate step in trying to force people.
It is interesting that people who do not want to obey God do not want anybody else to obey either. That may be hard for us to understand, but people are not satisfied just to be in disobedience themselves. They want everybody else to be disobedient, too. It seems that Cain did not want to govern himself—he did not want to be self-governed—but he wanted to govern others. That is another principle we notice. People that cannot govern themselves always want to govern other people. That is what Cain did. That is how sinful human nature works.
Adam and Eve had another son after Cain and Abel. His name was Seth, and he chose the way of self-government. They then had many other sons, and the majority of them chose the way of rebellion. The history of this world before the flood is mostly a history of no government at all. Everybody just kind of did what he or she felt like, except for the few, the little group of those who chose to be self-governed. There was no civil government; there was no law. You just did whatever you felt like—unless you were governed by God.
If all of Adam’s children had chosen self-government, there never would have been any kingdoms on this earth except God’s. There would not have been civil government; there would have been no need for it. Obviously that did not happen. Before the flood there was not any government. There were societies; there were enlarged families; there were tribes; but there was no organized government. Everybody pretty much did what he or she wanted. It was kind of the law of the jungle; the strongest survived. That is the way it went up until the flood.
God will put up with that kind of thing for a period of time, but after a certain point, He says, “No more,” and He puts a stop to it. Genesis 6:11–13 tells about that: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; and all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
So we are told that God will allow so much, and then He will quench it, and that is what He did. The first time God destroyed the earth because of anarchy; there was no government. In the end of time He will destroy it because of too much government and too much law, contrary to His Law.
God restarted the earth again with Noah and his family, eight people total. He started it again on the principle of self-government, but in spite of the awful demonstration of God’s wrath, it was not very long before the way of rebellion rose up again. Some chose the way of self-government, but the vast majority chose the way of rebellion. They even chose other gods and set up idols in God’s place.
Men would take the title of God and His authority and place it upon an idol, and they would make that idol their god and their king. But they had not gone so far in apostasy as to take that title and authority from that idol and put it on a man. The idol was god and king, and the people worshipped that idol, but they had not yet gone so far as to set themselves up in place of God.
An idol is nothing more than a reflection of the one that made it, the devotee. Therefore, it would follow that the idolater is really his own god. The idol is just a symbol of that. With each idolater being his own god, it becomes plain that all idolatry is more than just false worship, it is self-worship. The character of the false god is the character of the one that made it. Obviously it has no character of its own; it can only have what the worshipper gives it. Since its character comes from man, Mark 7:21, 22 tells us that “Out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness.” So it only follows that this describes the character of the idol, because it came from man, and that is what is in the heart of men. In Psalm 135:18 we are told, “They that make them [idols] are like unto them.” Men, being evil, build evil gods, and because of the law of beholding, they become more evil. It is a downward spiral. On the other hand, self-government beholds God, so it leads upward.
What happens when you have organized idol worship disguised as Christianity? What happens when you combine paganism and Christianity, build an idol, and worship that idol? You have created an evil god in your own image. You think that this god is good, but this god is actually so evil that he would burn people forever and ever and ever, just because they messed up on this planet for 70 years, give or take a few years. This god is so evil that he would torture people throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. It automatically follows that as you create that kind of god, and behold that kind of god, that it is nothing for you to kill a few people to help him. That is why it says in John 16:2 that “the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” That is the result of organized idolatry disguised as Christianity.
If the idol is nothing but the representation of the one that made it, it is logical that eventually someone would take the authority and title from that idol and place it upon himself. Obviously an idol cannot make anybody do anything, so somebody has to become the executor of the idol’s will. Somebody has to take it upon himself to enforce what this idol, this fake god, wants done. In other words, he is going to enforce what he wants done, because he made the idol. That is the origin of monarchies.
One man did set himself up to be the executor of the idol’s will, to enforce what the idol wanted. He had to rule over men by force in order to accomplish that. The strongest man prevailed, ruled over others, and became the monarch. For a time, that monarch was not called god. He was called a viceroy; he was in place of a god. The idol was still the king for quite some time. They had not gone so far as to be bold enough to actually take the title and authority from the god and place it upon themselves. They were just kind of standing in place of this idol, doing its will.
It was not until Nimrod that somebody finally got bold enough to step up another notch in apostasy and actually take the title and authority from an idol upon themselves. Genesis 10:8–10 talks about him: “And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel . . . .” It says there that Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord. He was not just a hunter of animals and beasts, but he was actually a hunter and a pursuer and a crusher of the souls of men. That is the kind of hunter he was. From the time of the flood until Nimrod there had been tribes, but this thing that Nimrod set up was a whole new relationship that had never been done before—to have this man be in the place of God over all these people. Nimrod was the first to establish an organized kingdom. His kingdom was Babel, or Babylon. He became an overbearing tyrant. He crushed people and oppressed them, and he worked to enlarge his kingdom.
Nimrod worked to expand his empire by conquering men. He conquered other of Noah’s descendants, and he sought to crush and oppress everybody with whom he came in contact. He wanted to take everybody. Everybody was to be under his control. But there was a problem. God placed in the heart of men a desire to be free, a very strong desire. Because of Nimrod’s efforts to crush and expand his kingdom by crushing men, and by men resisting, the history of the world is largely a story of war—war between oppression and the fight for freedom.
Assyria, one of the oldest kingdoms in the world, found that every year, for approximately 800 years, they would go out and conquer some territory, and the next year they would have to go back and re-conquer it. The conquered would be ready the next year to fight again, because of that strong desire for freedom that God has placed in the hearts of men. Tyrants have continued to try to control the world throughout history, and others have fought for freedom throughout history.
Steve Currey is a Bible worker for Steps to Life Ministry.