Arminian Today

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How Far Should Government Go?

I am currently reading an excellent book on the Civil War.  The book is entitled, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  I first heard of the book on Dr. Al Mohler’s excellent podcast where he featured the author in an interview.

One aspect of the Civil War that I believe we still see ramifications from today is the issue of how far should government go in intervening in our lives.  One of the primary motives for the Southern States seceding from the Union was the election of Abraham Lincoln and the battle for the West.  In this book, Mr. Guelzo argues that the fight between the North and the South was over western expansion in the United States.  The seeds were planted for the war at the founding but the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and then the Dred Scott case in 1846-57 led to the war.  The South feared that the North would allow the South to be slave states but with western expansion would not allow slavery in those states.  Thus the South knew that it was a matter of time before slavery would be banned in the entire United States as the other free states would continue to elect anti-slavery Presidents.  In those days, the President appointed nearly all officials in the States from cabinets to law officials.  Typically, the South had enjoyed freedom because of the lack of an anti-slavery President.  Lincoln, however, was viewed as an abolitionist.  Despite Lincoln’s letters to Alexander Stephens and other Southern leaders affirming his belief that the South should be allowed to practice slavery and despite Lincoln saying over and over again in speeches that he did not wish to end slavery but merely contain it in the South, the South knew that Lincoln would have power to appoint Republican leaders who would oppose slavery.

So the South opted out.  First with South Carolina on December 21, 1820 and other States begin to follow.  The South saw no other way to allow them to be slave holders and still be free from government oppression.

Lincoln ordered all federal troops out of the South but Fort Sumter.  His gamble was that the South would attack the Fort and then he would have the cause he needed to fight the South.  At this time, the North wanted to just let the South go without a fight.  They believed, in time, the States would come back into the Union.  Lincoln wanted war.  His gamble paid off as the South attacked the Fort and the Civil War came.  Lincoln would later claim that the South started the War of Rebellion but the South believed they were attacked by the Federal Government.  The debate rages to this day.  I am of the belief that the South was attacked by the Union.  While a war likely would have come, the fact is that I believe the Union attacked the South.

The question remains with us about the powers of the Federal Government.  Lincoln believed in an expansion of the Federal Government’s powers.  He believed that the Federal Government and not the States or local governments should be in power.  He believed the office of the President should be the most powerful office in the United States.  Many, even among the North, called him “King Lincoln” or “Emperor Lincoln.”  Some have suggested that Lincoln might would have sought to remain in power had he not been killed.  We can only speculate.  The facts do show that Lincoln disliked the idea that the States, and not the Feds, controlled their states.

The Bible does not give us much into these issues on the power of the Federal Government.  Romans 13:1-7 tells us to submit to our governing authorities.  1 Timothy 2:1-2 tells us to pray for those in authority and in the context (vv.1-6), we should pray for our leaders to be saved.  1 Peter 2:13-17 tells us, much like Romans 13:1-7, to submit to our leaders.  I believe we should do this unless the government violates the Word of God and conscience.  I believe in freedom.  I believe in justice.  But I believe that our highest duty is not to our government but unto Jesus (Philippians 3:20-21).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/24/2013 at 10:00 AM

5 Responses

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  1. One clarification: the only officials in the states appointed by the President before the Civil War were federal officials. The presidential appointment of state officials was during Reconstruction, after the war.
    As to Lincoln’s intentions for federal power, it will be interesting to see the documentation.

    Wesley G. Vaughn

    02/25/2013 at 6:46 AM

    • You are correct. I did now that but didn’t make that clear in the post. The South viewed the appointments as an attack on their freedoms.

  2. Based on the title I expected to hear something about Reconstructionism as a theology. Although I would not call myself a Reconstructionist, I do believe that we need to look to the principles of the Old Testament for God’s intention for government. The OT provides historical and literary context for the gospel, letters and end times. Particularly, I think God’s word through Moses, including the division and balance of powers, and especially regarding the warning against the faith and power of a monarchy, contains critical wisdom for political policy under the New Covenant.

    Brad J. Miller

    02/25/2013 at 10:18 AM

    • In one of Thomas Paine’s books, either the Rights of Man, or Common Sense, I don’t remember which, he goes through the OT historical books and proves that the Bible is against monarchy by them. Its interesting. I don’t remember if he makes this point or not, but on my own reading, the book of Judges is obviously kind of ‘propaganda’ (excuse the poor word choice and try to understand what I mean) in favor of monarchy with its constant reiteration “there was no king in Israel in those days and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” which implies “If only we had a king everyone would be good.” But then we move into Samuel, and Kings, and we find that the Kings are no better, but generally worse. Under the Judges, sure everyone did what was right in their own eyes because there was no King. But under the Kings, everyone did what was wrong because they followed the bad king!!! So the Bible takes us to the point of rejecting monarchy by first offering a seeming propaganda in its favor (the book of Judges) and then does a 180 and shows us, nope the Kings are even worse, thus cementing in our mind forever that Kings are bad.


      03/01/2013 at 1:44 AM

      • Good point. I have read a little about the use of Scripture in the founding of America but it seems far from unified or systematic. Still, I think Deuteronomy’s division of powers (e.g. civil leaders, judges and priests) and the use of covenant itself establish an excellent premise for conservative republican principles of government. I am far from understanding the details of a biblical government but I am convinced by preterist theology (e.g. Vic Reasoner) that it is God’s intention for the gospel to experience broad success, even to redeem governments, and a critical rule for interpretation is that the Old Testament was not abolished by Jesus (Mt.5:17). This blog has posted writing by Arminius on the use of the Law under the New Covenant but I find it to be hard reading.

        Brad J. Miller

        03/02/2013 at 9:26 AM

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