In 1644, a Presbyterian pastor by the name of Samuel Rutherford wrote a book called Lex Rex which became the biblical foundation for Western government and, in many ways, Western culture. Lex Rex is Latin for “The Law is King.” When Pastor Rutherford wrote this tract, he was living in an era when kings were seen as having divine authority and unilateral power which went unquestioned. This authoritarian perspective had been cultivated by the church for centuries because there was no real separation of church authority and civic or governmental authority. The two circles of authority were unified and working in tandem.
Pastor Rutherford’s writings are credited as being highly influential in the founding of our country. The founders sought to have a biblical worldview shape and form the civic foundations of a new country. No country had ever before been organized in such a manner. In fact, the “great experiment” of the United States was that, for the first time ever, church and state authorities (both of whom are created by and answer to God) were to be separated and clearly defined as different. This fundamental structure was pivotal in organizing the governing authority and the authority of the local church. Each had its own circle of authority and responsibility.
I read this historic book about 15 years ago, and it gave me insight into the issues of our day. The relevance seems only more timely given all the civil unrest happening these last 6 months. God created three institutions (the family, the church, and the government) as the structure of every society. All three have biblical foundation, guiding authority, and defined parameters. All three function under God’s authority and are ultimately accountable to Him. Rutherford’s insights into the nature of the family as the building block of society, the church as the dispenser of the gospel, and the construction of civil laws through the consent of the governed is both persuasive and compelling. Rutherford convinces that the ultimate role of the government is to put laws in place which will allow the people of God to live peacefully.
Pastor Rutherford unflinchingly condemns slavery as unbiblical and a violation of God’s created order. Remember, this was written mid 17th century. He makes clear that slavery simply was a violation of how God created all men to be free as image bearers of God.
One tenet in America’s founding as part of this great experiment was that the law would be “king” and every person would be equal UNDER that law. That is, no person was/is to be above the law. This is why lady justice, as the symbol of our judicial system, is blindfolded holding a scale that is evenly weighted and measured. The legal system must pour out justice even-handedly and without favoritism. The law IS King. Tragically, it took almost 200 years for “equal justice under the law” to be applied to people of color.
I believe that if we can make this shift in our understanding, then we read passages like Romans 13:1 and 1 Timothy 1:1-2 differently. We honor the laws of our country and submit to those laws. The people elected to serve under those laws are also accountable to those laws. This is true at every level whether we are talking about federal law, state law or local governing laws. From the President to the police, all people must be held accountable by the law and to the law. Only the law is unilaterally “king.” If a law is unjust, it must be rewritten by the people to better serve the people. A person’s skin color, gender, or socioeconomic status must not allow for differing treatment. Justice is blindfolded. We submit to the law unless it attempts to force us to disobey God and then, we rightfully resist and disobey any civil authority demanding disobedience to God.
Lately, I shudder as I observe the dismantling of law and the order it creates. Peaceful protests can be righteous when they aim to correct injustice and make right that which is evil, sinful, and systemically biased. Remember, it was the protestant church that was birthed in protest during the reformation as it sought to reclaim the pure and true gospel entangled in religious hypocrisy. Anarchy and lawless violence, however, unravel the very foundation upon which our union was built and will only result in mass mayhem, death, and people asserting themselves ABOVE the law. We already see this happening.
I equally cringe as I watch evangelicals, wrapped more in American values than biblical principles, insist on their rights and privileges. American independence has made it easy for people of faith to feel as if they have no accountability in the church. Local church leaders must guide and shape its members under the umbrella of the gospel to call its people to a different way of living. Selfless, sacrificial, humble are the words which must mark the follower of Jesus.
All of this leads to the discussion of today regarding racial tensions, rioting, and law enforcement’s use of deadly force. Racism is sin. The remedy of a sinful heart is the gospel changing what a person loves and lives for. It is the gospel which must reverse the hostility between 2 peoples at odds. Where the legal system ignores or protects racist crime, the law must be rewritten. That is why the civil rights movement was so crucial—laws were rewritten to be fair and just for all people. But, the unredeemed human heart does not bend easily.Where hard hearts ignore the law, justice must be applied equally and without favoritism. Suspending the law or ignoring crime only results in chaos and moral relativism.
The local church is the dispenser of the gospel to address heart issues in our community. I encourage our pastors to speak unapologetically about racism, systemic privilege, and evil. We must call our people to repentance and engagement in Christ honoring ways. Teach on the topic so everyone knows what is right and true and then preach to the heart, calling for repentance and healing.
Addressing police brutality, favoritism, injustice, and any other issue must be done under the authority of the law. Abandoning the law in favor of social pressure and cancel culture is only going to put some people over the law and when that happens, society is controlled by the loudest voice.The erosion of the biblical family unit as the building block of society, disregard for authority and the law as civic structure, and a compromised church failing to speak the gospel of love will all result in disaster.
Leaders must assert the rule of law as our final standard in society and church leaders must assert the gospel as our final standard for the heart. We must call our people to prayer, repentance, and a deeper biblical understanding of God’s 3 institutions for society (family, church, government). And, I pray that we see this as an opportunity to reestablish the value of the biblical family unit as the granular structure underneath it all.
Ken Nabi, Regional President
Ken Nabi has served as the Regional President for Converge Great Lakes since 2016. He earned a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and worked as a Marriage and Family Therapist before enjoying 21 years as a pastor at Community Church of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Ken is a strategic leader focusing on movements and reproducible systems. Community Church of Fond du Lac planted five churches during his tenure, and those churches helped plant seven more churches.