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September 5, 2008 / kingthunder

The Difference Between Civil and Spiritual Authority

An area of confusion needs to be addressed here, as it is already causing turmoil in countries where the Mountain of Government is being taken by sons and daughters of the Kingdom. The confusion arises in misunderstanding the difference between civil authority and spiritual authority. When a person known for spiritual authority steps into a position of civil authority, people wrongly transfer their expectations from one area to the other.

Spiritual authority comes from one’s standing before God and refers to influence in heavenly places. It could also be considered as one’s position of influence among believers. Civil authority is also a God-given authority, but it’s very different. Someone may be granted civil authority by the Lord yet still be headed for hell. Civil authority governs society while spiritual authority governs the church and the spirit realm. Many understand this concept pretty well until someone established as a spiritual authority comes into a civil authority position and must then exercise authority differently.

I recently saw a perfect example of this. In a South American country, a pastor friend of mine entered politics very late in life. As leader of a large church, he had a well-established ministry and great spiritual authority among believers and was well-respected throughout the nation. When led by the Lord to cross over into politics, he was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. He resigned from his church to fill a prestigious political position, where he is now helping set the political agenda for the nation.

During election season he was asked if he thought the death penalty should be invoked for a certain heinous crime. My friend said that he would in fact support the death penalty for this crime. That caused a bit of an uproar, both in secular circles as well as among Christians. “How could a pastor be for the death penalty?” many asked. This line of questioning arose because of confusion regarding the two types of authority. The expectation was that my friend would continue to represent himself as a spiritual authority when the issue was a civil authority issue. Neither the world nor the church knew what to do with a pastor who supported putting someone to death.

I had an opportunity to speak into the situation, and I used Romans 13:1-4 as a foundation for understanding the matter. Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil (Romans 13:1-4).

This is such a key area that we not only need to personally understand it, but also to be able to explain it to secular society. When a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ accepts a civil role, he must fulfill the God-ordained responsibility assigned to a civil authority. Both spiritual and civil authority are ordained by God, but wielding that authority looks very different for each. One’s role as a spiritual authority is to lead by example and not by constraint (1 Peter 5:2). It is a grace-based position of leadership and trust, and at no time is a spiritual authority to use his position to terminate someone’s life. That position never requires force or intimidation-except when it opposes spiritual forces of iniquity.

A civil ruler, on the other hand, is entrusted with an entirely different authority. A central purpose of a civil ruler’s call is to deal with lawlessness. Striking “terror” in the hearts of evildoers fulfills a specific assignment for which he will be accountable to God. Note that “he does not bear the sword in vain” and that he is “God’s minister” while doing this. Obviously, the sword was not for shaving. It was an instrument of death. Those in a position of civil authority must be prepared to fulfill the God-given demands of that role. Those who cannot do that must remain in the spiritual arena of authority. This is an important distinction.

My pastor/politician friend carries both types of authority and needs only to make it clear which authority he is speaking from. He is for the death penalty in extreme cases, but he himself would not want to be the one to perform the execution because of his recognized spiritual authority. Though regularly interviewed because of his standing as a spiritual leader in the nation, he has to be willing to declare himself in favor of severe punishment for evildoers. Otherwise, the country would be afraid to make him president. No one wants a civil leader who is not willing to forcefully resist those who would harm or even invade the country.

As I write this, President George W. Bush is a Christian who also serves as civil leader of the most powerful nation on earth. This position carries great responsibility-beyond what most people understand. “Most powerful nation” status is given by God; just as He places leaders in nations, He also establishes leadership among nations. President Bush has a responsibility before God to terrify terrorists and rogue nations. He probably relies on his personal walk with the Lord for guidance for the correct strategy to do so. But it’s important to know that he has a biblical, God-ordained command to exercise “the sword” to stop those who would do evil. Confronting evil and delivering practical justice is a central call of those in civil positions of authority.

A new model of national leadership will develop as God exalts His mountain above all other mountains. There will be Joseph-type presidents of nations who will carry great spiritual authority and great civil authority. At various times, these presidents will need to step back and forth between those roles and address the concerns of each. There will be times to address the nation and say, “I will now speak to you outside of my civil authority but in my capacity as a minister and servant of God.” One can then address the moral and righteousness issues of the nation and speak out of the spiritual authority God has given him or her.

This topic probably deserves an entire book (which may, in fact, already exist). However, it needs to be addressed here at least minimally because understanding this dynamic will be so crucial as the Lord raises us up to lead our countries. We cannot exert the same type of authority over a nation that we exert over a church. As civil leaders who have been called to lead churches have to adjust from the civil authority model to a more benevolent spiritual leadership, so will church leaders who have been called into government need to adjust their use of authority. We must understand the interplay and the limits on civil and spiritual leadership models.

by Jhonny Enlow

3 Comments

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  1. Pearl Rohrer / Oct 19 2008 12:45 am

    10-18-08
    If I may, I would like to submit a few points.

    One. Followers of Christ are to be about making disciples (students), “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:20). If we were to live according to the teachings of Christ/commands of God, we would have little need for the death penalty, war, etc.

    Two. Followers of Christ are to be about bringing the kingdom of God to earth by the way we live according to the teachings – whether or not we are in civil leadership or church leadership positions, or no particular leadership position at all. If allowing the death penalty is alright, what is to stop corruption of all other kinds in public officials, corporate leaders, etc. (Enron, Wall Street/Mortgage companies – lying, stealing, coveting, adultery – all the 10 commandments)? Mt. 5:17-18 ~ “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” “To fulfill” means “to show us how to live out God’s law!”

    Three. All power and authority we have is given us by God – whether we are called to political, corporate, non-profit, or church work. We have God-given choice on how to use those gifts: for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good, or not.

    Four. “Vengeance is mine” says God (Deut. 32:35; quoted in Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30, written by Paul, the convert Saul, who had been about the business of seeking out and killing early followers of Christ). The death penalty stems from nothing more than a desire for “vengeance,” whether we call it “pay-back,” “fairness,” “the enemy,” “what they deserve,” or anything else to try and justify it.

    Five. What if the death of Christ on the cross was the penultimate, “died once, for all” capital punishment?! What if we believed what is written about this (Rom. 5:6; I Cor. 15:3; Gal. 2:19)?!

    Six. What if we understood that there are many things we can do to help prevent violence (Mt. 7:12, Mt. 5:39 – a call to treating one another as equals; Lk. 10:33ff), as well as work with those who would still perpetrate it (Rom. 12:20, see also Ps. 11:6, Prov. 25:22) – and then actually put our time and resources into doing that work (the work of Jesus)?

    Seven. JhonnyEnlow/kingthunder wrote: “He (his friend in another country) is for the death penalty in extreme cases, but he himself would not want to be the one to perform the execution because of his recognized spiritual authority.” This sounds a whole lot like what the Sadducees and Pharisees were saying to the Roman authorities: they wanted Jesus killed, but according to Jewish law (thou shalt not kill), were unable to carry it out themselves…..Real spiritual authority comes, not from humans, but from God; when God is behind the authority, the one upon whom it is bestowed cannot act contrary to God’s law without consequence.

    Eight. Again quoting from kingthunder above: “Note that ‘he does not bear the sword in vain’ and that he is ‘God’s minister’ while doing this. Obviously, the sword was not for shaving. It was an instrument of death.” Eph. 6 talks about putting on “the armor of God” which includes, among other things, a sword: but that sword is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” There is no metal sword used for ending someone’s life; it is a sword of God’s word, truth, love, light; a sword used like the pen – taking time to communicate and understand the other, then taking time to be compassionate, to discuss and persuade, as Paul did; as Christ did. And when clothed in the armor of God, mighty things happen. Jesus taught by example that it is not we who are to use the sword of death: “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear….Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath.” (Jn. 18:10-11).

    Nine. Quoting kingthunder: “One’s role as a spiritual authority is to lead by example and not by constraint (1 Peter 5:2). It is a grace-based position of leadership and trust, and at no time is a spiritual authority to use his position to terminate someone’s life.” I agree, up to this point, but depart at this next assertion: “That position never requires force or intimidation-except when it opposes spiritual forces of iniquity.” It is never up to us to apply force or intimidation – even when faced with “spiritual forces of iniquity” – but to apply the force of the name of Jesus Christ and the power of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God will do the rest.

    Ten. kingthunder: “We cannot exert the same type of authority over a nation that we exert over a church.” Why not!? Paul. Ghandi. Mandela. Martin Luther King, Jr. “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible,” Jesus tells us (Mt. 19:26).

    Eleven. kingthunder: “A new model of national leadership will develop as God exalts His mountain above all other mountains.” A new model of national leadership will develop…as God exalts his mountain – through us, as we carry on the work of Jesus, as we live according to Christ’s teachings and God’s commands, as we live in this world but are not “of” it – as we live and work, not according to the world’s rules but according to God’s, in the church and outside it. We do not live in two worlds – we cannot serve two masters (Mt. 6:24); we do not go to church on Sunday, confess sin, then return to six more days of committing sin (meaning “missing the mark” – as in, not hitting the target of living like Christ, see Eph. 4:15-16)! That is NOT the Christian message! Study closely the second chapter of Ephesians, going back to the original Greek, understanding the context it was written in – and transferring the meanings forward to today: the premise does not change – only our understanding of it changes. And it is freeing!

    Finally,
    Twelve. The paragraph beginning “As I write this, President George W. Bush…” to the end of kingthunder’s essay seems more an apology for conditions that make for dictator-like national leadership than for a democracy, and seems to allow for religious beliefs to be misused as a crutch for “holy war” – a term that again is misunderstood as being killing of humans rather than God’s battle with evil. In particular, kingthunder’s sentence, “President Bush has a responsibility before God to terrify terrorists and rogue nations,” is one that, based on this misunderstanding of the “sword” and the “holy war” concept, leads to more and more war; results in less and less peace, justice, and hope; becomes less and less like the Christ of the Bible or the inspiration for the writer of the Koran, and more and more like the “enemy” who has also misused the teachings of the Koran on jihad (holy war).

    I cannot find it in my Bible or my understanding of Christ that we are to be taking the mortal lives of others into our own hands, no matter the threat we perceive them to be. Rather, we are to be taking their spiritual lives very seriously and very much into our hands, which are to be doing the work of Jesus – sharing the good news and inviting people to invite Christ into their hearts, and minds, and LIVES – wherever they live, in whatever capacity they serve!

    Thank you for considering these points.

    by Pearl Rohrer

  2. Pearl Rohrer / Oct 19 2008 1:39 am

    10-18-08 (where I am)
    P.S. I also wanted to say, in response to kingthunder’s assertion that “…Bush has a responsibility before God to terrify terrorists and rogue nations,” that Bush has a responsibility before God to put the spiritual fear of God into others (terrorists, himself, his cabinet, et al) which does NOT mean waging war (which is lack of understanding, judgmental, greedy, self-serving, vindictive, unjust, hateful, violent), but waging peace, waging pursuit of justice, seeking understanding, and waging love. How is it that we can say Christians are Christ-like, and then say they are here to terrify anyone?! We can’t say that: it is antithetical, it is convoluted, it comes from a place of human authority, not God’s. How can we say we follow the Prince of Peace and then wage war? We can’t: it is not in keeping with the teachings of Christ. We are to be making disciples of all nations, not obliterating them; we are to be meeting the basic needs of the poor, not exacerbating their plight by pillaging their resources and rights and freedoms in favor of our own “national security” (which usually comes down to dollars in our pockets) or anything else…Luke 19:41-42a ~ “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” Read on with fear and trembling – the spiritual kind, not the mortal kind!

    “Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 6:23-24)

    by Pearl Rohrer

  3. kingthunder / Oct 25 2008 12:57 am

    Thanks Pearl for your understanding, but i stick on mine.

    God bless you.

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