Wednesday, August 26, 2020

No Standing

The argument may be made that John Glover Roberts Jr. is the most powerful man in America.

As the 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, when Roberts says no, even the current president reluctantly backs down. For that matter, lower court judges have blocked, delayed or nullified Mr. Trump’s initiatives over the last four years on any number of fronts.

Surprising, no?

The Absolute Power of the Secular Jurist

In Western countries, unelected jurists may not draft laws or executive orders, but they have more to do with policy implementation than any politician or body of legislators, redefining even the Constitution of the United States of America as they see fit.

This has been the case throughout history and all across the world: wherever members of the human race dicker with one another over this or that, some (hopefully) objective third party has to have the final word. That “somebody” may also be a king, a prophet or even a priest, but when he renders his decision, he is acting as a judge. And because men and women need answers to their day-to-day problems with one another, even today a secular judge remains a figure of considerable respect.

An Abrupt Dismissal

Consider, then, this rather abrupt dismissal of the decision-making authority of the secular jurist by the apostle Paul:
“So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?”
What a remarkable statement. A civil magistrate has “no standing in the church”. For all his worldly power, with respect to the things of God he is not fit to pronounce an opinion.

Now, that doesn’t mean, of course, that the rulings of secular judges have no impact on churches. Far from it. The aforementioned Justice Roberts recently joined with the progressive wing of the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that casinos and restaurants have more freedom to operate than churches, a move The Washington Times calls “an astonishingly unconstitutional and un-American finding”. Such a ruling certainly packs a punch, and Christians across America will be working out how they think they should respond to it.

And yet for all their ability to transform society and bring pressure to bear on institutional Christendom, Justice Roberts and his black-clad brethren behind the benches are non-entities so far as the Body of Christ is concerned. Their expensively-educated, much-sought legal opinions are worth precisely nothing to believers. They have no standing in the church.

Fundamental Principles

Even when it is the product of the most ingenious legal minds in the world, an opinion not firmly grounded in the word of God is bound to be glaringly deficient. How can it not be? It is based on a flawed understanding of the operative principles of our universe:
“For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ ”
And again:
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
The people of God need to remind ourselves of this truth whenever we face tough decisions. Many of the choices before us have both practical and spiritual aspects to them; they are not all one thing or another. But when Christians disagree about how to respond to the pressure of the world’s rules and regulations, we will not find our answers back in that same secular world. We will not find them by reasoning and rationalizing after the manner of the unsaved. Our society has nothing useful to say to us about that. It operates on different fundamental principles than we do.

Subject to the Authorities

In our present environment of restrictions, guidelines, bylaws and endlessly shifting legal goalposts, many are counseling Christians to re-read Romans 13, which begins with the words, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Indeed. It’s good advice. The authorities, including our secular court systems, are “ministers of God”, God’s servants for our good. If we put the best construction on it, we might say they are doing the best they can with what they have.

But bear in mind the Word says, “let every person be subject”, not “let the church be subject”. These are two different things. In the church, the secular magistrate has no standing. The holy places are off limits to him. He cannot tell us how to go about worshiping our God, nor does his learned opinion dictate what we may do or not do in the course of our service to our Master. He has no means of understanding the significance of simple obedience to Christ in even the smallest of small matters. His pragmatic or ideological value system is not scaled according to the weights and measures of the eternal God. Blundering into unfamiliar territory, and territory over which he has no rightful jurisdiction, he may easily and ignorantly find himself held in contempt by a Higher Court.

Our leaders are wise to keep this in mind.

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