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License to Kill

The great foundation stone, universally used, by the Protestant and Catholic Church to justify the killing of their enemies, in concert with the state, is Romans 13. I have heard this chorus sung so often from the pulpit that there is virtually no Christian who can read this passage without filtering it through their favorite denominations political standpoint. Has Romans 13 become the Christians license to kill?

Has the God of Love and Peace become the God of hate and war? This unresolvable dilemma is completely ignored for the sake of compatibility and harmony of opinion amongst the greater part of Christianity. Inconsistency with this famous doctrine simply is not allowed to exist within the bounds of the Patriotic gun-slinging church of the 21st Century. Vocalizing any objection is not tolerated. With disrespect for all that the New Testament has to say on the matter of love and peace, and Jesus Himself symbolized as a Dove and a Lamb, modern Christianity has elected to be identified with a flag, patriotism, and concealed carry, which is, in my opinion, a rejection of true peace and of Christ.

To properly understand the infamous verses of Romans 13 they must be read in the overall context of the letter of Paul to the Christians in Rome. That is, in chapter 12, Paul speaks of love, and gives in sequence a number of ways love is to be applied. He closes the chapter speaking of love for one’s enemies (if your enemy is hungry, feed him, etc.,) and after the seven verses on authorities that open Chapter 13, Paul, again, returns to the theme of love, showing how love fulfills all the commandments. Then he digresses about the end-of-time necessity of understanding correctly (13: 11-14) and then returns to love in chapter fourteen and concerns for the weak.

Conclusion: the verses on authorities are encompassed by Paul’s teaching on love, and not unmitigated surrender to the powers of the state. I would go so far as to summarize them this way: “Love your enemies. Naturally, we all believe that the authorities are of this world and are therefore our enemies, however, we must also love them.” But as in each case that Paul studies (the Church, joy, enemies. the law, the weak in faith, etc.) he gives a specific reason for this love of the other, he does the same thing for the authorities and it is from this viewpoint that he writes the famous “there is no authority except from God” Rom. 13:1a. Consequently, Paul’s negative viewpoint of government power here should be stressed, and not the viewpoint which developed after the 4th Century which emphasizes Rom. 13:1b “all power is ordained of God” which is commonly viewed as an absolute principle for Christians to follow. Paul is not expressing a principle. Therefore, this text, in my opinion, should be reduced to what it is, and that is, an attempt to apply Christian love in an environment in which the authorities were hated, and it is not the last word to Christians on the question of permissible killing, nor is it a license to kill.

2 replies on “License to Kill”

Steve,
While I agree that Romans 13 is not a “license to kill”, I DO think that Paul is stating a principle there. The government (NOT the church) is God’s ordained institution for keeping order and punishing evildoers. We are therefore to submit to governing authorities, except when they come in conflict with commands of God. Thus, it is perfectly consistent to submit to government in regards to paying taxes and obeying the speed limits, while refusing to take up arms against our enemies. The struggles with flesh and blood are for worldly governments (and the children of Adam) to engage in; the sons of God have a higher calling. Grace to you!

Good evening David,
I have to admit I did struggle with the wording while writing the piece and decided to leave it, stressing the idea that it was not a hard and fast principle. The idea that it may be a general principle can not be denied. There may have been a little bit of laziness on my part to rewrite that part because it did make sense to me at the time. I try to write from the perspective of those who will be reading it and get rid of those areas that are ambiguous or confusing. When I get time I will go in and make the changes. I appreciate your sharp eye.

Steve B.

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