A Jagged Contention: The American’s Vocation

“Just as there are many kinds of nations in the world, each with its own laws, there are many kinds of rulers. Emperors, kings, tribal chieftains—these are all offices Christians are enjoined to obey. There is another kind of ruler, though, the kind found in the United States and other democratic systems. This gives Romans 13 a special twist for Americans and others who live under a democratic republic. Our governing officials are not imposed on us from above. Rather, we elect our governing officials. Ultimately we rule them. In a democratic system the ‘people’ rule. Their leaders are accountable to the citizens, who enact their own law through their elected representatives and who are endowed by their laws with the task of self-government.

“Those who have been blessed by a calling to live in the United States or another free country have a more complicated vocation of citizenship than do those who live under a monarchy. In a democratic society citizens are still subjects, but at the same time they are rulers.”

– Gene Edward Veith, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life, pgs. 112-113


Question:

What are the implications of Veith’s assertion that citizens in the US are both subjects are rulers at the same time? How can a Christian faithfully carry out both vocations? Is a Christian who lives in a free country ever “free” to exclude him or herself from the political process?

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2 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: The American’s Vocation

  1. Not voting in an election is not equivalent to excluding himself from the political process. If one believes that either candidate could bring great harm to this country, one in good conscience is free to withhold a vote for either.

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  2. “The assertion “The power of the state arises from the people” is false according to Lutheran doctrine, if it would be more than a formal description of the proceedings in a modern state, by which a government is formed. The power
    of the state proceeds from God.” (Hermann Sasse)

    I think Sasse grasped the problems with confessional Lutheranism in not dealing well, on the surface, with modern forms of government. This would imply that we have foundational/ Constitutional issues at odds with much of what we, as Americans and assorted advocates of modern democratic/ republican forms, have come to know. It finds great purchase in the Enlightenment and devotees:

    “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

    “The power of kings and magistrates is nothing else, but what is only derivative, transferred and committed to them in trust from the people, to the common good of them all, in whom the power yet remains fundamentally, and cannot be taken from them, without a violation of their natural birthright.” (John Milton)

    “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (Abraham Lincoln)

    For Sasse, “This task (of government) is the assurance of peace and the maintenance of law through external power, the symbol of which is the sword…wherever on earth a governing authority—irrespective of which form—is conscious of a [civil] righteousness independent of its will, exercises the power of its office, upholds the law and guards the peace, there it is “God’s good gift”, there it is “by the grace of God.”

    I think he touches on some important points not the least of which is that what proceeds from “the People”, us, may or may not be “God-given governing authority.” So, we, ourselves, are not rulers in any proper sense except where it falls to us to be in office and accomplishing the task of the governing authority (and it is not the task of each office and each person in each office to judge the laws pertaining to the office – so, no brave county clerks, here.) Veith is certainly placing vocation in an American political context but I think he treads to close to what Sasse also warns against “Thus Lutheranism is opposed to any attempt to draw the kingdom of God into this world, be it the attempt of the Roman Church to ecclesiasticize the world, or the attempt of fanaticism and Protestantism influenced by fanaticism, to Christianize the world.” Vieth is also abandoning the Two Kingdoms to a political doctrine, not a doctrine of the Church.

    It is vital that we, as Christians and as the Church, speak to the consciences of mankind, insist that reason serves natural law, that it is not the source of natural law, and not take the bait to argue in the world’s terms in the world’s arenas, using the world’s methods. When Gene Veith says “Our governing officials are not imposed on us from above. Rather, we elect our governing officials. Ultimately we rule them. In a democratic system the ‘people’ rule. Their leaders are accountable to the citizens, who enact their own law through their elected representatives and who are endowed by their laws with the task of self-government”, we answer that God has placed them over us, if they are a proper authority carrying out the task of governance, and the rulers are answerable to God, not our faiths, our opinions, our reason, or our desires.

    There is no easy answer, here. We, ourselves, in the citizen role should appeal to natural law and, as Christian citizens, hold to God as the source and be prepared to be seen as benighted and foolish, at times. At the same time, we can lovingly advocate for the least, the outcasts, the lost, those marginalized by society. Sometimes, casting a vote may work toward that, and sometimes, it may not. We may absent ourselves from the process by remaining informed, praying, and acting under God’s guidance.

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