SHOULD A CHRISTIAN BE A POLICEMAN?

ByG. H. LANG. *

 

 

[* The following material is from one of Mr. G. H. Langís letters.  I have chosen the title as a suitable one in keeping with the letter's content.]

 

Beloved brother,

 

The question upon which you write, that of a disciple of Christ acting as a police officer, does not seem difficult of decision in itself, for if a believer so acts he must do so without any warrant from the example or precepts of the Master he professes to follow.

 

That government is a necessity is certain, and that it is a divine institution is clearly declared in the Word of God, as in Romans 13: 1-7, and 1 Peter 2: 13-17. It is obvious that all government must, in the last resource, depend upon force against the lawless, and the passages just named acknowledge the right and duty of rulers to use the sword of vengeance against evildoers. Hence there is no inerent ungodliness in the functions of the magistrate and the constable, but rather they are part of Godís appointments for the earth, and one deprecates most strongly the spirit of opposition to authority which is so marked and intensifying a feature of these days. The Christian must wholly abstain from this type of resistance to rulers, and should cheerfully render the fullest measure of obedience consistent with the plain commands of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Still there do come occasions when rulers demand, often unintentionally, a form or measure of service which Christ prohibits His servants from living, and such an occasion is when they require the disciple to aid in enforcing the laws. For Christ, the example of His followers in all things did not come to this world on that business, nor is yet engaging therein. A day is foretold when He will assume the office of Judge, then those of His servants who shall be accounted worthy will join Him in executing justice (Rev. 19: 11; 1 Cor. 6: 2, 3). But hitherto the office of the Son of God is that of revealing the grace of God, as it is written, "the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ"; and that He Himself declared that "God sent not His son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him" (John 1: 17; 3: 17).

 

For the furthering of this end Christ voluntarily surrendered all his rights in heaven and upon earth, submitting patiently to every form of wrong, violence, and even legal injustice. So he, who for a definite purpose readily foregoes his own rights, cannot be expected to take part in forcefully asserting the rights of others; and one who uncomplainingly submits to being wronged, and this for the good of the wrongdoer, cannot consistently act as an agent for avenging wrongdoing. Therefore our Lord refused to act as a civil Judge, in the matter of directing the just dividing of an estate; and even when a serious criminal case was forced upon Him, He so acted as led the prosecutors to retire, Himself acting mercifully to the sinner for her moral recovery (Luke 12: 14; John 8: 1-11).

 

It is this holy and gracious work with which the Son of God is ever yet occupied in heaven, and it is to co-operation with His will that He has called and appointed His disciples on earth; so that for us to act [now] as officers of law is contrary to His example and to His revealed will for us. God may not be denied the right to appoint some of His creatures to one branch of His affairs, as rulers to rule, and others to other sort of service, as to personal followers of Jesus to continuing among men the word that which He came to commence, and the former should refrain from demanding on the latter service inconsistent with that to which the Lord has called them, but should rather encourage them therein. It is God the Father who at present superintends the universe, dealing in this [evil] age with evildoers as far as He sees fit. In this administration He employs in Heaven His angel servants, and on earth the authorities that He permits to hold power at any given time. But neither Christ nor Christians are as yet called to this necessary service, but to the more difficult though happier work of declaring in word and exhibiting in practice the grace, mercy and love of God to His enemies.

 

During my last sojourn in the East the large tent in which we were preaching this message of mercy was set on fire and nearly destroyed. When the police came to investigate we explained that we recognized that it was their duty to deal with crime, but we begged them to recognize that it was not our part to assist in that work; but that if they discovered the offenders all we would do would be to assure the miscreants that God, for Christís sake was longing to pardon them for that very crime, and that we on our part freely forgave them. How else could we have hoped to further our proper business of winning the offenders from their sins to faith in Christ?

 

These are general fundamental principles of the disciple, and they apply in many directions. They arise from the basic fact concerning the believer upon Jesus that God has called us "into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1: 9). Naturally in pursuing as a course so different to that of our fellow-men we must expect to be commonly misunderstood and sometimes oppressed, as was our Lord; but so shall we serve Him and His present business of saving men from rebellion against God and its eternal judgment.

 

It is of the greatest importance that we should make clear this situation so that none may justly accuse us of being in sympathy with a general rejection of authority; but that, on the contrary, it is solely when some definite principle that affects our discipleship is involved that we withhold obedience to human law.

 

There arise circumstances, particularly when it is service to the State that is demanded, when the law requires that an oath be taken. This at once creates further and insuperable difficulty, for the Christian cannot take such an oath without distinctly infringing one of our Lordís earliest directions to His followers, namely, "I say unto you, swear not at all"; which injunction was enforced later on by James the apostle in the exhortation, "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath: but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; that ye fall not under judgment" (Matthew 5: 33-37; James 5: 12).

 

In the application of these commands the following facts, however, are to be considered. (1) God Himself has frequently employed oaths to confirm the truth of His statements (Gen. 22: 16; Num. 14: 23-30; Psa. 89: 3, 35; 110 : 4; Heb. 7: 21). Therefore to take an oath is not inherently immoral; (2) In the New Testament this is recognized by God as His endorsement of the practice of men (Heb. 6: 16-18). (3) An oath to declare the truth was sanctioned by the law of Moses (Lev. 5: 1, and see for an instance in practice Jud. 17: 2). (4) This oath Christ Himself honoured by breaking His silence before the council immediately the high priest invoked the name of God in the prescribed form (Matthew 26: 63). Prohibitions in His teaching must be construed in the light of His conduct. (5) The apostle Paul frequently invoked the divine name in confirmation of the truth of his statements (Rom. 1: 8; 2 Cor. 1: 23; 11: 31; Gal. 1: 20) The invoking of the name of God is the essence of an oath.

 

It thus appears that an oath in the name of God for the purpose when necessary of affirming the truth of a statement, is sanctioned by the practice of God, the Word of God, the Son of God, the law of God, and by apostolic example. But this seems to be the only allowed exception to the above prohibition, and it is not this kind of oath which is in question when office is accepted under the State, but an oath of allegiance and obedience. Now these latter oaths were regularly imposed in the time of our Lord, and yet to exception in favour of disciples taking such can be adduced from the word of God.

 

Such oaths involve the renouncing of freedom of the will to do at all times the will of God, since orders contrary to His will may be given, at which times would arise the acute and awful dilemma of either outraging oneís conscience by transgressing a known commandment of God or of incurring the guilt of perjury by violating oneís oath taken in the name of God, so coming under the dread sentence ĎThe Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vainí. And this dilemma will be certain to arise, since the disciple will be often under the orders of men who do not study the will of God. Hence the reason why such oaths should not be taken by the godly is, "that ye fall not under judgement".

 

How dreadful an offence the violating of an oath is held by God to be may be learned from 2 Chronicles 36: 13, and Ezekiel 17: 11-21. If men even inadvertently took an oath to do that which God had most expressly forbidden yet were they bound to the disobedience (assuming that it involved nothing essentially immoral). And this under heavy displeasure. Compare Joshua 19: 14-21, and 2 Samuel 21: 1-14. To hold sacred the Name of the Holy One takes precedence of other duties, and one who recognizes the supreme duty to render absolute obedience to God will not bind himself to give unreserved obedience to any other person than God.

 

On those grounds the position of an officer of the law is not, in my judgment, consistent with the standing and duties of a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ in this present age. Proper in itself, it is not proper for him, and this on the grounds stated. Happy is each who is ready to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.

 

Believe me,

 

Yours heartily in Christ.

 

- G. H. LANG.

 

 P.S. I see no objection to a disciple paying a fine instead of going to prison, if the law offers the alternative.