Romans 13 and John Calvin

Due by Tuesday 9.4.12

Author John Witte Jr. wrote in his book The Reformation of Rights about John
Calvin’s political views and possible influence on 17th and 18th
century political thoughts.  For those of you who don’t remember John
Calvin, he was the star of one of my favorite comic strips Calvin and
Hobbes…oops….wrong Calvin.  John Calvin was an early leader of the
Protestant Reformation that resulted in a still present church
denomination of the Calvinists.  Historically he is looked at for his
impact on religion, but as Witte points out, Calvin also had a lot of
good ideas about government and liberty.

Long book short, Calvin addresses Romans 13 in his 1540 Commentary on
Romans 13.  “Those who practice blasphemous tyranny are no longer
God’s ministers.”  In essence, when authorities go against God’s will,
they forfeit their position.  But the question that remains for us as
Christians, is “what do we do?”  Do we overthrow the government?  Do
we use violence to overthrow unjust authorities?

Author John Witte Jr. feels that Calvin would warrant physical action
only in “self-defense.”  Rather, that when a government abuses its
powers, that people need to pursue “litigation and prosecution” to
deal with abusive and tyrannical leaders.  If the magistrate (courts)
are themselves the offenders, then other groups must work together to
rectify the situation.  Calvin argues that “no government is run by
one person alone” and that the church must preach loudly against
tyranny and petition government officials to repent and return to
God’s authority.  “Against overbearing tyranny”…Christians must
“venture boldly to groan for freedom.”

What do you think of Calvin’s response to our discussion and writings
on Romans 13?  Is his view realistic?  Would it be applicable in a non-
democratic country?  Do agree with Calvin’s view of the church’s role
in this process?

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35 thoughts on “Romans 13 and John Calvin

  1. 1) I do not agree with what Calvin says about forfeiting their positions if they go against God’s will. We ARE human and we WILL make mistakes, but if we ask Him to, He will forgive us of those mistakes. Just because we go against God’s will as Christians, does that mean that we lose our Christianity and we have to get it back? No. Just look at some of the Biblical leaders and rulers. They sometimes do not follow God’s will and yes there are punishments for that, but they are not stripped of their power and/or positions of authority. Take Moses for example: He did not obey God one time and his punishment was death after the people went into the Promise Land without him but until then, he was still leader. 2) And I do believe that sometimes we do have to take violent measures such as war to overthrow unjust authorities. If you moan and groan and complain about something, chances are you will just be ignored and nothing will happen. I think if you give a fair warning about it and give them a chance to back down or change what they are doing and if they do not do that then you declare war it is ok, but if you simply say something about it nothing is going to happen. 3) Calvin’s view of the church’s role in this would be a bad idea because not everyone will have the same view on the government and if the church starts preaching on its view then it could very easily cause a lot of tension within the church itself. Also, this could cause persecution of the church if there is not already some. If everyone in the church does agree on everything and they are all willing to possibly put up with persecution then by all means go for it and tell the government that they need to see what they are doing is wrong and they need to change it, but again, I do not believe that simply saying something will be enough.

    • I like what you have to say about how Calvin’s views aren’t applicable in society. WE all do make mistakes and it’s not fair to say we should strip someone of his powers just because he made one mistakes.

    • While I agree that we should not jump to the conclusion that a leader is a “blasphemous tyrant” immediately after they screw up once, it is biblical that rulers who go against God’s will repeatedly without repentance are no longer God ordained rulers. As the body of Christ, it is our responsibility to recognize when this has happened and take action to resolve the situation peacefully as outlined in the Bible. God doesn’t need our firepower on earth to achieve His will, and if the body of Christ is unified in a peaceful manner protesting an unjust government, God will rectify the situation according to His will.

  2. I think Calvin’s response is a perfect way to sum up what we were all trying to find the words to say in our discussions on Romans 13. We couldn’t seem to find the right way to say that if government goes against our beliefs and God’s will we need to take a bold stand to get those in authority back on the right path. That’s not to say we need to start a revolution, but we can’t just sit back and watch things keep getting progressively worse either. I believe his view is realistic, however, to make it a reality there has to be strong individuals willing to stand up for their beliefs in order to make it work. You can draw this conclusion from Romans 12:2 when it says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Therefore, I agree with Calvin’s statement about the church’s role, it’s not always going to be easy but in reality it’s what we’re meant to do. I also feel that standing up for your beliefs about a situation that goes against God’s word is applicable in any country, regardless if that country is democratic or not.

    • I completely agree with Brianna’s statement on Calvin’s response. Taking a bold stance as a church body is an important thing that we need to do when our government is not following God’s will. We shouldn’t stop there, though. We, as a church body, need to take a stand for what is right and just and to profess our faith and love for Jesus Christ. It is a hard thing to do when we are scared, but that is when we ask the Lord for his help. I loved the verse Briana used. Romans 12:2 is a perfect example of why we need to take a stand for what is right, even when the government says it’s wrong. Nice job Briana!

      • I love the idea of the church body taking a stance, but pastors have to be careful of expressing political views from the pulpit. Have you ever noticed that church leaders are not vocal about support for particular political candidates? There are laws revolving around a church’s tax-exempt status that do not allow them to endorse a candidate. Do you feel that is fair? (anyone can respond to this)

        • I don’t think that it is fair for there to be laws that say that a chuch cannot endorse a canidate but I can see why they exist. The church is influential in many people’s lives, the goverment knows that. Som people could argue the reason they vote the way they do is becaue of the opinion their church has of a canidate. Some could say that the government, in a way, fears what could happen if the church spread thier political opinions, would the governmet change? Also church leaders themselves have t be careful about what they say in the pulpit, aside form the laws sharing politiacl opinions in a church setting could very easily lose members and or attendrs for the church, in my opinion.

        • Personally, I find it extremely aggravating when people can’t voice their opinions. This is not to say that pastors should be bashing candidates and they shouldn’t make it seem that if you don’t vote for the same person as them then you shall forever be in the Fire. What if that candidate is a member of their church? Are they still not supposed to endorse them?
          Of course, under this law, no non-profit organization can endorse a candidate. Does this interfere with the freedom of speech and/or criticizing the government rights we have as Americans?

        • I do feel this is fair, becuase if a church expressed their political views, it could create many problems w/i the people of the church. Come people feel very strongly about their political views, while others could care less. Those who feel strongly and do not agree with the pastors political views could get very upset and angry and that could lead to many other problems and issues. I beleive it is best if the pators and church leaders keep their oppinions quiet in order to keep the peace in the church and that way everyone’s focus stays on what it should stay on: the Bible, God, and what the message is saying.

    • I agree with Brianna when she talks about how there needs to be strong individuals willing to stand up for their beliefs, even in today’s society. Using the churchs role as well can bring those figures to the surface to take command. Her example with romans 12:2 fits well with her view on the church too.

  3. I agree with Calvin’s response. It seems to me to be realistic in tactics. One does not need to have an all out war to overthrow the government if the government can change their ways and repent peacefully. Even though there were wars in the Old Testimant, they occured when the other nation attacked or God called the Israelites to fight. If the government fights and does not agree to reasonable terms peacefully and/or church leaders truly believe God is calling them to fight, then I believe it is acceptable to start a war. Also, Calvin’s view may be applicable in a non-democratic country if God changed the heart of the leaders. But, if that does not happen and no peaceful agreement comences, then a war is necessary. I agree with Calvin’s view of the church’s role in this process because the church need to raise their voices for God and His Word. We are called to preach the gospel to all and a currupt government is something that needs to be made clear with God’s Truth to both the people and the government. If, however, like I stated before, a peaceful agreement cannot be made without war, then war must commence, especially if the government attacks first. In self-defending ourselves, we are also defending our faith and God’s word. The most inportant thing, though, is that we pray for God’s wisdom and guidance to help us in these situations if they arise and cause trouble for the country and the people.

    • Although I agree with most of what Kirsten says I think that in these current times almost all governments would just “if the government can change their ways and repent peacefully.” The whole reason certain parties come to power is to control the country THEIR way and I don’t think a petition saying please don’t do this would change them. Also to make a movement in such a country where this change is needed, most of the population would have to rise against them. If that party has been around for centuries I don’t think the small poritons of Christians there would rise against them, yet live in fear.

    • I agree that if a problem can be solved peacefully than of course there is no need for war. Under certain circumstances, war is acceptable but when it can be avoided it should be. I also agree above everything that all we can do is pray for the circumstances that we are unsure about what to do we need to ask for guidance, wisdom, and patience.

    • I agree with what Kirsten said about if no peaceful resolve can come about, then war must happen, but I do not think the leaders and pators of the church should share their political views because it could cause many conflicts and divisions w/i the church like I stated on another comment above.

  4. I think Calvin had the right idea not to start a revolution against the government when controlled by ungodly people, but that’s about all I agree with him on. When he says “that the church must preach loudly against tyranny and petition government officials to repent and return to God’s authority,” I think this is not correspondent to present days. Ministers cannot just preach loudly and whole heartedly about this in many countries and even in the ones where it is allowed, people just don’t do that. Normally people just talk about what they think to others or start strikes against it, never really in the middle where we petition the government to go back under God’s authority – if it were like that this world would be a whole lot different. As for this being applicable to a non-democratic country, I don’t think it would be because all over people are persecuted for their belief so to just one day start petitioning to the government….they would probably get killed. I do think that we should pray for the government and that they make the right decisions for this country because without we wouldn’t have the rights we have.

    • I like what Sarah has to say. She has a different perspective than I had thought of and I think it is very interesting. I agree with how she points out the fact that things correspond with present day issues now differently than they did back then. The way we, as people, specifically Christians, respond to different issues in the government is different than it was 200 years ago and will continue to change as time goes on.

  5. I think that Calvin that would respond that when we have an official of the government that is going against God’s word he resigns his respect of those he represents. We are humans and will make mistakes but when it is done repeatedly then we have the right to protest but if they are not condemning God’s word they deserve are respect because they were placed there by God. Calvin would agree that if they are abiding by God’s testament they are to be given respect due to the power given to them but when that power is abused it has the right to be taken away. On the other had he wouldn’t agree with violence, as an example, he wouldn’t agree with our Revolutionary War. The bible tells us to be slow to anger and warns us of violence. Refer to Proverbs 21:7 which says “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, for they refuse to do what is right”and Psalm 58:1-3 that states “Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge people with equity? No, in your heart you devise injustice,and your hands mete out violence on the earth. Even from birth the wicked go astray;from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.” So from these verses we see that there wickedness will drag them down but we must be aware and go astray from their wickedness ,but being careful to not be violent unless threatened. Calvin’s view is realistic but sometimes hard to do for as human beings we make mistakes and act rashly on emotions such as anger. In a non-democracy or freedom of speech countries it may be more difficult for them to speak up in fear of persecution and possible death especially in country with no freedom of religion. I do agree that the church should be involved in this process because the founding fathers developed are government based off the bible and it should still be involved in my opinion.

    • I agree with Allison. The government has drifted from what the founding fathers first based it on. Also I agree that Calvin’s idea is a good one, but can be vey hard to carry out because we are human. In a non democracy government the chnce for the people ot speak out and truely have a part/ say in the government is slim to non so i aslo agree with Allison that Calvin’s idea may not be successful in a country like this.

  6. I agree with Kirsten’s statements about Calvin’s view. Kirsten said “in self-defending ourselves, we are also defending our faith and God’s word.” I completely agree with this because in not conforming to the ways of the government and going against what they say to stand by our faith, we are demonstrating the faith we have in God’s plan. We don’t have to go about it in a disrespectful or irreverent manner, but we have to remember that we have to be the change we want to see. If you stand back and do nothing about a problem, you’re enabling it to continue. Whether this stance comes through the church body as Kirsten suggests or through individuals, standing up to authority in such cases is definitely acceptable and should be a realistic tactic.

  7. I agree with Calvin’s statement. The church is the people of God, of course we need to speak out against something ungodly in the government. However, there are other ways to speak out against things other than war. War is costly, and most of the time, lives are lost. As Christians, we have God on our side, and he can make anything happen. It may take more time and it may be tough but in due time, if it is God’s will it will happen. We are supposed to be warriors of God, and stuff like this is in the job description. Calvin’s view is applicable in a non-Democratic government, because you can go almost anywhere and find a strong-minded individual willing to stand up for what they believe in.

  8. In and of itself, Calvin’s argument that the government forfeits its position is a valid point, but even the most meager commoner knows that no person of authority willingly gives up his position just because he went against God, rather he holds on for dear life. As a Christian, I do think that we should take a stand when we see government officials going against God’s perfect will. I do not believe we should take a violent stand, however, we should take a stand by using Gods word and the law to strengthen our cause. Obviously, standing up for what we believe is a lot easier in America than in a non-democratic society. Using the church to deal with the government may not be the most plausible way to handle a situation, but, depending on the accredidation of the church people and topic itself, it can be dont. Calvin’s view of the church’s role in politics is agreeable. As a whole what Calvin says looks good on paper, but in real life it really doesn’t work very well. Government officials are people and make mistakes, not every mistake deservesthem to be stripped of authority. Things can start as peaceful protests, but they can turn violent at the drop of a hat. While I would love for the world to work like Calvin thinks it should, I know it won’t.

  9. I was not here for the conversation on Romans 13 so i cannot thoroughly respond to that portion of the question, but i can voice my opinion on Calvins view as a whole through that passage. I agree with Calvins view on us, the people, overriding the government if they are not following Gods principals and are not leading our country in a way that is pleasing to God. It is very much realistic because we have the right and the duty as well as the freedom to make a change in our government if we feel necessary. God makes it very clear that any leader who turns their back on God and starts to lead by himself and bases his decisions not on a principal of God, but of man, is no longer a leader. We, the people, have the right to change who is in office if this happens. We are able to vote people out, protest, and voice our opinion through any form of media. We should speak to the government if it has gone astray. One of the biggest ways that we can do this by voting. Voting is not only a right that we obtain, but it is also a duty since we have the chance to make a difference in our troubled government. ..Many people on their responses said that “people make mistakes and that God is forgiving of these mistakes” and though this is absolutely true, but we are not talking of mistakes in this article. We are talking of our government leaders who control our every day lives. The way they lead and what they base their mindset on can effect a whole line of things. It begins with the principals that you choose to lead by. If those principals to begin with are far from what God wants or if they are grounded by man, then it is a lifestyle. Our country cannot afford a leader who is grounded by man and living by principals of man. This is not about mistakes. I believe also that the church can control what happens in our government by prayer. Yes, churches usually have to be careful when it comes to political views, but as a community under christ we have the absolute duty to raise the problems in our government as a whole to God because they are much too big for us to handle on our own. We have the duty to pray that God will help send in candidates that are pleasing to him, to help the people of American to vote on people whose principals are grounded in the way that is pleasing to God even if the people themselves don’t realize it. I do believe that this idea is applicable to a non-democratic country because there is evidence all over of christians and simply strong willed individuals who are taking a stand against the leaders in their country. the difference between them and us is that they are receiving a much much larger consequence for doing this.

  10. I think that Calvin’s response to Romans 13 is exactly what we were trying to say during our discussion about Romans 13. Government has the power to do many things, but when they start abusing that power, us as Christians need to put them back in their place. We have to be willing to stand up for what we believe in, but we don’t need to necessarily start a war over it though. If we don’t stand up, things will just continue to get worse and worse over time. Calvin’s view does seem to be very realistic if there are people willing to stand up for what they believe in. If not, then the government will think that they can just keep getting more and more power. It could be applicable in a non-democratic country, but almost the whole country would have to rise up against the government to be able to overthrow them. I agree with Calvin’s view of the church’s role in the process because it is our duty as Christians to stand up for what is God’s will.

  11. I agree with Calvin’s statement. As humans we make mistakes and act on our emotions, sometimes making Calvin’s view look like its impossible. As Christians we will be faced with times that we may not agree with the government leaders, I do not think that we should go against the leader, by starting rebellions and such, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches so to speak. I do not think that Calvin’s theory would work out in a non Democratic government situation as such that the poeple are not free to speak out in their opinion of the governmnt or the leader. I agree that the churchshould sill be prt of the goveenment as the founding fathers first created govenment based on God.

  12. I agree with the statement that “Those who practice blasphemous tyranny are no longer God’s ministers.” (This is not to say that I don’t believe that God can use them, like He does with suffering, for His own purposes.) Calvin seemed to have an eloquent way to say what we were trying to come to in class. In democratic and/or republic countries his ways of going about “litigation and prosecution” could work, though it could take a while to actually get results if other people of the country agree with what is happening (take abortion for example). In a tyranny, it is very possible that these ways won’t work and that more drastic measures would need to be taken. While “no government is run by one person alone”, sometimes one person’s ideas trickle down and containemate the other parts of the government (demonstrated by Nazi Germany). Lastly, I think that the church should “groan for freedom” from a tyranny. We should stand up for what we believe in, even outside of the government.

  13. I agree with Calvin’s response to Romans 13 in the sense that he believes war and physical action should only be started in terms of “self-defense”. War costs tons of money for the countries involved, puts stress on the country as a whole, and costs the lives of many people. War shouldn’t be an idea or motive just thrown around lightly. It also shouldn’t be the immediate response to a government that abuses its’ power. I think that Calvin’s view on this subject is realistic in the sense that war shouldn’t be the first resort. However, it would take a very strong group of church leaders to be able to make a change in America, or any country for that matter just through their words or strong speeches these days. The time period and the influence of the people on the government is much different today than it was back in Calvin’s time. Although, I do agree that the church needs to do more than just sit back and watch; that won’t change a thing. The church needs to stand up and people of God need to help get their country and authority back on track regardless of the type of government. Change does not and will not come easily. The church should take a stand and strong leaders need to help speak the truth. I agree that resorting to war should not be the first response to a government that has turned away from God/God’s will.

  14. I agree with Calvin’s principles on Romans 13, mostly. His tactics seem logical and well thought out but in a non-democratic government this wouldn’t work. When the people have no say in who should run their country they become impatient with their government e.g. the French Revolution. Government officials who go against God’s will automatically lose their position in the eyes of the Christian community and many people have different views on this subject. Some say that God will take care of the problem and that they will reap what they sow while others are ready to crucify said officials. John Calvin believed that violence should only be used as a last resort and that the church must preach loudly against such injustice. However the only problem with that is people who don’t have the same views and same respect towards God that we do can see that as a sign of weakness and easily take advantage of that. With Calvin saying that the church should handle these types of situations it makes us sound divided. Not saying the church doesn’t play a huge role because it does, but as Christians united we don’t overthrow the government but we do make some sort of a statement that’s as powerful as God wants it to be. If He can give David the strength to beat Goliath then I’m pretty sure he can do the same for us.

  15. The fact that Calvin made these assumptions in the 16th century is amazing, since it applies strongly to politics today. I Agree with Calvin’s view on the government forfeiting their position. But first you have to break down what he says, “Those who practice blasphemous tyranny are no longer God’s ministers.” blasphemy of course, is speaking offensively or sacrilegiously about God, and tyranny is a cruel or oppressive government. When a government goes to the extreme of being offensive toward God, and being a cruel government, I think that it only makes sense that they should forfeit their position as being rulers over the people. It’s much more than just making a mistake, its deliberately going against God’s will. I Don’t think that his view however, would work in a non-Democratic country, just because of the consequences if you act against a non-Democratic government, which scares people to do the right thing. With his view on the church’s role in the government, its basically to give the government a slap on the wrist when they are doing something against God’s will, and say “no, repent, and go back to doing it the right way”. The church’s role is more of a older mentor which corrects the government when it has made a mistake and hasn’t noticed it, if it was unintentional of course.

  16. 1) I do not agree one bit with John Calvins statement saying that we need to forfiet our positions if we go against God. God made humans, he new that humans would make mistakes and go against him, was he dissapointed about this? I would assume so, but he didnt give up his position being God did he? No! We are humans and we all sin, lets face it, sin is fun for the most part, but we all know its wrong and still do it. God forgives us before I could blink. He is a loving and caring and forgiving God, he loves us so much. So I do not think that a person should give up their positions just for making a normal mistake.
    2) I think that he is right about using drastic measures to over-throw an opposing authority. If we let Iraq do all this stuff and not retaliate then i feel as if the USA would be a ghost town, we would be obliverated.
    3) I believe that if John Calvin did the whole bring the church into the government thing that that would cuz some over-throwing and rebelling of either the church or the government. The church would be trying to teach everyone what they believe and the democratic government would be teaching those same people completely opposite things. I think if a president or a judge want to be Christians thats great, but if they dont i feel like it wouldnt make much of a differene. God is by our side 24-7 and would assist us when we ask for help and/or he sees we need his help.

    • I agree that bringing the church into the government would cause over-throwing or rebelling. History teaches us that the church has never been great when it comes to a leadership position in this sense. I also agree that the people in our government do not have to be christians. I think it is important that their morals and beliefs are based on a foundation of God and that what they believe in is something that would be pleasing to God, though not everything we do or believe in is going to ever always be pleasing to God. but if a leader is a christians then great. And if we have a leader that is not at all leading the way God would want him to then that is when the church steps in and we pray. That is our job. not to overthrow the government but to simply pray to change it. We are always going to have people in our government that we are not going to agree with. thats just the way it is.

  17. Calvin has very good points when it comes to Romans 13. He states that when the government makes wrong decisions against God’s will, that the general public has a right to go against it in a peacful, civil way. Although this is a good theory, it does not work in the secular world. It is not a realistic theory because history proves it to us. Every major, world altering event in history has either started or ended violently or both. The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, World War II, The Vietnam War. All these conflicts happened because people could not talk to each other. This shows that not only is it not applicable for non-democratic countries, but also, at times, a democratic country such as the one we live in. I also do not agree with what Calvin says the church’s role should be. The church as a body should call out the government if it is going against God’s will. The church should work through the common people and general public because that would be the more efficient and cause less problems for the church as a whole.

  18. I think that Calvin’s line of thinking and logic line up directly with the discussions our class has had on Romans 13. We are to respect the leaders that God has established, but at the same time we need to be able to tell when a leader is practicing “blasphemous tyranny”. This does NOT mean that every single time a leader makes a decision we are not in favor of, we take it as a sign that they are going against God. Also, we as Christians need to understand that people will screw up and make mistakes even if they are hand chosen by God. Due to this fact, we as the body of Christ need to respect God’s wisdom and respect the authorities God has put in place until it becomes vastly apparent that the leaders are going completely against God’s will. In the case of that happening, I believe that John Calvin is completely right. Christians need to use peaceful measures to remove these tyrants from often. Something that we as Christians often forget is that God can do anything, he doesn’t need us to fight his battles for us with guns. When enough of His church body is gathered and unified to do His Will, it will come true, even if no violence is used. I agree with Calvin wholeheartedly.

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