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Governance Is Not Arbitrary

One misconception among Christians today, is that the government would have the authority to criminalize certain actions by fiat. The problem however, is that there is no Biblical justification granting governing authorities an arbitrary basis for punishing or restraining evil. If anything, the basis is definitive (as opposed to arbitrary), but many Christians by and large have failed to come to this realization and only decry government actions if they’re unmistakably egregious.

Moreover, the distinction between vices and crimes[1] should not vary from person to person, nor from governing authority to governing authority because governing authorities are people no different than you and I. This means they are held to the same ethical standard.

Perhaps the most important distinction to make is that the sin of a man does not always necessarily entail physical restitution nor punishment; particularly when there is no physical offense committed against another person or another person’s property. Sure, there is a metaphysical aspect regarding all sin, but God is the only one who has the right to decide the means of expiation, especially when transgressions are committed solely against Him.

It is when a sin becomes criminal — viz. when a sin is an encroachment upon the property of another, including acts of aggression against the victim’s person — that man has legal grounds on which to take punitive action or to exact restitution. This is confirmed by the fact that the Proprietor of all creation has delegated subsidiary ownership of property to each individual human, as indicated by certain provisions of His Law pertaining to actions and choices of man vis-à-vis other men. These prohibitions include the act of murder, stealing, and certain types of false witness (e.g. aggression, theft, extortion, perjury, and breaking of contracts).

Unless otherwise stated by God in His Word (e.g. specific commands to Old Testament Israel), man has a default code of conduct to which he is to adhere. When Christians make allowances for others — especially governing authorities — to negate any portion of this standard, then we make allowances for all men to negate all portions of this standard which is a position entirely hostile toward God.

 

[1] In Lysander Spooner’s work, Vices Are Not Crimes, Spooner defines vices as, “those acts by which a man harms himself or his property” and crimes as “those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.”

Published in Terrence Daugherty