L’etat C’est Moi, or Lex Rex: Two Approaches To Authority

Introduction

When all the different and infinite variations of government structure are examined, there are two fundamental approaches to government. It is the intention of this short essay, as a lengthy one could be written, to examine the fundamental attributes of these two views on authority. The text of this particular essay, accordingly, will be the place where those views are contrasted most explicitly, in Matthew 20:25-28: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” It is therefore the intention of this essay to examine the fundamental differences between the approach of the Gentiles towards authority and God’s model of authority, so that we can properly distinguish between the two in action.

L’etat C’est Moi

Louis XIV Bourbon was king of France between 1643 and 1715. During his youth he witnessed the chaos and disorder of the domination of feuding nobles over the nation of France, and he was determined upon reaching adulthood to rule with absolutism to prevent that divisiveness and anarchy from ever happening again, so far as it was within his power. He was an absolutist ruler, who believed that he ruled France by divine right, meaning that he was accountable to no one on earth (and, as God did not make his opinion manifestly obvious to him, in practice, he was accountable to no one). He used the tax money of his impoverished people to build himself a glorious palace outside of Paris that we know of Versailles, and centralized all decision-making and authority with himself, making himself the ultimate authority in France. He also bled France in warfare to expand France’s borders (and therefore increase his glory) against the Netherlands, the German states, Great Britain, and to put a Bourbon on the throne of Spain. During his life he made the grand and arrogant statement, “L’etat c’est moi,” or, to translate into English, “I am the state [1].”

These words summarize not only the sort of absolute one-man rule by divine right that Louis XIV himself championed, or that may be supported by others, but represent any sort of human authority that would seem to make itself the ultimate authority rather than God. Such claims of “divine right rule” can be found for democracies just as easily as they can be found for dictators and tyrants. Vox populi, vox Dei (which is Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God”) is just as ungodly as “I am the state.” Both are the ways that the Gentiles exercise authority over others—whether it is by plebiscite (popular vote) or dynasty or apostolic succession is equally satanic. Whether it is found in Pharonic Egypt or modern governments that view themselves as the ultimate authority not subject to any absolute and unchanging standard, the sin of rebellion against God’s authority is the same.

Why do I use this harsh word, satanic, to describe such a system? I use it precisely because this is how Satan has behaved from the point he became Satan. In Genesis 3:4-5, let us see what he told Eve about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” What does it mean to be like God in the sense that Satan meant? God wants us to be like Him, but like him in character, to be “perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). However, that is not how Satan himself wishes to be like God, as was said of the King of Babylon (a word similar to the Hebrew word Babel, meaning confusion), in Isaiah 14:12-15: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning. How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart, ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.” Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.”

It is the desire for glory, for power, and to be the final authority that makes the governments of the Gentiles, whatever form or structure they have, Satanic. When mankind seeks to be the ultimate authority and to be held accountable to no objective standard of behavior or practice, they are behaving in rebellion against God. It is for that reason that Israel’s desire for a king “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5) was seen by God as a rejection of His rule and authority over them and a continuance of the rebellion they showed to God all the way from their experience in the wilderness (1 Samuel 8:7-8). Knowing God’s hatred of rebellion, let us therefore understand that God’s government is not fundamentally an issue of structure, but is an issue of our approach to God’s uniform, unchanging, and eternal moral standard applicable to all at all places and times. To reject this is to reject God’s authority and to be a rebel against Him. None of us want that.

Lex Rex

In 1644, a Scottish Presbyterian from the border regions of Scotland, educated in Edinburgh, published a strong refutation of the divine right view of government, in a work called Lex Rex. In strong contrast to the belief that “Rex Lex,” (or the king was the law, the view of divine right that would be held by Louis XIV in a few years), Rutherford held to the biblical view, expounded in Deuteronomy 17, that “Lex Rex,” the law is king. This work is held to be the origin of the British and American view of Constitutional government, and the foundation within the West of the tradition of “rule of law” by which all governments are accountable to legal standards and are not to behave in an arbitrary manner, but rather to a consistent standard. Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, the author of this work himself was convicted in absentia of high treason and condemned to death, and lost all of his positions, when Charles II was restored to the English throne in 1660, and only his death prevented the brutal death sentence from being carried out [2]. Obedience to God, after all, is treason to the rebellious governments of man.

Like rebellious governments, covenental governments can have many structures. They can be republics as well as constitutional monarchies. Just like the prime determinant of whether a government is satanic is the arbitrariness of its rule and its rejection of God’s authority, the prime determinant of whether a government is godly is not its structure but its approach to the unchanging and eternal standard of God’s law. God’s concern is with the attitude, not with the structure.

It is easy to understand this by looking at the Bible itself. For example, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 is “the law of kings” reflecting the biblical behavior of kings (and, by extension, any legitimate authorities in any form of government). The closing of this law gives a clear endorsement of constitutional limitations on authority, in Deuteronomy 17:18-20: “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in the book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.” It was the responsibility of the king (and any legitimate biblical authorities) to recognize the supreme authority of God and their accountability to His laws and standards, which they themselves were under. No man is the law—the law is supreme over all.

All governments, whether civil or religious, were to conform to God’s standards and enforce them. Romans 13:1-5 states, after all: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’s sake.” God’s law requires obedience to just authorities, who are to enforce God’s laws against evil and reward those who behave righteously. We therefore have a religious duty to obey authority (except when it commands us to disobey God—see Acts 5:29), and not merely a prudential one. However, all authorities have the responsibility to judge by God’s standards and not their own. That is the price of being appointed and ordained by God.

Let us remember, though, that the attitude of that authority itself was to be one of service towards God’s people. The purpose of the ministry within God’s church, after all, is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” as it is said in Ephesians 4:12. That is, the purpose of the ministry is not to serve its own glory but to build up and train the people of God to serve others capably and effectively themselves. In a godly view towards authority all is done for the glory of God. Positions of leadership are merely increased opportunities to serve, increased responsibilities to show and teach a godly example for others to follow. Authorities with a satanic view of government seek their own glory—through wealth, power, fancy buildings, luxurious lifestyles, and the ability not to be held accountable to God’s objective standard by anyone who isn’t above them on a hierarchy. The difference between the two views is immense.

Conclusion

Having clearly differentiated the two views of authority and government, let us examine our own responsibilities. Whether we hold positions now in any government or not, we have the responsibility to follow God as our ultimate authority. God makes the rules—and we obey them as best as we are able, with the goal of developing ever more deeply and ever more consistently the character of God within us. We are to obey authority recognize that God works with structure and order, and that to obey godly leaders is to obey God Himself, because God does not give a blanket sanction to rebelliousness at all. Likewise, if we are in positions of responsibility, we have greater duties and responsibilities, but are not in any way above or unaccountable to those whom we serve. Our service as leaders gives glory to God, not to ourselves, and whatever role we have as leaders is an opportunity for greater or more conspicuous service. Therefore, let us serve God, and our brethren, and not have our hearts lifted up. God remains the final authority, not we we ourselves. “Lex Rex,” not “L’etat c’est moi.”

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_XIV_of_France

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Rutherford

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to L’etat C’est Moi, or Lex Rex: Two Approaches To Authority

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