Teaching Citizenship

* Condensed from an address delivered before the teachers of our Protestant Reformed Chr. Schools (Adams St. and Riverbend).

The subject that has been given me is "Teaching citizenship." Now a citizen is a member of a state or nation or let us say kingdom. Citizenship is the state of being vested with the rights, privileges and responsibilities of a citizen. I know that you teachers who gave me this subject do not have in mind membership in the church but rather citizenship in a worldly state, definitely these United, States of ours, So I conclude that what you really want of me is that I shed all the light that I possibly can on this question, namely how must citizenship in this United States of ours be taught by us, if our instruction on this subject is to merit being pronounced truly Protestant Reformed. 

As I progress with my subject, I shall refer now and then to the book on this subject that was placed in my hand and that is being used here as a textbook. Allow me to say in passing that I have read the book from cover to cover in the few days that it was in my possession. I believe that I have succeeded pretty well in digesting its content. I know what is in the book. Of course, the fault that you and I have to find with this book is that the instruction contained in it is not Protestant Reformed, is not rooted in Reformed principles of thought. The author's horizon includes only this earth. It shuts out the God and Father of Christ. The author failed to discern the connection between the earthly and the heavenly. What he therefore presents in his volume is not true wisdom. Yet in its way it is a good book on the subject. It contains a good deal of useful, information and its style is clear. But it's not Protestant Reformed, certainly. And, therefore it is a good thing that you teachers are purposed to write your own textbooks. For that is what we need. 

But let me get on with my subject. Seeing that this course deals with citizenship in the worldly state, it's this state that should receive our attention first of all. This entity should be defined. A state—the body politic—is a community of persons dwelling together within the limits of territory under one head or government. It should be made plain that the state is a foundation of God, that this is so seeing that man is His creature, and that government is His institution. It must be made plain that government is not the result of sin, that even though sin had not entered the world, there still would have been government, that the parent father and the parent mother would still have received authority to govern their children and to instruct them in the ways of God. It must be made plain that what resulted from the entrance of sin into the world is the vesting of the rulers with sword power for the punishment of evil-doers and for the protection of them that do well. 

Herewith has also been answered the question whether it is sinful to be a citizen of a worldly state. How could this be, if the state is a divine institution, a foundation of God. One may as well ask whether it is sinful to be a member of the family and of the nation into which he was born and to which he belongs. For what is the body politic but a family of men organized under a single independent government? 

These things having been made plain, I would take up the matter of the relation of the rulers in the state to Christ now exalted at the right hand of God. According to the Scriptures, Christ is the Lord of lords and the King of kings. He is the King of every ruler in these our United States, of our chief executive, of the congress, of the judges in our land, of the governors of our states, of the mayors of our cities, in short of every one the world over vested with authority to rule over others. It is Christ who selects them for their places of authority and who seats them in these places. Their authority is His authority, that it is He who vests them with the power to rule. It is to Him, therefore, that every ruler in the world, in every worldly state, is responsible. Without exception all rule not by His grace—except they be true children of God, but by His power. In the final judgment day it is to Him that they shall have to give account of how they used their power.

Christ then is indeed the Potentate of potentates. And He also actually reigns in the midst of His enemies, of the godless rulers of this world. Necessarily so since it is only by His power that they exist, live and move and have their being, He being also Son of God as God. Accordingly, in all their wickedness, in all their ethical opposition to His will and commandments, they, the godless rulers in the state, are always doing the very thing that He has determined, are, in other words, serving the counsel of His father, which is also His counsel, He being God, so that the ends of His kingdom are being promoted also through the wickedness of the godless rulers in the world. How superbly capable He, therefore, is to gather and protect His church, which is His body. I do not pause here to quote the Scripture, seeing that it is well known among us that the above views are indeed contained in the Scriptures. I take it that you know how to distinguish between the kingdom of Christ's power and the kingdom of His grace. The former includes also the reprobated wicked; the latter only His elect people. 

Further, a course in citizenship should next take up the matter of the forms of government. According to our text book there are basically but two forms of government, namely monarchy or totalitarianism and democracy. This, of course, is correct. These two forms of government should be defined, explained and compared. It should be made plain wherein the two agree and wherein they differ. The text book tells us that they are opposites. This is not true if what we are talking about is true, biblical democracy. 

What is a monarchy? A monarch is a sole, supreme ruler. Accordingly, a monarchy is a state ruled over by such a monarch. Here the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government converge in the person of one man. His will alone is the supreme law of the land, if of course there are no constitutional limitations on his power. This is an absolute monarch. What to say about this form of government? If the absolute monarch were Christ, there would be no cause for alarm. Fact is that, as the vice-gerent of Jehovah, Christ is absolute monarch both in His kingdom of power and in His kingdom of grace. Said He not, "Unto me is given all power in heaven and on earth." In this point of view the kingdom of heaven is an absolute monarchy. Christ has all the power, all authority and might. But earthly rulers, being what they are, mere men and sinful men, are not trusted with absolute rule. They are so apt to develop into insufferable tyrants. 

From the point of view of the power that they were allowed to exercise, the kings of Israel were not absolute monarchs, and the kingdom of Israel was not an absolute monarchy. There were limitations on the powers of Israel's kings. They were bound in their rule by the whole of Jehovah's law—civil and ceremonial as well as moral—that He had given to His people through Moses as His organ. "And it shall be, when he—the king—sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of the law in a book out of all that which is before the priests and the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord His God, to keep the words of this law and these statutes, to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment to the right hand, or to the left, to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel" (Deut. 17:18-30). Besides, "He shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt: to the end that he should multiply horses; forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth no more return that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away. Neither shall he greatly multiply unto himself silver and gold" (Deut. 17:16, 17). 

Israel's kings were not lawgivers at all. The sole lawgiver in Israel was Jehovah. And according to His law the kings judged the people. There were still other limitations on their powers. They might not perform priestly functions. And they could also be criticized, and their sins denounced by Israel's prophets, as speaking for God. It all shows that Israel's king was Jehovah, that His will alone was law, and that the rulers in Israel's throne reigned merely as His vicars. In this point of view the kingdom of Israel was an absolute monarchy. This, of course, is true, though not in the same sense, of every ruler of every worldly state. This brings us to the question, what is a democracy? According to the conception of the world, that is of men in whose thoughts there is no place for God, a democracy is a government by the people (from demos the people and kratein to rule). The idea is that all the people without exception are rulers and that properly there is no king, monarch, among them. It is government in which the supreme power originates with the people and is delegated by the people to the rulers. It is a government of the people (of genitive of source) by the people and for the people as the supreme and ultimate authority. In this conception the people are God and the rulers in the state the servants of god the people. Here the distinction between rulers and the ruled, between king and subject cannot exist. For if the people are God all are rulers. 

Further, a state, body politic, is said to be pure democracy if the people in it exercise their power directly as when; for example, the people assemble and by majority vote determine what shall be the law of the land. The state is said to be representative democracy if the people in it exercise their authority by a system of representation. But, so it is said, in either case government is by the people. 

Now this is democracy according to common conception. But it is a type of democracy that merits being pronounced the lie. The conception of which this type of democracy is the embodiment had its birth in the minds of the leaders of the French Revolution. It is not certainly a brain child of John Calvin as some people even of Reformed persuasion would have us believe. Was John Calvin an atheist? That is what this type of democracy is. It is deistic, atheistic as to its character. 

What then is true democracy? Is there, can there be, such a thing as true democracy? There can be and is certainly. To bring out what true democracy is we can do no better than to compare it with monarchy. As ought to be plain from what thus far has been presented, the difference is not that in a monarchy the king rules by divine right, that is by the power of God and of Christ and that in a democracy the magistrates rule by the power of the people. In a democracy as well as in a monarchial form of government all authority is Christ and originates with God. And so, the difference is not this certainly that in a democracy the king is servant of God and that in a democracy the rulers are servants of god the people. In other words the difference is not this, namely, that in a monarchy the authority, right of rule, is a thing with which the ruler is vested by God and that in a democracy all authority originates with the people and is delegated by the people to their rulers. The difference, therefore, is not this, namely, that in a monarchy the king is truly a ruler and that in a democracy the distinction between rulers and ruled does not really exist in that here all the people are rulers. And, therefore, in this point of view the difference between monarchy and democracy is not, cannot be essential, basic. I speak now, of course, of true democracy. If the monarchy is absolute the difference is that in this form of government all power, right of rule, is concentrated in the person of one man, while in democracy authority at least in these United States of ours is divided between the president, the congress formed of many persons, and the judges of the Supreme court. Again, if the monarchy is absolute there are no constitutional limitations on the power of the ruler, while in a democracy there are such limitations of the power of the rulers. Also, in a democracy the people have the right guaranteed by the constitution to indicate by majority of vote the persons that Christ has selected for the various places of authority. In a monarchy the people do not have this right. For here the kingship is hereditary and when the ruling dynasty becomes extinct the succeeding ruler has usually come to power by force of arms. This is the testimony of history. 

But let us hear the textbook on the question of the difference between monarchy and democracy. He writes, "In dictator countries the individual citizen amounts to little or nothing. Whatever one man, the dictator wants is law. The citizen exists merely to serve the government. He is forced to serve the army even in times of peace. He can be arrested and kept in jail or concentration camps without trial. His home is invaded by "inspectors" and policemen. He can read in the paper and hear over the radio only what the governments wants him to read and hear. He is not a free and independent person."

A democracy cannot be characterized by such abuses, the author of these lines meant to say. But we must remember that the underlying cause of all the troubles by which a people are afflicted is sin and in the final analysis are not owing to its form of government, whatever that form may be. Democracy is said to be government by the people. But if that people be godless, life in a democracy can become as unbearable for the true people of God as in, a totalitarian state like that of modern Russia. This should be explained to the pupil. It should be made clear that it will not do for us to put our trust in democracy. What then is true democracy? We could also state the question thus: What is a safe democracy? What are the principles of truth in which it is rooted? The following: 

First, that the state, the body politic, is an institution of God and not of men. 

Second, that the state, the body politic, is an organism in which each member occupies his own God-ordained place. 

Third, that in this body God has instituted the office of rulers, that these offices therefore are the creation of God and not of man. 

Fourth, that God has given for the office of rulers in the body politic not all but some rulers. In this body politic all, therefore, are not rulers but only some are rulers and the others are the ruled, that, accordingly, the right of rule is given of God not to all the members in the body politic but only to those members given of him for this office or offices.

Fifth, that, accordingly, the rulers in the body politic receive their right of rule, that is, authority, not from the ruler but directly from Christ, the Lord of lords and the King of kings. 

Sixth, that the members of the body politic indicate by majority of vote the persons selected by God for the office of rulers. 

Seventh, that as in the human body the head serves all the rest of the members and the members the head, so in the body politic the ruler serves the ruled and the ruled the rulers and each other. 

Eighth, that in the body politic the supreme law in the land is the will of Christ as revealed in His Word. 

Ninth, that the body politic, the ruled and the ruler or rulers must exist for Christ's God to obey and glorify him.

This is a true body politic, whatever one may wish to call it, democracy, monarchy or both. True democracy is an ideal. It is not found on this earth, except in principle within the sphere of the true church. For true democracy is a state in which God is all and in all through Christ and in which obedience to God, therefore, spells perfect liberty. The true democracy is the kingdom of heaven, Christ's gift unto His people only, that will one day appear with Christ in glory. 

Let us add a word about the duty of God's believing people as citizens of a worldly state. Their duty is to be in subjection to their rulers in the state. Let us quote the Scriptures here, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the king as supreme; or to the governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will bf God that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish mea. As free and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God: Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king? (I Peter 2:13-17).

Of course, when the commands of earthly rulers are in conflict with the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, God's people must refuse obedience; for God must be obeyed more than man. Then they must endure being punished for their disobedience, in other words suffer for well-doing. Such is the will of Christ, "Servants be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward (that is, according to the Greek, the perverse, the unfair). For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully" (I Peter 2:13ff). Never may God's people rebel, that is make war against their sovereign in the worldly slate, take up arms against him in an effort to free themselves from His tyranny, if he be that kind of a ruler. Scripture forbids revolution on the part of the believers against their rulers in the state. 

The textbook has much to say about planning for citizenship by which it means preparing for citizenship. To teach these principles of truth is to prepare the child for citizenship. The child in whose heart these principles take root by the grace of God will turn out to be the ideal citizen. 

According to the textbook there are many problems that beset our democracy. This certainly is true. The textbook mentions a few of these problems. There is the problem of making a living. There is the problem of conservation of soil, of our forests, of fish and game and minerals. There is the problem of crime, of delinquency, of public health, of national debt. There is the problem of distribution of wealth and income. Wealth and happiness are not well distributed, says the text book. The text book mentions several more problems also the problem of world peace. Preparing for citizenship consists, says the text book, in all the citizens thoroughly acquainting themselves with all the problems and in working toward their solution. But as believers we know, of course, that in this godless world there are no real and abiding solutions for the world's grave problems; that, instead of being solved, they will only continue to multiply, and that this is due on the one hand to sin and on the other hand to the fact that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, Rom. 1:18. Yet our textbook is really optimistic. All these problems, it says, can and will be solved by democratic processes. The optimism of our textbook may in a sense and measure be justifiable. Certain it is that in the kingdom of the antichrist, the form of government of which will in all likelihood be some kind of democracy, life is going to be real pleasant for all such that are willing to bear the mark of the beast. But for the true people of God life in this kingdom is going to be excessively hard, seeing that they will not be allowed either to buy or to sell in their unwillingness to bear the mark of this kingdom. But this kingdom, when ate the height of its glory, is going to be destroyed. And there shall be new heavens and a new earth on which righteousness shall dwell. It is to Christ's appearing, therefore, that God's believing people look forward. It is in Christ's God that they put all their trust and not in a form of government, whatever that form may be. Also these things must be taught if the course in citizenship deserves to be pronounced Protestant Reformed. Only then is the child being truly prepared for citizenship in a worldly state. 

There are still many questions left unanswered. Here are some of them: 1) what is the relation that obtains between state and church? 2) Are the magistrates in the worldly state under necessity of maintaining also the first table of the law? 3) May a believer run for office in the state? 4) Are we morally obliged to vote? 5) May we, believers, cooperate with the men of this world in their effort to solve the world's problems? If so, to what extent? May we, for example, cooperate with them in their effort to establish world peace? Can world peace in this sinful world be ever anything else than a temporary cessation of arms? Then there is the question of the four freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of want, freedom from fear—that the textbook lauds as "our ideal of peace," and the question of the so-called "inalienable rights of man." And so there are many more questions that one teaching this course in a Protestant Reformed school should prepare himself to deal with.