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Feb 25: Derived Authority from God

Bill of Rights Vision Viewpoint Derived Authority

What is it our pulpits aren’t telling us? Christian radio program Vision Viewpoint continues its look at today’s political problems and how they are to be handled by the church. A ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI, Vision Viewpoint recalls a historical event from which today’s pastors might take some encouragement.

In the year 390 A.D., the people of the city of Thessalonica had revolted against an act of the imperial governor, Botheric. In the riots that ensued, the governor was slain, and the city was subjected to confusion. Ropers carried the dismembered limbs of the officers on parade throughout the streets. Some tried to fan the flames of greater mischief in different quarters of that city. Like today, it was an era that lacked just and principled governance.

However, common sense finally prevailed and order was restored. Comparatively few individuals had actually been violent to any extent. No doubt inquiry should have been made by the authorities to determine which individuals were responsible for leading the disturbances. However, this was not the method of reprisal that was used.

The Roman emperor, and a man who claimed to be Christian by this time, Theodosius the Great was incensed that events such as the assassination of the governor could go unavenged, and that the city of Thessalonica would allow such an insult to the imperial power.

The emperor determined, upon a rouse, to send secret orders that Thessalonica be invited to the arena for public games and entertainment. Hidden soldiers were there to attack the crowd while they watched the games. Whole scale massacre was indeed the result, as the soldiery slaughtered some 7,000 men, women, and children at one time. It was a savage retaliation, which would be shocking in any context.

Ambrose, the shepherd of the church of Milan, which was the church that the emperor attended, knew that he only had two alternatives. He could attend to spiritual concerns only, and plead that such events of state were secular – the nature being beyond the scope of church involvement. In this view, he would be justified in continuing to lead his people beside still waters in his pastoral administration. After all, the world has always been evil, so the task of a clergyman is simply to comfort and apply a balm to heal the wounds inflicted by, “the world of the flesh, and the devil.”

Put simply
, shepherds do indeed have the responsibility to lead their flocks besides still waters; however, shepherds also have the responsibility of tearing sheepskins off wolves. It’s a mandate of their calling to expose evil. The shepherds will not attack wolves who themselves will not hesitate to attack. Such a charge is given by the Great Shepherd Himself, Jesus Christ, when he said that a good shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep, and that a hired hand, not being the shepherd or owner of the sheep, abandons the flock and runs away when he sees the wolf coming. (John 10:11-13) Ambrose chose to apply another interpretation to his calling as a pastor.

What Ambrose did next changed the course of history

For all those who believe that private morality is to be kept inside the confines of the church, and public morality is something not to be addressed by the church, follow carefully what happened next: Ambrose wrote to the emperor instructing him to repent publicly. The emperor refused to lower the prestige of state by such a public humiliation. When Theodosius appeared at the door of the church, Ambrose barred his way and publicly exposed him for his heinous crime. That left the emperor with only two choices: humble himself and repent, and serve the law of God – and that by God’s grace – or strike down the shepherd.

To his credit, the emperor yielded
. Later he stripped himself of his imperial insignia, entered the church, and publicly called upon the Lord to forgive his sin in the matter. Interestingly enough, Ambrose became an unofficial counselor to Theodosius, and in that capacity, he helped to rewrite Roman law for the realm, thereby introducing provisions in law that we now call “due process.” Due process became necessary for the protection of the common man in legal matters.

All of Europe marveled at a pastor who humbled an emperor. Rulers have derived authority from God; they may never exercise laws that are a creation of their personal outlook, philosophy, or social engineering. In the Christian world, order stands above the will of the state. For that matter, the will of the church and, to be specific, the laws of God summarized in the Ten Commandments, are to be expanded upon by the remaining precepts of the whole counsel of God, and are to remain absolute and binding as the only standard of righteousness for all authority to obey.

Ambrose knew this. It was his duty as a shepherd to stand. He humbled an emperor, and the emperor repented. Due process became part of the laws of western Europe as a result, and we have become its inheritors. One pastor took a stand: he believed private and public morality both were to be subject to the holy commandments of the living God – and as a consequence of this belief, he changed history.

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