THE Christian Statesman, of Oct. 19, discusses the authority of the “powers that be” from what it conceives to be the Protestant standpoint, in contrast with the authority claimed by Catholics for the pope of Rome. The Statesman does not believe in the doctrine of papal infallibility, or in the infallibility of any man, State, or Church; nevertheless it claims that the State, aided by the counsel of the Church, has the right to speak in enunciation of the claims of the divine law as applied to human affairs, and command obedience thereto from every citizen.
Just what is to be gained by choosing a fallible State, counseled by a fallible church, as authority for determining the will of God, in preference to an “infallible” pope, the Statesman does not make clear. For our own part, if obliged to choose between the two, we would prefer the latter, since in that case, believing our authority to be infallible, we would not be continually harassed by the fear that it might, notwithstanding the wise counsel of the fallible church, be in the wrong. We would feel that in such a matter we could not afford to run any risks.
“The truly Christian State,” says the Statesman, “acknowledging as it will the ultimate authority of God and its own subjection to Christ and his law, will avoid many of the mistakes into which the nations of the world have almost constantly fallen. But it will give evidence in many ways of its fallibility. And yet in the midst of their errors of judgment in legislative enactments and governmental administration, the ‘powers that be’ may claim the true authority that comes from God in all they justly do for the maintenance of human rights.” Of course whatever is “justly” done by the State “for the maintenance of human rights” has the sanction of God. He has ordained them expressly for this purpose, and there is no dispute among any persons who believe in God upon this point.
But it is not true that the State has any right to speak as an interpreter of the divine will, or that any person is bound to obey it when it presumes so to do. The Statesman admits that there will be “errors of judgment in legislative enactments and governmental administration;” and this alone invalidates the Statesman’s position. For when the States makes one of its “errors of judgment in legislative enactments,” and commands its subjects to do that which is wrong, what course is the citizen to pursue? Is he to yield to the law of the State, knowing that the law of God commands him otherwise? for the law of God commands everything that is right, and prohibits all that is wrong.
So long as the State keeps within its God-appointed sphere, confining the exercise of its power to the maintenance of human rights, no good citizen will question its authority or desire to disobey its injunctions. But when it presumes to pronounce upon questions of religious duty, as set forth in God’s moral law, it touches upon that concerning which no fallible power has any right to issue a command. The plan of salvation would be a failure without an absolutely infallible authority to which every person is to be subject upon such points.
That authority is the Word of God, interpreted by the Spirit of God, given to every person in answer to the prayer of faith. “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God,” and “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:10. Wherefore it is also written, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” James 1:5. We are to come to God, and not to any man or organization of men,—to the divine word, interpreted by the Spirit of God, and not to the fallible State directed by the counsel of the fallible church, for guidance in the pathway of righteousness. Every person may thus be infallibly guided in every point of moral obligation.
The State is altogether out of her sphere in attempting to act the part of a moral guide. The very means by which the State is constituted precludes it from any right in this respect, for the ballot, representing the opinion of the majority, can never in this wicked world where Christians are so sadly in the minority, determine the question of any person’s fitness for the position of dictator to his fellowmen on moral questions, whether he has the “aid” of the church’s counsel or not. Even were the majority of voters Christians, this would not help the matter, since the fallibility of human judgment would prevent  any certainty that their choice would be the right one. And even could they unerringly select the very best man for their purpose, the fallibility of those same men would still constitute a fatal defect in the working of the plan. It would only be putting the best men in the place of God, and thus erecting a standard of moral authority infinitely below that which the need of the race demands.
In other words, not the authority which commands men, but the individual commanded, must be responsible for any deviation on his part from the pathway of moral rectitude. God could not hold any person accountable for wrong doing while there was a possibility that the authority to which he had been made amenable might be itself in the wrong.
According to the Statesman’s plan, “a wise State” would not “refuse to receive the aid that the church can give toward a better understanding of the divine criterion of national conduct.” In other words “the State would show its wisdom if, when some difficult question had to be decided in its counsels, and it was at a loss to know what was the requirement of the divine standard for nations, it would apply to the church of Christ for help in the interpretation of that perfect law.” This is precisely what the “wise State” did in the Dark Ages. Nor was the proceeding such a difficult and dangerous one then as it will be now; for there was none then to dispute with the church of Rome the tide of “Church of Christ,” while now the number of contestants would be almost legion. What church shall it be that shall be privileged to thus direct the State in matters which involve an interpretation of the divine law? Shall it be Catholic or Protestant? and if Protestant, which one of the many Protestant sects? Does any one suppose that this question can be settled without a bitter contest? “Old controversies will be revived and new ones will be added;” the cause of pure religion will be neglected, unscrupulous hypocrites will seek church connection for political ends, and the church will sink lower and lower until it will present a literal fulfillment of the prophetic words, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” Revelation 18:2.
And this terrible picture is actually erelong to be realized, in the consummation of the movements which are everywhere fast dragging the Church into politics. And at that time the call will be sounded, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4.