Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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By That Logic…

Almost two years ago I wrote one of several posts about fallacies, and today I came across a prime example of “illegitimate totality transfer” and/or “one meaning”, and possibly a few more. Though the premise of the article is easily dismissed on its face, it’s always good to give specifics and know why something is ridiculous.

I refer to an article entitled When we pick a president, we are in fact choosing a minister of God. Yes, that’s the title. And while I’m sure the writer, Mr. Fischer, means well and is sincerely trying to be “Biblical”, sincerity is never a good substitute for sound reasoning and careful research. He says,

No less than three times in Romans 13, Paul uses words that emphasize the sacredness of public service. 

The one who serves in public office is “God’s servant” and the “servant of God” (v. 4), and statesmen are “ministers of God” (v. 6). 

The word translated “servant” in v. 4 is the Greek word “diakonos,” which elsewhere is translated “deacon,” referring to one of the divinely ordained offices in the church. Another form of this word, “diakonia,” is frequently translated “ministry.” 

So if in fact we allow the Scriptures to be our guide, then public service is a form of ministry. One who holds public office is serving in a divinely ordained role, just as much as a pastor in the pulpit. The role of a statesman is every bit as sacred as that of a clergyman. 

The word translated “minister” in Romans 13:6 is the Greek word “leitourgos,” from which we get the English word “liturgy.” It is as if Paul is going out of his way to emphasize the sacredness of public service. 

And clearly it is a sacred role, because, as Paul makes clear in v. 1, “[T]here is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Every politician, whether he knows it or not, is using delegated power, delegated authority, authority delegated to him by God himself. 

Let’s check the Greek and see what’s there. First of all, Rom. 13:4 and 6 does use diakonos, but if this means a minister as defined by church tradition, i.e. a “clergyman”, then we would have to say that Satan too is a minister of God, for in 2 Cor. 11:15 it says that the “ministers” of Satan masquerade as “ministers” of righteousness (both instances are the Greek word diakonoi). So the error here is that Fischer has read the later traditional definition back onto the first-century koine Greek and then applied it universally, such that every instance of the word diakonos must refer to a clergyman.

As for vs. 6, the word leitourgoi has the semantic range from “priest” to “public servant”. But even a quick glance at any reputable Greek dictionary (sample) tells us that the word ordinarily referred to someone “who performed a public duty or service to the state at his own expense”. This clearly does not mean that such people were religious authorities or “clergymen” of any sort. To restrict the meaning to only the religious aspect when arguing for what meaning the writer (Paul in this case) meant is circular. We must first consult the context, and since Paul is talking about secular authorities, the secular meaning is thus primary, and it gives us no reason to insert “religious authority” there. Otherwise we are left in the absurd position of saying that clergymen should literally wear swords with which to avenge God against evildoers.

Fischer argues, though, that since these leitourgoi are described as having been instituted by God then it must carry the religious connotation. Yet government is something God set up after the Flood (see Gen. 9:5-6), long before there were any formal priesthoods. Though of course God is the source of every rule and authority (Col. 2:10), it does not follow that every rule and authority is ecclesiastical, which is what Fischer is arguing. It is similar to saying that anyone who goes to church is a Christian; i.e., it is a non-sequitur.

Fischer then goes on from this faulty premise to tie the qualifications for “pastors” with those of modern-day presidents. Ignoring the male supremacist arguments (tempting though it is to chase that particular rabbit trail), the point he is trying to make is that character matters— something patently obvious these days, and thus not requiring a search for a Biblical mandate. But that really is beside the point of the article’s title, so all he has provided in the way of scripture for justifying it are those few verses cited above. But again, if every government leader is a “minister of God”, we must include in that company the likes of Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot. It isn’t enough to simply implore them, as Fischer does American presidents, to behave as Christian ministers; we must acknowledge that such evil leaders are not any kind of ministers of God.

Now we must consider also the fact that the entirety of NT teaching is aimed primarily at how Christians are to behave in a wicked world. When Paul writes to Christian slaves, he is not endorsing slavery but trying to keep the cause of Christ from causing a breakdown of an orderly society. When he urges people to pray for government leaders, it is specifically for the purpose of allowing the church to live in peace (1 Tim. 2:1-2). When he writes that Christian women should be devoted to their own husbands, he isn’t endorsing the culture’s male domination but again looking out for how the church is perceived so that its witness will not be impeded. This is the overarching context for the Romans passage cited above, not the establishment of every world leader as a Christian clergyman per Fischer’s assertion.

The church today seems obsessed with all kinds of official “ministries” rather than simple service to equals. We look for hierarchy under every rock and behind every tree, and when we find a word we can use to that end we build entire... um... ministries on it. Minister, pastor, elder, and the rest have been turned from the NT teaching of humbly building up others to carrying ecclesiastical lordship. But to take it so far as to make a president elected (so we are led to believe) by a largely anti-Christian population into a clergyman is, in my opinion, nothing less than a setup for blindly following whatever kind of soul occupies a seat of authority. And that, as we all should know, is the path to tyranny.

At best, Fischer’s point seems to be that the US president should be someone of high moral character, which as I said no sensible person would deny. But to make this assertion on the premise that this is not just a president but a clergyman just stretches both reason and Biblical interpretation (I couldn’t bring myself to use the word “exegesis” there) to the point of the ridiculous. Again, he seems to mean well, but in this case I think the argument does more harm than good for the Body of Christ.

Posted 2012-01-24 under legalism, Bible, religion, government