Consider the following affirmation—what I would argue is an incredible error—written in the Chilean Baptist monthly publication La Voz Bautista (The Baptist Voice) during World War II (September 1943, exact author unknown, page 13).
Civil government affects all members of the community, and is established for the good of human society as a whole.
The author also added, based on Romans 13:1-7:
The civil government has been divinely approved to promote the interests of, and good order in, society.
Does this interpretation of the sacred text include states run by the likes of Hitler and Hirohito, as well as Mussolini and Stalin? Or does it apply only to republics or democratic countries over the last 250 years, not being valid for the autocracies, monarchies and dictatorships that have existed during thousands of years of history? Does it include states led by Nero, Domitian, Diocletian, who persecuted the early church? Or the famous Roman Republic that oppressed the Jews before Christ?
For those Chilean Baptists, and others that would follow, the answer was apparently, "yes!" For instance, H. Cecil McConnell stated fourteen months later in La Voz Bautista (November 1944, page 20), for Sunday School material regarding Romans 13:1-6:
[The Apostle Paul] wrote precisely during the reign of the infamous Nero. However, he asked Christians to faithfully comply with the laws of the empire. He knew that some laws were bad and should not be obeyed, Nevertheless, taking everything into account, Roman laws served its subjects for good. The government may not recognize God, but, in some sense, it is always God's servant in maintaining order over a territory. Any government is better than no government.
It is simply mind-boggling to read such a ridiculous view that people preferred living with state-led mass-murder of millions, along with extensive destruction of property and churches, and imprisonment of pastors, rather than political anarchy. Yet this is the sort of incredible sense that comes from misinterpretation of the Holy Writ.
Nevertheless, not all Chilean Baptists were beleaguered by this errant view. In the same publication twenty months earlier (La Voz Bautista, March 1943, page 3) another unspecified author had a clearer idea of the bad effects of nefarious public policies—especially for the early church and the society that existed when the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 13:1-7:
Every thinking man must pay attention to the drive, courage and dynamism of the Apostles and Christians who formed the early church. Moreover, those elements also make us think of the rapid and victorious progress of the work of the Gospel during an era fraught with impossibilities: insurmountable prejudices, absurd but deeply rooted beliefs, despotism, and domination of the conscience by political and religious powers. [emphasis added]
So what happened? Having seen the similar horrors of Hitler’s Germany and the Japanese empire under Hirohito, Chilean Baptists wrote these first two citations above (from September 1943 and November 1944) in defiance of the historically Baptist libertarian and political understanding (i.e., Christian Worldview) of Pastor John Leland, an activist Christian who was the major proponent of adding the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. Both Leland's contribution and that of earlier particular Baptists in England had been noted the previous year by C. Almonacid B in La Voz Bautista (June 1942, pages 7-8):
The motto of democracy is: Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. What a wonderful slogan this is! Totalitarianism's [e.g., Draconian rule by Hitler, Hirohito and Stalin; and, by extension, Nero, Domitian and Diocletian] is: persecution, dictatorship, tyranny, supression and terror. In the United States, the Baptists made the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." This amendment was adopted in 1789. The one who introduced it to President Washington on behalf of the Baptists was John Leland, a distinguished Baptist preacher. It was accepted, because the request was fair. He was not taken to a concentration camp or prison, as is the case in all totalitarian countries today, where preachers are persecuted even for their fundamental Christian principles. The Confession of Faith adopted by the English Baptists in 1644, says Dr. Vedder, contains the first publication of the doctrine of liberty of conscience in an official document representing a body of associated churches.
Indeed, earlier writers for La Voz Bautista were hardly oblivious to history and its political realities. But what ignorance and doctrinal shame was demonstrated just months later! I am a Baptist, but I hope that neither my brethren today nor I will repeat the error of the Chilean Baptists of September 1943 and November 1944. Accordingly, I write this article with the intention of providing the correct, biblical interpretation of Romans 13:1-7] and how we should comprehend our relationship with the state and politics. Furthermore, I hope that thinking people from other religions will consider it, too.
The idea of the state embodied in the first two citations is a resurrection or re-formulation of the ancient divine right of kings doctrine (image credit), which definitely corresponds to Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and perhaps Pentecostal teaching. It belongs to any religion that wants to link state and church or that wants the state to impose godly morality on society, bring social justice, or to play a role in bringing the kingdom of God to earth (as theonomists do, or men like “Pastor” Soto in Chile do at present).
But in no way should a Baptist adhere to that doctrine. Baptists have always advocated the separation of the two things, since we have often been persecuted by the state. Indeed, many Baptist thinkers over the years have considered that the state is linked to Satan himself. For my part, as the Bible says, I believe that the state has been “appointed” by God (such as Cyrus, Hitler, Nero, et al.) and according to Revelation 13:1-9, Psalm 2:2/Acts 4:26, Revelation 19:19-21 and others, is in fact linked to Satan.
Yet divine appointment does not in and of itself necessarily mean that the appointed thing is morally good. According to Isaiah 45:7, God brings adversity and controls evil. The words “good” and “evil” in Romans 13:3-4 may be defined according to the philosophy of the state, not according to the commandments or criteria of God. According to Romans 13:4, the state is the “servant” (in Greek: diakonos) of God in the same sense that Satan is. The state, in my view, is evil by nature whether it be run by the Left or the Right, although its worst manifestation is seen in revolutionary atheistic communism (from the extreme left). Consequently, the Left is worse than the Right in absolute terms. But the only biblical perspective is libertarian, something which has been historically Baptist.
I do not trust the state at all. It is an entity that generates corruption, wickedness and harm. The best thing one can hope to do by involving himself in politics is to reduce the damage that the state can cause his brethren or family, so that social conditions are set where “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). The state will never have anything to do with God's redemptive plan, except in its use of sanctifying His chosen ones “for good” (Romans 8:28; 13:4). Therefore, I must insist that the natures of state and church are different.
The acts of Jesus reveal that He was a libertarian or neoliberal; He never asked the state for help in His task or to impose morality or spread the kingdom of God. In fact, Satan offered him the kingdoms of this world that had been given to the devil (Luke 4:5-6). The state since then murdered John the Baptist, Jesus, eleven of the apostles and innumerable martyrs of history. This is the reality of things, and that expectation is taught in Revelation 12:13-17 and other parts of the final book of the Bible. Jesus and the apostles Paul and John taught us, too, that in this world we will have tribulation, suffer persecution and often be imprisoned (John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12; Revelation 2:10), mostly by Satan-led states.
I never put my trust in the state to improve the quality of life. Public policies provoke or implement satanic ideas in our society. Accordingly, in no way should we accept the errant doctrine of the Chilean Baptists of September 1943 and November 1944 about the role and nature of the state, an absolutely beastly and Satanic institution that was responsible for the death of approximately 350 million non-combatants in the Twentieth Century alone. Something so obvious should be clear to Baptists of any age, but especially during the Second World War in 1943 and 1944!
Note: For further reading on the matter, please see my books Christian Theology of Public Policy: Highlighting the American Experience (2006) and Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective (2003).