Acton Institute Powerblog

The Mandate of the State

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In his fragmentary and incomplete Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer examines the reality of the will of God, which he contends come to us from Scripture in the form of four mandates: work, marriage, government, and church. Here’s a great summary of Bonhoeffer’s view of the mandate of the government or state, from his essay, “Christ, Reality, and Good,” pages 72-73:

The divine mandate of government already presupposes the mandates of work and marriage. In the world that it rules, government finds already existing these two mandates through which God the Creator exercises creative power and upon which government must rely. Government itself cannot produce life or values. It is not creative. Government maintains what is created in the order that was given to the creation by God’s commission. Government protects what is created by establishing justice in acknowledgment of the divine mandates and by enforcing this justice with the power of the sword. Thus, marriage is not made by the government, but is affirmed by the government. The great spheres of work are not themselves undertaken by the government, but they are subject to its supervision within certain limits—later to be described—to governmental direction. Government should never seek to become the agent of these areas of work, for this would seriously endanger their divine mandate along with its own. By establishing justice, and by the power of the sword, government preserves the world for the reality of Jesus Christ. Everyone owes obedience to this government—according to the will of Christ.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

Comments

  • Classical Liberal

    The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonourable belief against the character of the divinity, the most destructive to morality, and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist.

    Thom Paine.

    If plunder arms the strong against the weak, it no less lets loose the intelligent upon the credulous. What industrious peoples are there on earth who have escaped exploitation at the hand of sacerdotal theocracies, Egyptian priests, Greek oracles, Roman augurs, Gallic druids, brahmins, muftis, ulemas,*96 bonzes, monks, ministers, mountebanks, sorcerers, soothsayers, plunderers of all garbs and denominations? It is the genius of plunderers of this ilk to place their fulcrum in heaven and to glory in a sacrilegious complicity with God!

    Frederic Bastiat.