Because of the presence of sin in every human heart, and because of the corrupting influence of power, there should be a clear separation of powers at every level of civil government. The phrase “separation of powers” means that government power should be divided among several different groups or persons, not concentrated in only one person or group. Several parts of Scripture give support to the idea of separation of powers in a government authority. The Old Testament narratives give many examples of kings who had unchecked power and abused it. Saul repeatedly put his own interests first rather than those of the people. David misused his royal authority in his sin with Bathsheba.[2 Sam. 11]. Solomon wrongfully accumulated “700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” [1 Kings 11:3-4]. In addition, he had excessive silver and gold even though that had been prohibited. [Deut. 17:17]. During the divided monarchy, most kings abused their power and did evil. [1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chron.]. Many other examples of unchecked power throughout human history confirm the idea that when power is combined with sin in the human heart, it has a corrupting influence on people and is easily misused. The prophet Samuel warned against just this thing. [1 Sam. 8:11-18].
The best safeguard against the abuse of power by those in government is divided power, so that one person or group within a government provides “checks” on the use of power by the other group. When power is divided among several groups, then different people in different parts of government all struggle to be sure that no one part of government has too much power. We might call it ‘protecting one’s turf’. The Bible contains a number of examples of various kinds of divided power, reflecting the wisdom of God in protecting against the abuse of power by one person. In the Old Testament, the king had some checks on his power because of the existence of the offices of prophet and priest… even though they were often disregarded. In the New Testament it is noteworthy that Jesus established not one apostle with authority over the church, but twelve apostles. [Matt. 10:1-4; Acts 1:15-26]. Although Peter at first served as spokesman for the apostles, [Acts 2:14; 3:12; 15:7], James later seems to have assumed that role, [Acts 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 1:19; 2:9; 12]. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 made its decision not based on the authority of the apostles alone, but on a decision that “seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church.” [Acts 15:22].
The United States is a good example where power of the national government is divided among three branches: the legislative (Congress), the executive (the President and everyone under his authority), and the judicial (the courts). It is the responsibility of both the House and Senate to pass laws and the President to sign those laws. It is the responsibility of the President to carry out these laws…not write them as has been done in the form of “executive orders” which border on establishing laws vice giving instruction on how laws are to be carried out. This is a dangerous trend.
Further powers are also divided in the US by allocating powers through national government, state governments, county governments, and local city governments. It is when one power perceives that another power is overstepping its bounds that problems can arise. This nation experienced a civil war because of that problem. Further division is implemented by control of the military and police forces and the funding thereof. As a further safeguard against a tyranny from the top, the Founding Fathers incorporated into the Second Amendment of the Constitution “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” An armed citizenry provides an additional level of defense against a potential tyrant and provides further separation of power in a nation. Another kind of separation is encompassed in the First Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people to peaceably [note PEACEABLY] assemble, and to petition the Government, for redress of grievances.” This guarantees that there will be public knowledge of the workings of government and accountability to the people. Unfortunately, ‘truth’ is not an included factor and sometimes this freedom creates more problems than it solves.
The principal of separation of powers to guard against the abuse of power is at the heart of a current controversy in the US over the nature of the Supreme Court and its decisions. The principle is that judges who interpret the laws should not also be the people who make the laws, as this would concentrate power wrongfully in one branch of government and would violate the separation principle. These justices who create new policies and laws have never been approved by the people or by any legislature. When churches avoid any political involvement whatsoever they could very well find themselves having to justify what is said in the pulpit even though such talk is supposedly protected by the Constitution.
As Christians we must remember that we are both citizens of the Kingdom and of the world. To ignore either is dangerous.
In view of recent actions by people who have been blessed by this nation and their failure to show gratitude to the sacrifices of past generations, next week we will take a look at the value of patriotism. The Bible supports patriotism. Should we as citizens not also do so?
– Bob Munsey