October 31 is Reformation Day. It is a remembrance of the day in 1517 when a monk by the name of Martin Luther tacked up his 95 Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg, Germany. That action set off a chain of events that radically changed not only the church but the whole world. One of the guiding principles of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura. This is the idea that Scripture alone, the Word of God, is the authority for man. It reminds us that our beliefs and convictions should be grounded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The first Reformation Day took place almost 500 years ago, but there are many things that were emphasized during the Reformation that are just as cutting edge today as they were then. Most of us are familiar now with the name Kim Davis. She is the County Clerk from Kentucky that refused to provide a marriage license to two men so they could marry one another. Many people have very strong opinions about whether she did the right thing or not. Others are not sure what to think.
The reformers have an answer for us to consider. It is called the doctrine of the lesser magistrates. You may not have heard of it before, but I think it is something that should be talked about in some detail in the coming days. This doctrine declares that when a higher civil authority makes an unjust or immoral law, then the lesser civil authority has both a right and a duty under God to refuse to obey that higher authority. One of the Scriptures that speak to this doctrine is Romans 13:1-5. Those verses describe governing authorities as “ministers of God for our good”. It says that we will have no fear from these authorities if we do what is good, but if we do something evil there will be consequences. These verses also make it clear that we are to be in subjection to these authorities.
The doctrine of the lesser magistrates asks the question, what if those governing authorities begin to call good things evil and evil things good. If that happens then the lesser magistrates should appeal to the higher magistrates on behalf of the citizens they represent. If the higher magistrates insist on calling good things evil and evil things good, then the lesser magistrates should not obey.
When Martin Luther made his stand in 1517, a lot of people were very upset with him. From the time that he posted his 95 Theses there were religious and political forces that opposed him and wanted him dead. Frederick the Wise was the civil authority over Luther. When Luther would not renounce his beliefs, Emperor Charles V ordered that he be apprehended and said that no one should favor or defend him. Instead, Frederick did not have Luther arrested and turned over to Charles. He hid and protected Luther. He used his lesser authority to stand against an unjust order from the Emperor.
The Bible speaks of Daniel doing the same thing. When an unjust law forbidding prayer was enacted, Daniel, as a lesser magistrate, disobeyed the law. We see the same thing with Esther. As the Queen, she appealed to King Ahasuerus about a law he had enacted. It was a law that would have resulted in the deaths of all the Jews in the Persian Empire. It was an unjust law and the king responded favorably to Esther’s intervention.
Let me leave you with three questions to consider. 1. When Romans 13 speaks of good and evil, is that up for us to decide or does the Bible have something to say about it? 2. Does God’s understanding of what is good and evil change from generation to generation? 3. Is a lesser authority just as much a “minister of God” as the higher authority?
Your answer to those questions can be quite helpful in deciding whether Kim Davis did the right thing or not.
Sola Scriptura. Happy Reformation Day.
Mac Williams is the Pastor at Two Rivers Community Church which is located at 3400 Little York Road. He can be reached at 898-2824 or visit the church’s website at www.tworiverscc.org.