Since the installation of Resident Biden, remembering that the p is silent, I have been urging Christians to “wait for the flash point.” Given the polarized state of our nation, the fact that there will be such a flash point is (in my view) a foregone conclusion. I bring this up because it needs to be plain what I mean and what I do not mean by referring back to the story of Jehoiada.
That biblical story is one of palace intrigue, murder, a coup, some hugger mugger conspiracy and counter-measures, a counter coup, the execution of a usurper, and then an honored burial for the chief conspirator. Jehoiada, a godly priest, was honored by being buried among the kings (2 Chron. 24:15), an Old Testament Lord Protector. So I am not talking about all of that.
What I want to do is address the basic category involved. In countless ways, our situation is different from theirs, but in one respect it is the same. Jehoiada was dealing with an illegitimate usurper to the throne, and he waited six entire years before doing anything about it. Moreover, the constitutional tradition that he was upholding did not evaporate during that time—when Joash was eventually crowned as the rightful king, he was acclaimed as the king while standing by a pillar “as the manner was.” There is a basic principle in here for all of us to take to heart.
That principle is that we need not imitate Jehoiada’s tactics in order to learn something from Jehoiada’s situation.
The Jehoiada Background
So the story is found in 2 Kings 11. Ahaziah was king in Judah for a very short time, and was killed in the course of Jehu’s revolt in the northern kingdom of Israel. He was of the House of David through his father Jehoram, and of the House of Omri through his mother Athaliah, who was a wicked woman, a daughter of Ahab. When the king was killed, his mother promptly had all the “seed royal” murdered, and took control of Judah herself. But Joash (also known as Jehoash), the young son of Ahaziah, was hidden from his murderous grandmother by his aunt Jehosheba, and brought up in secret for six years. When he was seven-years-old, Jehoiada, who was the high priest (2 Chron. 24:6), organized a conspiracy which resulted in Joash being declared king. Athaliah responded to this by accusing those involved of treason, which did her no good, as she was then executed as the actual treasonous one. Thus far the story.
Legitimate and Illegitimate
According to the Scriptures, a ruler can do righteous or unrighteous things. So much is obvious.
“The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: But he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.”
Prov. 28:16 (KJV)
A genuine king can still be a good king or a bad one, and illegitimate usurpers are usually bad, not cleaning up their act until Caspian the Tenth or so. But from the story above we learn that there can be such a thing as an illegitimate ruler, a bogus ruler, who is on the throne for some years.
These different sets of variables give us four basic categories, which are of considerable interest to us here. Rulers can themselves be legitimate or illegitimate, and rulers, whichever category they are in, can do legitimate or illegitimate things. That creates four possible options.
A legitimate ruler can do legitimate things. This is one of the more obvious options. King David was a legitimate ruler, and he ordered that preparations be made for the building of the Temple (1 Chron. 22), an action that was clearly under the blessing of God.
A legitimate ruler can do illegitimate things. Solomon was a legitimate ruler, and yet he multiplied gold, women, and horses, contrary to the law (Deut. 17: 16-17). Uzziah was a legitimate ruler, and yet he tried to offer incense before the Lord, which was not his prerogative, and so he was rightly resisted by the priests, and then struck with leprosy (2 Chron. 26: 19). David was a legitimate ruler, and yet he ordered that an unwise census be taken (2 Sam. 24:1-2).
An illegitimate ruler can do legitimate things. We don’t know how the unjust judge in the Lord’s parable got into his position, but let’s assume for the sake of this point that he got into that position in a fashion that was consistent with his character as described (Luke 18:1-8). Say he was an ambitious sort who bribed his way into that position. Even though he did not fear God or regard man, he eventually wound up doing the right thing in the widow’s case. Being an illegitimate ruler does not require that every single action taken be wrong or unlawful.
An illegitimate ruler can do illegitimate things. We can take our example of this from the narrative I am pointing to here, the story of Jehoiada and Athaliah. Athaliah’s murder of all potential royal heirs was murder, plain and simple (2 Kings 11:1), even though she was doing it as someone laying claim to the throne. She had no right to lay claim to the throne, and no right to murder anyone in order to establish or maintain her hold on it.
Bringing It All Down to Biden
Now let us suppose that sometime in the near future Biden signs an executive order that requires every citizen to participate in a mandatory buy-back of all firearms. There are reasonable exemptions, they say, and so if guns are essential to your livelihood, you may file for an exception to the order. If you remember to say please, and if they feel like it, then everything will be glorious and fine. They have gathered up all your rights in a bag, and are storing them in a vault for safekeeping.
Now at this point, genuine conservatives will have a choice to make, and they will have to decide what to do on the basis of which two of the four options above they believe best describes our situation. Those conservatives who believe that Biden stole the election will believe that this is an illegitimate order from an illegitimate ruler, while those conservatives who believe that the electoral cheating was not sufficient to alter the final outcome will say that it is an illegitimate order from a legitimate ruler.
Fortunately, the end result can be the same in both instances—all the guns will remain unreported, and will not be turned in to anybody by anybody. But the reasoning process to get to that place will not be exactly the same—and the difference in the reasoning will in short order get into any number of other issues.
My point is that those who believe that Biden really is the president, and not a sock puppet for Obama, will have a lot more internal drama in getting to that good conclusion. For those who believe that virtually everything we see is the deep state flexing on us, life is much simpler.
But remember that simple and easy are not synonyms.
Policing Only Works Around the Edges
Every social order depends in a foundational way on self-governance and voluntary compliance from the vast majority of the population. This is why one of the worst things that a ruling class can do is behave in such a way as to foster in the population a contempt for the law. What they are actually doing is making the law generally risible, and thus destroying the only thing that supports them in their station.
If the people come to believe that the law is a joke, that courts are corrupt, that self-serving ad hoc standards are applied willy-nilly, then one of the things that will happen is that they will at some point stop policing themselves. Now when this happens on a level stretch of highway in South Dakota, where there is no other sentient beings for fifty miles in any direction, and a traveling motorist takes it upon himself to drive 85 mph, then the end result there is no blood, no foul. At the end of the day, not very many people care.
Where it really starts to matter is in matters of taxes and business.
Now imagine yourself as a Christian businessman, three years into Athaliah’s reign, and three years before Jehoiada saves the day. You are aware of exactly what happened to the seed royal, as you have a cousin who works in the palace kitchen, and you have also heard rumors, unconfirmed to date, about the possibility that Joash has somehow survived. Athaliah has just issued a green-energy edict to keep people from hiring over fifteen people in any small business, and you have been right at that threshold for the last two years. A couple of young guys now approach you and offer to work off-budget, as it were, and let us say that you could really use the help. All you have to do is pay them under the table. They can work down in the basement, and they have a big advantage over the upstairs staff in that they don’t have to wear three masks all day.
Now all the normal Romans 13 issues don’t apply here, do they? The decision whether to hire these two guys becomes a simple matter of prudence, and not a matter of conscience. This small businessman is in a position where he knows exactly what he would do it if he also knew that he wouldn’t be prosecuted.
“Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
Rom. 13:5 (NIV)
But now the conscience issue is erased, and so he would hire those two men and their cousins, if he can.
At the same time, Jesus teaches us that it is not a violation of conscience to pay a tax you don’t believe you actually owe.
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
Matthew 17:24–27 (ESV)
I am not saying that these issues are simple or easy. I actually think they can be quite challenging, and I fully sympathize with those who want to go up the steps of the argument, one stair at a time.
Now when a ruling class has lost their minds, as ours has, it is basically just a matter of time before the rank and file populace catches on. The different views held on the legitimacy of the ruler will dictate where and when the thresholds are crossed or when the triggers are activated, but as the rulers descend further down into the vortex of crazy, more and more people will begin doing what is necessary to protect themselves.
The first to begin resisting will be those who understand economics and who believe that the election was stolen. The last to join the resistance will be liberal Democrats who voted in a special referendum for the very measure they are currently disobeying, and who might conceivably vote for it again. But, they say, compliance isn’t practical “in this case.” Some of these guys are just being inconsistent, while others of them have red-pilled sometime during the night.
But when Congress tells you that all the rainwater that lands on your driveway has to flow uphill, it doesn’t matter if you are a liberal Democrat who believes that it would be nice if it did. It still won’t.
So the first two cohorts in such a resistance will be genuine conservatives—the first wave being those who hold that the regime is illegitimate along with the law, and the second wave being those who think the republic is still intact somewhere under the rubble, but that the laws or measures being passed are illegitimate.
Now in my view, the second group will have a harder time explaining why they are drawing the line “here.” If they have been rolling over for the last ten outrages, and if they believe that the election was legitimate, then it might be hard to explain why they should throw down now on the eleventh outrage. But whether it makes any sense or not, everyone would be welcome to join this particular preference cascade.
Now consistent Christians are not anarchists and are not doctrinaire libertarians. They know that liberty can only flourish within a system of structured order. This means that they have no desire to try to build up a new cultural order from scratch. They are not working from ideological blueprints. So what I am talking about here is not bomb-throwing anti-establishment rhetoric. It is anti-corrupt-establishment rhetoric.
The doctrine of Protestant resistance theory developed over time. The modern Reformed form of it began, a cloud the size of a man’s fist, in Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4. Calvin allowed, very gingerly, for lesser magistrates to undertake on behalf of the people. There was also this most important Huguenot work. But the doctrine became more robust in places like Scotland (think Knox and Buchanan). Those who want to study this further (and all of you should really want to), should check out this and this. Oh yeah, and this. Why do I say you should want to study this? Because you need to. To reapply Trotsky, you may not be interested in Protestant resistance theory but Protestant resistance theory is interested in you.
John Locke presented this concept of limited government in secular form, but the historical roots behind what he was arguing were profoundly theological. If God is sovereign, then human government must have set limits. Limited civil government is a necessary Christian doctrine for the simple reason that unlimited civil government is the ultimate conceit. It is aspiring to the role of Deity. Christians therefore insist on limited government because we are not idolaters.
This doctrine was then instantiated in our foundational documents. We are coming up on the Fourth of July, a national celebration of that time when we told certain over-reaching established authorities to pound sand.
And look what it says in the Idaho Constitution:
All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal protection and benefit, and they have the right to alter, reform or abolish the same whenever they may deem it necessaryIdaho Constitution, Article 1, Section 2
Alter, reform, or abolish. Those words are sounding sweeter every day, and look—it can be done without disobedience. It can be done without rebellion, or the loosing of anarchistic spirits.
All men are by nature free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property; pursuing happiness and securing safety.Idaho Constitution, Article 1, Section 1
If I am defending my inalienable rights, and if I enjoy and defend my life and liberty, and if I acquire, possess, and protect my property, and if I pursue happiness, and if I secure my safety, I am doing nothing subversive. Moreover, if I do these things while resisting the current principal threat to my inalienable rights, I am not kicking against Romans 13. I am obeying Romans 13. Athaliah doesn’t like it, but nobody expected that she would.
And if you complain that all of this is too secular, too man-centered, I would then refer you to this:
We, the people of the state of Idaho, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare do establish this Constitution.Idaho Constitution, Preamble
What does it mean to submit to these statements? What does it mean to be obedient to this tradition?
It means that rebellion against tyrants is submission to God.