In harmony with our Reformed theological tradition, ARPA Canada is bound by the Bible, also as it is summarized in the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort.
From this foundation flows ARPA Canada’s core principles:
- Sovereignty of God
- Human Dignity & Depravity
- Divine & Natural Law
- Role of Civil Government
- Our responsibility to Submit to Civil Government
- Obedience to God Trumps Obedience to Civil Government
- Civil Government’s Toleration of Sin
- Separation between Institutions of Church and State
- Responsibility to Influence Government
- The Church’s Responsibility to Address Political Issues
- Human Liberty
- Rule of Law & Equality Before the Law
- Stewardship over Creation
- Protection of Human Life
- Promotion and Protection of Marriage and Family
- Place of Social Institutions
- Private Property
- Further Reading
Sovereignty of God:
God alone is sovereign, ruling perfectly over heaven, earth, and all creatures so that without His will they cannot so much as move (LD 10 Heidelberg Catechism). Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Question 1, Westminster Shorter Catechism). Politics and law are also under the Lordship of Christ. ARPA Canada seeks to do all its work to the glory of our sovereign Lord.
Human Dignity & Depravity:
God created humanity good and in His image (Gen. 1:26-27) with the ability and responsibility to care for and rule over creation (Gen. 1:28). Our first parents rebelled against God (Gen 3) and corrupted our whole nature (Eph. 2:3). Depravity is total – it touches all parts of our lives, including our bodies, intellect, and will. Depravity must be restrained, also by means of the civil government. No human effort, including political efforts, can eradicate evil. Yet even after the fall into sin, a remnant of God’s image still exists in all humanity (Jam. 3:9). Although it is greatly obscured by sin and is used to serve the creature rather than the Creator, this image of God still exists. As such humanity possesses an inherent and inalienable dignity and worth, which separates us from all other creatures. This dignity is given to all humans, regardless of age (including preborn), ability, sex, race, or any other objective characteristic.
Divine & Natural Law:
“We know God by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe which lead us to perceive God’s invisible qualities and are sufficient to convict men and leave them without excuse. Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word.” (Belgic Confession Article 2) All humanity will ultimately be judged according to God’s revealed and natural law.
Role of Civil Government:
“Because of the depravity of mankind, our gracious God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers. He wants the world to be governed by laws and statutes, in order that the lawlessness of men be restrained and that everything be conducted among them in good order. For that purpose He has placed the sword in the hand of the government to punish wrongdoers and to protect those who do what is good (Rom. 13:4). Their task of restraining and sustaining is not limited to the public order but includes the protection of the church and its ministry….” (Belgic Confession, Article 36). Psalm 82:2-4 gives clarification about what is meant by restraining lawlessness. Speaking to civil government, God says “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? …Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Responsibility to Submit to Civil Government:
Submission to civil government by all is clearly outlined in scripture. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to the governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:12-14). “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom. 13: 1-2).
Obedience to God Trumps Obedience to Civil Government:
If civil government demands from us what God forbids, we need to obey God rather than man. This is affirmed by the New Testament church. When commanded not to preach Peter and John answered “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Likewise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow to an idol and God rescued them from the civil punishment they received for their disobedience (Dan. 3). Other examples of civil disobedience include the Egyptian midwives, Esther and Daniel.
Civil Government’s Toleration of Sin:
“When a democratically elected government is unable, due to political realities, to pass laws that are consistent with God’s expectation for his creation, then the unavoidable result is that such a government is forced to tolerate what should not be tolerated” (VanDam, God & Government, p. 89). A Biblical example of this is regulations concerning divorce in theocratic Israel. It is important to note that toleration does not infer approval. For example, if a government deems it is not feasible to regulate drunkenness in private residences, that does not mean that it approves of drunkenness nor should it refrain from restricting drunkenness in public places.
Separation between the Institutions of Church and State:
Jesus said that we are to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). The implication is that the church, as an institution, should not direct the affairs of the civil government and vice versa. But this does not mean that faith or religion has no role in the state. It is impossible to make public policy without a moral foundation and direction. The state should protect the place of the church in society so that the church can do its calling which includes equipping its members to honour the state and to function constructively to God’s glory within our democracy.
Our Responsibility to Influence Government:
“Christians should seek to influence civil government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government as revealed in the Bible (and rightly understood). But while Christians exercise this influence, they must simultaneously insist on protecting freedom of religion for all citizens. In addition, ‘significant influence’ does not mean angry, belligerent, intolerant, judgemental, red-faced, and hate-filled influence but rather winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, persuasive influence that is suitable to each circumstance and that always protects the other person’s right to disagree, but that is also uncompromising about the truthfulness and moral goodness of the teaching of God’s Word.” (Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, p. 55).
The Church’s Responsibility to Address Political Issues:
Although some individuals will have the gifts, experience, and interest to devote more time to political engagement, all Christians, including leaders in the church, have some responsibility to apply their faith to public life. The fact that some political issues are controversial does not excuse Christians from addressing them. As Paul explained in Acts 20:26-27 “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
Article 28 of the Church Order of Dort also notes that “all office-bearers are in duty bound to impress diligently and sincerely upon the whole congregation the obedience, love and respect they owe the civil authorities; they shall set a good example to the whole congregation in this matter, and endeavour by due respect and communication to secure and retain the favour of the authorities towards the church, so that the church of Christ may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”
“There can be unusual circumstances when the church needs to speak up by means of the pulpit or otherwise in order to protect its God-given mission to preach the gospel and condemn sin where sin needs to be condemned” (Van Dam, 75)
God created humanity with the freedom and responsibility to make choices. The civil government has an obligation to uphold this liberty. Loss of freedom is equated with judgment. “Throughout the Bible, from the beginning of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, God honors and protects human freedom and human choice. Liberty is an essential component of our humanity. Any government that significantly denies people’s liberty exerts a terribly dehumanizing influence on its people” (Grudem, 92). As the civil government expands its role in the various spheres of life, human liberty is decreased. In particular, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of association are fundamental and God-given freedoms and must be vigorously defended by the State.
Rule of Law & Equality Before the Law:
No one person and no human authority, including civil government, is above the law. The Bible teaches that even the king is to be submissive to the law. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 describes how new kings were to write a copy of the law and read it all the days of their life “that his heart may not be lifted above his brothers.”
Furthermore, because every human being is made in the image of God, they all are to be judged equally before the law. The government should not favour the poor (Ex. 23:3; Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:16; Prov. 17:26); the government should not favour the rich (Ex. 23:6, 8; Deut. 1:16-17; 2 Chron. 19:5-7; Psa. 82:2-4); and the government should not favour one race over another (Deut. 1:16 – “You must hear the cases of your fellow Israelites and the foreigners living among you. Be perfectly fair in your decisions.”).
Equality before the law should not be misinterpreted as an egalitarian principle in which the government tries to make all people equal in outcome (through affirmative action programs, redistributive tax systems, etc.). Such policies violate the principles outlined above.
Stewardship over Creation:
God’s first commandment to humanity was “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Humanity has authority to develop natural resources for our benefit. But we do so as stewards, not owners. Our authority is balanced with numerous commands to care for both plants (Deut. 20:19-20) and animals (Prov. 12:10). We also have a responsibility for future generations.
The principles of stewardship also apply to the fiscal realm. Governments that run excessive deficits break two commandments: they feed the covetous desires of those who elected them to power by providing services that society could not otherwise afford and they steal from children and future generations by forcing those future tax-payers to finance the increased debt without their consent.
Protection of Human Life:
Even after the fall into sin, God affirmed the inviolability of human life: “And for each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man’” (Gen. 9:5-6). The inviolability of human life extends to the pre-born, from the moment of conception, to natural death. The lives of the pre-born, disabled, elderly, and terminally ill are all worthy of equal protection by the law.
Promotion and Protection of Marriage and Family:
God created marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman (Gen. 1-2). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Jesus quoted this text and adds, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19-6). God specifically excluded incest (Lev. 18), adultery (Ex. 20:14), and homosexuality (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27) as valid marriages.
Marriage is the first institution made by God and “the future of the nation’s children depends in large measure on how we define marriage and whether we continue to encourage and protect it” (Grudem, 244). The Bible shows that the responsibility for raising and training children lies with parents, not the civil government. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house….” (Deut. 6:6-7). “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Col. 3:20).
Place of Social Institutions:
God has established norms for society’s institutions, including the family, church, state, and marketplace. Each institution has its own authority structure and is subservient to the supremacy of God (see Rom. 13, Belgic Confession Article 36). These societal spheres are not created by the state, nor are they subservient to the state. Each has its own integrity and functions with its own responsibility and authority. No institution should assume responsibility over the roles that God has given to the other institutions. For example, parents, not the state, are entrusted with providing moral direction to their children (Deut. 6, Eph. 4). When the state interferes with this, it intrudes into a domain which it has not been given authority to enter.
“According to the teachings of the Bible, government should both document and protect the ownership of private property in a nation. The Bible regularly assumes and reinforces a system in which property belongs to individuals, not to the government or to society as a whole” (Grudem, 262). Examples included the eighth commandment to not steal (Ex. 20:15) and the tenth commandment to not covet (Ex. 20:17). Examples can also be found in multiple other places (Deut. 14; 19; Prov. 22:28).
However, private property is not absolute, as all things belong ultimately to God (Psa. 24:1). A civil government is duty bound to respect private property.
ARPA Canada recommends the following two books for excellent analysis of how these principles apply to specific issues:
- Cornelis Van Dam, God and Government: Biblical Principle for Today (Wipf & Stock, 2011).
- Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Zondervan, 2010).