The Lesser Magistrate

In this letter, I desire to impress upon you the importance of every election. Too many Christians who love the Lord, who obey his commands, and who love their country sit out local elections. “I’ll vote when it counts,” one might say as they wait for the next “big” election like a presidential or senatorial race. Here’s the problem with this line of reasoning: there are no small elections. Elections have consequences, even the local elections. In fact, having the right local and state representatives is a bulwark against corruption at higher levels of civil government.

During the high-insanity days of 2020, one only had to pay attention to how different states and municipalities managed the COVID pandemic to understand the importance of local and state magistrates. When unelected federal regulators sought to wield unbridled authority, it was up to Governors and local magistrates to stand up to tyrannical overreach. In those states where Governors went along with the program, the only recourse for citizens was disobedience. It was a perfect illustration of what the Reformers John Calvin and John Knox called the doctrine of the lesser magistrates. They used the word doctrine because it was formalized by German pastors, but it essentially states that “when the superior or higher civil authority makes unjust/immoral laws or decrees, the lesser magistrate or lower ranking civil authority has both a right and a duty to refuse obedience to that superior authority. If necessary, the lesser authorities even have the right and obligation to actively resist the superior authority.” (Trewhella, Doctrine, 2.)

The Christian church historically has taught that when the state demands what Christ demands or demands what Christ forbids, Christians are obligated to obey Christ rather than men. (Acts 5:29) The danger, of course, is that disobedience to civil authorities, though sometimes necessary, is fraught with peril and can be destructive. Just think of the French Revolution. Rather than the rebellion of the citizenry, a lesser magistrate, such as a Governor or Mayor, may interpose himself between the tyrant and the people. The lesser magistrate opposes tyranny so that the people don’t take up arms. We see this happen in Scripture. When Pharoah demanded the slaughter of Hebrew boys, the midwives interposed themselves between the Pharoah and the birthmothers and, in doing so, defied the edict of Pharoah in service of a higher authority. (Exodus 1) A civil magistrate is duty bound to protect the person, liberty, and property of those who reside within their jurisdiction. This entails their opposition of any tyrannical law or edict from a higher authority. They cannot plead that they are “just doing their job,” as they enforce unjust laws handed down.

On November 7, 2023 you will be called upon to vote for various mayoral and school board candidates as well as several referendums. You will give an account to the Lord Christ for how you used your vote. As I always say, it is not my job to “stump for Smith.” The church is political, but we are not partisan. We are political because we declare, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” But we do not represent any earthly nation or party. We represent the commands of the King eternal. (1 Tim. 1:17)

But here’s what I want you to pray about: When a federal anti-bullying law requires your school children to erase the distinction between male and female (in the name of love), which school board member will stand up against the tyrant? No, that school board member may not have as much power as a president, but they represent your interests, and they are a line of defense between you and higher magistrates. This is but one example of the importance of down-ballot votes. We need men and women leading with conviction and principle at every level of the civil government.

So, Christian, do not waste this opportunity to cast a vote. Politics is not a savior. But righteousness exalts a nation (Prov. 14:34), and unrighteous leaders make the church’s mission of gospel proclamation difficult. Now, more than ever, we need the right mayors, city council members, school board members, sheriffs, and governors. As you prepare to do your civic duty, pray that the Lord will guide your decisions. Ask other Christians for guidance and information. Pray that the Lord would grant a spirit of repentance upon the citizens of our nation. Pray the Lord would grant the church boldness in these trying times. And ask God to give us lesser magistrates who have the fortitude to stand up for their constituents against the oppression of tyranny.

To learn more on the doctrine of the lesser magistrates, I recommend reading: The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Mathew Trewhella