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Sovereignty is defined as dominion, rule, power, or authority. The sovereign of any society is the ultimate  lawgiver of that society. Today, sovereignty  is claimed  only by the  state.  We speak of sovereign  states or sovereign nations  that  claim this authority. In earlier times, the clan leader  or tribal  chief was the sovereign  lawgiver in his society. For example, Louis XIV of France said “l’etat, c’est moi” (the state, it’s me). He saw himself as Sovereign; law sprang from his mind and his lips.

In the Christian West, sovereignty was generally understood to belong to God alone. The authority of kings was considered to be derivative from  God and  subordinate to God. This was affirmed by the  Council of Chalcedon  (a.d. 451) when it declared  of Christ,  the God-man, that His human  nature  was distinct  and separate  from His divinity. In other words, they underscored the premise that men could not become gods or participate to any degree in the divine nature.  Sovereignty was expelled from earth  and restricted to heaven.

This was an important milestone  in Christian  history. It provided the theological foundation for Christian liberty and led to a degree of freedom for the common man never before seen in history. How so? Rulers could no longer, as many of the ancient  emperors did, claim divinity—and the sovereignty  concomitant with it. They could  not  say, “My word  is law because  I am a god,” rather,  they had to resort  to claiming to be God’s representative and merely the administrator of His law. Now, to be an administrator is a far cry from being a sovereign ruler. An administrator is required  to justify his decisions and actions from his sovereign’s words or instructions. If adhered  to, this greatly curtails his ability to rule in an unjust  manner and extends  liberty to the citizenry.

In the Christian world, the decisions and laws set by kings could be and often were challenged  by church  officials based on Scripture.  The Pope had much influence and real power in that he could order an interdict and shut down all church  services in a nation.  Pope Innocent III did this in 1207 when King John of England refused to accept Stephen Langton, the man the Pope had selected, to be Archbishop of Canterbury. The effect was dramatic; all churches were closed and no baptisms,  weddings,  or funerals were held for more than a year. The outcry was so great that even this stubborn King eventually had to give ground, and, in 1215, submitted and signed the Magna Charta,  an agreement to surrender the kingdom of England to “God and the Saints Peter and Paul.” Because the common people understood that sovereignty belonged to God only, the power of kings was limited and at least a measure  of freedom  was preserved.

A serious  impairment to this  principle  of sovereignty  came  from within the church  itself in the form of doctrinal  heresy. It originated  with Pelagius, a fifth-century figure who denied  the doctrine of original sin. Pelagius claimed that man is basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. This teaching  was fought by Augustine  and rejected  by the church. But not long after, the church  adopted  a variant of the original teaching called semi-pelagianism where salvation became the cooperative effort of God and man. This toehold  on man’s sovereignty was retained  until the Reformation.  The Reformers rejected  it; but, soon after, Jacob Arminius resurrected a similar heresy. In a desperate effort to retain  some degree of sovereignty for man, he taught that salvation was by faith in Christ but that it was man who decided whether  or not to accept it.

The Arminian  doctrine was rejected  in 1618 at the Synod of Dordt (also Dort or Dordrecht) but it has revived since and is now a prevalent teaching in many evangelical churches.  It effectively places God at man’s mercy. He is pictured seated  in heaven, having sent  His Son to die for sinful man,  wringing  His hands  and hoping  His beloved creatures will accept  His salvation.  God makes salvation  available but  it is man  who decides to accept the offer or not. In this scenario,  the final determiner of who is saved and who is lost is sovereign man.

Sadly, the concept that God is the only sovereign has been all but lost. Today, virtually everyone, even Christians,  have accepted  the  premise that nations are sovereign and can formulate  their own laws independent of God. This has led to a great  expansion  of rules and regulations  and much  loss of individual  freedom  throughout the world. The removal of this obstacle to sovereignty cleared the way for the rich and powerful to take control  of governments, converting  republics and democracies into their personal, self-serving oligarchies. As a consequence, freedom— around the world and especially in America—is now evaporating at an accelerating  rate.

The concept of God as the only sovereign power, the only final source of law, must  be restored before we can make any real progress  toward establishing a Christian culture and regaining the liberty we once enjoyed.


* Taken from: “Faith on Earth?” pp. 82-84