Why Political Dissent among Reformed Covenanters?

Why Political Dissent
By Michael Daniels

The issue with interaction with politics is a bit different for Reformed Covenanters then the political dissent of the Anabaptist. Whereas the Anabaptist hold to a complete political dissent in any circumstance or time the Reformed Covenanter view is more a partial political dissent depending on the nature and character of the government. If it is a wicked government we believe we must dissent but if it is a righteous government then we may interact with it..

The issue is a deep one and has many foundational issues. It goes to the very heart of the issue between Preceptive Civil Government view versus Providential Civil Government view. It is something that takes the Act Declaration and Testimony of 1761 many pages to explain.. It takes many roots and foundational building blocks to get to the issue of political dissent.

If I had to choose a few select passages I would select the following such as found in the Testimony of 1741,

“WE find the Word of God speaks Woe to them that decree unrighteous Decrees, as well as to them that obey and walk willingly after the same [Isa. 10.1; Hos. 5.11]; and therefore we think Magistrates making bad Laws, are to be witnessed against, as well as Ministers or People who obey and follow the same.”

Additional such passages would be,

Is. 8:12, “Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy.”

Psalm 94:20-21 “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law? They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood.”

2 Chronicles 19.2, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?”

Ephesians 5:11 “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”

2 Corinthians 6:14-15 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?”

Westminster divine George Gillespie also wrote a pretty good piece on Unlawful Associations which touches on civil magistracy issues as well as other association issues.

Alexander Shield wrote,

” Among the hallelujahs, in the end of psalms, there is one calculated for the prevailing time of the church, when the Lord shall take pleasure in his people. In that time of the saints’ being joyful in glory, when they may glory in the rest and security the Lord will vouchsafe upon them, they are prophetically and very pathetically excited to praise prayer-ways, Psalm 149.6, to the end. “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand—to bind their kings with chains—to execute upon them the judgment written” -Alexander Shield, A Hind Let Loose, 1668

And the Act, Declaration and Testimony of 1761 said,

“All associations and confederacies with the enemies of true religion and godliness, are expressly condemned in Scripture, and represented as dangerous to the true Israel of God: Isai. 8:12, Jer. 2:28, Psalm 106:35, Hos. 5:13, and 7:8,11. 2 Cor. 6:14,15. And if simple confederacies with malignants and enemies to the cause of Christ are condemned, much more is an incorporation with them, which is an embodying of two into one, and therefore a straiter conjunction.” -Act Declaration and Testimony of 1761

The Main Covenanter Confessional Testmony (The Act, Declaration and Testimony of 1761) on the subject reads,

“Again the presbytery testifies against, and condemns that principle, that the christian people of God ought to give explicit acknowledgment of, implicit subjection and obedience to, whatever civil authority (though most wicked and unlawful) the Lord in his holy providence, may, for the trial and punishment of his church, permit a backsliding people to constitute and set up, without regard to the precept of his word. And we hereby reject whatever in opposition to the covenanted principles of the Church of Scotland, does justly, and in its own nature imply a voluntary and real acknowledgment of the lawfulness of the title and authority of an antiscriptural, anticovenanted, and Erastian government, constituted upon the ruins of our scriptural covenanted reformation. Particularly, we testify against praying for success and prosperity to such, in their stated opposition to the Lord and his Anointed, or in any form implying a homologation of their title as lawful, swearing oaths of fidelity and allegiance to such, accepting any office front such, and executing these in their name and authority under them, military associations with such, by a voluntary enlisting under their banner, and fighting for their support and establishment. And that in regard these are actions, as they express a proper and explicit owning of the lawfulness of that authority, which they immediately respect, so they are such as cannot be obtained without the actual consent of the party performing, and must therefore imply a deliberate approbation of foresaid iniquitous authority. (what falls under scriptural reproof, Hos. 8:4) … And, in fine, against all voluntary subjection for conscience sake, unto such powers as are not the ordinance of God, according to his revealed preceptive will, as contrary to scripture; 2 Sam. 2:10; 2 Kings 11:4,17; 2 Chron. 9:2; Isa. 8:12 and 65:11; Rom. 13:3 to 8; 1 Cor. 6:1 to 8, contrary to the act of this church approving, and ordinances of the state, establishing the civil authority upon its scriptural foundation, and thereby discovering the proper object of a christian people’s voluntary and conscientious subjection; and particularly, to the act of classes. ”

So to summarize, take for example military association.

I could not be part of the military in a pagan nation. 1. Because the ruler would be a tyrant and thus unlawful. So in essence you would be a mercenary working for a tyrant robbing and pillaging and murdering on behalf of the tyrant in unlawful warfare. If you do not say anything and/or do something about what the tyrant is doing you become an accomplice in the crimes of that tyrant, Psalm 50:18 “When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers.” The same is true for murder. This passage even replies to robbers and murderers who masquerade as magistrates in the high places, see Act, Declaration, and Testimony of 1761 on this from a confessional stand point who quotes from Donald Cargill.

My second problem would be taking an oath to an unlawful and anti-christian government and constitution and thus legitimatizing that government and constitution which is unlawful and sinful in the first place.

My third problem with it would be an unlawful association with the workers of darkness and which we are to have no fellowship with.

So, For these reasons and many more, Reformed Presbyterians (Covenanters) have historically never voted in elections, nor held office under a unlawful government. They have refused, to recognize the authority of the government, and its right to legislate.

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