We have established in previous posts that governments need authority from God to govern. In the absence of a divinely appointed ruler, the only legitimate governments are those that are set up by the people with limited powers. All other governments claim authority that they do not actually have. As Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
We have already stated that man has no authority, except that which is delegated to him. … Therefore, any rule or dominion over the earth, which is not given by the Lord, is surreptitiously obtained and never will be sanctioned by him.1
A government system where kings have complete rule over the secular affairs of the people, but who are also not God’s prophets, is called a monarchy. In ancient Israel, many of the Israelites wanted a leader who could be their king, and at the same time not be their prophet. They wanted a division of religious and secular affairs in their kingdom. The Lord saw this desire as reprehensible, and attributed it to a rebellion in their hearts against His chosen servants. However, he granted the people their request and asked his servant Samuel to anoint Saul to be a king over the people. This is vitally important; as we said earlier, no man has authority to govern unless he is given that authority by God. Saul was not given his authority to govern by the voice of the people, nor by virtue of his title; his authority to govern came from his anointment to that office, delivered by God’s representative, Samuel the prophet.
The idea that a king has been given authority to govern by God or God’s spokesman has been transmitted through the centuries and is called “the divine right of kings.” Many monarchical governments have claimed divine authority to govern their subjects. According to Wikipedia,
The ‘Divine Right of Kings’ is a general term used for the ideas surrounding the authority and legitimacy of a monarch. The doctrine broadly holds that a monarch derives his or her right to rule from the will of God, and not from any temporal authority, including the will of his subjects, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm. Chosen by God, a monarch is accountable only to him, and need answer only before God for his actions.2
In principle, this concept is not inherently misguided; however, Joseph Fielding Smith clarifies:
I am aware that kings and queens are anointed, and set apart by their different ministers, according to the different forms and creeds of the several countries over which they reign. There are two things necessary, however, to make their authority legal, and to authorize them to act as God’s representatives on the earth. The first is, that they should be called of God; and the second, that the persons by whom they are anointed are duly authorized to anoint them. First, then, it may be necessary to observe, that, if kings and queens are of God’s selection, and are his representatives, they must themselves be appointed by him; for if not so, how can they be considered his representatives? The prophet Hosea complains, that “they have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not.”3
When a ruler exercises the powers and privileges of a king, but is not duly authorized by God to that office, he is an apostate ruler. This does not necessarily mean he is a bad person, or that his heart is rebellious against God; I use the term apostasy in this setting to refer to any circumstance that is contrary to God’s established order. We do not know of any monarchical government in recent times that has a genuine claim to divine authority, just as there was no divinely authorized church during the centuries prior to Joseph Smith. The claims of the Restoration do not need to be understood as an insult to other churches, and in the same way, my claims about the divine authority of present monarchical governments does not need to be understood as a condemnation of them.
What is the challenge with a divinely authorized monarchical government? Men, even divinely appointed men, do not always follow the instructions God gives them. They sometimes exercise their authority unrighteously and thereby lose it. As the Lord said, recorded by Joseph Smith, “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (D&C 121:39) When they do this, they lose their divine authority, and begin to govern under pretended authority. This is called apostasy. The Lord continued,
Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lessonâ€”That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (D&C 121:34–37)
We see this kind of apostasy in many instances of scripture; for example, King Saul, who was anointed by Samuel, rebelled against God and subsequently lost his right to the throne. Also, King Noah apostatized and replaced government officials and also religious priests with wicked men. It was King Mosiah’s fear of apostasy that led him to disband the theocratic government of his day. He said:
Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you. For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage. (Mosiah 29:16–18 )
The scriptures are replete with examples of kings who rebelled against God, usurped the throne, or in other ways ruled without proper authority. Many kings have claimed divine commission when they did not have it. Today, I do not believe any government on the earth has the moral authority to do everything that they do. Even our own government (a constitutional republic with limited and delegated powers), although based upon true principles, regularly steps outside of its proper bounds. It frequently does things that we as people cannot authorize it to do, for we have not been given that authority.
There have been governments in the past that have exercised their authority properly; I will talk about them in my next post. For now, we await the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords to return to the earth and complete the Restoration of God’s proper order to the earth. Part of this Restoration will be the establishment of a proper government.
1. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Progress of Man (Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1936), p. 71.
2. Wikipedia, “<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_right_of_kings”Divine right of kings,” accessed 17 Jun. 2008.
3. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Progress of Man, p. 71–72.