By Jeremy Dys
At the first meeting of the City Council for the newly formed Zion, Illinois in 1902, the Reverend John Alexander Dowie presented the city with a proposed corporate seal. Rev. Dowie had created a shield draped by a ribbon reading, “God Reigns” within a circle of the words, “Corporate Seal” and “City of Zion.” Under the ribbon were four images, one of a cross, the others were of a dove, a sword, and a crown.
As he presented the seal to the newly formed City Council of Zion, he did so with this explanation:
I ask you to accept (this seal) and use it reverently. Let no hand ever hold this lever and put this seal to anything that God does not approve. Let the officer who uses this seal feel, as he pulls this lever and makes this impression, “God reigns,” that the document must be such a one as God approves.
Dowie did not leave the chosen symbols to suspect meaning. Before the City Council unanimously accepted his proposal, he explained the meaning of each:
Look at the Dove which is the emblem of the Holy Spirit, bearing the Message of Peace and Love over the seas. The Cross represents everything to us in Redemption, Salvation, Healing, Cleaning and Keeping Power. The Sword is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The Crown is the Crown of Glory, the Crown of Joy, the Crown of Righteousness, the Crown of Rejoicing.
Stop and Think
What is the thought in your head right now? My suspicion is that 9 of 10 of you have a concerned thought, concerned that this is a gross violation of the “Separation of Church and State” or that this was a dominionist in an era of civil religion that, at best, was a production of moralism, not sincere religion or faith.
Why is that your first thought? Why the uneasy feeling in your gut as you read of a city council unanimously approving a corporate seal that acknowledged their ministerial and subservient role before the God who reigns even over them?
Well, if you did have that thought, you are not alone. In 1991, judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a case styled, Harris v. Zion, declared Dowie’s seal in violation of the Constitution of the United States, holding that, “the logo inevitably create[s] an unmistakable impression that the local government tacitly endorses Christianity.”
Ignoring the legalities for the sake of reflection, what I want you to realize is that your likely reaction to the story of the City of Zion is today the assumed norm. Yet 111 years ago, the assumed, normative reaction was the unanimous approval by the government of a seal bearing Christian symbols with admittedly Christian meaning that had been designed by a Reverend.
In 111 years, we have gone from assuming the reality of Romans 1, as expressed by Dowie, that government is itself subject to God, ministers appointed to provide order to His creation to the assumption that faithful Christians must, at all times, subject themselves to government – as if it was a god.
Some tend to interpret the word, “submit” in Romans 13 and I Peter 2 to mean “subject without question” and yet pride their complementarian selves by ascribing a non-passive meaning to that same word in Ephesians 5. Why?
It is the height of historic arrogance for us to conclude we are smarter, wiser, or know better than our forbears 111 years ago, yet we – faithful followers of Christ – go into fits of apologetic piety every time a ballot question appears or an election day looms or an olive branch is clutched in the mouth of a dove on the wall of a public building.
Thankfully Paul is not a 21st Century American Christian. He was a Roman citizen possessed of the full rights of Roman citizenship. He was also an unashamed proponent of the historic Faith to which I hope we both belong, you and I. What were Paul’s rights as a Roman citizen? Not much, but among them were due process (the right to confront one’s accusations before punishment) and an appeal to Caesar.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are unceremoniously condemned, beaten, and thrown in jail. No accusation, no trial, no due process. Skip to the end of the story and the city leaders realize their error of condemning two Roman citizens without a trial. But, Paul will have no part of their attempt to unjustly swept this error under the rug. Rather, he invokes his right to due process, and the city leaders are hauled down to the jail and made to apologize and walk them out of the city.
In Acts 25, Paul stands before Festus (and a page later, Agrippa), accused of “many and serious charges” of which we know he was innocent. In his defense, in addition to proclaiming the Gospel repeatedly to the rulers of his world, what does Paul do? He invokes his second right as a Roman citizen; he appeals to Caesar.
Paul was neither a dominionistic moralist, nor a separationist. He submitted – actively – to the government placed over him because he was subject to the King of Kings. He utilized the rights God had given to Roman citizens like Paul and administered by Caesar to their fullest and without equivocation.
It’s ‘a Solemn Thing’
Maybe Dowie was wrong to insert the ribbon bearing the words, “God Reigns” on the Zion city emblem. Maybe it does violate the First Amendment to the Constitution. Nonetheless, Dowie’s words revealed that he understood that he was subject to King Jesus, but called to actively submit to the City Council of Zion. And so were the city councilmen.
That is why Dowie concluded his presentation to the City Council of Zion with this blessing:
May every commission of every officer which bears the seal of this City be looked upon as a solemn thing; that it is a commission to bear such authority, however small or great, as God’s minister — God’s minister in law — God’s minister in the Eternal Covenant in a measure.
Now, rather than wince at the sight of a church steeple in the background of your city seal, why not thank God that somewhere, at sometime, someone in your hometown understood that, in asking you to actively submit to government, government itself is subject to the King who looks at the nations of this earth that defy his reign and laughs in derision.
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