Sunday Word of the Week: Sovereign

By Elizabeth Prata

In addition to the familiar Bible verses speaking to God’s sovereignty, one of which is at the conclusion of this essay, there is a famous quote from RC Sproul that exalts God’s sovereignty:

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.

It is a great quote because it speaks to how God created and upholds every single atom in the universe. He is the author, architect, and absolute king over all.

Jesus, His Son, has been given all power and authority as God. (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is the exact imprint of His Father.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3).

We Americans are unfamiliar with sovereignty. We shed our King back in 1783 when we signed the peace treaty at Paris, concluding the Revolutionary War. Today, sovereignty has changed somewhat from the kings of old. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sovereignty means

Sovereignty, though its meanings have varied across history, also has a core meaning, supreme authority within a territory. …  Historical variants can be understood along three dimensions — the holder of sovereignty, the absoluteness of sovereignty, and the internal and external dimensions of sovereignty.

Sovereignty can also be absolute or non-absolute. How is it possible that sovereignty might be non-absolute if it is also supreme? … absoluteness refers not to the extent or character of sovereignty, which must always be supreme, but rather to the scope of matters over which a holder of authority is sovereign.

Today, many European Union (EU) member states exhibit non-absoluteness. They are sovereign in governing defense, but not in governing their currencies, trade policies, and many social welfare policies, which they administer in cooperation with EU authorities as set forth in EU law.

The major change to international sovereignty happened in 1648 with the signing of a treaty called the Peace of Westphalia. Please bear with me for a brief history lesson. The rise of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church had caused friction, Martin Luther’s theses complicated matters, and the continent of Europe had been at war ecclesiastically and politically for a very long time (Thirty Years War, Eighty Years War, etc). The Westphalia treaty effectively ended those wars, and also limited the Roman Catholic Church’s widespread and growing power. In addition, the RCC’s claim as the only moral and spiritual truth was now effectively void. Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism were officially recognized as religions, within which, an adherant could worship freely.

Henry Kissinger wrote:

The Westphalian peace reflected a practical accommodation to reality, not a unique moral insight. It relied on a system of independent states refraining from interference in each other’s domestic affairs and checking each other’s ambitions through a general equilibrium of power. No single claim to truth or universal rule had prevailed in Europe’s contests. Instead, each state was assigned the attribute of sovereign power over its territory. Each would acknowledge the domestic structures and religious vocations of its fellow states and refrain from challenging their existence

The Treaty itself is explained here

The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster, largely ending the European wars of religion. The treaties of Westphalia brought to a close a calamitous period of European history which caused the deaths of approximately eight million people. Scholars have identified Westphalia as the beginning of the modern international system, based on the concept of Westphalian sovereignty.

The Peace of Westphalia established the precedent of peace established by diplomatic congress. A new system of political order arose in central Europe, based upon peaceful coexistence among sovereign states. Inter-state aggression was to be held in check by a balance of power, and a norm was established against interference in another state’s domestic affairs. As European influence spread across the globe, these Westphalian principles, especially the concept of sovereign states, became central to international law and to the prevailing world order.

Of course, the Roman Catholic Church was furious at this continental limit to the Holy See’s sovereignty, with Pope Innocent X calling the Treaty “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time” in the papal bull Zelo Domus Dei.

People today aren’t aware that the Pope is the world’s last absolute monarch. In framing the concept of sovereignty, of course we understand that our nation has sovereign powers with its globally recognized borders. Every nation is recognized so, and this is codified in the UN Charter. Political sovereignty is a normal, natural concept readily understandable by even a young person learning history.

The RCC is spiritual entity as well as a global power with a territory, standing army (The Swiss), internationally recognized borders, taxes extracted, a treasury, and sovereign power, in fact, an absolute power that cannot be contested. The Pope is the last absolute sovereign power in existence on the planet today.

The Holy See is the last absolute monarchy in the world today. The pope, when he is elected, is answerable to no human power. He has absolute authority over the entire Roman Catholic Church, direct authority that reaches down to individual members.

All of the governing officers in the Vatican itself, what we call the Vatican Curia, operate on delegated authority from the pope. They speak in the name of the pope. In the Roman Catholic Church, there are no separation of powers as we know of in most democratic societies. In the Roman Catholic Church, the office of pope includes the three main offices of government. He is the supreme judge, the supreme legislator and the supreme executive, so there’s no separation of powers. There is no possibility of checks and balances. Source PBS

The problem comes in with the Roman Catholic Church’s view of supremacy and sovereignty. The Protestant Church acknowledges Jesus as Head of the Church in heaven and on earth. The RCC acknowledges Jesus as head of the Church in heaven only. The Pope is supreme on earth in matters spiritual. Vicar of Christ means the pope operates as a vicarious substitute for Christ on earth. That God has handed the Pope the jurisdiction of earth in the sovereign execution of matters spiritual.

Paragraph 937 of the Catechism of the RCC states,

Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that the Pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Christian Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered: that, in brief, “the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls.”

Of course this is wrong. It competes with Jesus’s own statement in Matthew 28:18 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been granted Him. The difference in a Catholic’s view of sovereignty of God and the Protestant’s view of the sovereignty of God is vast. It is an eternally damning error. Only Jesus enjoys, by divine bestowal from God and in conjunction by the working of the Holy Spirit in Truine unity, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls- on heaven AND on earth. What it comes down to is, do you serve a sovereign Pope, or a sovereign God?

What’s so great about the sovereignty of God?

Many people do not believe in God’s sovereignty, yet still serve the Lord. But there is a great difference. Those who see the Lord in His sovereign glory have an inward compulsion to serve this God. Serving God is the glory of their lives. Their service is measured not so much in what they achieve–or what God achieves through them–but rather in the sheer wonder of the God they serve. Like little boys dividing up into teams on the playground, being picked to play on this team is the greatest joy imaginable, especially for those who are so unworthy. “Here am I! Send me,” is not merely the response of those who see God’s sovereign glory, it is their delight. Since God is certain to be glorified, they want to be among those glorifying God.

I’ll finish with AW Pink

“What do we mean by [the sovereignty of God]? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35).

To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.” A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, chapter 1.

1 Sunday sovereignty verse

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