Should We Obey Authority … No Matter What?A number of Christian leaders say that Christians must obey the government … no matter what. For example, Robert Deffinbaugh – pastor at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas – says:
Whether the government be totalitarian or democratic, the Christian’s obligation to submit to it is the same.Many ministers tell us we should act like slaves, blindly submitting to the government:
Some even allege that the U.S. government is coordinating with Christian ministers nationwide so that – if the government imposes martial – the ministers will urge their flocks to obey the government. See this and this.
This is not an unrealistic or abstract concept. After all, most churches in Nazi-era Germany supported the Nazis. The German clergy used the same rationale to support Hitler that many American churches are using today to demand obedience to authority … Romans 13:
The German Christians were strongly nationalistic, and adopted … respect for state authority. This passage in Romans 13 was often cited as proof of a correlation between the Church and State:German church leaders even criticized Christians for disobeying their “governing authorities” … by protecting Jewish refugees by hiding them in their homes.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists the what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
The Protestants haven’t the faintest conception of a church. You can do anything you like with them– they will submit. These pastors are used to cares and worries… they learnt them from their squires…. They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them.
The Bible Urges Us to CHALLENGE – Not Obey – Bad GovernmentIn reality, Christian (and Jewish) leaders throughout history have explained that we must disobey tyrannical governments.
The Book of Maccabees – an ancient Jewish book purporting to document the events which Chanukah celebrates - apparently says:
Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.(Thomas Jefferson agreed.)
Gordan Runyan – pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church – points out numerous instances in the Bible of men and women who disobeyed their government rulers, and were rewarded by God and praised as holy.
Indeed, the Bible mentions “justice” more than almost any other topic. The Bible demands that we do justice and to stand up to ANYONE — including the rich or powerful — who do injustice or oppress the people.
Baptist minister Chuck Baldwin writes:
Did John the Baptist violate God’s principle of submission to authority when he publicly scolded King Herod for his infidelity? Did Simon Peter and the other Apostles violate God’s principle of submission to authority when they refused to stop preaching on the streets of Jerusalem? Did Paul violate God’s principle of submission to authority when he refused to obey those authorities who demanded that he abandon his missionary work? In fact, Paul spent almost as much time in jail as he did out of jail.
Remember that every apostle of Christ (except John) was killed by hostile civil authorities opposed to their endeavors. Christians throughout church history were imprisoned, tortured, or killed by civil authorities of all stripes for refusing to submit to their various laws and prohibitions. Did all of these Christian martyrs violate God’s principle of submission to authority?
So, even the great prophets, apostles, and writers of the Bible (including the writer of Romans Chapter 13) understood that human authority – even civil authority – is limited.
Plus, Paul makes it clear that our submission to civil authority must be predicated on more than fear of governmental retaliation. Notice, he said, “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” Meaning, our obedience to civil authority is more than just “because they said so.” It is also a matter of conscience. This means we must think and reason for ourselves regarding the justness and rightness of our government’s laws. Obedience is not automatic or robotic. It is a result of both rational deliberation and moral approbation.(Baldwin also notes that Romans 13 teaches that any government that is a “terror to good works” is acting beyond its authority and must be resisted. Therefore, Romans 13 compels us to resist and remove from power all elements of government which are corrupt.)
Therefore, there are times when civil authority may need to be resisted. Either governmental abuse of power or the violation of conscience (or both) could precipitate civil disobedience.”
Reverend Howard Bess writes:
As modern New Testament scholars have reconstructed the context in which Jesus lived and taught, they have realized that Jesus was not simply a religious figure. He was a severe critic of those who controlled the temple, those who controlled the empire, and those who controlled the economic systems that starved and robbed the poor and left the orphan and the widow to fend for themselves. To Jesus, these issues were all tied together.Family Guardian Ministry notes:
He advocated overthrow of a corrupt system. He believed the days of the oppressors were numbered. But he believed the overthrow could be accomplished by love, mercy and kindness.
The entire basis of the Reformation was that of disobedience to the “governing authorities” of Rome– the Pope and the Emperor, who both demanded submission to the Roman Catholic church as the religious and political establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. When it was demanded of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms to recant of his opposition to papal authority, his only response was as follows:
Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments… I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I can not and will not recant any thing, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do any thing against the conscience. Here I stand. God help me! Amen. [See Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church]Luther’s courageous stand against tyranny literally set off the spark which would eventually ignite the Protestant Reformation. As stated by Church historian, Philip Schaff:
Luther’s testimony before the Diet is an event of world-historical importance and far-reaching effect. It opened an intellectual conflict which is still going on in the civilized world. He stood there as the fearless champion of the supremacy of the word of God over the traditions of men, and of the liberty of conscience over the tyranny of authority….***
When tradition becomes a wall against freedom, when authority degenerates into tyranny, the very blessing is turned into a curse, and history is threatened with stagnation and death. At such rare junctures, Providence raises those pioneers of progress, who have the intellectual and moral courage to break through the restraints at the risk of their lives, and to open new paths for the onward march of history…. Conscience is the voice of God in man.
This principle of the primacy of the Scripture-bound conscience over human tradition, whether it be magisterial or ecclesiastical, resounds throughout the writings of the most prominent Protestant leaders whom God raised up to defend the faith after Luther. Not one of these great men interpreted Romans 13:1-7 in the way it is so often interpreted today, and that should be sufficient reason to at least reconsider what is so commonly taught from the modern pulpit on the subject of civil obedience and disobedience. Without succumbing to the error of traditionalism, we are nevertheless to look upon the views of godly men of times past with respect.
John Calvin, known even by many of his theological opponents as the “prince of exegetes,” advocated the same position with regards to civil disobedience previously set forth by Luther.
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