~by Randy Bushey
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13:1).
I’ve often puzzled over the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the place of human government in the framework of a biblical worldview.
Did he later regret what he had written?
The emperor of the Roman Empire was Nero. He proved to be one of the most maniacal, paranoid, violent, Christian-hating rulers of all time. He forced many Christians to fight gladiators and lions in the Circus Maximus, the world’s largest entertainment venue at that time.
Courageous Christ-followers were impaled on poles and lit aflame to banish nighttime darkness in Nero’s gardens.
And it was under Nero’s system of justice that Paul was executed by decapitation.
Yet, if the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in such a way as to perfectly convey and protect eternal truth in God’s Word, we must assume that the principles Paul staked out are true in every era and in every place.
And notice this: Paul was so strong in his contention that Christ-followers were to willingly submit to and obey legitimate human government that he tied government’s derived authority to God’s ultimate, sovereign rule.
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:2).
Question #1 – what would a biblical worldview demand of 21st century citizens being told by governments to temporarily refrain from conducting church services?
Our belief is that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we should assume that governments have the protection of its citizens in mind. And although human history overflows with examples of those in positions of power having abused their authority in the interests of personal gain, the protection of people is one of the purposes for which God mandated human government.
Consequently, Romans 13 calls on Christians to submit and to obey.
Question #2 – is civil disobedience ever permissible in a biblical worldview?
Consider the incident recorded in Acts 4. The infant Christian church had grown to 5000 right in and around Jerusalem, the religious and political heart of Judaism. Hebrew religious/political authorities were threatened.
The apostles Peter and John – themselves Jews – were prohibited by the ruling Jewish council (the Sanhedrin) from preaching in the Name of the Lord Jesus under threat of corporal punishment…or worse.
But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4:19).
Christ, the Son of God had commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel as my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Their choice was simple in principle and yet courageous to carry out: obey men and disobey God.
And so the basic biblical worldview principle of civil disobedience was articulated: we must disobey human government when commanded to do what God prohibits, or prohibit what God commands.
Takeaway: However, application of this principle requires prayerful wisdom.
At Bethel, our leadership believes that the various levels of government are not prohibiting us from carrying out the essential activities of the church. What they are asking us – for reasons of public health for which they have provided appropriate evidence – is that we temporarily suspend physical gatherings.
We are very fortunate that we live in an era when other forms of communication, corporate prayer, Bible teaching, worship and fellowship are available to us.
Consequently, as we remain vigilant our present response is to obey what the government has legitimately asked of us.
In obedience to Almighty God.
- graphic from Russell Weller, freeimages.com