~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).
Most of us have never lived through an era of government-imposed restrictions like we’re seeing today.
Some argue that what our governments are mandating is being executed solely for the protection of our population – mandating limitations that we would not otherwise observe if left to our own choices.
Others see something agenda-driven – sinister even – in the international drive to socially distance, wear masks, require vaccine passports, and obey Big Brother who knows best.
As in all things, the Bible-believing follower of Christ is compelled to turn to the Scripture for direction and hope.
Paul – living under the Emperor Nero who was the poster boy for tyrannical and totalitarian rule – instructed the believers in the verse above to submit and obey.
And he delivered these instruction to the Christians at Rome – the imperial seat of global power, the nexus of the Empire.
In fact, in the next verse Paul went further in his directive to those who considered rejecting government authority in their lives: Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (v.2).
Writing only a few years later, the Apostle Peter maintained a similar theme: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right (1 Peter 2:13,14).
And then, Peter adds his reason: For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men (v.15).
However, there is a glaring contradiction in his own life!
It was Peter – together with the Apostle John – who years earlier disobeyed the explicit instructions of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, which possessed authority delegated from the Roman governor.
Had Peter changed his mind? his theology? or was something different at play?
Here’s the context: within months of the resurrection, the Jewish rulers had called Peter and John before the assembled rulers and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18).
The apostolic response is worthy of analysis: But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (v.19).
And in those few words, the biblical mandate for civil disobedience is encapsulated.
To review, the Lord Jesus had instructed His followers – led by the apostles – to preach His gospel in Jerusalem, and in concentric circles outward to the whole world. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Consequently, the prohibition of this activity by the Jewish leaders was in direct opposition to the instruction of God.
And the Christian principle of civil disobedience was formulated:
When the government prohibits what God commands, or
when the government commands what God prohibits
the Christ-follower must disobey human authority.
Takeaway: the principle is simple to understand. God’s word supersedes man’s.
However, the application of this principle – to actively and intentionally disobey the law of the land – can be excruciatingly difficult to work out in a balanced, biblical manner.
That was the case in the apostolic church, at the time of Justin Martyr during Roman persecution in the 2nd century all the way through to the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer under the Nazi regime during WW2.
What would God have us do?? Not explosively reacting because we are fed up and angry with government intervention in our lives; but because, after counting the potential cost, we calmly and confidently are convicted that to obey man is to disobey God.
That’s the crux of biblical civil disobedience.
And it should never be undertaken without careful examination of the Scriptural directives together with prayer for wisdom.
So pray for your spiritual leaders; they need to hear the voice of the Master in these difficult times.
~graphic by Stephen Stacey, freeimages.com