To Rebel or to Obey…That is the question.
What can I say? I, like many of you (at least according to the polls) do not like the fact that our government now controls most of the auto industry, health care, and student loans. As I sat and watched (with disgust) as the house passed a bill that will effectively socialize health care, I wondered, what recourse we as Christians have against such a governmental move. My question is, can Christians rebel against the government without sinning?
Most people (atheist’s, and Christians alike) will use Romans 13 to say that Christians have no right to rebel against government. Romans 13:1-7 says this:
1Everyone 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. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (NIV)
So what are we to take from this? Paul’s point is very clear. Submit to governing authorities, because God establishes authority. IF YOU REBEL YOU ARE REBELLING AGAINST GOD! Wait a second did I just read that? Sure enough, there it is Romans 13:2. How does this stack up against the rest of scripture though? Even the most basic level of Bible knowledge will show that that the Bible has examples where God moved people to resist a government.
Moses is the easiest example where the Bible shows how God can prompt us to resist a government.
Exodus 1:15-21 shows us how midwives disobeyed Pharaoh when asked to kill every Jewish boy.
Daniel 3 shows three men (Shadrach, Meschach, and Aded – Nego) defy Nebuchadnezzar when asked to bow down before him as king.
Acts 5:29 shows Peter defying a Judge.
Daniel defies King Darius’ decree in Daniel 6:1-17.
The Bible does contain events which show that Godly men disobeyed authority. If you read Romans 13 in conjecture with these stories there would appear to be a contradiction. Either Paul got it wrong, or the people in these events got it wrong. I have to admit, I was stuck at this point. So which is it?
To begin my own evaluation you have to remember one simple point, God cannot contradict himself. And, if you remember from my previous post (The Bible…Good Moral Stories?); every word in the Bible is true. So based on that simple principle both Paul and the other events have to hold a singular valid point.
The next point, what were the conditions that allowed these people to rebel? I think Acts 5:29 and Daniel 3 hold the key. In both examples the men involved with these events choose to obey God rather than obey men. This involved knowingly disobeying the law of the land. For Peter it was claiming that Christ was Lord, for the three men in Daniel it was not kneeling down before Nebuchadnezzar. The other examples also support this notion. The single message we can take from these events is that in all of them, the laws were in contradiction to God’s law, and God’s word.
Let’s look at some other things that Paul said in general to help shed some light on our overall obligations as Christians. II Corinthians 10:5 states “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This to me defines the very nature of the issue at hand. Paul states that we will demolish EVERY pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. The knowledge of God is the Bible. We will demolish anything that sets itself up against the Word of God. How can we compare the events noted above, with II Corinthians 10:5? Back to Romans 13…
What point is Paul trying to make? To what specific point was he talking to? Re-reading Romans 13 I come to the conclusion that Paul was talking about general law, and paying taxes. If the general law, for instance, is to stop when a policeman pulls you over, do not rebel. If the general law is to pay taxes then pay your taxes. This is the point, I believe, that Paul is trying to make in Romans 13. How do I come to this conclusion? Paul knows that God would not have us submit to laws that are contradictory to His law. God has shown us, through His Word, that we are obligated to not obey laws that defy God (see above). This successfully answers the question I posed at the beginning; can Christians rebel against the government without sinning? Would we be violating Biblical doctrine if we did rebel against the government? The answer is: IF a particular law CLEARLY contradicts GOD’S WORD WE ARE OBLIGATED TO DISOBEY THAT LAW.
So what now? If you have come to the same conclusion that I have the next viable question to ask is what do we do know? II Corinthians 10 holds the answer to the question. II Corinthians 10:2-5 (NIV) states:
I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Paul is clear as to how we are to proceed. We will not use the weapons of this world. We as Christians must, MUST unite together and proceed in a way that is demonstrative of God’s love, and will. We can defy ungodly laws, without violence. So what does that mean? Legal challenges, not obeying laws that contradict the Word of God and voting Godly Christians into office. These are a few of the things we can do at this time. But we must be united behind the mantle of Christ and hold firm.
It would be easy for me to stand in front of you and tell you what I think you should do in response to the passage of the health care bill. You probably can tell from the opening paragraph where I stand. Romans 13 is something that I have been praying about since the health care bill passed. Atheists love to remind me of my obligation to submit to authority, especially when they are in authority. It is important to understand that I don’t have all the answers and can only provide insight as to my own education when I study the Word of God. The initial version of this post was much more harsh, and much more to the point. I believe that through prayer the Holy Spirit softened my heart. It is far too easy to fan the flames of discontent than it is to stoke the fire of reason. Our first obligation must always be to God and his infallible Word.