Romans 13, part 3

Let us keep digging into Romans 13. Although there is some discrepancy among common translations of verse 1, there is little disagreement among the translations of the second verse: “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” We should be mindful, however, not to be clouded by what may be a poor translation of a word in verse 1 and to instead read this in the context of the entire Bible. Taken out of context, this implies that we must obey every single thing that every authority over us commands, even if this command includes torture and murder of innocent people. I noted before that this mindset allowed many German Christians to openly support and serve in the Nazi party and even to turn in their Jewish neighbors to be sent off to concentration camps for extermination. Surely this is not what Paul had in mind when he penned Romans 13:2! Were not the apostles forbidden by the governing authorities from preaching about Jesus’ resurrection in Acts 4:18, and did they not resist that authority and preach anyway? How many of them were imprisoned, exiled, and executed by their governments for spreading the Gospel? How many Christians throughout all of history have been martyred for resisting their governments by simply being a Christian? Does God really want us to obey our governments even to the point of renouncing Him and His Son? Of course not! 1 Peter 2 makes similar statements about obedience, but verse 19 adds that it “is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.” There must therefore be some qualification to this verse based on the context of the entire Bible — as servants of two kings, both Christ and the American President, we will sometimes be forced to choose between the will of the two, and we must always choose Christ. Where our governments are in opposition to the will of God or the commands of Christ, we must resist and follow Him instead.

We must be careful at this point not go around disobeying everything the government legislates simply because some or even most of its actions are evil. For example, one might be tempted to refuse to pay taxes because those taxes will be used to support war or abortion or any number of other things a Christian ought to find abhorrent, but scripture is pretty clear that we should continue to pay taxes. Note that by paying taxes, even to an evil government, we are not siding with or condoning the actions of that government because taxes are not a donation or a membership fee — taxes are money the government takes from you by force (a practice also known as theft when anyone else does it). By surrendering your money to them in exchange for not being imprisoned or killed by them, you are simply not resisting an evil-doer (Matthew 5:39), as you would not resist the mugger who robs you at gunpoint. Where disobedience becomes more imperative is when your government commands you to personally carry out the evil. “Thou shalt not kill,” even if your government has sent you around the globe to kill faceless persons who are interfering with the oil production of your government’s corporate sponsors. “Thou shalt not steal,” even if your government has ordered you to freeze the bank account and seize the assets of someone it suspects of failure to pay taxes. Similarly, a Christian should not torture a terrorism suspect because ordered to do so by their government.

In any case, obedience does not necessitate adulation. Romans 13:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:13 may require obedience to the government, and subsequent verses (to be discussed next time) may indicate that God uses governments to punish evil, but it does not necessarily follow that all actions of all governments should be praised as acts of God Himself. If Christians use this logic to praise torture of civilians not yet proven guilty in a public court of law, they have no justification for not also praising government support of the killing of unborn babies.

As American Christians, we should also note that civil disobedience isn’t entirely necessary in order to avoid being accomplices in our government’s evil practices. As I said in an earlier post, we have the good fortune of being part of the law-making process ourselves and should therefore try with all our might to restrain any evil practices of our government with our vote, our freedom of speech, etc. We can even hold government jobs and run for office, if we have the constitution to resist the temptations those entail. A great many of us do indeed work within the system to improve it, but we should be cautious (and, sadly, seldom are) not to use methods which will backfire. This is a subject for another discussion, but any power we assign the government for good is power which can also be used for evil. I have numerous examples for when we reach that discussion, but for now I will leave the reader to consider what “good” powers we have given our government which it has subsequently used for evil and even turned against us.

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