Believers and Government
Here is the first response from the Snowbird staff to the Ask SWO Anything page! Please see the question below and read answer following:
Question: “I don’t understand how to sync Paul’s instruction on authority in Romans and how to deal with corrupt governments. If that makes sense…consider even the revolutionary war. It seems at first glance that we had no right to rebel against Britain. Do you see where I’m coming from? How do I explain to people that God appoints horrible leaders who do awful things to their subjects even today?” – SWO camper
Answer from SWO staff:
In order to understand our role as believers in relation to earthly governments we must understand the role of government and where the authority for a government comes from. As you stated in the question, Romans 13 offers a wonderful insight into the role of government.
1 “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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” (Romans 13:1-5)
From this passage we see several main points:
- Every person should submit to the governing authorities.
- There is no authority outside of God’s authority.
- Those who resist the authority will incur judgment.
- Governments are designed to resist and reduce evil.
- Governments are one of God’s ways of bringing about justice.
- Our submission to government will offer us a clear conscience.
So as we can see just from this passage there is no getting around our responsibility to honor the government and the purpose of government in God’s eyes. However, we must look at all of Scripture when answering these questions. It is clear throughout scripture that there are times when we defy government in order to obey God. The question that we must answer is: “At what point is it okay to defy the government/ authority over us and to what extent is that defiance Biblical?”
The answer to the question is that we can and should defy governing authorities if obeying the governing authority causes us to disobey God. God remains the One we answer to. God is not bound by earthly authorities. He is their source of power. So it is completely in His power to overthrow any and all authorities on earth. The question is now was the American Revolution justified? Did our founding fathers follow God or disobey His commands?
Unfortunately, Christians have not come to a single conclusion on this matter. Prominent believers like John MacArthur do not think that the American Revolution was a justified event. They enjoy the blessings of God on this nation, but see the blessings not due to the revolution, but in spite of it.
Other Christian leaders, like Wayne Grudem, would disagree. In his book Politics- According to the Bible, says, “I am convinced, after studying the historical situation and the principles of Scripture, that the American Revolution was morally justified in God’s eyes.” I personally come down on the side of Grudem. I also completely understand that not all of the founding fathers were biblical believers. Most of them were religious men, but not all of them were biblical men. So I think it can be argued from both sides of the issue.
With that in mind there are many times in Scripture in which God called people to fight and defy authorities. David was named king while Saul was still on his throne. Moses defied Pharaoh and led a God-ordained rebellion. Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day, and His disciples followed suit. In Acts the apostles boldly claim the Gospel even though they were explicitly told not to (Acts 4:18). We answer to God and God alone. If we must defy government to obey God, that is what we must do. We should however, expect the judgment from that government if need be.
Another major question is what defines a legitimate authority or government? Are there categories of governance that could give way to action like the American Revolution. Many of the founding fathers felt it was their duty to protect the people in which they were entrusted to serve. So in their minds a lower form of government was protecting from a larger form. So in all of these details I think there a danger to paint any act like the American Revolution as a Holy event or as an evil event. At the end of the day it was God’s will for America to be formed, because had it not been His will it would not exist.
So I think we must view this issue, as we should any issue, in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Government is not to be our supreme authority. It is merely a tool in the hand of God to keep order in this world and to act as an earthly extension of His justice. More than that, governments have been trying to create a world in which the needs of people are met, all people are equal, and everyone is happy. All governments want a utopia of sorts. However, no government has been able to deliver. The reason for that is they are not Christ. Governments are not the answer that the world needs. The world needs Christ. We all need His grace and mercy given. No amount of political policy or Constitutional documents can take the place of the Gospel.
There is no allowance for civil disobedience such as speeding, stealing, not paying taxes, etc. However, there are times in which we must follow God no matter the cost. When dealing with the issue of the American Revolution and whether it was justified or disobedience to God’s law, I think there is enough room on both sides of the issue for believers to stand. I think though from my perspective and understanding of scripture we should remember these main points: 1) America was founded by mostly religious men. Not all of them were solid Christian men, so many decisions could have been and, more than likely, were flawed. 2) God has moved in the past to bring down governments and this certainly was under the authority and sovereignty of God. 3) No government, promise of change, revolution, etc. can take the place of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. America is not eternal. The kingdom of heaven is. As believers we place our hope in Christ. Understanding all of this I can say that I am proud to be an American!
Please continue the conversation. We tried to condense much into a small answer, but would love to unpack this topic further if you so desire.
– Jon Silver