I don't often post pieces by other authors on Digital Publius, But this is such a wonderful example of Biblical exegesis rendered by my brother in Christ Mark Pepin, I felt compeled to share it! Please share your thoughts in the comments section and the article itself liberally!
I have been thinking on this since yesterday. After a friend posted yesterday that he believed Romans 13 spoke decisively against Christians opposing their government, it caused me to stop and consider this a bit more carefully. And that is the way that it should be. Christians should never just stick to one position without ever reconsidering where and why they stand where they do.
Before we look at this closer, it is important that we do not stray too far from the Scripture, and I would invite anyone who wishes to challenge this, to do so with a form of logic and consistency with an adherence of “Comparing Scripture to Scripture.”
Romans 13:1-6ff, states:
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
As I stated above, I stopped to look at this a bit more carefully and what I learned was not so much that I was wrong, but confirmation of why it is that I am right.
To begin with, the argument against Christians fighting against their government is primarily given in this manner: “The Apostle Paul does not say “be subject to the king UNLESS he is oppressive” or “you must obey all rulers EXCEPT those who are tyrannical.” Romans 13 clearly teaches us that all governments everywhere are to be honored and obeyed.” Yet the Founding Fathers rejected this theory completely, which is (thankfully) why we have the United States of America today.
Basically, before America’s war for Independence, there was a general attitude that prevailed among the elite in the British realms commonly referred to as the “Divine Right of Kings.” This Divine Right was said to emanate from the Romans 13 edict that God had empowered governments with His will, and that if you were opposing the King, then you were therefore opposing God, Himself.
Yet the Founding Fathers rejected this theory. Even so, having a clear conscience regarding this issue and their right to oppose the King, the Founders vigorously pursued some manner of peaceful reconciliation, and did so continuously for a very long period of time. But as it was with all communication with their King, it was Great Britain that rejected their entreaties and terminated all discussion.
Some people even today would accuse the Founding Fathers as having abandoned Scripture and instituted their own interpretation of Romans 13. But even back in that day, those who resided in the halls of the British government were aware of the spiritual nature of those who were opposed to the machinations of King George. One Parliamentary leader, Sir Richard Sutton, read a copy of a letter relative to the government of America from a governor in Americato the Board of Trade showing that....If you ask an American, 'Who is his master?' He will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ."
The Founding Fathers, it must be remembered, were Christian through and through. So much so that everything they considered to do was a reflection of their relationship to the Lord of Hosts. One web site notes that: “…so cognizant were the Founders that they would account to God for what they had done and be justified in His eyes, that the flag of the Massachusetts Army proclaimed 'An Appeal to God,' and the flag of the Massachusetts Navy likewise declared 'An Appeal to Heaven.' “
These men understood that their course of action, which included resistance to the “higher powers” was either a rejection of Scripture which commanded them to obey the “higher power”, or it was a clear “appeal to God and Heaven” for protection and guidance in the coming war for Independence.
There is no other way to understand the frame of mind of the Founders, other than to understand that American Christians were conducting themselves consistent with the understanding that they were not in rebellion to God or the Scriptures.
We must also remember that during all of the constant entreaties to their King and government, King George continued to escalate his tyranny through different methods such as higher taxations and even going so far as to dispatch 25,000 troops to America, where they entered the homes of the citizens and took what they wanted to for themselves.
Americans lost their private possessions, and they were imprisoned for months without trial or recourse. If Americans were living in anarchy, it was the anarchy which the King created when he made laws that protected his citizens from such actions, but ignored his own common law, and the Magna Carter.
Even with all of these oppressive events being orchestrated around them, Americans still continued to entreat the King and Parliament with petitions and arguments about why Americans felt abused. Among those entreaties were a series of “resolves” that were written and communicated to the King, which are known as the “Fairfax Resolves.”
One resolve stated:
Resolved that it be recommended to the Deputies of the general Congress to draw up and transmit an humble and dutiful petition and remonstrance to his Majesty, asserting with decent firmness our just and constitutional Rights and Privileges, lamenting the fatal necessity of being compelled to enter into measures disgusting to his Majesty and his Parliament, or injurious to our fellow subjects in Great Britain; declaring the strongest terms of duty and affection to his Majesty’s person, family and government, and our desire to continue our dependence upon Great Britain; and most humbly beseeching his Majesty, not to reduce his faithful subjects of America to a state of desperation, and to reflect, that from our Sovereign there can be but one appeal.
The resolves were categorically rejected by Parliament and the King.
So, I have stated all of that to point out that our Founding Fathers pursued a course of action that began with pleadings and entreaties to their King and his government. Violently resisting the King was the last of their choices, just as it is among Americans today.
So the real question to us (Christians), is whether or not resisting government is Scripturally allowed. This is an individual choice among Christians. I personally believe that there is no Biblical injunction to Christians not to resist a tyrannical and unjust government, and I base it upon a couple of considerations, which are logical associations of Scriptural passages.
My first logical association: when the Bible says, “Thou shalt NOT”, we know clearly that we are to do the opposite of the “NOT”. For example, when the Bible commands, “Thou shalt not have any gods before you.” We know clearly it means we shall only have ONE God before us. Thankfully, the Scripture does go into sufficient detail to explain that we are to worship only ONE God, Jehovah. But even if it did not, the logical association with the rest of Scripture reveals to us what is the right thing to do.
This means that when we read Romans 13, we have the “DO”, and we can make a logical association with the rest of Scripture to come to an understanding of what that means for us. In the case of Romans 13, we read about how government is ordained by God for specific purposes, and what our duties in that context are:
Government is instituted by God for a framework of good works to prevail;
This is accomplished by the government being a terror to evil works;
And by being a praise to good works;
Verse 5 says that therefore, because Government is a tool for supporting and promoting good works, we should therefore be subject to the government. After all, don’t we want to live in a society where good works prevail over evil works?
Let’s go through this verse by verse:
Paul begins this subject by stating that “every soul be subject unto the higher powers; for there is no power but of God: the powers that be, are ordained of God.” Paul here urges Christians towards the duty of obedience based upon the premise that civil rulers are supposed to fulfill the will of God, and would therefore be part of the ordinance of God for government.
But how is this an argument for obedience to those rulers who do not perform the perfect will of God by doing good? Instead, such rulers are doing the will (pleasure) of the devil by doing evil. Therefore, such rulers are not God's ministers, but the devil's!
Paul continues: “Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation.” But how does this prove that those who resist a lawless, unreasonable power, which is contrary to the will of God, are resisting the will of God? Is resisting those who resist God's will, the same thing as resisting God?
To continue, how can this be an argument that we must submit to higher powers when such higher powers are not enemies to the evil actions of men, but to the good actions?
So, as you see, by a logical association of Scripture, you can see that Paul is merely outlying the purpose of Government, and why Christians should support government when it is within God’s will and purpose. He is not commanding Christians to obey evil, for that would be contrary to what God’s will is for His people.
If Governments are unrighteous, and are respecters of persons, if they are partial in their administration of justice, then those who do well have as much reason to be afraid, as those that do evil: there can be no safety for the good, nor any peculiar ground of terror to the unruly and injurious. So that, in this case, the main end of civil government will be frustrated.
* this paper has been adapted from a sermon delivered by a preacher in 1750America.