'Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.' ( Romans 13:1 & 2 )
When a Christian tells you that God has commanded His people to obey any and all governmental authority, especially in the civil realm, your first question should be, 'did God institute 'bad', or wicked government?' Further, and maybe even more to the point; 'does any sort of government still have God-given authority when they cease to reward the good, and punish evil-doers, and instead punish the good, and reward the evil?'
An argumentative response to either of these questions may take you back to Exodus 9:16, where God told the Pharaoh, 'for this [ purpose ] I have raised you up, that I may show My power [ in ] you'. You may ask this question to that; 'was Moses then, acting in disobedience to, or resisting the ordinance of God?' I don't think anyone in their right mind would answer in the affirmative here, because, quite obviously, God told Moses to do what he did, in fact, God pretty much had to goad him to do it!
When faced with the 'dilemma' of whether to obey a wicked and perverse government, based on passages like Romans 13:1-7, and I Peter 2:13-17, the thing we must always remember to do, is to view these statements through the lens of historical context; in other words, we must keep in mind the 'audience relevance', or what it might have meant to those living back then, in the time of Paul. To whom Paul was writing must also be considered. Paul wrote these words to Roman Christians, some of whom were likely former Jews who had converted, as did Paul, to worship of the One, True God. What sort of authority, then, do you think he was advocating obedience to? Taken the way most Christians interpret this passage; Paul was telling his brethren not to resist the Roman authorities! If the Roman Christians had not resisted the 'authority' of the God-less Roman Caesar; Christianity, as we know it, probably would not exist today! I think we can say, with some certainty, that Paul was not advocating strict obedience to all authority!
You've no doubt heard the argument, based on Peter's statement in Acts 5:29, 'We ought to obey God rather than men', that we are to obey the civil government unless they command us to do something in direct opposition to the Word of God. In a sense, this is true, right, and good; we are commanded by God to do what is good, and right, and just! 'How much', you may ask then, 'of what the government tells us to do is NOT against the direct commandments, or Law of God?' When was the last time that you heard of a government official truly claiming the name of Christ, and following the Law of God in his own life, much less, making just judgments according to that Law? There are numerous politicians out there, some even vying for the ascendancy this year, who claim the Name, but their personal lives, to say nothing of their voting records, tell a much different story. If any one of these men tells you to do something good and right, then by all means do it, but not just because they told you to, but because it IS good and right! There shouldn't have to be laws telling people to do what's right!
A bit of context might be in order here: Jesus told His ( first-century ) followers 'not to resist an evil person' ( Matthew 5:39 ), but we must remember that He was in the midst of preaching the famous 'Sermon on the Mount', where He made such statements as, 'Blessed [ are ] the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God', 'You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden', and 'Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away'. Jesus was not telling His followers not to ever resist evil; God forbid! He was simply stating what Paul would reiterate later in this same letter to the Roman Christians ( 12:18 ), 'If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men'. I ask you; 'as it depends on us, and our conscience before God, can we do anything that a wicked and evil government tells us we must?' Again; 'God forbid!'
Looking then, at the context in which Paul wrote the words above, the words that many Christians use to excuse their own unwillingness to do what makes them uncomfortable, though it is right; we must remember that Paul was writing to a mixture of Jews and Gentiles ( arguments have been made, I believe, to either account ),and that the governing authority, most importantly, was 'God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil'. Though this was most likely spoken in reference to a civil authority, it most certainly NOT spoken of the God-less Roman authorities! The Jewish authorities are just as doubtful, so who do we have left? Paul himself, and those like him, those who exercised leadership within the Body of Christ, those who were called, ordained of God to practice that authority in the Church!
'Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and [ for the ] praise of those who do good.' ( I Peter 2:13 & 14 )
One might say that Peter speaks here as strongly, if not more strongly, in advocating strict adherence to the commands, or 'laws' of the civil government. Peter is simply stating though, in context, what Paul had already said, and what Jesus had taught Peter told his brethren that they were to obey the ordinances of men who punished evil-doers and praised ( rewarded ) those who did good. In today's society, we have things turned around; the evil-doers are rewarded and praised, all too often, while those who do good, justly and rightly are the ones who are punished for their well-doing!
Are Christians, then, required to obey just any government agent or agency who lays claim to this authority? I believe that the answer should be a resounding 'NO'! Much to the contrary, in fact; I believe that the Christian is duty-bound ( before God ) to oppose any and all forms of wickedness wherever it 'pops up': this includes any insidious command of a wicked civil government, no matter how innocent the command, or 'law', may seem on the surface!
Getting back to commentary on the historical context of the Greek Scriptures; Jesus had also told His ( first-century ) followers, 'whatever they ( The scribes and the Pharisees ) tell you to observe, [ that ] observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do' ( Matthew 23:3 ): in today's day and age, we often find much the same, especially among our several church governments, but also, to some extent, in civil government. Most church leaders, if they are true to their calling, will not tell their flock to act in opposition to the freedom with which God, in Christ, has set us free, but, to use the '501 ( c ) 3 status' as an example, they will act in opposition to their teaching, showing that it is good and right to bow to idols, in essence, 'calling evil good'. On the other hand; it seems that, in the realm of civil government, things are getting more and more blatant, with more good being called evil, and more evil being called good!
Again; asking the question, 'did God institute ( ordain ) 'bad', or wicked ( tyrannical ) government?' We might well answer this question in the affirmative, because it is abundantly clear that God has, in the past, used such government, whether religious or civil ( 'is there really any difference?' ) to awaken His people from their slumber, and bring them back to Himself: we may pray that this is what He is doing at this time! Although this is true, that these wicked governments have been ordained by God, in that sense only, though, it is not to say that we are not to resist them, for *that*, I believe, is the whole point! By waking us up to the insidiousness of our government ( even our own ); God is showing His people the correct path, that the path that we are on in this nation is not one of goodness, righteousness, and justice, but is instead, 'the path of sinners'!
'Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes [ are due ], customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.' ( Romans 13:7 )
Echoing Jesus command in Matthew 22:21; Paul told his brethren that honor was due to those who did right, who faithfully fulfilled the authoritative duties of government to which God had ordained them. I believe, though, that the opposite is just as true, that both Jesus, Paul and Peter were reminding their readers that, if the ordained government did not govern accordingly, and did not reward the good and punish the evil, but rather called 'good evil, and evil good', that it was NOT due their obedience, and in fact was due their disobedience, and the opposition, or resistance!
As I have asked in a previous article, 'What is Caesar's?'
We, as Christians, must decide two things, then; 'Whom do we serve?', and 'will we receive the chastening that God has sent us, His people, through these wicked governments, and begin the long and arduous process of returning to self-goverment, leading to a Godly government?' Our response, both in word and in deed, will go far in determining whether this nation will again enjoy the blessings of the Covenant, true peace, and lasting enjoyment in the Presence of our Almighty God, Creator and Father!
In His grace,
Charles Haddon Shank