When do you obey the government? And when do you choose not to obey? I’m not going to answer that today. I am, however, wanting to get you thinking, because thinking is what wise people do when confusion is the alternative.
Certainly, in confusing times, there will be different opinions, but a wise person pursuing God’s Word under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, will be light-years ahead of the person who reacts according to self-centered desires. Certainly, Christians faced differences of opinion regarding which days to celebrate and what foods to eat (Romans 14). Certainly, Paul chose to not eat meat if it would cause his brother to stumble (1 Cor. 8:13). But what about today?
I’ve been impressed with the orderliness of those who are protesting government orders to stay home. Yes, there has been an uptick in burglaries in various communities across the country, but not as might be anticipated, considering how desperate many people are becoming. I’ve been impressed with the voices presented and the rational means of gathering to voice a collective opinion. At what point should people act with civil disobedience?
First, I’m not advocating civil disobedience…at this time. That time may be here for some, and may be here for others, but each must make that decision according to his conscience, even as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in Nazi Germany.
In 1934 Bonhoeffer was already promoting to Germany, that citizens were responsible “to” the state, but also “for” the state. This was his concept of two kingdoms (also discussed by Martin Luther). Citizens were to obey the government, but also ensure justice in/within the government functioned under God’s sovereign authority.
Most of us are well aware of Romans 13, regarding God’s establishment of governing authority. Paul wrote, “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.” (Rom 13:1) We are still allowed to study God’s Word, evangelize the lost and disciple anyone who desires to pursue the Lord Jesus. But when does a Christian not follow this passage. After all, Paul continued, “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. (Rom 13:2) Defying the government may be defiance against God.
Additionally, Paul states that rulers are there for our good. He stated, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.” (Rom 13:3) So, the government is there to serve the people’s interest of life and good works. But that doesn’t mean every government is righteous as Bonhoeffer resisted the rise of Hitler’s regime. Even Paul stated, “For he is 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. (Rom 13:4) Government is God’s minister to you for good. But when the “good” becomes “bad,” then somewhere along the “line of decision” or continuum, a Christian will have to decide. Christians would have to decide, like the Jewish midwives did in Moses’ dayof Exodus 1:15-17,
15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; 16 and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. (Exod. 1:15-17)
Not only did they defy the order of the sovereign leader of Egypt, but they made up a story for their actions,
18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?” 19 And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.” 20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. 21 And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them. (Ex 1:18-21)
For the midwives, life was more important under God’s administration than obedience to the Pharoah.
Another easy example is in Acts 5, where Peter clearly identifies obedience to God, not men. The writer of Acts 5, Luke, wrote,
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. (Act 5:27-29)
So when the issue is life or the gospel, the choice is clear. Let each one be convinced in his own conscience. But what about other issues, like school mandated curriculum? Are parents not responsible for that (Ephesians 6:1-4)? Or what about firearm bans? Is a man not responsible to protect his family? Is the man not responsible to provide for his family as he deems necessary (1 Tim. 5:8)?
I don’t have any of the desperation of many who are out of work, because I have a job. I’m blessed. How do you decide what is right and how do you decide when the government has crossed the line? That line may seem different for people, but there is a line that is evident from Scripture and every Bible-believing, God-honoring, other-centered serving, freedom-loving, Christian, under the wisdom of the Holy Spirit has to decide when to stand up and be counted.
Are we denied from openly worshipping the Lord Jesus? I don’t see any prohibition from our president’s administration. Are we denied our right to protect our homes? I don’t see any prohibition from our president’s administration. Are we denied the right to evangelize? Or the right to teach our children as we see fit? Or to disciple as must? I don’t see any prohibition from our president’s administration. On the contrary, however, there are opposing forces within our government that would like to oppose some of those passionate desires. Furthermore, there are opposing forces within the government preventing people from work and that is being addressed. What is the best way to address those issues? Just like the resistance in Germany through the 1930s and 1940s, there are different views and each must decide before God what is best under the guidance of the God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
Many writers of the German resistance disagreed with the manner and vocalization of resistance against Nazi Germany, but most concede they would not, themselves, have known precisely what to do.
Let me close with this…In a widely known account at the end of Bonhoeffer’s life, he recounts for us:
During one of their daily walks around the prison yard in Tegel [prison] Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked by a fellow-prisoner how as a Christian and a theologian he could take it upon himself to participate in the active resistance against Hitler. In the brief time given him under the eyes of the warders, he answered with a story. If he, as a pastor, saw a drunken driver racing at high speed down the Kurfursendamm, he did not consider it his only duty to bury the victims of the madman, or to comfort his relatives, it was more important to wrench the wheel out of the hands of the drunkard.
Know that I will pray for you as you pray for me and we’ll stand together. Thanks for passing it on.