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 Chapter 29

Biblical Counsel and Civil Authority

 

THERE is an increasing tendency of certain elements within Christianity to resist all human authority. Resistance is built upon what at first appear to be noble principlesóprinciples riveted upon our loyalty to God. This trend has led some groups to develop militant anti-government rhetoric to deny governmental authorities their appropriate role in dealing with those who threaten the security of society, some refuse to pay taxes and in other ways defy proper state authority. Therefore a careful investigation of the biblical principles of manís relationship to governmental authority is necessary.

The Word of God plainly establishes the principle that all human authority has its source in God. Ultimately, there is no power but of God. When Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate verbalized the life and death power he had in his hands in respect to the destiny of Jesus.

Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? John 19:10

Jesus responded by pointing Pilate to the fact that the only power he had was that which was allowed him by the God of heaven.

Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above. John 19:11

Using "Wisdom" as a metaphor for God, Solomon, though a king with great power, nevertheless acknowledged that there was no ultimate power but that which came from God.

By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth. Proverbs 8:15, 16

The prophet Daniel, in addressing the autocratic monarch Nebuchadnezzar, reminded him that God had ultimate power to set up rulers and to remove them.

Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding. Daniel 2:20, 21

Some time later Nebuchadnezzar himself faced this reality. With unbounded pride, Nebuchadnezzar had boasted that everything that he had, and all that had been established in the magnificent kingdom of Babylon, was as a result of his human power. But he found his boast to be hollow, and was compelled by divine evidence to acknowledge Godís overriding authority.

At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? Daniel 4:29, 30

It was at this point that God intervened to prove to this boastful monarch that his human power could be taken away by, and was subject to, the power of God.

While the word was in the kingís mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eaglesí feathers, and his nails like birdsí claws. Daniel 4:31Ė33

The terrible conditions that he experienced eventually brought him to the realization that indeed, God was the source of his authority.

Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase. Daniel 4:37

It is because of Godís ultimate and absolute power that He calls His faithful followers to submit to those in civil authority.

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. Romans 13:1

Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work. Titus 3:1

The apostle Peter strongly supported the counsel of Paul.

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lordís sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 1 Peter 2:13, 14

God has placed men in civil authority to enact laws to form the platform for the wise governing of the populace. If it were not for sensible and just laws, there would be chaos in society. Indeed, we have ample evidence that when law and order break down, the most abominable crimes are multiplied. We have seen this in nations such as Rwanda. When civil government was in chaos, the butchering of myriads of people took place. People, who under normal conditions would appear to be law abiding citizens, take advantage of the evil that is in their hearts by looting and adding to the carnage generated by these situations.

One of the roles of civil government is not only to provide just laws, but to punish evil doers.

Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 1 Peter 2:14

Paul expounded the principle that those who resist civil power actually resist the ordinance of God.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Romans 13:2

However, God has never given to man or governments absolute power. Those who are placed in positions of authority have a God-given responsibility to be just and equitable in their administration of justice.

The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. 2 Samuel 23:3

A thoroughly converted Christian should have no reason to fear a just government. The appropriate role of the government is to provide protection for law abiding citizens against those who behave lawlessly in society.

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: 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. Romans 13:3, 4

We are all aware of ruthless governments. Such governments have oppressed Godís faithful children. The Bible evidences the fact that such oppressive governments will be in power just prior to Christís second coming. Again we remind each reader of this fearful prophecy.

And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Revelation 13:15Ė17

The Scripture is plain in its statements concerning our responsibility when the laws of man conflict with the laws of God. Untold tens of millions of faithful Christians have suffered as they have sought to place their duty to God above the dictates of man and rulers. Under the power of the Holy Spirit, the early disciples were forced to make a choice between the edicts of man and the call of God. Their responses are examples which faithful Christians will follow. When Peter and John were commanded by the Jewish leaders to refrain from speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus, their response left no equivocation as to the primacy of their loyalty.

But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. Acts 4:19, 20

Later, in a similar confrontation with the Jewish leaders, their response was just as unequivocal.

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29

There is much said today about the separation of responsibilities to God on the one hand, and responsibilities to government on the other hand. Those principles are enshrined in the response of Jesus to the questions asked by those who would find cause to report Jesus to the Roman authority as disloyal to the government of Caesar. He had been asked:

Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? Luke 20:22

Jesusí response laid the foundation for our understanding of the responsibilities to God on the one hand, and to the civil powers on the other.

Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesarís. And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesarís, and unto God the things which be Godís. Luke 20:24, 25

Now here is a principle that seems to be poorly understood by segments of Christianity today. There are those who resolutely refuse to return taxes, claiming that these taxes are often used for illegal purposes, such as repression and suppression of citizens. Yet it is very difficult to argue this in the light of the words of Jesus. His words also were supported by Paul.

For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are Godís ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Romans 13:6

At the time of Christ, some of the Roman laws were good, others were repressive. Yet Christ did not equivocate on the issue of rendering a just tax to the government of His day. When Christians do not follow the clear principles enunciated in the Word of God, they make it difficult not only for themselves, but for other Christians. History testifies to the fact that increasing repression has often come upon the whole Christian community because of the unwise and unscriptural acts of more extreme elements who are following human reason rather than Scriptural injunction.

Some Christians attempt to extrapolate the taxation obligations of Christians to the rendering of tithes and offerings to specific church organizations. In this they err. Secular rulers exact an authority and rulership which Christ condemns in His church.

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. Matthew 20:25

Ecclesiastical Administrators, on the other hand, have been strictly informed by Christ Himself, that in contrast to secular rulers, they are servants to Christís flock.

But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:26Ė28

The purpose of compulsory government taxes is to produce funding so that the nation may function effectively. On the other hand freewill tithes and offerings are designed as gifts, not primarily to individuals or church organizations, but to God. Thus in Malachi 3:8, God does not ask, "Wherein have ye robbed the Jewish faith or the priesthood?" Rather He asks, "Wherein have ye robbed Me?" Thus tithes and offerings must be returned for the work of upholding and sustaining Godís truth and His kingdom. And where the gospel commission is prosecuted, there tithes and offerings may be freely sent to support the kingdom of God.

In another area, Christians need to follow Christ. During the era of Jesusí sojourn on this earth, corruption and oppression were widespread. There was extortion, cruelty, and intolerance. But Christ did not spend His time in seeking to redress the excesses of the government. He knew that ultimately the most efficient and effective way to bring about reform was to change the lives of people. Christians have the responsibility to be the most loving and lovable people on the face of the planet. Their good works should recommend them to every just civil authority. Those claiming to be Christians, who are belligerent, resentful, and militant, do a disservice to the God they claim to serve. Not only do they bring discredit upon themselves, they bring discredit by extension upon the Christian community as a whole. King Solomon recognized a dual responsibility.

I counsel thee to keep the kingís commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. Ecclesiastes 8:2

Peter recognized how important it is for Christians to represent the character of Christ and to avoid the exercise of the negative emotions.

For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 1 Peter 2:15, 16

Finally, Peter, in his exhortation concerning government leaders, concludes with a brief summary:

Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. 1 Peter 2:17

The Christian principles can be summarized as follows:

(1) All human power is subject to divine power.

(2) Earthly rulers have a responsibility to enact just laws for the protection of the citizens and their property.

(3) Christians have a responsibility to follow every law that does not contravene the commandments of God.

(4) Christians have a responsibility to render taxes to the government that has jurisdiction over them.

(5) Christians have a responsibility to live an upright life representative of the life of Jesus, so that no ruler has a justifiable reason to punish them, and that they may be a witness to others.

 


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