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,
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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