Wecome to Logia, the personal blog of Paul Hartwig. Reflections and resources to enhance understanding of what God has revealed of himself in Scripture.
Francis Schaeffer was one of the 20th century’s most stalwart defenders of the gospel and an influential Christian author, teacher and apologist. After the catastrophic Roe versus Wade legalisation of abortion in 1973, Schaeffer was deeply burdened over the apathy of the evangelical church in not opposing such murderous, wicked laws. He wrote:
If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the living God. …And that point is exactly when the early Christians performed their acts of civil disobedience, even when it cost them their lives. …Acts of State which contradict God’s Law are illegitimate and acts of tyranny. Tyranny is ruling without the sanction of God. To resist tyranny is to honour God. …The bottom line is that at a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty to disobey the State.
In this series, we are looking at two biblical reasons for Christian civil disobedience when earthly authorities clash with our highest allegiance to heavenly authority:
(1) Christians May Disobey because of the Three God-ordained spheres of Authority (family, church, and state).
In other words, outside of their own sphere, rulers have no authority. The state needs no permission from the church or family to perform its tasks (elect officials, go to war, punish crime, etc.). The family needs no permission from the church or state to do its God-given job of raising and caring for the bodies and souls of that household. Speeches from a head of state are not “family meetings”; they are speeches. Likewise, the church needs no permission from the family or state to fulfil its role.
What happens when one sphere swells, expands, overreaches and trespasses into another God-ordained realm? Here’s a sobering example, when the Jews declared to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). That is statism – idolising the state, dethroning the Lord, and exchanging the true God for the false god of civil government.
It is the opposite of Jesus’ famous answer when asked about paying taxes: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
In one brilliant statement, our Lord both legitimizes and limits the role of the State.
As Doug Wilson states, “If you were to summarize the essential feature of Christian political thought in one phrase, it would be limited government.”
Because man is fallen and finite, his authority must always be bounded and restricted, never absolute. Only our thrice-holy God is not corrupted by universal power. All human authority (in all three spheres) is limited both vertically and horizontally: limited upwards by the Law of God; limited outwards by the boundaries and jurisdiction of the other two respective spheres, which may not be trespassed.
Paul Hartwig again helps us here in our local context:
The State in South Africa (SA) is increasingly encroaching upon the integrity and autonomy of both the family and the Church. Our State wants to regulate practices in nuclear families (such as child-discipline, sexual values, etc.) and coerce the family to comply with its ideologies. The temporary legal banning of Church gatherings is characteristic of this trend of the State to overreach into realms not under its authority. There is much to convince us that our Government considers itself sovereign in regulating the behaviour of its citizens; and there is little to gainsay the conclusion that it is fast moving in the direction of state absolutism.
Many statutory principles and laws of the SA government give Christians every reason to question its morality and integrity, including the science it bases its practices on. If we consider our government’s policies on the beginning of human life, natural gender identity, the nature of marriage and its views on sexual ethics, the Christian in SA finds the values of its government are opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Biblical Churches believe that our State’s position on these basic and fundamental matters is destructive to human society, and reveals an ignorance in knowing what is actually good for its citizens. The position of our government on these matters makes any form of State interference in ecclesiastical matters all the more alarming.
But you say, ‘The Apostle Paul wrote Romans 13 under wicked Nero, a vicious tyrant; yet Christians were still called to submit and obey.’ Great question, which brings us to our 2nd biblical reason for civil disobedience:
2. Christians May Disobey Because of a Right Use of Romans 13.
Romans 13:1-7 reads:
Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behaviour, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; respect to whom respect; honour to whom honour.
Let’s ask five key questions of Romans 13, allowing the text to speak for itself:
(a) Who is writing this text? Clearly it was penned by the Apostle Paul (Rom. 1:1), the same man who says earlier in this same epistle that for the Lord “we are being put to death all day long…considered as sheep to be slaughtered”, i.e., his precarious existence as a Christian before the powers of the day. Romans 13 is written by the same Paul who later publicly charged as a treasonous, seditious troublemaker and threat to the empire. The same Paul who got arrested countless times and wrote many of his epistle from state prison, in chains for his Lord (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; Php. 1:7,13-17; 2 Tim. 1:8,12,16; 2:9, imprisoned “as a criminal”). Clearly then, Paul wasn’t writing Romans 13 thinking of absolute, unconditional submission to government.
(b) When was Paul writing? Scholarly consensus is that this is early in Nero’s reign, before his persecutions began. Contrast this to the Apostle John’s view of civil government in Revelation 13, writing during Domitian’s fierce persecution (about AD 90). John describes the beastly, demonic, evil and murderous character of pagan government in persecuting Christians (just as Daniel depicts in Dan. 7-8).
A whole-Bible view of politics requires both Romans 13 and Revelation 13 (and the rest of Scripture). On the one hand, when government is in line with God’s will and fulfilling its purpose of rewarding the right, punishing the wrong and not clashing with God’s Law, it must be obeyed. But when a government rewards evil, punishes the right and requires us to disobey God, it has become a beastly tool of Satan and must be resisted.
In Part 5, we’ll conclude by answering the remaining three questions about Romans 13, with some timely applications. Stay tuned!
 See here for one of his final and most powerful projects summarizing the last 2,000 years of history in light of a biblical worldview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6c8EOyAg1U&list=PLBtCqYJcR2R0cOnm_M_ScQZk17UmfH7Xx
 p. 130, Christian Manifesto; on this, see also these excellent and helpful resources: https://www.nlnrac.org/classical/late-medieval-transformations/documents/defense (the Huguenot classic, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants); Glenn Sunshine, Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition; Matthew Trewhella, The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates: A Proper Resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government. See also the influence of the past 200 years of pietism in causing Christians to retreat instead of resisting: https://defytyrants.com/a-brief-history-on-pietism-and-statist-rulers/
 Nero’s persecution began about AD 64; Paul probably penned Romans around AD 57 (Moo, p. 3) That doesn’t mean Paul was naïve about evil rulers and tyrants, like those that crucified our Lord; but it does imply that Paul, while writing Romans 13, was neither ignoring or condoning Nero’s evil, nor any other injustices.