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A Biblical Case for Civil Disobedience & the Right Use of Romans 13, Part 2 - Guest Post by Tim Cantrell
Thanks for joining me (Tim) for this important study, in which we’re exploring two biblical reasons for disobeying lesser authorities out of obedience to our highest authority, the Lord Jesus Christ. Today we dive into the first one.
Civil Disobedience is Required Because of the Three Biblical Spheres of Authority
This must be our fundamental starting point in this discussion; otherwise, nothing makes sense: God alone has absolute authority, none other, regardless of what they may claim. Only the triune LORD has inherent, intrinsic, and undelegated authority; unlimited dominion, unconditional and unqualified rule and reign over all His creation and all His creatures, including humanity. God requires permission from no one (Matt. 28:18; Romans 13:1).
Our local association of churches, Sola5, holds to a number of excellent, biblically-grounded, historically-rooted Core Values. Of these, the 3rd value is called, “Authority” Under our Almighty God and King, He has established three spheres of human government and earthly authority/sovereignty.
Sola5 states that this 1st and most foundational sphere “is for the upbringing and education of children, as well as for the nurturing of orderly human relationships in honour, discipline and love. The family is the basic unit of society (Eph. 5:22–6:4; Deut. 6:4–9).” The family symbol of authority is the rod of correction, the very thing being outlawed by godless state governments (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14).
Think of God’s design for the family as, ‘The Ministry of Health, Education and Welfare’, as responsible for the care of both soul and body. From food, clothing and shelter, to curfews, beliefs, and choosing a spouse and career – never in Scripture are these tasks assigned to the state, but always to the family (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:7-9; 1 Cor. 7:36-38; Eph. 5:22-6:4; 1 Tim. 5:8),. Nowhere does the Bible hold secular governments responsible for universal healthcare. Always that is listed as a family duty first, and then secondarily a church duty in caring for her widows and orphans (1 Tim. 5:1-16; Jam. 1:26-27).
South African pastor, author and lecturer, David deBruyn, warns of what happens when the state transgresses into the family sphere:
Governments now get voted into power by promising to oversee housing, education, medicine, the economy, a good currency, a minimum income, food, water, land, and the list goes on. The government becomes a parent, and the citizens are dependents. The government in this role becomes a monstrous juggernaut of bureaucracy, devouring taxes and trying to regulate every detail of life.
2. The church sphere of authority
Our Sola5 statement goes on to say, “Church government is for the spiritual well-being and ministry of God’s people (1 Cor. 12:12-27; 1 Thess. 5:12-15; Heb. 13:7,17). The local church’s God-given symbol of authority are the keys of the kingdom – admitting and excluding members based on the gospel of Christ alone. Consider God’s design for the church as, ‘The Ministry of the Word and Sacrament’. Scripture calls the church’s main focus to be, not the care of bodies, but souls (Heb. 13:17). Only King Jesus gets to complete this sentence, ‘You may worship if….’
Right now in churches around the world, a crisis of spiritual authority is occurring that is testing believer’s understanding and application of this 2nd biblical sphere. Members are watching to see how their leaders handle Covid and lockdowns, and should keep praying much for them. God’s Word is clear: “…be subject to your elders”; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (1 Pet. 5:5; Heb. 13:17). It is a sad day when the body of Christ is paying more attention to Caesar's fallible regulations than to Christ's infallible Book and the loving counsel of their spiritual leaders who know and care for them.
Duly appointed church leaders are God’s legitimate authorities over the spiritual health of their flock, and all of their biblical instructions must be obeyed, whether one agrees with them or not. Of course members can appeal, clarify, and engage with their leaders; but mutiny or divisiveness is not an option (1 Thess. 5:12; Rom. 16:17; Eph. 4:1-6; Tit. 3:10-11). More than ever, believers need to turn off the media and sit at the feet of their own godly, wise, proven shepherds who are called to "understand the times" and teach the saints (1 Chron. 12:32; Tit 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24-4:5). The flock are being constantly bombarded by today's popular narratives; they urgently need to hear the calming, clear voice of their Good Shepherd through His appointed under-shepherds expounding His Word (John 10:16; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Members can rest in knowing that, in the end, their leaders are the ones who will answer to Christ for how they’ve led the flock (John 20:15-19; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:4; Jam. 3:1).
In terms of how the church sphere relates to the government sphere esteemed theologian John Murray wrote:
The sphere of the church is distinct from that of the civil magistrate … What needs to be appreciated now is that its sphere is co-ordinate with that of the state. The church is not subordinate to the state, nor is the state subordinate to the church. They are both subordinate to God, and to Christ in his mediatorial dominion as head over all things to his body the church. Both church and state are under obligation to recognize this subordination, and the corresponding co-ordination of their respective spheres of operation in the divine institution.
Each must maintain and assert its autonomy in reference to the other and preserve its freedom from intrusion on the part of the other. …when the civil magistrate trespasses the limits of his authority, it is incumbent upon the church to expose and condemn such a violation of his authority.
R.B. Kuiper’s classic text, The Glorious Body of Christ, rings out with a biblical rebuke to his age and to ours:
Our age is one of ecclesiastical pacifism. …When a church ceases to be militant it also ceases to be a church of Jesus Christ. …A truly militant church stands opposed to the world both without its walls and within. …Time and again in its history the church has found it necessary to assert its sovereignty over against usurpations by the state.
Kuiper then gives biblical examples – like when King Saul or King Uzziah usurped the priesthood (1 Sam. 13; 2 Chron. 26), stating, “…In both cases, a representative of the state was severely punished for encroaching upon the sovereignty of the church.”
Lord Macauley of England summed up the Puritan reputation this way: “He bowed himself in the dust before his Maker; but he set his foot on the neck of his king.” As Kuiper continues:
…Ours is an age of state totalitarianism. All over the world statism is [rising]…. In consequence, in many lands the church finds itself utterly at the mercy of the state whose mercy often proves cruelty, while in others the notion is rapidly gaining ground that the church exists and operates by the state’s permission.
Now, if ever, is the time for the church to assert its sovereignty over against encroachments by the state. The church is in sacred duty bound to rise up in majesty and proclaim to the world that it enjoys freedom of worship, not by the grace of the state, but as a God-given right; and that it preaches the Word of God, not by the grace of human governments, but solely at the command of the sovereign God and its sovereign King, seated at God’s right hand.
…It must be admitted to the church’s shame that it has often cowered before the state. …those power-hungry potentates who neither fear God nor regard man but take counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us’ (Ps. 2), must be told by the church that He that sits in the heavens will laugh, that the Lord will have them in derision, and that if they fail to kiss the Son, He will break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Let the church speak sovereignly for the sovereign God and the ‘blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords’ (1 Tim. 6:15).
To which our churches give a thunderous reply, “Amen and amen!” Tomorrow, we come to the 3rd biblical sphere of sovereign authority and presently (and often) the most controversial one, Caesar’s sphere of state government, and how it relates especially to the church. Your prayers are appreciated!
 Here are two recent and definitive biblical statements of this position, from two different countries: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B200723; https://trinitybiblechapel.ca/here-we-stand-the-church-must-meet/
 John Murray, Collected Writings, 1:253-54