Wecome to Logia, the personal blog of Paul Hartwig. Reflections and resources to enhance understanding of what God has revealed of himself in Scripture.
A Biblical Case for Civil Disobedience & the Right Use of Romans 13, Part 3, by Tim Cantrell
Often in Scripture we see a kind of ungodly submission to authority, an obedience that dishonours God: Doeg the Edomite obeys the king to murder 85 priests (1 Sam. 22); Bathsheba obeyed the king to commit adultery with him, and Joab obeyed to murder her husband (2 Sam. 11); soldiers obeyed wicked rulers by putting the innocent, righteous ones into prison (1 Kgs 22; Matt. 26:55-27:66); Aaron obeyed the voice of the people with the golden calf (Exod. 32).
Surely no Christian wants to displease his/her Lord with an unrighteous submission to earthly authorities. That’s why we are exploring here the first of two biblical reasons for disobeying lesser authorities out of obedience to our highest authority, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Civil Disobedience is Sometimes Required to preserve the Three Biblical Spheres of Authority
Last time we looked at: (1) the family sphere of authority; (2) the church sphere of authority. Today we dig into the third God-established domain of human sovereignty:
3. The state sphere of authority
We see government first established by God after the flood to institute the death penalty on murderers and establish the value of human life (Genesis 9:6). In the Old Testament we get to see God governing a nation directly through theocratic laws, judges and kings. In the New Testament the apostle Paul makes it clear that even a godless state is a servant of God and is sanctioned for a particular purpose. The main function of the state is to punish evil (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1-7).
Sola5’s Core Value #3 says of this civic realm, it “is for the well-ordering and protection of society; this includes the appropriate punishment of criminals (Rom. 13:1–7).” The state’s symbol of authority, as Romans 13 makes clear, is “the sword”, clearly a tool for punishing criminals (v. 4). The focus of the state is not the care of souls (as in the church), or both souls and bodies (as in the family), but is focused on the protection of bodies, specifically of the human rights of its citizens.
In Scripture, the entire modus-operandi of the church and state stand in stark contrast to one another. As Paul Hartwig writes: “The State has a coercive and forceful function; the Church has a non-coercive and persuasive one.” People attend worship services freely and voluntarily; people pay their taxes by necessity, right? In the church ‘you ought to’ is the motive; but in the State it is ‘you must’.
This is why any compelling ‘must’ commands issued by the State over church affairs are an alien intrusion into the nature of the Church and contrary to how she functions. If the armed response came to your door and insisted that you should let them in to nurse your children, you would say, “No entry. Please stay outside and guard the property.” Their presence in your home would be a threat, as much as it is a blessing outside. In the same way, the government as a “servant of God for our good” (Rom. 13:4) may warn churches about a possible threat and appeal to them to temporarily cease congregating; but the government must not bring its sword into the church mandating when and how we will worship.
The key parallel text to Romans 13 (which we’ll examine in Part 4) is 1 Peter 2:13-17:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond slaves of God. Honour all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honour the king.
This passage calls us to godly civil obedience based on Christ’s sinless, selfless example of trusting God and submitting to wicked and unjust rulers (1 Peter 2:21-25). Christians must submit to legitimate rulers giving lawful commands whether they agree or not, or like it or not. Even if we don’t agree with the amount of taxation, we pay our taxes. Even if we don’t like the speed limits, we follow them.
Yet unqualified Christian obedience to government cannot be taught from texts which explicitly limit the boundaries of government authority and the extent of our submission. God Himself clearly restricts the role of government, not giving it unlimited authority: it acts “for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:14). When rulers reverse that, as often happens, by praising evildoers and punishing those who do right, they violate their delegated, God-given authority and transgress their divinely established boundaries and assigned jurisdiction.
With the present Covid lockdowns, when governments are trampling over human rights and replacing rule by constitutional, parliamentary law with rule by martial law (emergency regulations) under a dubious and indefinite ‘state of disaster’ (a known tool for tyrants historically; see Part 1), it must be admitted this creates a number of ethical dilemmas for citizens, especially God-fearing, law-abiding Christians. When one’s religion, family duties, livelihood, education, or human dignity are at stake, believers need great wisdom and much grace toward one another in knowing when, and when not, to obey harmful dictates.
We obey our rulers, not for their own sake or just because they say so; no, we submit “for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13), out of obedience to a much higher authority, King Jesus. God has clearly put a hierarchy in place, and we dare not circumvent or reverse that. When an earthly authority clashes with our highest, majestic and supreme heavenly authority, we must disobey Caesar and obey Christ, every time.
We must be whole-Bible Christians and learn from godly examples. The Hebrew midwives were honoured by God when they disobeyed the pharaoh’s command to kill all of the baby boys (Exod. 1). We see Jonathan’s nobility when he refuses to obey his father and kill David (1 Sam. 20). David refused to turn himself in, trusting God’s promise (1 Sam. 19). Daniel kept praying, openly (Dan. 6). His three friends refused to bow (Dan. 3). Peter and John refused to stop preaching (Acts 5). If we can’t obey government “in the Lord,” we shouldn’t obey. Passivity is not a virtue; protest is not always a vice. After all, we are Protest-ants.
This means we can make righteous appeals when we see authorities being unjust. We have record of the Apostle Paul twice appealing to his Roman citizenship, especially for the benefit of other believers and the churches he’d planted (Acts 16:37-38; 22:25-28).
Paul would be thrilled with the freedoms that Christians today enjoy in countries like South Africa. We are heirs of centuries of constitutional democracy built upon Lex Rex (‘Law is King’), instead of the medieval idea of the divine right of kings (see Part 1). We are voting, involved citizens, not mere serfs and vassals. The highest human law of the land in South Africa is not a president, deputy minister, or disaster regulations; it is our Constitution, and to that we can rightly appeal.
It would be foolish and ungrateful for believers not to appreciate all the benefits we’ve received from these Judeo-Christian ideas and the price paid for these freedoms by our forefathers. Surely part of the Church being “salt and light” in society, and “loving our neighbour as ourselves”, would be active participation in a democracy so that we are not responsible for allowing laws that punish good and reward evil to become entrenched (Matt. 5:12-14; 7:12). 
God is sovereign and Christ can build His Church under the worst of tyrants and fiercest of persecution; but that doesn’t mean the consequences for the Church, missions and human dignity in those lands has not been devasting. Nor does it mean that we passively wait for South Africa to become the next North Korea or Venezuela, not doing all that we can to prevent it. It’s been rightly said, “All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
So we see from Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 that God has given the government a specific sphere within which to function. It is ordained to punish evil and reward good. Christians are called to submit to the government only in the Lord. Obedience to these Scriptures protects us from anarchy and tyranny.
 See many more examples here: https://www.sonofcarey.com/?p=2727
 Last year in our church small groups we did an excellent study by R.C. Sproul (free on-line) on the overall biblical and historic doctrines of civil obedience and civil disobedience: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/church_and_state/
 Written by the devout and renowned Scottish pastor, and saturated with biblical references defending the biblical view of limited government and rule of law: https://www.monergism.com/lex-rex-ebook. It was said that at the Westminster Assembly, that great original gathering of our Puritan forefathers and heroes, every single member had in hand of copy of Rutherford’s Lex Rex.
 Wayne Grudem’s superb text, Politics According to the Bible, grapples with many such questions.
Well written Tim, praise God for His Holy word & for men whom are obedient to the scriptures
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