CHRISTIANS RESPONSE TO CIVIL GOVERNMENT
Christianity is on historical record as being no more effective in political government than others (the religious governments in the early colonies were not tolerant of other religious - not even other Christian denominations) Christianity acted out in the life of an individual, however, is the most powerful influence in the world in or out of political office. Now the question is simply whether we would rather influence or dominate.
Our job is not to convert the government it is to convert ourselves. The Bible is not as concerned with how religious a government is; rather the concern is how righteous the people become in response to the government. The people are the objective. The importance and Unimportance of Structure: Though the Old Testament and New Testament are quite different in presenting the way God leads His people, the intention of God is always the same. He desires to be our God and desires us to be His people (Isa. 43:21) That desire may be accomplishment through different forms of government but not through anarchy (Jude 5-8) God will use some form of government to provide an environment in which we may come to Him. God has used different forms of governments and has worked His purpose in each (Dan.2: 21) Yet the human governments themselves are limited in their importance’s to God (Isa. 40:15, 17, 23-25) because He is sovereign in their existence (Isa 41:2-4)
The forms He used in the Old Testament period varied much more than the civil government forms used in the New Testament. The Spirit likewise was poured out differently. A quick overview of history can highlight the changes in governmental form. When God called forth a people to be under His direct leadership (Gen 12:1-3), the patriarchal structure of the family sufficed for government. No special anointing for leadership was mentioned, no elaboration of structure was given. A son of the patriarchal government, Joseph, found himself a leader in another type of civil government, and God used that pagan government to accomplish His purpose (Gen 50:20). Just as God uses a believer in a nonbelievers’ government, so also He uses a believer against that government. With Moses we see that He calls people to another form of government, with His appointed leader and purpose. He does direct Moses, eventually to rely upon a more elaborate structure with the Law (Exod 20), the priesthood (Exod. 19 22) and the court system (Deut. 1:12-17) Then during the period of the judges we see God raise up temporary leaders, effective in short-term government but made ineffectual in the long run by the peoples’ unrighteousness.
In hindsight we see the general spiritual principle of government written in Proverbs 14:34, “ Righteousness exalts a nations, but sin is disgrace to any people” Later despite God’s warning Israel demands a King (I Sam 8) as a substitute for God’s direct kingship over their lives. God anoints Kings Saul. David and Solomon to unite the kingdom, and also raises up prophets like Nathan to confront perversions in government (2 Sam. 12:1-14). During the ensuing period of the divided kingdom and corrupt kings, God continues to use the voice of prophets to correct or confront government. Following that period, God even used captivity by a foreign government (2 Kings 15:29: 17:6) as part of His government of Israel. Foreign kings became His instruments (Isa. 45:1) and Israel learns the cost of inattentiveness. After the Babylonian captivity, Israel returns to a civil government dominated by various foreign powers, except for a brief period under the Maccabees (Jewish Leaders who rededicated the temple). The last dominant power noted in Scripture is the Roam Empire.
It is during the post-exilic period that separation of religion and state becomes a necessity for ongoing life. Spiritual authority is only loosely connected with government. The Jews and later, Christians are too devoted to their faith to look to the state for the ultimate leadership in their lives. During Christ’s time, Rome delegated certain religious and civil authority to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. During this period provincial civil rulers, like Pontius Pilate, had Ultimate but tenuous authority. To keep the peace and therefore, his job the provincial ruler had to pay attention to the independence-minded Jewish religious leaders. In time, however, the Jews had no religious input into civil government. Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D 70 and the civil government both completely dominated and periodically persecuted the Christians. God, we believe moves in mysterious ways. We even believe that He was working in the various forms of government. He is a flexible God, one Who does not, obviously depend on one standard form to achieve His ends.
Biblical Principles and Civil Governments: Now that we see that God has used many forms of Government to work out His purposes, we may be released from a nagging suspicion that if we just got the form of government right the Spirit would be able to work. In the different forms of government the Sprit is constantly at work, bringing God’s people to Him. However, God is recorded as alternately working through, in spite of, or against certain governments. Though God uses all governments for His ultimate purpose, He does not react the same toward all governments and neither will the people who follow Him. There are at least five reactions to civil government given in Scripture. Obedience, Obedience is the primary reaction in Scripture. Our God is a God of order. To eliminate chaos He has put certain structures into our lives. They reflect His nature and our need for order. They also test whether we can learn the most valuable trait in following God submission. If we cannot submit to what we have seen. How can we submit to what we have not seen? For these reasons Romans 13:1-2 states “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” Notice the connection between civil and spiritual submission. Governments teach us something that has spiritual significance: We cannot always have our own way. Our reaction to earthly authority certainly indicates our reaction to heavenly authority. If we respond positively to authority, it means we recognize the necessity of structure.
The structure of civil government keeps us safe from each other and foreign threats. Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 requests prayer for governing authorities in order that we may lead a tranquil life”. With our basic need for security meet, we are free to turn our attention and energies towards the meaning of life. Civil government is just one of the structures of the universe necessary for accumulating meaningful purpose. A strong marriage will permit freedom and development in the individual partners. A strong sense of parental stability gives a child the foundation needed to explore the world. Secure employment gives the employee the ability to focus on family, friends, and ministry. Just as the structure in music frees the notes to vary and create beauty, so the stronger structures in our lives allow us freedom to be creative. Maintenance of the structures of life is a minimal investment of time for the return of security and stability they give. Christians in politics are our investment in maintaining the structure of civil government Christians obeying that structure of government are paying the minimal daily requirement for getting on with the real substance of life.
Repentance, Repentance can be an appropriate reaction to government. If God’s concern is the nearness of His people to Him. He may allow disruptions in the structures of society (including government) as a sign to repent. In 2 Chronicles 7: 13-14, God plainly states. “if I send pestilence among my people and My people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear for heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” Christians, then can use even the worst forms of government as a cause for self-examination and spiritual growth. Too often our reflex is to try to fix pestilence before we fix ourselves. An excellent question to ask ourselves in response to a government’s inadequacies is, “How can I use this “pestilence” to help me depend upon God rather than government and change my life for the better? All forms of government should spur us to godly behavior (Rim. 13:3-5) so that God’s will may “be done on earth as it is in have” A Christian involved in politics should have personal reform rather than government reform as a primary agenda.
Civil Disobedience. Having stated the need for personal repentance, we must also recognize there are times when civil disobedience is the appropriate reaction to a governmental edict. The obvious example is Acts 4:18-20, when believers we ordered to do what was directly opposed to what they knew to be right. “And when they had summoned them the apostles, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus but Peter and John answered and said to them. Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” The same dynamic is reported in Acts 5:29 where the apostles state flatly, “We must obey God rather than men,” Civil disobedience was Daniel’s witness also. The important aspect of Biblical civil disobedience is its motivation. It is done when there is a direct conflict between what the government would force an individual to do and what God would have him do. It is not an attempt at government reform so much as it is a personal moral necessity. It is not a matter of having one’s right violated. It is a matter of being forced to do what is wrong. Therefore, though Scripture validates civil disobedience, it does not see it as a political tool. Rather, civil disobedience is a last stand against a perverted government, a stand that includes accepting the punishment. A good question to screen an act of civil disobedience is, “is this disobedience a witness against a government action that forces me and other to do wrong, or is it simply a strategy to gain political power?” In the first instance one is obeying a greater structure of the universe moral law. In the second instance one may be putting self above obeying any structure, and that is not a Christian’s option.
Correction. Correction (not rebellion) is a biblical response to government. In the Old Testament there are many instances where God sent a prophet to challenge the direction of a government (1 Kings 12:21-24, for example) In the New Testament, John the Baptist tried to correct Herod (Matt. 14:4) and was killed because of it. Yet not all corrections of government took the form of confrontation. Esther and Joseph were two believers who became a part of the government personnel and had a profound effect on policy. Their participation in government made a distinct difference in the civil government’s attitude toward God’s people. Paul progressed through the Roman judicial system (Acts 25:11) with a goal of influencing people for Christ as he went (Acts 26:27-29) His goal was to make a difference in the lives of political office-holders. Paul, like other biblical figures, was someone who could have been an enemy of the government, but instead was a friend who offered a correction in course. Scripture pictures reproof as a part of love (Prov. 3:12) and as a real help to the wise (Prov. 9:8; 10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 15:5). Americans are both blessed and challenged by living under a political system that demands correction in its development. The Constitution is a developing document. It will be interpreted and amended over the years according to the character of the nation. America democracy depends upon correction as circumstance change. Unlike a totalitarian system that must defend itself against change democracy theoretically calls for mid-course correction via input from the people. So the reaction of correction is not only modeled in Scripture, it is necessary in our system of government.
Transplanting. Transplanting is another scriptural reaction to government, and it is the most complicated. When a Christian is living under a government which he finds most ungodly, he may find that neither civil disobedience nor correction is an appropriate option. The logical choice is rebellion, but rebellion is not a scriptural option. There is simply no way to reconcile the concepts of rebellion and submission to the governing authorities. Rebellion is a form of anarchy, which is the complete absence of government and law. Anarchy is a state where each individual goes his own ways and chaos reigns. It violates the structure of the universe and the nature of God. God holds anarchy in such abhorrence that His servant, Joshua, advises people to serve false gods rather than no God. “If it disagreeable in your sight to serve the lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve whether the gods which your father served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24:15) Anarchy exalts the individual to the status of a god and precludes any from of submission except that which comes from human whim.
The first (and sometimes last) step toward anarchy is rebellion. Rebellion is the non-submission to authority while pretending to live under that authority. Rebellion is the individual raising himself above the government or placing himself outside the law. Rebellion is not for anything else it is just against what is it is purely negative and there is no kind word for it in scripture. What then is a scripture answer for those who feel compelled to be against an evil government? They must be against the evil government from without, not from within. If attempting open correction is not an option, and civil disobedience is not necessary, then the believer must be transplanted to be submissive to a different authority. In Matthew 2: 13, we read of an evil government that demands the life of the infant Jesus.
Neither correction nor civil disobedience was an appropriate reaction to that government. So “an angel of Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying “Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you: for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him. In this case Joseph, Mary, and the child were transplanted under a civil government that took no issue with the government from which they had come; the agenda was simply safety. A like circumstance is described in Matthew 10:23, where Jesus is instructing His disciples, “But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next.” The act of transplanting from one set of city fathers to the next is not one of government reform; it is a strategy for safety and continuing ministry. The respect for and submission to a civil government is still is part of the individual’s life, but, in an effort to continue his life and ministry, he leaves the country. This biblical strategy would work toward the ideal that any person ought to be able to leave a country for the purposes of life or ministry.
American Revolution looked like pure rebellion, but it was actually the birth of a new nation. The declaration of independence clearly separated the people from English authority. The constitution completed that separation by instituting a legitimate civil government. After attempted correction, the next step was transplantation by creation of a new governmental authority. Because of the geographic separation, the colonies were the American people had already begun to form an identity and government separate from Britain. The “taxation without representation” issue was more an evidence of a separate ethos and people than of subjects who wanted more involvement in British government Each of the above reactions to government is rooted in respect for and the need for authority. No matter what the form of government, Christians are called to recognize the necessity of government.(Resource: Joel C. Hunter, Prayer, Politics, and Power)
Written By Dr. Lewis Akpogena