Monday, June 24, 2013

What is a Christian's Responsibility to the Civil Government?

By Roger D. Campbell
    Do you suppose there is a civil government anywhere in the world that has the exact structural arrangement and policies that the Roman Empire had in the days of Jesus and the first-century disciples? There may be some aspects of present-day governments that resemble those of the ancient Roman Empire that was in power in the Middle East when the New Testament was written, but the odds are extremely high that no modern-day arrangement is a one-hundred-per-cent carbon copy of the Roman setup.
    If that be the case, why should a child of God living in the 21st century even be concerned about what the New Testament teaches about Christians’ responsibility to their civil government? The specifics may not be exactly the same, but the New Testament principles still apply because they are a part of the teaching of the Christ that endures and lives forever (1 Peter 1:23-25), being in force until the end of the age/world (Matt. 28:20).
    What does the New Testament teach about my obligation to the government under which I live? This general instruction is found in Titus 3:1: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work.” That statement, coupled with more extensive teaching recorded in 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Romans 13:1-7, as well as other New Testament principles, leads us to make the following conclusions about our responsibility to the civil government.
1) A Christian is to obey civil authorities. First, the message of Titus 3:1 is, “...obey magistrates.” Second, the opening instruction of Romans 13:1 is, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” Third, Christians are further charged, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man” (1 Peter 2:13). The context of this last passage clearly shows that the expression “ordinance of man” is not a reference to some man-made religious regulation, but rather to the decree of civil authorities, “the king” and “governors” are noted (1 Peter 2:13,14). When the Holy Spirit’s instruction is to “obey,” “be subject to,” and “submit to” the laws of the land, that is a pretty plain message, would you not agree?
2) A Christian is to obey the civil government “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13). Because “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1), resisting such authorities is equal to resisting God’s ordained authority and arrangement (13:2). Obeying civil authorities is part of obeying the Lord, “For so is the will of God” (1 Peter 2:15).
3) A Christian is to obey every aspect of civil law. Going back to 1 Peter 2:13, we read, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake....” “Every ordinance” would include what the civil authorities decree about building codes, littering highways, tax obligations, the size of passport photos, how far a church building must sit away from a street/road, and you name it. We may be tempted to label certain laws as “unreasonable,” “ridiculous,” or even “insane,” but the law is the law. If I have the right to disregard a law that I count as inconvenient, excessively costly, etc., then why would another person not have the right to disregard a different law? What is it that ensues when people decide to use their own gut feelings to determine with which government ordinances they will comply, and which they will disregard? The word is “chaos” or “lawlessness.”
4) A Christian is to obey civil authorities at all levels. Peter’s Spirit-guided instruction to submit to civil ordinances was, “...whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers...” (I Peter 2:13,14). Kings, governors, and delegated authority are mentioned, indicating that all branches and levels of civil government fall under the category of “the powers that be” to whom we are to submit ourselves. In our country that would include national, state, district, county, and city laws.
5) A Christian is to obey civil authorities, regardless of the type of government under which he lives. This principle is tough for some to accept willingly, but it is true. In the U.S., we are blessed to live in a republic in which we are privileged to vote and elect government officials who are supposed to represent us and our best interests. Those to whom the apostles wrote inspired messages in the first century about obeying governmental powers were not living in a republic or anything akin to such. They lived in a day when kings, often ruthless, self-serving men, reigned. Still, the message of God was to submit to them. If the U.S. or some other nation should some day, either by choice or by force, adopt a form of government that has little or no concern for the common people, God’s charge to “obey magistrates” would still be in force.
6) While Christians are obligated to obey civil authorities, if there are governmental regulations that are not in harmony with God’s law, Christians must choose to obey what God says. Because God’s people are to act “as obedient children” at all times (1 Peter 1:14), if man’s laws are at odds with the teaching of the Bible, God’s children are to obey the Bible. Yes, in every situation, “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Remember, we are not at liberty to not submit to a government law simply because we do not like it. A saint’s decision to not submit to a civil law must be based on a “thus saith the Lord” and not on his own personal likes or preferences.
    These half-dozen principles we have noted are not based on culture. Rather, they are biblical truths that apply in every society in every generation.

- via the Nile Street Notes, the weekly bulletin of the Anna Church of Christ in Anna, IL; R. W. McAlister preaches for the congregation and may be contacted through the congregation's website: 

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