Romans Chapter 13

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It seems
that every time someone such as myself attempts to encourage our
Christian brothers and sisters to resist an unconstitutional or
otherwise reprehensible government policy, we hear the retort, "What
about Romans Chapter 13? We Christians must submit to government.
Any government. Read your Bible, and leave me alone." Or words
to that effect.

No doubt, some
who use this argument are sincere. They are only repeating what
they have heard their pastor and other religious leaders say. On
the other hand, let’s be honest enough to admit that some who use
this argument are just plain lazy, apathetic, and indifferent. And
Romans 13 is their escape from responsibility. I suspect this is
the much larger group, by the way.

Nevertheless,
for the benefit of those who are sincere (but obviously misinformed),
let’s briefly examine Romans Chapter 13. I quote Romans Chapter
13, verses 1 through 7, from the Authorized King James text:

"Let every
soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but
of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore
resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that
resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not
a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid
of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise
of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But
if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the
sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute
wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject,
not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause
pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually
upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute
to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear;
honor to whom honor."

Do our Christian
friends who use these verses to teach that we should not oppose
President Bush or any other political leader really believe that
civil magistrates have unlimited authority to do anything they want
without opposition? I doubt whether they truly believe that.

For example,
what if our President decided to resurrect the old monarchal custom
of Jus Primae Noctis (Law of First Night)? That was the old medieval
custom when the king claimed the right to sleep with a subject’s
bride on the first night of their marriage. Would our sincere Christian
brethren sheepishly say, "Romans Chapter 13 says we must submit
to the government"? I think not. And would any of us respect
any man who would submit to such a law?

So, there are
limits to authority. A father has authority in his home, but does
this give him power to abuse his wife and children? Of course not.
An employer has authority on the job, but does this give him power
to control the private lives of his employees? No. A pastor has
overseer authority in the church, but does this give him power to
tell employers in his church how to run their businesses? Of course
not. All human authority is limited in nature. No man has unlimited
authority over the lives of other men. (Lordship and Sovereignty
is the exclusive domain of Jesus Christ.)

By the same
token, a civil magistrate has authority in civil matters, but his
authority is limited and defined. Observe that Romans Chapter 13
clearly limits the authority of civil government by strictly defining
its purpose: "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but
to the evil . . . For he is the minister of God to thee for good
. . . for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath
upon him that doeth evil."

Notice that
civil government must not be a "terror to good works."
It has no power or authority to terrorize good works or good people.
God never gave it that authority. And any government that oversteps
that divine boundary has no divine authority or protection.

Civil government
is a "minister of God to thee for good." It is a not a
minister of God for evil. Civil magistrates have a divine duty to
"execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." They have no
authority to execute wrath upon him that doeth good. None. Zilch.
Zero. And anyone who says they do is lying. So, even in the midst
of telling Christians to submit to civil authority, Romans Chapter
13 limits the power and reach of civil authority.

Did Moses violate
God’s principle of submission to authority when he killed the Egyptian
taskmaster in defense of his fellow Hebrew? Did Elijah violate God’s
principle of submission to authority when he openly challenged Ahab
and Jezebel? Did David violate God’s principle of submission to
authority when he refused to surrender to Saul’s troops? Did Daniel
violate God’s principle of submission to authority when he disobeyed
the king’s law to not pray audibly to God? Did the three Hebrew
children violate God’s principle of submission to authority when
they refused to bow to the image of the state? Did John the Baptist
violate God’s principle of submission to authority when he publicly
scolded King Herod for his infidelity? Did Simon Peter and the other
Apostles violate God’s principle of submission to authority when
they refused to stop preaching on the streets of Jerusalem? Did
Paul violate God’s principle of submission to authority when he
refused to obey those authorities who demanded that he abandon his
missionary work? In fact, Paul spent almost as much time in jail
as he did out of jail.

Remember that
every apostle of Christ (except John) was killed by hostile civil
authorities opposed to their endeavors. Christians throughout church
history were imprisoned, tortured, or killed by civil authorities
of all stripes for refusing to submit to their various laws and
prohibitions. Did all of these Christian martyrs violate God’s principle
of submission to authority?

So, even the
great prophets, apostles, and writers of the Bible (including the
writer of Romans Chapter 13) understood that human authority – even
civil authority – is limited.

Plus, Paul
makes it clear that our submission to civil authority must be predicated
on more than fear of governmental retaliation. Notice, he said,
"Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but
also for conscience sake." Meaning, our obedience to civil
authority is more than just "because they said so." It
is also a matter of conscience. This means we must think and reason
for ourselves regarding the justness and rightness of our government’s
laws. Obedience is not automatic or robotic. It is a result of both
rational deliberation and moral approbation.

Therefore,
there are times when civil authority may need to be resisted. Either
governmental abuse of power or the violation of conscience (or both)
could precipitate civil disobedience. Of course, how and when we
decide to resist civil authority is an entirely separate issue.
And I will reserve that discussion for another time.

Beyond that,
we in the United States of America do not live under a monarchy.
We have no king. There is no single governing official in this country.
America’s "supreme Law" does not rest with any man or
any group of men. America’s "supreme Law" does not rest
with the President, the Congress, or even the Supreme Court. In
America, the U.S. Constitution is the "supreme Law of the Land."
Under our laws, every governing official publicly promises to submit
to the Constitution of the United States. Do readers understand
the significance of this distinction? I hope so.

This means
that in America the "higher powers" are not the men who
occupy elected office, they are the tenets and principles set forth
in the U.S. Constitution. Under our laws and form of government,
it is the duty of every citizen, including our elected officials,
to obey the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, this is how Romans Chapter
13 reads to Americans:

"Let every
soul be subject unto the [U.S. Constitution.] For there is no [Constitution]
but of God: the [Constitution] that be [is] ordained of God. Whosoever
therefore resisteth the [Constitution], resisteth the ordinance
of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For [the Constitution is] not a terror to good works, but to the
evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the [Constitution]? do that
which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For [the
Constitution] is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou
do that which is evil, be afraid; for [the Constitution] beareth
not the sword in vain: for [the Constitution] is the minister of
God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore
ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience
sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for [the Constitution
is] God’s minister, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due;
custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor."

Dear Christian
friend, the above is exactly the proper understanding of our responsibility
to civil authority in these United States, as per the teaching of
Romans Chapter 13.

Furthermore,
Christians, above all people, should desire that their elected representatives
submit to the Constitution, because it is constitutional government
that has done more to protect Christian liberty than any governing
document ever devised by man. As
I have noted before in this column
, Biblical principles form
the foundation of all three of America’s founding documents: The
Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution, and The Bill
of Rights.

As a result,
Christians in America (for the most part) have not had to face the
painful decision to "obey God rather than men" and defy
their civil authorities.

The problem
in America today is that we have allowed our political leaders to
violate their oaths of office and to ignore, and blatantly disobey,
the "supreme Law of the Land," the U.S. Constitution.
Therefore, if we truly believe Romans Chapter 13, we will insist
and demand that our civil magistrates submit to the U.S. Constitution.

Now, how many
of us Christians are going to truly obey Romans Chapter 13?

August
11, 2007

Chuck Baldwin [send
him mail
] is a talkshow host and pastor. Here
is his website.

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