Dear Wake Up Family:
We’ve all done it… read one text in the Bible that appears to contradict another. What should we do when we encounter this? Larry’s message has always been, “Study the Bible for yourself and come to your own conclusions.” In my experience, this is easier said than done.
One such text I’ve tried to make sense of is Romans 13. Have you ever thought about that verse and what it means in practical, real-life terms? Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” Some believe Paul is commanding Christians to do whatever civil government says. I find this interpretation bizarre considering Paul spent more time in jail than out of jail.
If the state really was the “authorities” and “powers” being referred to as God’s ministers and servants, a conflict arises within the Bible because Paul, during the same time period, in 1 Corinthians 6, instructed Christians to stay away from government courts which he called “unrighteous”.
Yes, all power comes from God. Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above.” Yet, how could Paul mean that we are to submit to whatever a politician or bureaucrat demands, when God Himself —the highest power in the universe—doesn’t force us to obey Him. God made us free will beings, so why would He require blind obedience to a mere human?
To understand this verse’s context, we must first acknowledge that all power is subjective and jurisdictional. Every person, in any position of authority, has jurisdiction related to that authority. Outside of that jurisdiction he has no authority. Romans 13, like any verse in the Bible, does not and cannot stand alone.
When you look at Bible history, the majority of the stories deal with someone defying civil authority. Think about Daniel in the lion’s den. Daniel went to the lion’s den because civil government put him there for defying its law. When they told Daniel he couldn’t pray in public or private, he said, “No, I’m not going to obey that. I’m going to pray like I do every day.” Of course God saved him, but he was willing to go to his death in defiance of civil authority. The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is the same. The state tried to kill them for disobeying its demands. The point is they were willing to die in defiance of civil law.
Paul, the man who wrote Romans 13, makes it clear that our submission to government must be predicated on more than fear of retaliation. Our actions must be based on what we understand is right and wrong. In Paul’s day, church leaders were often beaten, stoned, and imprisoned. Today, a churches’ greatest fear is saying something that jeopardizes their non-profit status. During Paul’s day God was their authority. Today, it seems the state has assumed that role.
America today has the same problem Israel had in the Old Testament. The clergy, over time, became indifferent until they resembled the very people they were supposed to be elevating to a higher standard of right-doing. In Israel’s case the whole nation finally became so corrupt their heathen neighbors were, in God’s eyes, morally better. It seems that what the Lord foretold Samuel in Samuel 8 inevitably happens to all religious and civil authorities.
In the U.S., our constitution is the highest civil authority. It supersedes all laws, and all three branches of government are subservient to it (or are supposed to be). You’ve heard the saying by Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He also said, “Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.” Well, as Larry Wilson once asked, “Have you seen any examples of that lately?”