A Biblical Case for Civil Disobedience
“Let ever soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans 13:1
Many philosophers and great thinkers of the past discovered in their extensive studies of the subject of sovereignty, that the application of Romans 13 to any and all decisions of a governing body is completely outside of the context of scripture.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)- “ A state is a part of the universal empire of which God is the maker and ruler.” ….. “Man is bound to obey secular princes in so far as this is required by the order of justice. Wherefore if the prince’s authority is not just but usurped, or if he commands what is unjust, his subjects are not bound to obey him, except perhaps accidentally, in order to avoid scandal or danger.”
John Wycliffe (1382) – In the preface of his translation of the Bible from Latin to English we find these words: “This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The New Haven Colony in the Americas (1641) records this in the establishment of it’s laws - “…the judiciall law of God given by Moses and expounded in other parts of scripture, so far as itt is a hedg and a fence to the moral law, and neither ceremoniall nor typicall nor had any reference to Canaan, hath an everlasting equity in itt,, and should be the rule of their proceedings.”
Thomas Shepard (1649) - “For all laws, whether ceremonial or judicial, may be referred to the decalogue, as appendices to it, or applications of it, and so to comprehend all other laws as their summary.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) -also struggled with the question of just how far are we supposed to obey the government we find over us under the Third Reich. Many German Christians at that time believed that because certain orders are evident in creation, one should not rebel against them, but simply accept them. Bonhoeffers response to them was this: “We know that all the orders of the world only exist in that they are directed towards Christ; they all stand under the preservation of God as long as they are still open for Christ, they are orders of preservation, nor orders of creation.”
Rousas J. Rushdoony (1973)- in his book entitled “The Institutes of Biblical Law” states, “God, in creating man, ordered him to subdue the earth and to exercise dominion over the earth. (Gen. 1:28) Man, in attempting to establish separate dominion and autonomous jurisdiction over the earth (Gen. 3:5), fell into sin and death.”
To simply summarize their findings, government is only to be obeyed by Divine edict as it submits itself to that Divine order. I noticed in their writings (and others) that they found a tension between the subject of submission and resistance in the Scriptures. In my own studies I have also found this same balance in the Scriptures.
When Peter spoke to the Jewish authorities in Acts 5:29, he said, “…We ought to obey God rather than men.” This is the conclusion to which he arrived after considering the Old Testament Scriptures, the voice of the Holy Ghost, and the irrational demands of the authorities. Although Rome was at that time the ultimate governing authority, the Jewish leaders were still very much in charge of their people as is evidenced by the crucifixion of Jesus. What were the Biblical examples which gave Peter such courage?
Moses – demonstrates the struggle as he appealed to the Pharaoh of Egypt ten times. Each time he came to an agreement and the Egyptian monarch changed his mind. Finally, after the tenth attempt, Moses instructed the people of Israel to prepare to leave Egypt. Even then it was apparent that the Pharaoh did not agree with the decision because he pursued Moses and the Israelites with the intent to bring them back into slavery.
David – refused to dishonor King Saul because of his anointing, but at the same time refused to let Saul imprison him or worse yet kill him.
Obadiah – hid one hundred prophets of God in a cave and fed them possibly from the kings own kitchen when Jezebel went on a rampage and demanded them all to be delivered to her to be killed.
Elijah – challenged the king of Israel and rebuked him openly.
Daniel – and his three friends sought the approval of the king in their diet. In that case (Daniel 1) the king granted them their wish. However, by chapter three of the same book the king had overstepped his bounds demanding worship or death in a fiery furnace. Daniel’s three friends refused to bow knowing the consequences. In chapter six, Daniel refused to obey the kings order and spent a night in a lion’s den because of it. The resistance of these four men brought about freedom for all the people of God.
Mordechai- refused to bow to a government bureaucrat who had taken upon himself too much authority. In the end, because of his resistance many lives were saved.
John the Baptist- rebuked the government official for his immorality and ended up loosing his life for it. However, Jesus said that there was no greater than him (Matthew 11:11).
Jesus- was told that Herod was going to kill him if He stayed and preached in Jerusalem to which Jesus replied, “Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless, I must walk to day, and tomorrow, and the day following…” (Luke 13:32-33).
In these cases, we see that in the area of morality, safety, or calling there is Biblical precedent for refusing to obey the government.
It is interesting to see this tension between meekness and self-defense in Luke’s gospel. “Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”( Luke 22:36) Here Jesus is telling his disciples to buy a sword. It is so important that they should sell a garment to get one. Yet when Peter, who had obviously picked up on the self-defense bit, pulled his sword to defend Jesus, he was told to put it away. That was not the time or place. So, there are times when resistance is not right, and there are times when resistance is right.
There are questions that beg answering: Who exactly are the higher powers to whom we should submit? Are we bound to submit to someone who is not our legal authority? What do we do when one higher power disagrees with another higher power---which one do we obey? (ie. Do I have to submit to Nancy Pelosi and A.O.C. because they are national leaders?) Is it possible that a higher power can abdicate his position by removing himself from the authority he is under (Matthew 8:9)? And then there is the question of whether the desires of our governor are actually fair and equitable. Some would say that he is not trying to take away our freedoms, merely trying to save us from ourselves and protect the masses from a strange and terrifying disease.
The question we are all facing currently is: “Is this the time to resist or is this the time to submit?”
Here are my conclusions on the matter:
1. The governor of Illinois has stepped outside of his legal boundaries afforded him by the constitution of Illinois. Therefore, his recommendations are not law, but are instead his opinion of how to handle the current situation.
2. By continuing to cancel the Legislature sessions and completely ignoring their pleas to allow them to meet, he has declared himself the supreme ruler of the state. This is dangerous.
3. His pattern of behavior is not unlike Adolf Hitler who started his reign of terror by beginning to criminalize law abiding Jews for refusing to walk in a prescribed area or to refuse to wear the prescribed star of David. Our governor has released murderers from prison to “protect them from getting COVID 19” and has supported the Mayor of Chicago when she has proclaimed that she will arrest people who gather in Churches.
4. The virus which is being cited as the cause for this current situation is behaving in the same way in which other flu viruses behave. It is not affecting the work force at all but is dangerous only to the older more vulnerable population. Recent data suggests that over 97% of those who get the virus recover from it. Therefore, shutting down the workforce is wrong.
5. Our governor has consistently mismanaged the state budget, and his current rules are harsh and unreasonable. Meanwhile, he is spending millions on managing this virus and paying off special interests.
6. He has targeted churches as the least important to function. By his rules they will not be opened back up until his phase 5 which could be a year off.
7. His rules have affected our local area. The children this summer will have nothing to do. There is no public swimming pool. There are no baseball games, No day camps, no Vacation Bible Schools, no teen camps. The children of our community will have nothing to do but stay home and watch whatever is on their screens. Idle hands will find opportunity to do wrong and the next generation which has been taught that abortion will fix the consequences of unbridled lust, that Marijuana dispensaries and alcohol stores are essential businesses, that government handouts are a good substitute for honest labor, will find themselves lost in a vicious cycle of degradation.
I believe that we have a narrow window to stop this irrational and despotic behavior by the wily fox we call governor and his depraved sidekick, the mayor of Chicago. If we do not stop it now, it will continue to get worse. We are in a situation like the one Nehemiah was in when he, under the authority of the king was rebuilding Jerusalem. The governors beyond the river got angry and tried to stop the Lord’s work. They conspired to destroy the work and Nehemiah defended it with the sword. We find ourselves in a situation where our Legislators and local board members find themselves at odds with the governor. They, our legislators, are also our higher powers.
Should a pastor and a church concern themselves with politics? Proverbs has this to say, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” I believe that we should do whatever is in the power of our hand to do. We have a responsibility to try to make the lives of our people as good and wholesome as possible. James 4:17 says this, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
In II Thessalonians 2 we are told that the “Mystery of Iniquity” is already working in our world today, but the Holy Spirit filled church is in the way of its complete takeover. The “Wicked one,” whom we refer to as the “Anti-Christ” will be revealed after we are removed from the scene. If we are the only resistance to his schemes than RESIST WE MUST in every way we can.