CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AND THE BELIEVER IN LIGHT OF ROMANS 13
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. 8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:1-10
INTRODUCTION I am going to begin my paper by asking a salient question: is it ever proper to engage in civil disobedience against the government when we examine Romans 13:1-7? The problem is especially relevant in the age of COVID-19, where Governor’s in multiple states have issued Executive Orders rendering church services illegal if they violate low limitations ranging from 2-4 people to over 10.
My standard response to my question is that there are varied and practical reasons why believers are discouraged in Scripture from taking governmental matters into their own hands. This is especially true of retribution matters of governance as stipulated in Romans 13:3-4, where we read, for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
Is it safe to assume that Romans 13:1-7 is intended to provide a comprehensive doctrinal position for the Church universal that restricts activities that may appear to be anti-government, yet biblical in rationality and form? There are indeed many theologians and biblical scholars who have argued that position and are continuing to postulate as the proper biblical response to the Christian duty regarding the State. A rationale like this also leads us to the question, “did Paul offer a praxis that renders all human governments and dictates as non sequitur, creating a conclusion that does not proceed from a logical position in the previous argumentative statement, or is there room to debate the Apostolic intent?” I would say that if we are to hold a carte blanche acquittal of all governmental actions and all political figures, we do a grave disservice to the intent of Paul’s rhetorical statement and the inspiration behind that which was written for our instruction in Romans 13.
WHEN GOVERNMENTS CORRUPT I understand that my task is onerous, as there have been many scholars and teachers who had gone before me and pursued the mission of properly exegeting Romans 13:1-7. I agree with Robert Jewett’s analysis. It is his understanding that the passage in question was never intended to create a political ethos that was to be universal in its intent. History would cry foul if this were the case, as it would justify the Roman church and the Lutheran Church’s blinded behavior toward the Nazi Regime under Adolph Hitler and his genocidal compulsion. A position of complete subservience would also rend the early churches struggle for existence as anathema, and it would negate the Jesus injunction to take up a sword in the proper setting (Luke 22:36-38). If this were the Pauline intent, it is woefully inadequate historically. This perspective is a particularly acute understanding of Paul’s position of being a believer at the end of this present evil age. Many scholars conclude that Paul would be less than inclined to give credence to the future of Christian ethics that continue to overwhelm our current discussions on ethical behaviorism. When Paul penned these words, they were a precursor to a planned visit to Rome to bolster the faith of the church who were laboring under tenuous circumstances.
With that in mind, my question is not intended to dispute the biblical injunction that God sees human governments as His ordained method of enforcing the law and social boundaries. In this light, the human government and human authorities or representatives of the said government possess legitimate authority. Human social orders are reflective of the divine law and bear witness to humanity’s original purpose, imaging or reflecting God and His Kingdom on earth, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-2).
Two members of the Germanic clergy, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be rolling over in their graves as would the clerics who fought against the British during the American Revolution. Barth made a salient observation of his sitz ein liben (current life) and the imposition of Christian liberalism. Barth brought into the discussion an varied understanding of submitting to authorities even as many of his contemporaries in the ecclesia in Germany were citing Romans 13:17 while quelling their people who were questioning the rumored atrocities of the Nazis. The German ecclesiastical hierarchy used the Pauline passage to justify Hitler’s racist views and his nationalistic approach to politics, which led to the Holocaust and the German Armies blitzkrieg policies of invading sovereign states during WWII. It was Barth’s position that the passage did not end in verse 7. He believed that the journey is not a stand-alone statement; instead, it is the conclusion of Paul’s Love Ethic of 12:9-21. With the penultimate being that we are never to be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. Barth’s take is interesting in light of the call to submit to Hitler and his regime of thugs.
CORRECT BEHAVIOR ON THE PART OF THE BELIEVER I am now going to make a few observations and comments about our passage that are stunning. As a student of philosophy, I appreciate the consistent application of logic by the Apostle. Paul brings us into a viewing of three different entities, authorities, submission to the said governmental figures, or standing in opposition through resistance to the authorities. Paul’s first appeal is to the legitimacy of being in a proper relationship with the government as a believer, with rejection serving as an improper position. Secondly, Paul addresses his audience narrowly. Paul is talking to subjects or citizens of a nation. In this portion of the diatribe, Paul is not speaking about the authorities. We find the third reference in verses 1-2, as Paul calls for everyone to be subject to what he would elaborate as being just laws that were not meant for evil application. Paul returns to the second view when he says we have no reason to fear when we engage in doing what is right.
The subject of correct behavior is being broached by Paul when the law is right in its demands. It is proper to see that Paul is using biblical ideology to enforce correct biblical ethics as it relates to Christians and the laws of the land generally. Although Paul is addressing a small band of believers in the city of Rome, this does not in any way dismiss the passage from universal use. We need a balanced approach to a theology that addresses our relationship with the State and our civic responsibilities.
WORD PATTERNS AND CLUES OF IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES It is also imperative that we examine Paul’s stylistic approach to the passage, with two prominent features serving as stand-alone functions. When you consider the verses and their content, the seven verses contain seven uses of the word “for” as a connecting point. You find these references in verses 1, 3, 4 three times, and in verse 7 twice. The repetitive nature of the word is essential, as it establishes the thought pattern. Paul continues in the use of repetition with the word “fear,’ which is used in a total of four instances, verses 3, 4, and 7, twice. The term “power” is used three times in verses 1 twice, and 3 once. The word for tax phoros, is used in three places, verses 6 once and 7 twice. “Good” is included thrice, verses three twice and four once. The word right appears three times in verses three twice and verses four once. “Bad” continues the pattern with three appearances in verses 3 three times. The pattern continues with numerous words making an appearance twice for a total of words. The word “subject” is used in verses 1 and 5, Paul uses the word “servant” twice in verse 4, with “wrath” being seen in verses 4 and 5. Another term for tax or toll (telios) is used once in verse 6, and honor shows up in verse 6. Paul also uses a series of conditional sentences that are directly applicable to submitting to authority. These sentences open with a declaration and then bleed into several if/then final sentences that are answered through affirmations. The statements read:
- v. 3 if you do not want to fear those in power, then do good
- v. 4 Declaration: the governing official is a servant of God and is for good
- v. 4 Answer: if you do evil, you have a reason to fear the official
- v. 4 Declaration: the symbol of authority in the sword is not vain, he executes justice
As an interesting side note, some scholars view the repetitive use of words as a sign that the passage was an earlier catechism piece used to teach the mandates of the church to initiates, helping them to navigate the dynamics of state positions and church life.
EARLY CHURCH HISTORY AND DISAGREEMENTS It is probably reasonable to digress and note that the Church Father Origen (185-254) struggled mightily with the doctrinal understanding that all authorities were to be obeyed regardless of the dictate and legal applications of their mandates. The controversy over the blanket application of submission has been rejected by many Christian preachers, scholastics, lay-people, and teachers since the beginning of the church. Many theological discourses have ensued. Not everyone agrees that simply because God has established all human-directed governments in the act of sovereignty, that the establishment requires submissive behavior ad infinitum.
Origen’s unease could be justified. This genius of the early church’s own father was martyred for being a Christian in Egypt by the ruling government. Origen himself lived under a cloud of threat by ecclesiastical authorities and civil authorities for most of his life. During his last 5 years on the planet, Origen encountered extreme physical torture and persecution in the city of Tyre. He would ultimately die in 254AD as a direct result of the way the governing authorities were treating him. Life experiences led Origen to dispute the Pauline position, where he began restricting his understanding to only applying the submission clause to murder and theft.
Origen’s view was not one that was universally accepted by his contemporaries or other scholars who followed him. There are many interpreters of Holy Writ who have interpreted Paul’s words in Romans 13:1-2 and 5-7 to be literal and binding to the church. This was Caesarea’s favorite son Eusebius (260-339) position. Eusebius outright dismissed Origen’s theological position. Eusebius utilized Romans 13 as a reasonable backing for a biblical challenge to submit to whomever reigned (306–337), and in particular, Emperor Constantine (306-337) and his Holy Roman Empire.
SITZ EIN LIBEN IN THE CONTEXT OF CULTURE UNDER EMPEROR NERO Turning to the historical and contextual understanding of the Pauline discourse, Paul wrote the passage in Romans during the first half of the Emperor Nero’s Rule (54-68AD). The years of Nero’s reign in this period were considered good years, and Nero had earned the people’s honor and trust. Nero had administrated justice fairly and applied clemency according to the Roman customs. Through these actions, Nero was viewed as the one who used the force of restoration to Rome’s unique Rule of law, as applied to the Roman Senate. During the years before Nero’s reign, many abuses and discriminations had been applied to the people. The restored Rule of Law led to a time of almost universal peace throughout the Roman Provinces. Peace lasted until 63AD when Rome lost its Armenian Province. The year 64AD saw a devastating fire engulf a significant section of Rome itself, leading Nero to lay the blame on the inferno on the Christians in the city. The blaming of the fire on Christians is understood to be a diversionary tactic on the part of Nero, or at least that was the suspicion of the vast majority of Rome’s citizenry. Many held that the fire was a cover-up for Neros desire to rebuild Rome with a more lavish layout. Things continued to devolve in Rome during this time-period as Nero suffered what could be described as a nervous breakdown. Nero’s maniacal behavior culminated in suicide outside of the city itself on June 9th, 68AD.
When Paul wrote to the Christian community in Rome during the winter months of 57-58AD, these were the Golden Years of Nero. We can assume that this why Paul spoke favorably about the authorities who were governing the city. It is also safe to think that Paul positively characterized the Roman government, which was his practice in the early days of his mission to evangelize both Jews and Romans in the eastern portions of the empire. This explains Paul’s positive portrayal of Rome, as I am sure that he did not want to stir up animosity toward the Roman government. We see this portrayal in 13:3-4. Paul was not desirous of endangering the mission in Rome.
THE JUDEAN SETTING AND THE PORTENT OF DISASTER In the meantime, Judaism was teetering on the brink of cataclysmic disaster over their ongoing resistance to Rome’s presence in Judea. We must remember that Imperial Rome considered Christianity to be a mere Jewish sect. This tied Christianity to Judea, even as Paul penned his words. Christianity was considered a novel religion that baffled Rome, as they perceived The Faith to be based on a belief in a Jewish man that Rome had crucified. Christianity was connected historically and culturally in a problematic manner to Judaism, which raised the question, what do you do with the Christians? These people were not wanted by Rome or Judea, which is a more than sufficient reason to articulate a status concerning civil governance. Paul was calling for the avoidance of wrath expressed through the courts of the State.
THE APPLICATION OF SOULD LOGIC IN ADDRESSING CHRISTIANS AND CULTURE After setting up his initial theological argument, Paul presents rational arguments in 13:3-4. To Paul, his assumption is logical and practical, as it intends to keep Christians safe during tumultuous times. Paul insists that based on the assumption that civic rulers govern for the benefit of those under their proctorship, Christians need not fear those in authority. That is why we submit (13:3). As governments and their representatives have a mandate to look after the good of the citizens in everything they promote, Christians should be supportive of the right of government (13:4). Both government and those who govern possess a God-granted authority regardless of faith expression, as the power is representative of Heaven’s governance. When the influence of human-made laws are disregarded, the sword of retribution should be expected to be employed, as the practitioners of evil need to be punished (13:4). Paul argues that it is not the Christian’s place to seek retribution and establish justice, taking the sword into their own hands and rebelling. Submission is the better part of valor in this passage. This lines up with the Pauline thought process found in his earlier love ethic, where he exhorts Christian believers to live at peace with all men (Romans 12:17-28). Under this exhortation, we are not to employ revenge against those who have hurt us, and instead, we are encouraged to make room for God to unleash His wrath on those who do us evil. God has said, vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord (12:19). These are compelling thoughts that create significant problems in exegeting the verses in modern times, as the Pauline thought has been used to justify unthinkable horror in the name of nationalism and superiority of race, creed, and religion.
A UNIVERSAL COMMAND OR SOMETHING ELSE The understanding that Paul’s command is universal in application when it comes to submitting to government leaves no interpretive room according to some theological circles. We are to submit, properly getting in line. Submission is not a literal bending of your will to the will of another. Submission is not a clarion cry to obedience. Biblical submission means that you have comported your life by the acceptance of truth, acknowledging the claims that have been presented as you follow orders that are just and benevolent. Submissions opposite is found in a state of resistance, as you oppose what is considered culturally moral.
Paul’s argument hinges on the supposition that governing individuals and societies are correctly following the Rule of law and that they are looking out for the best interest of the body politic and the common citizen. This is an important topic in our discussion, as Paul is setting up an argument for both the Jewish and non-Jewish believers who lived in Rome, as he appealed to their ordinary senses to comply with just laws and mandates. Both groups needed assistance in sorting out their affairs. Paul’s argument has no place for totalitarian behavior or the actions of a tyrant. Paul’s only concern is the issuance of Jesus’s ethic that should be displayed in pagan, secular society.
The tactic Paul utilizes does not have room for either tyranny or totalitarianism. It is not in his purview to address improper governance and its consequences. Paul’s sole concern is found in the rights of the Christian minority group and their response to duly constituted governments, and the relationship citizens have with those who govern as legitimate officers of the State. What is absent in Paul’s teaching is the opposite spectrum, what is the responsibility of those who govern to act justly? Paul makes one scant allusion to the question of the responsibility of the government to govern adequately in 13:4. Through the placing of this narrow approach, Paul leaves us with no room to either discuss or engage in civil disobedience. This fact could render the argument of blanket submission mute.
Now let me apply with specificity how we are to see Paul’s exhortations in our communities in light of the biblical evidence of 13:1-7. In the 6th and 7th verses of Romans 13, Paul begins to draw our attention to the real reason he is asking the faith community to be faithful in submitting to the governing authorities. Paul recognized that there was considerable contention in Rome, and among the Christians about exorbitant taxation, Nero was garnishing hefty tolls and taxes upon his subjects to pay for his ambitions. Taxes were at the crux of the political and civic dialog and possible sedition. The citizens of Rome despised the hefty taxes imposed on them, much like New York residents or Angelinos in California. City taxes were high, tolls and other government revenues were high; respect for governmental officials was often low. No one wanted to render honor and obedience willingly.
TAXATION AND DISCONTENT In the final two verses of Romans 13:1-7, Paul zeros in on the elephant in the room. Paul considered the issue of taxes and honor to be of great value, and supreme importance to the Christian community, as they had lived relatively unscathed in Rome to this point historically.
Paul approaches the subject cryptically and in an abbreviated fashion, as he writes to his friends in Rome. He intends to address the political cauldron that was threatening to boil over and leave dissent and chaos in its wake. The developments in the central city of the vast Roman empire dictated no less of a response. By following this path, Paul addresses two everyday needs that all believers have regardless of when they live and under what governmental order they exist. It is always prudent to examine our situations wisely, leaning on the counsel and direction of the Lord, and to also learn how to trust the transformation that has happened in our minds as a direct result of becoming a believer. These two items are vital in helping us to think and act appropriately, regardless of the dilemmas we may face. It also helps us to understand that we are to be people of the Spirit and the Word, as the balance between the two will always aid and assist us when difficult decisions must be made. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
Paul also sets out an acceptable reason for following the government’s lead, as governing powers are generally practical and useful for the common good of everyone. This is especially rings true when governments fulfill their primary task, as governments are tasked with controlling evil. This duty of sequestering evil is why Paul sees governing authorities as God’s enforcers of justice and equity. The government has a profoundly needed role in the civilizations of man. Doing good and avoiding evil is an essential element of a just society. If society is just, the law abiders have no reason to fear the terror that a government can inflict on its people. One of many government’s other roles is to inflict punishment on evildoers while rewarding those who walk uprightly. Punishing evil is an interesting supposition coming from Paul, as he had been the subject of governmental terror.
We see this in 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, with an emphasis on the content of verse 5, We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3 We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. 4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; 6 by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7 by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things, and 11;23-25,are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Notice two elements that emerge from this second passage. Paul was often in peril and the peril came from secular governments and ecclesiological governments. The net result was Paul gaining a profound concern for the church. He did not want others in the church to encounter what could lead to a disheartening experience without the proper level of faith and trust in the Lord.
We also see it in Acts 16:22-24. Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Paul was able to get his mistreatment at the hands of various governments and still see their value, both for him and for those that God had entrusted into his care, although that is not the end of the story concerning Paul and his troubles with social dissent and charges files. Consider the following events in the life of Paul the Apostle.
Paul and his cohorts were charged with: turning the world upside down (17:6). This phrase was not a back ended way of colloquially commending effective evangelism. FF Bruce comments that “these words imply subversive or seditious activity,” which implies the missionaries would advocate dethroning Caesar and installing a rival Emperor. Luke’s phrase Under cover of darkness (v.9), connects this remark with the previous verse, implying that the men skipped out on their bail, when they had taken security from Jason and the rest. They fled to Berea, a city unlike Philippi or Thessalonica, it was both back water and non-cosmopolitan. But it contained a Synagogue and God-fearers who were fair minded. The historical note that is important to consider here is what Paul, Jason, and part of the rest of the entourage did: they jumped bail and avoided their day in court. This decision to circumvent the legal process and avoid the challenge of facing their accusers would set the stage for an ongoing difficulty in the life of Paul from this point forward, as this incident would follow him all the way to Rome and his eventual execution.
In Acts 17:13-15, we see that the decision to ignore the summons to court had immediate repercussions. Men associated with the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
The Jewish leaders brought two charges against the believers. The first was that these men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them. This vague charge that the missionaries were troublemakers was not substantiated, at least in the realm of extradition. Although we are not completely aware of the regional laws that prevailed, Paul clearly jumped bail and these agitators would have used his action as a point of contention in inciting the crowd.
In Berea, this worked as the mobilization flashpoint against Paul, which led to his being spirited away to another town, while part of his group remained in order to sort out the trouble that was erupting in the newly formed church. Can you imagine the consternation that the leaders of this congregation faced as the crowd pointed out the fact that Paul was a wanted man who violated his bond? Place yourselves in their position. Imagine that your church hosted a guest speaker who conducted a series over an extended period as in a revival or a conference. Picture a successful campaign. The crowds grew, and fruit was produced. Then imagine that one night a group of visitors rose during the service and accused the speaker of crimes and fleeing prosecution as they produced the Warrant for the speaker’s arrest. What would you think about your leader’s judgment and discernment? Would it create doubt in the message and in the ministry, you were now a part of?
This is what happened. It is not outside of the realm of possibility to assume that the mob had some of these congregants in it. In fact, it was the mob that had created the disturbance (v.5). By declaring that Jason has welcomed them, they accused him of harboring criminals. The second charge against the missionaries was far more serious: they were all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus. To acknowledge any other king but Caesar was one of the most serious crimes in the Roman Empire. It was for allegedly claiming to be a rival earthly ruler to Caesar that the Romans crucified Jesus, from then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar (John 19:12). Failure to worship Caesar surely was a key component that led to Paul’s execution.
These charges stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. The latter, like their counterparts at Philippi, decided the simplest solution was to expel the “troublemakers.” Accordingly, having demanded and received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them. Since that bond would be forfeited if there was any more trouble, Paul and his companions had no choice but to leave. The city did not want them, and it is probable that the churches leadership did not want them either. In fact, they retained part of the team to placate the group and enact damage control and to stop the erosion of the congregation. The anguish that expulsion caused Paul is reflected in his comments in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18, but we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. 18 Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.
The Thessalonians had succumbed to the danger of improper allegiances, becoming dragons instead of a blessing. They thought they were acting in accordance to God’s will, much like Paul in his early years. They attacked him with impunity. Even though it is difficult, when it comes to the complexities our faith creates within our relationships, we must learn how to never take personal attacks personally. Paul was reaping a measure of what he had sown earlier in his life as a persecutor of the church and wrongly siding with the church’s opposition. Enter Dog, the Bounty Hunter(s) and a second unceremonious exit, with part of the team staying behind to stabilize the work. The two-pronged remedy God has provided for us in overcoming adversity confidently gets its assurance from prayer and Holy Spirit.
JESUS INJUNCTION OF RENDERING TO CAESAR AND ROMANS 13:8-14 The practicality of Paul’s dissertation is simple and reflective of a similarly framed diatribe from Jesus’s epigrammatic clause where Jesus tells us to render unto Caesar that which is Caesars, and unto God that which is God’s in all three synoptic Gospels. Paul is counseling the Christian presence in Rome to follow the principle of Jesus, pay what is owed. If taxes, pay your taxes. If levy’s and tolls, pay your levy’s and tolls. Do you owe revenue? Pay up and be at peace with all men, so that they can see the Lord through your separation from the lying and cheating practices of the world. Render honor where honor is appropriate. Paul’s advice is also reminiscent of the Prophet Jeremiah’s charge to seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace (Jeremiah 29:7).Or as some translations put it, if it prospers, you will prosper, thereby inextricably tying us to the cities where we associate. Rendering to Caesar is the probable cause for Peter’s exhortations in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Peter tells us that we are to submit to all authority that has been instituted among men, regardless of where they reside on the pecking order. Peter joins Paul is telling believers that they should give honor to whichever Emperor of the empire happens to be in rulership. We find similar verbiage coming from Paul and directed toward Titus, as he compels us to be loyal to our faith and to live under the orders of those in command, performing good deeds, refraining from speaking evil of others, abstaining from belligerency, being gentle and courteous. Romans 13:1-7 is an admonition against refraining from the practice of not paying your taxes.
CONTEXTUALIZATION FOR TODAY
As we have seen, several salient questions revolve around Romans 13:1-7. Was Paul’s intent to create a binding application of the relationship between rulers and the ruled? Does the mandate apply to every circumstance and situation that we might experience in our lifetime? Were Paul’s words intended to give guidance only in Rome, and can we extrapolate a different response to the subject of Christians and civil disobedience? Does this passage shed light on the other passages in the New Testament that broach the same topic as we see in Mark 12:13-17, Acts 5:29, Peter 2:13-17, and possibly Revelation 13?
I concur that there is validity in the idea that we can apply contextualization to our understanding of Scripture in the original context and to transport into our new application to our current circumstances, as long as our circumstances do not violate the basic truths espoused in Scripture. Here are some considerations that we can employ when we contextualize, as they pertain to the questions surrounding the place of the State in the life of the believer.
Our first consideration revolves around the kerygma (proclamation of the Gospel). Our message always needs to contain a portion of “this present evil age,” giving way to “the age to come.” We are in store for an inauguration of the fulness that God has for us as His Kingdom makes its presence fully known with the return of Christ. Until the restoration takes place, however, we still live in a fallen world that challenges the Christian ethic and presents situational conditions where we choose between bad and worse. This is the arena where civil disobedience fits snuggly into.
Our commitment to the sanctity of life leads us to protest abortion as an option for the termination of a pregnancy. Our pro-life marches, rally’s banquets, and specialized interest organizations are a mute witness to the practice of social dissent. As born-again believers, we have the distinct privilege to express our new life as we live that new life in the context of the tension of the two ages. At this current time in history, every message we preach about the sanctity of life, every social practice we engage in over life’s sanctity like banquets to support prolife group that represent our views is an act of social disobedience. Our actions are in direct opposition to the settled law of the land that is encased in our Constitution that has provided legal coverage for legal abortions. To obey the law of the land means we stand muted over abortion or that we change our position and advocate abortion on demand. God forbid we as the church ever devolve into a stance that endorses abortion. Our position in the confluent streams of politics and ethics demand that we operate in such a way that we help to make it on earth as it is in Heaven, and not on earth as it is in hell.
The cutting edge of our faith keeps us in determining the lines we are either willing to cross or to draw as a point of marking our boundaries with situational conditions of life, as we move to quell the darkness of sin and evil policies that would encroach upon believers. Strongholds of demonically inspired behavior will always attempt to intrude into our society. It is up to us to analyze the manipulations and schemes of evil people and counter them through our faith walk, as expressed through our thorough analysis of the agendas of government. It is more than appropriate to ask how an item of thought that is being considered for legislation will impact our ability to live peaceably among men.
THE HEAVENLY PROVISION FOR NAVIGATING CULTURAL VAGURIES Taking positions such as these further stipulate the necessity of the Christian to be cognizant of the affairs of men and to be willing to stand in opposition if needed. It must be our conviction that God will guide us on this journey and that in the end, we receive the accolade, well done good and faithful servant. Cognition will always be limited to the sanctified thought process as we live out the transformational life that takes into consideration the renewal of our minds, as we are admonished to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). An outlook that had been subjected to transformation gives way to an understanding of what God’s will is. It also helps us to see that God’s will is good, God’s will is pleasing, and God’s will is perfect. The admonition is all-inclusive in this understanding, as we live on a different plane of existence than the unbeliever. Therefore, we participate in the affairs of men. We pull them up out of the quagmire of sin and degradation legislatively if we are successful in our endeavors. If we are not successful, we are forced to live an existence that is less that God’s will for our lives.
Another issue that is germane to all believer’s activities and thoughts include the necessary interpolation of politics and faith, especially considering America’s long history of being a bastion of liberty and justice. Christians should engage in the political process locally and nationally, voting, meeting, and supporting candidates and lending our voice and support to relevant issues. This also includes a measure of opposition to ballots and initiatives that are counter-intuitive to the Christian faith. Rolling over and accepting things as, “that’s just the way it is,” is unacceptable. We are to resist the homosexual community’s attempt to muzzle the church’s position on homosexuality as presented in Scripture, regardless of our society’s position or how our Constitution has been interpreted concerning this issue. Positionally, this makes allowance for God to orchestrate the affairs of men and State through the body of Christ. As we partner with the revealed Word of God, our principles are honed and sharpened, and we impact the body politic with our revelation. Our partnership with God and with man allows us to engage in the enforcement of the sovereign will of God as manifested on earth.
TRUE PURPOSE AND INTENT OF SUBMISSION TO GOVERNING AUTHORITIES Other theologians have called us to analyze Romans 13 through a different set of assumptions. This school of thought would say we need to be mindful that even though Paul presents an optimistic understanding of government, it was not his intention to speak timelessly concerning the divinely mandated power of government. Paul is merely pushing for the appropriate measure of respect that all public servants should be given, whether Trump or Obama, Bush or Clinton, Nixon or Kennedy while serving in office. This applies to Rome and the United States of America. In America, we enjoy the most basic form of civil disobedience when we visit a Ballot Box and cast our vote against a person who is serving in office, even while we disagree with them and their policies. We are also challenged to understand that those who govern will one day give an account before God in judgments final statement at the end of this present evil age.
Although we may labor under evil edicts, Christians are not to be the vanguard in anarchy, even when the State appears to have assumed demonic principles. We fight from a place of peace, not the sword. Our battleground is the land of peaceful protest and civics 101, vote, and let your voice be heard. Peaceful protest can manifest in abortion opposition and religious institutions continuing to meet when the government has ordered religious institutions to refrain from the meeting. In America, we hold to the principles of a perfect union, one that grants us rights that are encased in the 1st Amendment to our Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and restricting an individual’s religious practices (Cornell law). As we ponder the restrictive behavior of governments gone bad, it is essential to remind ourselves of Peter’s response to the Sanhedrin in Acts where the underlying responsibility of the Christian is to obey God rather than man. This mandate is particularly true where the government is restricting the Gospel’s testimony from being heralded.
Our passage does not address every question that arises situationally and ethically when we ponder the relationship between Church and State. Paul does establish a qualified paradigm that should serve as an overlay that dictates our thoughts and actions from the transformation perspective. This especially true when Romans 13:1-14 is held up to Mark 12:13-17, Acts 5:29, 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Revelation 13. Paul has granted us a functional base to consider the more profound matters of how the Church relates to the State.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE During 2019’s tumultuous season of increased abortion laws and activities, we began an organization at the church where I pastor called Iam4life. Our organizational purpose was to explicitly engage in peaceful civil disobedience, including numerous rallies and a sit-in protest in the State Capitol’s Rotunda. It seems as if a wildfire has grown from those initial protests and demonstrations, as new prolife groups have organized and others have rallied the troops to protest our governments work shutdown in the wake of the Corona Virus outbreak in the State of Michigan. I remember the initial questions and opposition I received about organizing protests for conservatives to participate in, as a principled conservative would never protest the government. My view and rationale eventually prevailed. The following was my initial call to arms.
We stand at the precipice of changing our culture as we change the laws that have governed abortion, and you can help us accomplish this lofty goal. We need your prayer covering and your support. It is probably safe to assume that many of you are vehemently opposed to abortion and want to see this scourge restricted and eliminated from our great nation. Equally, there are probably many of you who are opposed to protesting publicly. Friends, we are closer now than ever in seeing the dream of limiting or removing Roe and Doe! The way forward is through the Heartbeat legislation that is sweeping our land.
FloodGate has been privileged to be at the vanguard of the Heartbeat movement, and the story behind our involvement is nothing short of supernatural! If you are like me and wanted to throw up watching New York State Governor Mario Cuomo sign one the least restrictive abortion laws on January 22nd, 2019, I have good news for you. That good news also extends into the revulsion we felt when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam called for a civil discussion about infanticide as it applies to the survival of a botched abortion. The child miraculously survives the procedure to terminate his or her fledgling life, only to die at the hands of the medical practitioners who failed in the abortion.
Northam called for the restriction of all aid for the life survival of the infant, making it comfortable until its life expired. Illinois acted upon Northam’s barbaric ideology and has recently enacted legislation that codifies the criminalization of any medical professional who renders aid and assistance to a child who survives the executioners failed attempt to abort yet remains unwanted. We must ask, what is our nation becoming?
So, where is the good news? On January 30th, about one week after Cuomo’s lifetime defining signatory accomplishment of infamy and the day after Northam’s call for infanticide, the Lord spoke to me and gave me a clear prophetic directive. This included me getting up before our congregation on two successive Sundays and saying that I was disgusted, it was a bridge too far, and we must do something. I did not know what we were to do, but I knew something had to be done!
As I was praying on the 30th, I began contemplating the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr, as we had recently celebrated his birth. I have been an admirer of Dr. King’s Civil Right’s work for most of my life. As I was reflecting and asking God for an action plan to do something, God spoke to me in His still small voice. He said: “Start a protest against abortion.” My first reaction was to laugh and to try and shake off the idea, as I was leaning into a self-explanation of my younger days where I protested Viet Nam, Marijuana laws, Police Brutality, Women’s Rights and any other liberal cause that could create a ruckus. So, the Lord spoke again, “organize a protest against abortion.”
It is a little embarrassing to say that I had organized protests during my youth that involved thousands of people and marches against the Police and the Nevada National Guard at the High School I attended. I did Community Organizing, Voter Registration in impoverished communities, worked to get the required signatures for Ballot Initiatives and other activities that were similar. I find that it is incredible how the Lord takes our ashes and redeems them, making them into a thing of beauty in His time.
After accepting the divine directive, I then proceeded to ask myself, what do I need to do to be responsive and obedient? I announced a new Prolife organization that would become known as I am 4 Life. The next thought that popped into my head and heart from the Lord was to hold a peaceful demonstration at the Michigan Capitol Building in the Rotunda. As a young man, I had participated in sit-ins at California’s Capitol in Sacramento protesting the use of Nuclear Power Plants and Nuclear weaponry. I thought, why not? I realized that we always ran the risk of being arrested in the hectic days of the 1960s and 1970s, and although I didn’t want to get arrested, I resolved that if it came down to it, so be it.
I then called Che Ahn, my Pastor, and Lance Wallnau, a Prophet friend. Both men have ministered at FloodGate in the past. Both men gave me the green light on the protest, sensing peace from the Lord as I shared my heart with them. Then I discussed it internally with close confidants in the church. Everyone agreed. My next step was to contact the Michigan Capitol to let them know what our intentions were and to assess the risk of arrest. I was informed that there was a close to zero probability of arrest, as the attitudes toward civil disobedience and protests had changed over the years. Our event was placed on the Calendar for April 23rd, 2019, at noon for an outdoor Life Rally and a 1 PM peaceful sit-in protest demonstration. I found out that there was a Remembrance Commemoration of the Jewish Holocaust in the Rotunda from 12-1 PM on the same day. I told her that we are supporters of Israel and would render all accords of respect. And we were on!
The Life Rally eventually had a litany of quality speakers including the Speaker of the House, a State Senator, other Prolife representatives, and Janet Porter, the champion of the 14-year fight to get the Heartbeat Law passed. Ohio’s heartbeat Bill was signed by Ohio’s Governor on April 11th, 2019, almost two weeks before our protest! We later found out that around 100 Christian Leaders throughout the State would be in Lansing on the same day attending a Private School event. Many of these leaders joined us, following their activities close.
The Rotunda protest and demonstration was profound. We were voicing our opposition to abortion and demonstrating our support of every prolife legislature. As we sang, prayed, spoke declarations, and shouted slogans, the needle began to move, although most of us did not realize at the time what we were unleashing.
Within a week, we had organized a Board for the advancement of the Michigan Heartbeat Bill. Our coalition began the arduous task of writing the language for a Petition To legislation that exists in tandem with two Bills that have been introduced in both the House and the Senate by Representative Johnson and Senator McBroom, respectively. The language was drafted in consultation with the prestigious ACLJ and our local Attorney Scott Hagerstrom, whose expertise is the drafting of Bills and Legislation. The task typically takes one year or more. Our draft was completed in about 27 days. Our Petition was submitted to the Canvassers Board, and despite being the FIRST Petition to go before the Board following significant changes in the law, our Petition was approved on June 18th, 2019, less than two months after our initial Rally and Protest Against Abortion! I testified before the Canvassers Board on behalf of our Petition, countering the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and their expert witnesses, including a Doctor and an Attorney who is a legal expert in abortion law. We won the day on the arguments presented.
Our Charter at I am 4 Life included instructions for non-violent protest activities. I add a copy for your consideration.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT AT IAM4LIFE.COM LIFE RALLY & PROTEST
PURPOSE STATEMENT I am 4 Life (Iam4Life.com) is a grassroots activist movement seeking Radical Reformation by calling the pro-life community to do more than just pray to end abortion. We use protests, marches, letter campaigns, phone calls, Billboards, and other action-oriented means to advance the cause of the unborn. Through peaceful protest, we hope to raise awareness and see abortion laws transformed in America to protect the lives of the unborn.
FIRST, DO NOT ENGAGE IN VIOLENCE IN ANY FORM!
- We represent the Prince of Peace, and we turn the other cheek.
- Violence destroys credibility and can lead to an early end of our activities.
- If counter-protestors or infiltrators try to start violence, STEP AWAY, and get help.
- There will be volunteer Peacekeepers among the crowd.
- Realize that we may be confronted by Counterdemonstrators or troublemakers.
Do not get caught in long debates, arguments, or discussions about what we are doing. Direct them to listen to the speakers. We do not want tempers to escalate or to get distracted from our goal of letting our voices be heard for the innocent lives that have yet to be born. THE UNBORN ARE WHY WE ARE GATHERING, not personal or other political agendas.
SECOND, BE RESPECTFUL ALWAYS
Protests are a time-honored way to voice our opinion as American citizens. Disrespect should not be engaged in with any opposition that may show up. Do not engage in the following activities:
- Yelling or insulting anyone who disagrees with you
- Vandalism or destruction of property
- Throwing liquids or spitting
- Using foul or abusive language
- NO ACTS OF VIOLENCE WILL BE TOLERATED
THIRD, IF APPROACHED BY THE POLICE, be RESPECTFUL and COURTEOUS.
Know your rights as a pro-life protester. You have the right to protest abortion in the Statehouse and on Statehouse grounds. Please follow all the instructions we are providing as I am 4 Life. Do not engage in shouting matches, violence, or any other counter-productive activity. Listen to the Police if they address you or the group. We have the right to convene, and we have the right to engage in free speech. You do not have to allow a search of yourself or your belongings without a warrant. If a police officer asks if he or she can search you, you have the right to decline until a warrant is presented.
LAST, WEAR AN I AM 4 LIFE TEE SHIRT AS SIGNS ARE NOT PERMITTED IN THE CAPITOL. Any posters, fliers, visuals, written material must be left outside. Once inside the Capitol Building, be respectful and quiet, as we do not want to disturb the Legislative process. Dress appropriately, comfortably, and safely. Bring comfortable shoes—layer up for safety.