by Hadley Robinson
An important issue that the Church has faced over thousands of years has been what to do when evil men are in control of the civil power. In our case, is it lawful for Christian citizens to mount an organized armed rebellion against the established government if they perceive, for example, that it is moving against the Constitution or engaging in terrorism against its subjects?
It is not a hypothetical issue as it seems that our own Federal government has become, as R. C. Sproul has said, demonized. What should we do, if anything? Suffice it to say, there are volumes written on the subject by godly Christians and this writer takes a particular side based on what he believes is overwhelmingly taught in Holy Scripture.
We have many examples of a demonized governments. Joseph of Egypt experienced years in prison though he was innocent of the charge (Gen. 39:20). David was chased around the desert by the insanely jealous and murderous King Saul. But David did not so much as lay a finger on the king even when he had the opportunity (1Sam. 24:10). The Prophet Jeremiah commanded the Jews not to resist King Nebuchadnezzar when he was about to sack and burn Jerusalem, the Holy City (Jer. 21:8-10).
There are many examples in the Old Testament of God's anointing wicked men as rulers for the purpose of exercising judgment against a people. The objects of God's wrath may include His own people. A prominent example of this was the Syrian ruler, Hazael, who cruelly punished Israel (2Ki. 8:12) in the same or worse manner as the Third Reich. If someone had made an attempt to stop Hazael from dashing Israeli infants against the rocks, he would have been fighting against God. It was His will that they be put to death in this manner. It is shocking to read of God's purposes sometimes.
Not surprisingly, there are many – even in the Church – who are horrified by some aspects of God's will. The Church in this age is in the grip of ideas that are not from the Bible, especially humanism, and most cannot shake its influence despite clear teaching in God's Word.
If we look in the New Testament, a good example is Jesus' trial and execution. At no point did He deny that the wicked leaders of the Jews and the feckless Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had the right to inflict capital punishment. Nor did He disobey the orders of magistrates except when it came to healing on the Sabbath and preaching the Gospel. In the end, He accepted their false verdict without resistance. He had to obey God rather than man and was willing, as the great example, to suffer the consequences. This was also the case with the Apostles (Acts 5:29). In both cases, they disobeyed the magistrate but did not resort to violence in so doing. They broke the law of the time but made no effort to resist the consequences – even being put to death. This was the example of how the godly were to respond to the apparent excesses of government. Jesus was an innocent man who was dragged off and murdered. Again, it was God's will that it should be done. Had it not happened, we would still be dead in our sins.
But the most important section in Scripture regarding our response to those who hold the civil power is found in Romans 13:1
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. - Romans 13:1-7
There is no qualification either here in Romans or anywhere else in Scripture that the civil authority can be resisted with deadly force because it is evil or mistreats its subjects. This is true in the Old as well as the New Testament. This is particularly illustrated by David's own exhortation to leave the deadly King Saul alone.
However, a Christian university professor of political science noted that a Christian should be able to exercise passive disobedience if the magistrate violates some natural law, such as seizing lawful weapons owned by a citizen. The passive disobedience would be not telling the magistrate where the weapons are, for example. This is not the same as using the weapons against the magistrate.
Passive disobedience is another matter and not of the serious nature as is armed resistance or attack as those who passively disobey are ready to face the consequences from the magistrate. This professor also implied that if the magistrate is about to murder an innocent party, we have the duty to stop it. No doubt, the men of the South faced this dilemma with the murderous Lincoln during the Civil War.
But do we have the right from God to stop it, as righteous as it appears to be? Peter thought he had the right to stop the arrest of Jesus with deadly force but God had other plans. Using deadly force against the magistrate is wrong, using it to stop unlawful personal violence is not.
Had you or I been at Jesus' arrest with automatic weapons, what would we have done? In such a case, we can only hope that the Creator of the heavens and the earth would stop our actions as He did Peter.
In understanding Romans 13, the Apostle Paul was well acquainted with the ruthless and tyrannical Roman emperors. Rome did keep some sort of civil order – especially for its day. Why would he unequivocally say that the magistrate is God's servant to do good if there were some sort of idea that he would cease to be God's servant if he did not do good (which was often the case)?
Additionally, early Christians did not resist with force the predations of the Roman government. This implies that the bishops and other church authorities roundly condemned the use of deadly force against the government even when they were being dragged off to be executed, as the Apostle Paul and countless others were. Christians of his time were provoked, even to the point of being mass-murdered.
Can that be said of the American Colonists? Were they being hunted down and hanged by the tens of thousands by the British for their beliefs? It is not possible to compare the hardships of the 2nd century Christian with that of the American Colonist. There were many here who egged on the British authorities in attempts to provoke them to use deadly force. It's a common tactic of war-mongers. What is more, American Loyalists were shamefully treated by the Colonists – their possessions ransacked, their houses and churches burned. Again, Scripture comes to mind, "...is God's Arm too short?"
In general, is the taking up of arms lawful in Scripture, as Dean Garrison exhorts? Passages such as Luke 22:36 might suggest that it is but it must be qualified. In this verse, the allusion is to the civil disorder that would accompany believers. Scripture records that the civil authority was so annoyed at the religious sects that it failed to stem unlawful violence against them even from their own (cf. Acts 18:17). Therefore, this passage must allude to the likelihood of personal violence against God's people and that they have the right to resist and stop it if the magistrate refuses to do. It makes no sense that Jesus was in the process of arming His disciples for war against the Roman government. This question is further answered here:
At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? – Matt. 26:55
It is a rhetorical question – He was not leading a civil rebellion but should His followers? The answer is "No".
When a group of people who call themselves Christians look like they are preparing themselves to mount an armed rebellion, what do the civil authorities think other than here is just another seditious group?
Should Christians fight for some sort of kingdom here? Apparently, many in the United States believe this. But this is not in accordance with sound doctrine or historical Christian orthodoxy. It is better to suffer injustice than to paint the Christian faith as some version of Islam whose followers are bloody terrorists.
Followers of Islam must slaughter their supposed enemies because their god – who is not the Creator of the heavens and earth but the Devil – cannot. He must incite his followers to all sorts of violence. This is true of false religion. God's Arm is never to short to mete out justice when He sees that it is necessary and it often results in a holocaust. The few on the earth who love Him and wait for His Kingdom should be content with His timing of events. It another way of how we walk by faith, not by site.
The theme of suffering for doing good and committing oneself to Him who can deliver from the lion is also evident in 1Peter 2:12-25. It is commendable for a slave to receive a beating for doing good. Why is this? It is our calling. 1Tim. 6:1 explains it in more detail.
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered.
Freedom of Christ could easily be misunderstood by anyone who is in some sort of bondage, like a slave, as a license for rebellion. Scripture rejects here the notion that the Christian faith is a worldly movement to right wrongs or free the oppressed from harsh rulers or masters. When a slave (as here in 1Tim.) fully submits to authority, it makes God's name look good, including the teaching of the Apostles that they are not a band of revolutionaries. Humanists in the church reject this paradigm out of hand. But they are tares -- children of their father, the Devil. The so-called bishop, Desmond Tutu, is one of them -- a wolf in sheep's clothing.
What about Eph. 5:24 where wives are commanded to obey their husbands? The same reasoning would apply. The husband cannot order his wife to do something either against the civil law or the natural law. However, elsewhere in Scripture, this command to obey her husband is qualified, such as in 1Thess. 4:4 where the Apostle exhorts the brothers to live with his wife in a way that is holy and honorable and not in passionate lust. In this sense, marriage intimacy must not be a rape. There are heathen men in the church who abuse their wives in this way, regrettably.
Suffice it to say, even godly men are too often ready to use deadly force against the civil power. For the sake of the Name, it is better by far to error on the right side: That we are not to organize a rebellion for the purpose of deposing the existing civil authority. Again, if we want to engage in this sort of thing, we should become Muslims – a terrorist organization masquerading as a religion.
Furthermore, there is no doctrine in Scripture that suggests that a hereditary monarchy is any worse or better than any other form of government, including our own democratic republic. To suggest that this or that government authority is somehow illegal or illegitimate is a legal fiction – a sophistry invented for the purpose of justifying rebellion. John Locke popularized the notion that a bad magistrate is no magistrate at all and therefore, can be resisted by force and deposed. It sounds agreeable but the Bible does not teach this.
It is commonly mistaken that elected governments, such as ours, are in effect not appointed by God. This is not so because just as with a ruler like Hazael who assumes power on his own by murder, so it is with a people who choose their ruler. They do not act independently of the kind of people that they are nor of the sovereign purposes of God. Examples of this are commonplace in Scripture.
For the LORD God Almighty declares, "I will stir up a nation against you, O house of Israel, that will oppress you all the way from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah. - Amos 6:14
This is one of many prophecies against Israel that demonstrates the LORD's role in using a people and its armies to execute judgment. In 1Samuel 8:6 ff. we see the outcome of the people's rejection of the LORD's reign over them, particularly that they were determined to have a king like the nations around them. Just the same, it was the LORD's will for them to have a king. It was not some free choice by the people as they, like all the unconverted, are slaves to the sin that reigns in their hearts.
In Haggai 1:14 we read that the LORD reigns over both the wills of the rulers and of the people in order to accomplish a particular goal such as the rebuilding of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem.
This paradigm of the LORD's sovereignty in the affairs of men is summed up here:
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. - Proverbs 16:9
In other words, we may exercise our sin dominated and enslaved will and believe it is some independent decision on our part. However, the Creator subtly uses it to accomplish His greater purposes, often unknown to us. For example, Jesus' death had to happen at the hands of men and the LORD purposed it, using our sin dominated nature.
Just as Samuel had to acquiesce to the perverted will of the Israelites in electing to be ruled by a king, so we, too, must acquiesce to the wicked nonsense going on around us when citizens here vote. Most Americans cannot properly choose a life-long mate nor stay married to that person. Similarly, their decisions on who reigns in government are not going to be any better.
Our elected government is awash with the depraved, the ambitious, and the incompetent but does anyone care? The official may sound good and impress voters but that is usually all. The Dark Power and his allies want sexual perversion and the murder of the unborn to abound and the current elected rogues are all too happy to oblige.
We are governed by a criminal gang. We can only be thankful that they have not started to imprison or kill us -- but that is their desire. What stops them? Thankfully, the Prime Minister of all prime ministers has prevented it at this time but that may change.
It is but God's grace that the voters have not elected a Stalin or a Hitler – yet.
Biblical Christians are going to have a rough time in the world: They are citizens of another Country which requires their primary allegiance. It is an intractable conflict which will never be resolved until the world ends. Meanwhile, it is a foolish and dangerous notion for us to oppose the heathen. It is both their day and their kingdom – they will do with us as they please but only as the LORD permits.
So what did the Apostle command us concerning the rulers here?
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. - Titus 3:1-2
Not only are we reminded here and in Romans 13 to be subject to rulers but also to do good. Would that the Church would spend her time and energy improving the world we live in rather than mass-market a perverted gospel and hire proxies to do her work. Thankfully, there are still various churches around the world that help the poor and the sick.
However, is hiring lobbyists to influence government to make Christian principles of living the law of the land doing good (Acts 10:38)? Is it not a greater priority to first be living examples of the law we say will someday be universal? If I oppose abortion, am I immoral? If I support heterosexual marriage, have I dealt treacherously with the wife of my youth? The Church is full of such men who are, in a Biblical sense, oath breakers and traitors and they are not, for the most part, repentant.
But as concerns what the Apostle would have us pray for, consider this Scripture:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. - 1Timothy 2:1-2
We are not to pray that the rulers will be murdered in their sleep (as too many in the Church wish) but that they would leave us alone. Nothing should be a greater concern than the current criminal gang leave us alone. The Apostle calls the people to holy living not to holy rebellion. If we want to impress the world, live a holy life (Tit. 2:11-14). If you want to spread the Gospel, show your conversion by your deeds.
As we see repeatedly in the Old Testament, the righteous can be scooped up with the wicked and experience great suffering, as well. There is always a greater plan that our Sovereign makes of which we are often unknowing. The Nazi holocaust is great example -- unless one is a deist.
Current talk among many Christians, unfortunately, is more about armed rebellion. In fact, I actually heard talk of revolt from some as a result of the recent (2008) Presidential election. I was speechless and immediately thought of Ishmael son of Nethaniah (Jeremiah 41) who assassinated the governor of Judah appointed by the King of Babylon after the exile. The end of Ishmael was death for him and all those who went along with his plot.
Godly reasoning, on the other hand, should be:
If they had submitted, Mr. Lincoln and his scoundrels would not have had the excuse of slavery to slaughter men more righteous than they. The 2nd American Revolution nullified a lot of things – some good, some bad. (When I read the religious goings on at the time, most people were as confused as ever about a lot of essential Christian doctrine – prophets were as rare then as they are now.)
In conclusion, looking to the 2nd Amendment is somewhat like enshrining one’s marriage certificate after a divorce. It looks good but it’s irrelevant now. The five unelected lawyers who really govern the nation understand this and – simply – do not know what to do without actually throwing it out. How do the men in power tell Mr. Citizen,
"Here is your weapon. Now, if we get too out of hand, you may use it against us.”
It makes poor sense no matter which way you look at it. On the other hand, the citizen who uses his legally concealed weapon to end a mugging is doing something lawful and necessary. But this is an extension of the power of the magistrate. The magistrate has the godly right to determine how and when he exercises the civil power and authority. It has nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment.
Nonetheless, individual representatives of the magistrate can act in a criminal manner in defiance of the law. It is here that a Christian must act carefully and know that he will be held accountable to the Judge of all for what he does. What if the entire government acts in a criminal manner? What do we do? Over the ages Christian men have answered this question differently.
We must keep in mind that both Daniel and the Apostle Paul were subject to criminal governments and they chose to submit. It certainly is better to error on the side of faith then to take matters into one's hands as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in Nazi Germany. The Bible suggests that we can run for our lives, a godly option that is better than rebellion.
Unlike the citizens in Australia and the UK, we can still defend ourselves against personal violence. But, sadly, the voters here are nearly as foolish as elsewhere and we may lose this important privilege. The good news: The more wealthy can buy this privilege virtually everywhere. I am truly sorry for the poor in this regard.
Though we may be innocent of the sins that often bring cruel and ruthless gangs to power, we will more than likely suffer the temporal punishment dished out to the wicked if history is any example.
There were godly men in Jerusalem when Nebuzaradan, the Imperial Commander of the armed forces of Babylon, sacked and burned the city in 587 B.C. The godly were hauled off and most made eunuchs. The best women became the wives of their conquerors. The openly rebellious were summarily executed. Jeremiah the Prophet suffered right along with the rest of them, even going into forced exile into Egypt at the hands of rebels.
We cannot expect the realization of His Kingdom here, despite the nearly unanimous appeals by modern Church leadership, including such notables as Bishop N. T. Wright. We can rejoice that we have the unsurpassable witness of the Holy Spirit within this flesh and will not experience the Second Death. Instead, we will have fellowship with the Creator of the heavens and the earth without end. “Blessed is he who longs for the coming of our Lord Jesus.”
Hence, when the Attorney General says to disarm, every true Christian should do so. Again, is God's Arm too short to help us? Are we saved by our own might? Will we confuse the suppression of evil with rebellion in the eyes of the world, as the misguided Muslims do?
The LORD never said it would be easy. The good news is that we are still allowed to vote with our feet – at least for now. The Apostle Paul exercised this right now and then and so can we.
We need to remind ourselves that this has nothing to do with pacifism – we may still use weapons to defend ourselves against lawlessness. In this way, we assist the magistrate in his duty.
It is an in-house debate, just the same, as many Christians disagree with what has been written here. But let it be said that it is unlikely that the Apostle Paul would have counseled the Colonists to rebel against King George III.