When is civil disobedience allowed for a Christian?

So social media has been full of postings like the following since COVID-19 came to America in force:

Image may contain: possible text that says 'PATRICK HENRY THE CONSTITUTION IS NOT AN INSTRUMENT FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO RESTRAIN THE PEOPLE, IT IS AN INSTRUMENT FOR THE PEOPLE TO RESTRAIN THE GOVERNMENT LEST IT COME TO DOMINATE OUR LIVES AND INTERESTS Am AMERICANMAJORITY' Image may contain: possible text that says 'IF THE GOVERNMENT CAN SUSPEND YOUR RIGHTS ANYTIME IT DEEMS SOMETHING A "CRISIS" YOU DON'T HAVE RIGHTS, YOU HAVE PERMISSIONS.'

In a sense I would guess it is their way of being civilly disobedient (protesting) what they presume to be the injustice on the part of the government for being wronged.  I would caution “Christians” from this, in that if you must post such things them do so with specificity. Include in your post the who (feds, state, local) has offended you, and in what specific way? We must always be ready to answer the question in how the government has acted in an unethical, immoral or Sinful manner that led to your protest. I would also note the best way to correct a perceived or actual aggrievance is to vote or better yet run for office yourself :). 

The following article lays out the reasons for Biblical Civil Disobedience and I would include protests and even Social Media posts in under that heading


Question: “When is civil disobedience allowed for a Christian?” 

Answer: The emperor of Rome from AD 54 to 68 was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, also known simply as Nero. The emperor was not known for being a moral and ethical person, to say the least. In AD 64 the great Roman fire occurred, with Nero himself being suspected of arson. In his writings, the Roman senator and historian Tacitus recorded, “To get rid of the report [that he had started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace” (Annals, XV).

t was during the reign of Nero that the apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans. While one might expect him to encourage the Christians in Rome to rise up against their oppressive ruler, in chapter 13, we find this instead:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:1–7).

Even under the reign of a ruthless and godless emperor, Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells his readers to be in subjection to the government. Moreover, he states that no authority exists other than that established by God, and that rulers are serving God in their political office.

Peter writes nearly the same thing in one of his two New Testament letters:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13–17).

Both Paul’s and Peter’s teachings have led to quite a few questions from Christians where civil disobedience is concerned. Do Paul and Peter mean that Christians are always to submit to whatever the government commands, no matter what is asked of them?

A Brief Look at the Various Views of Civil Disobedience
There are at least three general positions on the matter of civil disobedience. The anarchist view says that a person can choose to disobey the government whenever he likes and whenever he feels he is personally justified in doing so. Such a stance has no biblical support whatsoever, as evidenced in the writings of Paul in Romans 13.

The extremist patriot says that a person should always follow and obey his country, no matter what the command. As will be shown in a moment, this view also does not have biblical support. Moreover, it is not supported in the history of nations. For example, during the Nuremberg trials, the attorneys for the Nazi war criminals attempted to use the defense that their clients were only following the direct orders of the government and therefore could not be held responsible for their actions. However, one of the judges dismissed their argument with the simple question: “But gentlemen, is there not a law above our laws?”

The position the Scriptures uphold is one of biblical submission, with a Christian being allowed to act in civil disobedience to the government if it commands evil, such that it requires a Christian to act in a manner that is contrary to the clear teachings and requirements of God’s Word.

Civil Disobedience—Examples in Scripture
In Exodus 1, the Egyptian Pharaoh gave the clear command to two Hebrew midwives that they were to kill all male Jewish babies. An extreme patriot would have carried out the government’s order, yet the Bible says the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17). The Bible goes on to say the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed their government, “God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them” (Exodus 1:20–21).

In Joshua 2, Rahab directly disobeyed a command from the king of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle. Instead, she let them down via a rope so they could escape. Even though Rahab had received a clear order from the top government official, she resisted the command and was redeemed from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israeli army destroyed it.

The book of 1 Samuel records a command given by King Saul during a military campaign that no one could eat until Saul had won his battle with the Philistines. However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who had not heard the order, ate honey to refresh himself from the hard battle the army had waged. When Saul found out about it, he ordered his son to die. However, the people resisted Saul and his command and saved Jonathan from being put to death (1 Samuel 14:45).

Another example of civil disobedience in keeping with biblical submission is found in 1 Kings 18. That chapter briefly introduces a man named Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly.” When the queen Jezebel was killing God’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live. Such an act was in clear defiance of the ruling authority’s wishes.

In 2 Kings, the only apparently approved revolt against a reigning government official is recorded. Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, began to destroy the royal offspring of the house of Judah. However, Joash the son of Ahaziah was taken by the king’s daughter and hidden from Athaliah so that the bloodline would be preserved. Six years later, Jehoiada gathered men around him, declared Joash to be king, and put Athaliah to death.

Daniel records a number of civil disobedience examples. The first is found in chapter 3 where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command. The second is in chapter 6 where Daniel defies King Darius’ decree to not pray to anyone other than the king. In both cases, God rescued His people from the death penalty that was imposed, signaling His approval of their actions.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the authorities that were in power at the time. After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail. The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

One last example of civil disobedience is found in the book of Revelation where the Antichrist commands all those who are alive during the end times to worship an image of himself. But the apostle John, who wrote Revelation, states that those who become Christians at the time will disobey the Antichrist and his government and refuse to worship the image (Revelation 13:15) just as Daniel’s companions violated Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship his idol.

Civil Disobedience—Conclusion

What conclusions can be drawn from the above biblical examples? The guidelines for a Christian’s civil disobedience can be summed as follows:

• Christians should resist a government that commands or compels evil and should work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change a government that permits evil.

• Civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands.

• If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless he can flee from the government, he should accept that government’s punishment for his actions.

• Christians are certainly permitted to work to install new government leaders within the laws that have been established.

Lastly, Christians are commanded to pray for their leaders and for God to intervene in His time to change any ungodly path that they are pursuing: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

Rebuilding a Future Nehemiah Part XIII

Time to Stop Think then Do

Part 1

11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.

12 And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.

13 And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire.

14 Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass.

15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned.

16 And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work.

– – – Nehemiah 2:11-16

 

Today we explore what I consider a very important life lesson, at least for me. Too often I find myself charging ahead without consulting others or God.  I will formulate a plan; dig in and find it near impossible to deviate from it.  The lesson I have learned is that from time to time we must take a step back and reevaluate the situation. This is what Nehemiah does upon his arrival in Jerusalem. I call it time to Stop, Think then Do.

 

After gaining the Favor of God and King Artaxerxes; Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem to the grief of some of its residents.  His long journey over; the bible tells us he sat back in his recliner, big screen on a cold one in his hand and rested. Well not exactly look at verse 11 again. It simply says he was there three days. So what can we understand from this short statement. I searched the online archives and there is no clear cut description anywhere in recorded history of what exactly Nehemiah did. But I believe we can infer some things based upon the man’s past actions.

            I think the bible supports the theory that Nehemiah used the STD acronym upon his arrival. Yes I am sure he rested, but more importantly Nehemiah upon reaching Jerusalem STOPPED.

                        Nehemiah would have made a great military tactician. Upon reaching an objective a good leader will always Stop, Think about the objective and evaluate if the original plan still holds. Only then will a commander issue the order to proceed. We too who are rebuilding our lives must also take time to Stop, Think about our actions and only then take action (Do).  Let us look at each of these acts individually.

            Like Nehemiah, before we attack a problem we need to Stop! I cannot emphasize enough the need to slow our roll as it were. Far too often we get going pedal to the metal and forget that the world has changed and our plan is no longer valid. I am a short term, intermediate term and long term planner. When my wife and I made the decision to move to MS as domestic missionaries I had worked out a five year plan for our work.  Rest assured becoming a volunteer chaplain never entered my mind or plans. Now I could have pushed on with the original plan, but I took the time as each incident outside the original plan arose since we arrived to Stop and begin a reevaluation process.  The same needs to be done for all of our actions. As we go about rebuilding our futures we too must take time to Stop.

            Some of you are planning (hopefully on paper) what you are going to do when released. If you’re smart you are developing a working plan for both release and relapse prevention. But whether your release date is 1 week or one month or one year from now things in your plan are bound to change. Once released before fully implementing or acting upon your plan your need to Stop and look it over.

            This may seem like a contradiction to an earlier sermon entitled Cease the Day but it is not at all. I am not suggesting nor do we have in Nehemiah a quitter or someone not eager to be about God’s work. I think he had what          J.C. Ryle describes as Christian zeal, he writes on the subject:

Zeal in Christianity is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire, which is not natural to men or women. It is a desire which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when they are converted to Christ, however, a desire which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called “zealous” men and women. This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a person, that it impels them to make any sacrifice-to go through any trouble-to deny themselves anything-to suffer, to work, to labor, to toil, to spend themselves and be spent, and even to die-if only they can please God and honor Christ.

            But I would be negligent in my duties if I were to leave it at that. No my friends, yes we must be zealous for God but we must couple it with restraint. Look at what Paul writes in Romans 10:1-3 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Paul is warning us not to off on our own. We must constantly submit to God’s righteousness. Something we cannot do if we are charging full steam ahead.

            The next step in this life lesson is to Think. I know you’re thinking we are always thinking. Ok, but what is meant here is (if you will) a more formal thought process. It is a time of. Reflection, Meditation and Reevaluation

            Again Verse 11 tells us Nehemiah was there for 3 days before he takes further action. Like I said earlier he could have spent that time dusting of the dirt of his trip, kicking back and taking a well-deserved siesta. Yet his character does not support that theory.  No I am convinced Nehemiah used this time to reflect upon his mission to that point. It is important for us as we rebuild our futures to always remember where we have been in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past. Equally important is to remember what has worked for us (righteously) in the past.

            Two often misquoted scriptures on this topic are:

Isaiah 43:18-19 Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Philippians 3:13-14 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

            Many times people try and use these to say we should forget the past and only focus on the future, which my friends is a receipt for failure. No Isaiah was warning the Jews of the coming Messiah and telling them to forget their former failures under the law. Paul is reminding us to not dwell on our sinful past but focus our hearts upon the prize that God is calling us to in Christ Jesus.  We must not forget the past but neither should we live in it.

 

            Next I believe Nehemiah took time to Think in the form of Meditation. We spent weeks going over how Nehemiah was a man of prayer. He prayed when he heard about the brokenness of Jerusalem. He prayed for 2-4 months waiting upon God’s guidance on what to do about the situation. I cannot envision him not being a man of prayer at this moment.

            Isiah understood this. In his prayer for the Lord’s Mercy towards Israel he reminds them Is 30:21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.’ I do not contend to be a great scholar but this one seems obvious to me. If we are going to allow God to guide our every step while rebuilding our futures; we must listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Sometimes that requires us to slow down and meditate upon His word and communicate with Him. In other words pray. Do not be too big a man to ask for help from the one person who can always deliver.

            The final step in the Thinking process is to reevaluate the situation. As many of you know in addition to being a Volunteer Chaplain I am also Project Manager for Rebuild Lakeshore. My duties are basically overseeing all the ongoing volunteer construction projects for the ministry. Again I am a planner but as Robert Burns wrote “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” (often paraphrased in English as “The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry or twisted”). I must frequently take a step back and reevaluate what has been accomplished and prioritize what still needs to be done.

            Listen this is a skill most inmates already have.  I once was a guest speaker at a luncheon and was asked what was the greatest skill set men getting out had. I quickly replied Strategic Planning. Knowing Wikipedia defines it as Strategic planning is an organization‘s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy I think they were more than a little shocked. But follow me here for a moment if you were a B&E man you cased a place looking for the best way to get in the best route of escape etc. That is strategic planning and all of you are guilty of that at least.

            Nehemiah does the same as we can clearly see in verses 12-15. Nehemiah strategically goes about scoping out the city. Look at his statements that support this:

          I went out by night: shows he was humble in his quest for God. He did not flaunt the fact he was a representative of the King.

            Verses 13-15:  And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. 14 Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. 15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned. He moves about to various places around the city on an inspection tour in verses 13-15

            Once again looking at verse 11 we find: Neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart shows me he was not overzealous; no Nehemiah understood the need to be certain of the facts before making his move.

            In verse 16 we find: And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work. Was this just more humbleness on Nehemiah’s part or is he sending us a message. I believe it is the later. He is telling us to wait upon the Lord’s timing to speak or Do.

Look at the following verses from the ESV with me:

 

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

            We must wait upon the Lord in all things

Ecclesiastes 8:6 For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him.

            No matter how enthusiastic you are, no matter the burden of your heart we must wait upon God’s timing.

Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

            Only after we have taken time to Stop and Think over the situation can we have the strength to carry on God’s work seeing it through to the end. The same applies to all our decisions as we go about rebuilding our futures.

            I encourage everyone to take time today to Stop and Think about what you are doing. If it is not illegal, immoral or unethical you are probably on the right path. Confirm you walk with Reflection, Meditation and Reevaluation insuring it will accomplish the most important criteria of all, does it Glorify God?

            Next time we will look at the Doing of God’s work.

In HIS Service.