Peace if possible. Truth at all costs. ~ Martin Luther

The Christian & Civil Disobedience

handcuffs and gavelWell, the election is finally behind us.

The re-appointment of President Obama is one thing, but receiving less attention was the fact that yesterday also saw several more states vote to recognize same sex marriages (and for the first time by a popular vote in the United States).

These decisions to re-define what constitutes marriage will surely lead us, and that in short order, to the place where what is now tolerated will become mandated.

For example, no minister is currently required to perform ceremonies for same sex couples, and faith-based organizations are still permitted to require adherence to a moral standard for employees in keeping with their religious beliefs. These things should be protected inviolate under the 1st Amendment, but you can be assured that they will be challenged before long. Already we hear the allegations of “hate speech” to anyone voicing a dissenting view.

Is there a point at which civil disobedience is justified for Christians?

The Bible is clear that we are to submit to our rulers recognizing that their power is delegated by the Lord (Romans 13:1-7).  HE is our ultimate King.  That means that we obey our earthly authorities “as unto the Lord”.

And here is where there is a caveat to our obedience.  No earthly authority is a law unto themselves.  They are accountable to God – and every ruler will stand before Him.  Each one is being, and will be, evaluated by God.

The Bible clearly teaches us that if earthly rulers contradict God’s law, we are to defer to the higher law of God.  (It’s not a question of disobeying man, but rather of obeying God.)

For a couple of examples, we have Daniel and the 3 Hebrew lads (Daniel 3:18; 6:10) who refused to obey the law of the land and bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar (which would have been to break the 2nd commandment). In the New Testament we read about the apostles refusing to obey the authorities when they commanded them not to preach about Jesus (Acts 4:19-20). They already had a command from the Lord that superceded any earthly authority.

William Barclay wrote, in his book “Ethics in a Permissive Society”:

“… the Christian is the good citizen, and the Christian is the obedient citizen – but there are limits, and beyond these limits he will not go.  In the Christian life there is only one supreme loyalty; that loyalty is to Jesus Christ, and that loyalty takes precedence over loyalty to family, loyalty to state, and loyalty to everything else, and so there can come a time when the Christian duty is disobedience to the state, and the Christian must hold that when the time comes he must act on it.”

We have Christian brothers and sisters in other countries who defy their government every day in order to assemble in illegal underground house churches, to own and print forbidden Bibles, and to preach the gospel to others.

There is a time for civil disobedience.  NOT for arrogance or violence (“the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God”, James 1:20).  NOR because we disapprove of the person or party in authority.  But there is a time to stand for God’s law because man’s law is contravening it.  At that point we accept the consequences for doing so, even though those consequences may be very difficult.

Christians throughout history have paid a terrible price for choosing to obey God rather than men.  In 1st century Rome, Christians were fed to the lions in the Coliseum for their faith.  Nero was known to have crucified Christians in his own garden, and them have them set on fire while they were still dying to light the pathways so that he could stroll in the evenings.  They could have saved themselves by proclaiming Caesar is lord – but they would not do it.  They maintained that they could only hold One as their Lord; the Lord Jesus.

Sometimes when the people of God have chosen to obey Him rather than men, He has wonderfully delivered them. There are endless stories the world over of how God has worked miracles on behalf of those who’ve obeyed Him despite the threats of men.  Just like Daniel in the lion’s den, God is able to shut the mouths of opposition. As He did for the three Hebrew lads, God is able to stand with us in the furnace, so that not a hair on our head is singed.

But remember what those young Hebrew lads said “… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace … He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods nor worship the golden image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)

They acted in faith, believing for the Lord’s deliverance, but also fully prepared to accept the consequences of their actions.  If we perish, we perish.  But we will NOT obey men when it means disobeying God.

So, yes, there is a time for civil disobedience. We pray that there will be peace and freedom in our land for the gospel to be unhindered. But if men seek to chain the gospel, we would rather be in chains with it. If men seek to abuse God’s laws, we would rather bear abuse also for loving them.