Terrorism: What Should Christians Expect From Political Leaders? (Part 3)

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What are we to expect from our political leaders during this season of terrorism and extremism? Romans 13 goes a long way in answering this question.

Whereas we are forbidden to take vengeance into our own hands, this is not so with governments.

What is the role of government?

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In general, governments exists to 1) support and augment civil society, 2) protect and promote what is good and true and, 3) to restrain and punish the evil-doer.

The Bible tells us this about governments:We are to be subject to all governing authorities (Romans 13:1), even if at times we do not think their actions are good or godly (Titus 3:1).

This doesn't mean we can't seek to change laws or alter the system. What it does mean is that we are not called by God to be lawless.

We are to understand that all governmental authority is given by God. This is sometimes hard to stomach or understand, especially when the authorities are godless. However, Paul wrote this during Nero's reign, one of the most ungodly rulers ever to rule a nation.

While we may not always understand God's ways, we must trust that those who rise to power do not do so apart from the providential rule of God. God has His purposes and many times the reasons behind His purposes are not revealed to us.

For example, has it ever crossed your mind that the leaders we have now were given to us by God as a sign of our sinfulness or as a warrant for us to repent? Could it be that we are getting what we deserve for turning our backs on God? And there may be other reasons as to why God allows for not only certain leaders but for certain forms of government to exist (i.e. democracy, Marxism, communism, fascism, etc.). Needless to say, we must trust God's sovereign and providential rule over all the nations (Isaiah 40:15).

In general, we are not to be subversive to the government (vs 2).

We are to understand and encourage our leaders to bring terror to those who do bad and unlawful deeds, not to those who do good (vs. 3). This means that governments should protect and promote what is good, righteous, and true. Further, one of the primary roles of government is the protection of the innocent and law-abiding.

We are called to do good in relation to the government and to society (vs. 3-4). Of all people, Christians ought to benefit their societies the most. Further, we are called to hold accountable for the good those governmental leaders who rule over us.

In addition, the state has the right to use violence, if necessary, to punish evil and the evil-doer.

This is why Romans 13:4 states, "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer."

There is a long history of "just war theory" that has been used to determine when it is right and/or wrong to enter into war. That is for another essay. What is important to note here is that while we are personally forbidden to take vengeance into our own hands there is no such prohibition for the state. This means that states can form systems of government that bring judgments for wrong-doing, all the way from developing systems of courts to developing weapons and armies for the battle field.

Half-way or delayed justice is usually not effective justice. This is why the phrase in Romans 13:4 states that the political ruler is "… the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer."

These are strong words. Paul uses terms like "the sword"or "God's wrath"to describe the role the state has in executing punishment on the evil-doer. There is no contradiction, in my mind, between God's call on my life to pray for my enemies and to seek their salvation, even offering them forgiveness on a personal level, while at the same time encouraging the state to exact judgment on evil-doers both at home and abroad. I can pray for and witness to the man on death row for the murder and still understand the state's argument to bring swift justice and judgment to the evil-doer. God can make these distinctions and so can we. In my opinion, we ought to take the war to the evil-doers who kill innocent people and who seek nothing but the destruction of what is good and godly. The force we use should be proportionate, lethal, and deadly. The longer we wait to do so the more chaos will rule and the more the evil-doer will feel more at liberty to continue the carnage of chaos and violence.

We are to live as law-abiding citizens with a clear conscience. Romans 13:5 puts it this way: "Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience."

Finally, we are to participate in civil society even to the degree that we pay taxes and as those who honor those who are in authority over us (Romans 13:6-7).


What should be our response to terrorism, ISIS, and the clash of civilizations? Personally, we are to be salt and light, praying for and seeking to win the lost (even our enemies), participating by every possible means to influence culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the church, we are to replicate en-mass what God calls individual believers to do. As members of the state, we are to be prayerful, submissive, and law-abiding, calling for our political leaders to be good and to do good, while protecting and promoting that which is good and, if necessary, to use proportionate, lethal, and deadly force to punish the evil-doer and protect peaceful and civil societies, and law-abiding, innocent citizens.

Check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Dr. Kevin Shrum is pastor of Inglewood Baptist Church and Assistant Part-time Professor of Religious Studies at Union University, Hendersonville Campus

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