With the recent elections, there’s been a lot of talk about how the leadership changes will affect Christians and what our response to those changes should be. Specifically, if the attitude of the newly elected leaders towards God’s people turns to be even more sour than it currently is, how should we react?
Fortunately, Scripture is clear on our duty to government along with when a Christian’s disobedience to that government is warranted.
No to obeying the government in general?
When it comes to obeying state officials, there are two extremes to avoid. The first is anarchism, which asserts that a person can always disobey, while its polar opposite, extreme patriotism, says a Christian is morally obligated to always obey in every matter.
Neither stance is biblical.
Scripture outright rejects anarchism and much of the Old Testament (along with the New) record prophets crying out against the actions of evil governments, which demonstrates radical patriotism is not the answer either. Instead, Scripture paints a picture of biblical submissionism that simply says a Christian should obey and respect their government, with the understanding that times may come when they will be called upon to disobey the state.
In short, when Jesus tells us to “render to Caesar” (Matt. 22:21), He means two things: be subject to the government and pay your taxes. There are four sections in the New Testament that confirm this:
“Every person is to be subject 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. . . .Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13:1-7)
“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 silence the ignorance of foolish people. Act as free people, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-servants of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Pet. 2:13-17).
“First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made in behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to slander no one, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing every consideration for all people” (Titus 3:1-2).
The command to be “subject to the governing authorities” is unqualified and not conditional on who is holding the office, whether they are good rulers or bad, whether their character and qualifications are Christian or not, or whether the state is a republic or a monarchy. Again, like the Old Testament prophets, we have an obligation to confront the sins of our society from the viewpoint of God’s Word, but we don’t engage in political acts of violence and understand that, until the Millennial kingdom arrives, all governments are flawed.
No to paying taxes?
My wife and I are at that stage of life where our two top expenses are taxes and insurance. Oh, how I wish Jesus had answered differently when asked about taxes and Paul had given qualifications on when to pay/not pay.
But they didn’t.
If you think taxes are something unbiblical, think again. Read through the Pentateuch and you’ll find God establishing three taxes for Israel. The first paid the salaries of those who governed, the second went to the administration of the nation’s life in general, and the third took care of the poor and helpless, with the sum total coming to 23+ percent of a person’s earnings, which was not freewill giving.
Move on to the New Testament and you find both Jesus and Paul telling us to pay our taxes in an unqualified way. But, you ask, what if that money goes to causes that are ungodly?
Well, if you think the American system is anti-God and abusive, trust me when I say it is nothing compared to the governments of their time.
Ancient Rome was a huge welfare state, plagued by millions of indigent people who made no economic contribution to the state. Moreover, the government supported slavery and promoted pagan religion and the deification of Caesar with tax money, which was gathered by extortioners, who oftentimes made themselves rich from collecting taxes, that were hired by Rome to painfully extract that money.
If you and I were transported back in time to Jesus and Paul’s day, we’d be aghast that our tax dollars, which were obtained in a very unequitable way, were being used to propagate pagan religions, support a lazy and abused welfare state, prop up slavery, and more.
And both the Lord and Paul would still tell us to pay our taxes. The same stands for us today.
When to say no
So, we’ve established that, as Christians, we’re commanded in Scripture to submit to the government and pay our taxes. But what does the Bible say about disobeying those in authority?
The general principle is straightforward: we disobey the government when it commands evil. When the government commands what God condemns or condemns what God commands, Christians obey God rather than government.
Note that there is an important difference with a government that permits evil vs. commands it. For example, it’s one thing for the state to permit abortion, but it’s another when it tells my wife to kill our unborn baby because we’ve exceeded the number of children allowed by the government for a family.
The biblical examples of this principle in action are many with just a few of them being:
- Refusal to murder – the Hebrew midwives wouldn’t murder babies under the command of Pharaoh and were blessed by God because of their actions (Ex. 1:15-21).
- Refusal to turn in others – Obadiah hid 100 prophets from Jezebel who was murdering all of God’s spokesmen (1 Kings 18:4, 13-15).
- Refusal to break dietary laws – Daniel politely declined the king’s food (Dan. 1).
- Refusal to worship idols – Daniel’s companions refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue (Dan. 3).
- Refusal to pray to the king vs. God – Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den for refusing the king’s mandate to pray to him and no other god (Dan. 6).
- Refusal to stop preaching the gospel – the apostles refused the state religious leader’s requests to stop proclaiming Christ (Acts 4).
- Refusal to submit to wrongful punishment – by appealing to existing laws, Paul stopped the attempted physical punishment of a Roman authority (Acts 22:25-29).
- Refusal to worship the Antichrist – during the tribulation period, believers will disobey the law to worship the Antichrist (Rev. 12:11).
A Christian who disobeys the government has three options for handling that state’s response: (1) Peacefully work within the state’s regulations to challenge the government’s reaction in hopes of changing the current laws or proving that the state acted wrongly; (2) Flee an abusive state as God’s people did in both the Old and New Testaments; (3) Accept whatever punishment is given.
In the end, all we can expect from government is protection of life and property, and sadly, that seems to be disappearing in America as elected officials increasingly perform their jobs as political activists rather than as unbiased guardians of our Constitution and laws. However, even so, God tells us to submit to the government, pay our taxes, and only when the state commands evil are we to peacefully resist.
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.