Posted by: Nathan | May 30, 2007

Your take on Romans 13

Judging from the excessive use of caps lock in my last post, I think it’s high time to lay off the sports-related posts for a bit. Let’s talk about something far more important.

In my small group, we’re doing a 6-part DVD study of how Satan works in the world. It’s called “Twisted,” and the messages are by Andy Stanley of Northpoint Community Church. The first two messages were great; there were along the lines of Screwtape, and I always need to be reminded that there are evil forces at work in this world not only in the grandiose disasters but also in my everyday life. The third message moved into the Devil’s four biggest lies; this one discussed rebellion against authority and featured Romans 13, “Submit to the governing authorities.” If you want the passage I’m talking about, click here.

The interpretation of this passage isn’t too difficult, but the application is. Stanley took this passage to mean that Christians are to submit to the governing authorities without exception. I don’t know that I can agree with that. He pointed out that Paul wrote this letter to Christians living in Rome under Nero, an infamous persecutor of believers. I don’t know if this changes anything or not, but I later discovered that the letter was written prior to Nero’s burning of Rome and subsequent blaming of it on Christians. In other words, things hadn’t heated up just yet in Rome (rimshot!).

But that’s a side issue. To what extent ought a Christian to follow Romans 13 when squi is in a persecuting situation? Sure, if it’s a question of self-sacrifice, then the believer must be willing to die for squi’s faith. But what about Stalinist Russia? Nazi Germany? Martin Luther King, Jr. in the segregated South? Or just regular Martin Luther and the Catholic Church? What about situations in which the good of others is being purposefully destroyed by the authorities? Or what when the a governing body is making sin a law? I can even think of Biblical examples of people who have “rebelled”: Daniel, David, Moses, and (of course) Jesus.

I certainly think these instances require the Christian to rebel against the earthly authority and appeal to the Higher Authority. The problem with this stance is that it requires discernment and interpretation of degree. How far is too far? I’d really appreciate other people’s opinions and thoughts on this one.

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Responses

  1. Great post! You hit many of the salient examples where one would have a hard time supporting squi’s government. Like you said, it’s a hard passage to apply.

    Paul has a seemingly overwhelming sense of predestination throughout his letters, and his assertion that “those [governments] which exist are established by God” carries the same tone.

    But are governments predestined in the same way that men and women are predestined to become Christ followers? To my mind, foreknowledge doesn’t equate to predestination, does it? Perhaps I’m misapplying the notion of predestination.

    Regardless, it would be tough to be under a decidedly oppressive or “un-Godly” government/ruler and just tacitly accept it. In fact, I personally think that the Corrie Ten Booms, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther King, Jr.s of the world were acting in more moral ways than the governments they were protesting.

    I think another thing that may be somewhat relevant is that Paul was a Roman citizen, and as such ‘enjoyed’ the rights of a Roman citizen. I can imagine that it would be much easier to say, “hey, obey the government” if you’re a citizen than if you’re not.

  2. Nathan, you should know I wouldn’t be able to pass this one up. As believers I think sometimes we are able to rationalize “little” disobediences — cheating on speed limit, rolling through stop signs, cheating on our taxes, and seeing ourselves as “above” the rules at times. I think Paul was certainly going beyond these when he wrote Romans 13 but these are included. You go to the old testament and you find God using very unrighteous nations to judge his people Israel. The prophets struggled on how he (God) could allow this at times but God didn’t have any problem saying he would use them as his instruments of judgment and then he would judge them. I think, as in most items, the heart is being addressed here. We do have to see God as able to establish and God as able to destroy the governments — they are his instruments. It is difficult to say on one hand but I trust that God is so beyond me in his motives, justice, etc. that what seems a mystery to me seems very clear and consistent with all I know of God. On the other hand can God lead a man to disobey a government for his purpose? Having lived in the South during segragation and through the process of integration I can easily look back and ask why didn’t I see it differently? And the southern pastors justified it through giving scripture that said blacks should serve us. The key seems to be ready to answer to God in the area of disobedience and make sure you do it out of faith — Romans 14:23. I think we have to be very careful both ways — I am not sure I would go so far as to say we should easily think of disobeying but on the other hand where we have thought it through, we are humbled before God in our attitude, and we seek obedience to God in our disobedience to government then we are willing to ultimately put ourselves under accountability to God for our actions. I respect Andy but I might have to say that I see some other truths working here but we should never easily disobey the government placed over us by our good God nor easily given into evil men even if it appears that they are God’s instument. Thanks for the opportunity to respond. Next week I am preaching on John 14:21 so I have been thinking about what it means to live in obedience before God.

  3. Thanks for the excellent comments, both of you. I really do appreciate them.

    Kyle, I think what you said about predestination and governments is sort of leaning where I think I was trying to get with this post. Understanding that all governments are appointed by God, I don’t think they all behave as God wants them to (some litotes there). I wonder where the role of Satan comes into play. Naturally, he wants to destroy what God has wrought, and part of that is going to imply occasions when Christians will have to rebel against the gov’t (the authority God has appointed) when it is under the power of the Evil One.

    Uncle Lynn, I always love your comments. It’s almost uncanny how right on you were about the contents of this message; Stanley used many of the same examples you did (God using corrupt civilizations in the OT, etc.). Have you heard this message? šŸ˜‰ I think you nailed it when you wrote, “the heart is being addressed here.” It definitely reminded me of 1 Samuel 16:7: “The LORD does not look at the the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

    Additionally, I think what you said about things that appear contradictory to us being consistent with God’s character in a way that transcends our understanding also relates to the ol’ Armenian vs. Predestination debate, which I won’t delve into here.

    Thanks again!


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