I come back to this with a heavy sigh. I started it yesterday as the news unfolded of people breaching the Capitol building as the Trump rally changed gears. I know there were people there peacefully gathering, but a good many of them crossed the line.
As I watched the events unfold, I struggled to find some solid ground to stand on as I see people who call themselves Christians continue to support Trump regardless of what he says and does. At best, he sent mixed messages that were ambiguous enough to encourage what happened. At worst he incited insurrection, and stood by watching it happen, saying nothing until it was too late. Even then, it was a poor excuse for what he should have said.
The thing that troubles me most as I think about these things is the way Christians who support Trump and this “resistance” at at all costs ignore Scripture that is inconvenient. Paul defined the way followers of Jesus Christ should act regarding authority:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Peter, the rock on whom Jesus said he would build his church, said the same thing:
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him….”
1 Peter 2:13-14
If you think insurrection is justified because Democrats are “bad” today, consider that Peter and Paul said these things at a time when their world was ruled by Nero.
Nero was a bad leader, even by pagan, Roman standards. He considered himself God. He persecuted Christians and had them publicly killed, lighting them on fire at night to light the City. Peter and Paul were both martyred under the rule of Nero.
You can’t equate the Democrats with Nero. To understand Peter and Paul’s words and apply them to today, we need to acknowledge and consider the historical context. We can’t justify resisting authority because Democrats are bad.
People might justify their resistance on other grounds. People might cite Peter’s example in the Book of Acts. Peter and John were arrested for preaching. (Acts 4:2-3) They were commanded not to preach about Jesus, but Peter and John refused to comply, saying,
“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
They were arrested again for refusing to remain quiet. (Acts 5:20) Again, they were commanded not to speak, but they responded, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:19) This time they were flogged and let go.
So which is it? Submit to authorities? Or boldly rebel?
Those are not the right questions. They don’t take Scripture seriously. We have to be careful to handle Scripture better than that.
These things may seem contradictory, but they aren’t. They also aren’t options for us to choose from. We can’t just choose one or the other, and we can’t just reject either statement. We have to read them together.
Digging a little deeper, we should recall that Jesus gave one very specific instruction immediately before he left his disciples. He said,
“[G]o and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you….”
They had one instruction, which was to go out into the world, preaching the Gospel and making disciples as they go. This was a direct, unequivocal instruction from Jesus, himself. To be silent when Jesus said to speak would be in direct opposition to what Jesus told them to do.
Even so, Peter submitted to the authorities who arrested him. He even rejoiced after being flogged for preaching because “they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor” for Christ. (Acts 4:41) He didn’t resist. He submitted. They were not rebelling when they preached the Gospel; they were simply doing the one thing Jesus clearly told them to do.
Paul also submitted to the consequences, saying, “We rejoice in our sufferings….” (Rom. 5:3); and “I rejoice in my sufferings….” (Col. 1:24) Most of his suffering was endured at the hands of the ruling authorities, and he submitted to it. Preaching the Gospel wasn’t rebellion. He showed respect and honor in front of every tribunal.
Paul added instruction to the Romans hat we should “pay taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed”. (Rom. 13:7) When looking at Paul’s life, we see he never resisted arrest or spoke against the authorities. Paul showed honor and respect to the governing leaders and to the process.
Of course, the world was more black and white then. Christians had no power or influence. They had no people in high places. They had no voice among the ruling authorities.
Things are much different today. In this Democratic Republic we call the United States, every citizen who is not a felon can vote and have a say in the governance of this nation. Leaders are elected “by the people”, but the principles are the same – submit to, respect and honor authority.
Is this is a difference that makes a difference? No! Frankly, we should find it easier to submit to, respect and honor authority that is light years more fair, reasonable, honorable, and just than Nero!
The exceptions (like refusing to remain silent) can’t swallow the rule. The rule for followers of Christ is to submit to governing authorities. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. We aren’t “of this world” anyway. We march to the beat of a different Drummer. We aren’t storing up our treasures in this world, in this life, in this country we want to make or own.
“Yes, but”, a person might say, “the election was stolen from Trump!”
What’s your point? There were no elections with Nero. Nero killed his rivals. Still, Peter and Paul said unequivocally, “Submit”.
Even if the election was stolen, the perpetrators have a Judge. So do you, and He will hold all people accountable. God is on the throne, not us.
I am NOT advocating that Christians should retire from politics and do nothing to make the world a better place. How we engage in politics, though, is more important than what we accomplish. If we have to ignore Scripture and the character God desires to work in us, we are moving in the wrong direction!
The line seems to have gotten blurred in the United States today. We seem to think that the Constitutionals rights and individual freedoms we have mean that we have the authority and the mandate to bring about change in whatever way we can achieve it. We seem to think it is “all on us” and that the world is counting on us to deliver what we think God wants to do.
Those are dangerous thoughts. I think of David who hid in a cave and refused to take Saul’s life, even when he had multiple opportunities. Instead, he trusted God. It wasn’t for him to take matters into his own hands.
I think of Daniel who served at the King’s pleasure. At the point where he was forced to bow to the King as a god or submit to God, Daniel stood. But otherwise, Daniel played by the rules of the King – so much that the King gave him great authority.
On the extreme edges, where submitting to authority means renouncing God and His commandment to spread the Gospel, we must choose to submit to God. On matters that do not involve actual renunciation of God or a command to be silent when God says speak, we are to submit to the governing authorities.
If we must refuse because we have no choice to disobey God, we should follow the examples of peter and Paul in submitting to the consequences.
I am not saying that those are the only two instances where we are free to refuse to honor laws or orders. A person’s conscience might require submission to God over other laws or rules that run directly counter to them. Conscientious objectors are an example, but we must realize that this may mean punishment at the hands of the authorities.
It doesn’t mean storming Capitol buildings or refusing to step down when the political process has played out against us. It doesn’t mean we continue to stand behind and support a man who encourages those things.
Do we trust God works all things together for the good and for His purposes? Or do we think it is up to us to deliver outcomes at all cost?