Mark 12:17. Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him.
The default position of Christians is to obey the government that God has established over us. That is what Jesus is telling us when he says “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” As we learned in yesterday’s blog, God has legitimized human government, even the imperfect ones. Therefore, Christians are to respect and obey that government.
But are there times when Christians should disobey their government or practice what is called civil disobedience? There is a precedent for civil disobedience in the Bible:
- Hebrew midwives disobey Pharaoh when told to kill the male babies.
- Daniel refuses to eat the king’s meat and prays even when prayer to God is prohibited.
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to a statue of Nebuchadnezzar.
- Paul is jailed numerous times for preaching a religion in violation of Rome’s law.
And what of Jesus’ statement in our Fighter Verse? “Give to God the things that are God’s.” Doesn’t this place God above all human government. Doesn’t it teach us that we must give our lives for God and His Kingdom? Shouldn’t we say with the Apostles, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”?
So when is civil disobedience called for in the Christian life? Whenever a government compels you to sin, or prevents you from doing something that is required by God.
Now that first statement must be understood carefully. The government can allow sin without compelling me to sin. The government allows fornication but it does not require or compel fornication. What we must learn to wrestle with as individuals and the church is when does the government cross the line from allowing sin to compelling us to sin? When has the government crossed the line to outlawing what God requires?
One such area that we must wrestle through is abortion. “The government allows abortion but the government does not compel abortion.” This is true, but is there more to consider here? When the Bible compels us to “rescue those who are being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward the slaughter” (Prov. 24:11-12), aren’t there many implications for us as relates to the laws of this land and whether or not we will obey or support those laws? Historically we might think of the slave trade which led many innocent lives to the slaughter. Should we not disobey laws and even fight against laws that enslave another person unjustly? Or in our present society we might think of abortion, which also leads many innocent ones to death. Should we not oppose such laws? Should we not even disobey laws in the name of love as we seek to rescue the innocent?
Abortion is one issue and there are many others on the horizon. I believe there is a day coming when we will be told that we can no longer preach the gospel or gather to worship together because of our beliefs, especially in regards to affirming or non-affirming same sex marriage. This day is no longer just a “doomsday” scenario. It is closer and closer to becoming a reality. What will we do? Will we still preach? Will we still gather? Will we have the courage of believers in North Korea or China? Will we obey God rather than man?
In conclusion let me just summarize the things we have been saying over the past two days:
- The government of every nation is legitimized and even ordained by God. It is there because he has allowed it to be there. But God is our ultimate authority.
- There is no “Christian nation” or government. Therefore, as Christians we should expect opposition and understand that we are living in exile in “Babylon” (no matter what country you live in).
- The default position of the Christian is to live in obedience to their government. To live quiet and peaceful lives so as to not stir up the government against us (1 Tim. 2:2; 1 Thess. 4:11).
- Christians are not called to stand up in protest against every law that allows sin, but must wrestle with their response to laws that compel sin.
- Christians are called to civil disobedience when it is the loving thing to do. This includes primarily rescuing those who are oppressed and being led to “death.” This means both spiritual and physical death. Therefore, proclaiming the gospel must be done regardless of the law of the land. Also fighting against injustices that lead to the death and “slaughter” of the innocent is required of Christians.
- Whenever possible Christians should use the system of justice that is in place to bring change that will prevent or correct injustice. We are blessed to live in a nation with a system that allows for free speech, and a petition for a redress of grievances. We can use the legal system to fight the legal system.
- Christians should practice non-violent civil disobedience. This was modeled by our Savior and the Apostles. They preached even when it was against the law, yet they did not rise up in violence against their oppressive rulers. They trusted God for protection and lived in faith that their true life and home awaited them beyond their own deaths.