Romans 13 Revisited


It seems that every time someone
such as myself attempts to encourage our Christian
brothers and sisters to resist an unconstitutional or
otherwise reprehensible government policy,
we hear the retort
,
"What about

Romans Chapter 13
? We Christians must submit to
government. Any government. Read your Bible, and leave
me alone,"
or words to that effect.

No doubt, some who use this
argument are sincere. They are only repeating what they
have heard their pastor and other religious leaders say.
On the other hand, let`s be honest enough to admit that
some who use this argument are just plain lazy,
apathetic, and indifferent. And Romans 13 is their
escape from responsibility. I suspect this is the much
larger group, by the way.

Nevertheless, for the benefit of
those who are sincere (but obviously misinformed), let`s
briefly examine Romans Chapter 13. I quote Romans
Chapter 13, verses 1 through 7, from the Authorized King
James text:

"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power
but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the
ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to
themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to
good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be
afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou
shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of
God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil,
be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he
is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon
him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject,
not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For
this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God`s
ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom
tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom
fear; honour to whom honour."

Do our Christian friends who use
these verses to teach that we should not oppose any
political leader really believe that civil magistrates
have unlimited authority to do anything they want
without opposition? I doubt that they truly believe
that.

For example, what if our President
decided to resurrect the old monarchal custom of Jus
Primae Noctis (Law of First Night)? That was the old
medieval custom when the king claimed the right to sleep
with a subject`s bride on the first night of their
marriage. Would our sincere Christian brethren
sheepishly say,
"Romans Chapter 13 says we must submit to the
government"
? I think not. And would any of us
respect any man who would submit to such a law? I
wouldn`t.

So, there are limits to authority.
A father has authority in his home, but does this give
him power to abuse his wife and children? Of course not.
An employer has authority on the job, but does this give
him power to control the private lives of his employees?
No. A pastor has overseer authority in the church, but
does this give him power to tell employers in his church
how to run their businesses? Of course not. All human
authority is limited in nature. No man has unlimited
authority over the lives of other men. Lordship and
Sovereignty is the exclusive domain of Jesus Christ.

By the same token, a civil
magistrate has authority in civil matters, but his
authority is limited and defined. Observe that Romans
Chapter 13 clearly limits the authority of civil
government by strictly defining its purpose:
"For rulers are
not a terror to good works, but to the evil . . . For he
is the minister of God to thee for good . . . for he is
the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon
him that doeth evil."

Notice that civil government must
not be a "terror
to good works."
It has no power or authority to
terrorize good works or good people. God never gave it
that authority. And any government that oversteps that
divine boundary has no divine authority or protection.

Civil government is a
"minister of God
to thee for good."
It is a not a minister of God for
evil. Civil magistrates have a divine duty to
"execute wrath
upon him that doeth evil."
They have no authority to
execute wrath upon him that doeth good. None. Zilch.
Zero. And anyone who says they do is lying. So, even in
the midst of telling Christians to submit to civil
authority, Romans Chapter 13 limits the power and reach
of civil authority.

Did Moses violate God`s principle
of submission to authority when he killed the Egyptian
taskmaster in defense of his fellow Hebrew? Did Elijah
violate God`s principle of submission to authority when
he openly challenged Ahab and Jezebel? Did David violate
God`s principle of submission to authority when he
refused to surrender to Saul`s troops? Did Daniel
violate God`s principle of submission to authority when
he disobeyed the king`s law to not pray audibly to God?
Did the three Hebrew children violate God`s principle of
submission to authority when they refused to bow to the
image of the state? Did John the Baptist violate God`s
principle of submission to authority when he publicly
scolded King Herod for his infidelity? Did Simon Peter
and the other Apostles violate God`s principle of
submission to authority when they refused to stop
preaching on the streets of Jerusalem? Did Paul violate
God`s principle of submission to authority when he
refused to obey those authorities that demanded he
abandon his missionary work? In fact, Paul spent almost
as much time in jail as he did out of jail.

Virtually every apostle of Christ
(except John, who survived being boiled in oil,
according to historians) experienced martyrdom from
hostile civil authorities. In addition, Christians
throughout church history were imprisoned, tortured, or
killed by civil authorities of all stripes for refusing
to submit to their various laws and prohibitions. Did
all of these Christian martyrs violate God`s principle
of submission to authority?

So, even the great prophets,
apostles, and writers of the Bible (including the writer
of Romans Chapter 13) understood that human
authority–including civil authority–is limited.

Plus, Paul makes it clear that our
submission to civil authority must be predicated on more
than fear of governmental retaliation. Notice, he said,
"Wherefore ye
must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for
conscience sake."
Meaning, our obedience to civil
authority is more than just
"because they
said so."
It is also a matter of conscience. This
means we must think and reason for ourselves regarding
the justness and rightness of our government`s laws.
Obedience is not automatic or robotic. It is a result of
both rational deliberation and moral approbation.

Remember, too, that we are all
subject to Natural Law. No human authority has the right
to demand that men surrender their submission to God`s
law "written in
their hearts."
When any human authority attempts to
do this, it becomes tyrannical, because, again, it
challenges the Lordship and Sovereignty of man`s
Creator.

As William Blackstone (as studied
and devoted a Christian scholar as there ever was)

wrote
, "This
law of nature, being co-eval with mankind and dictated
by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to
any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all
countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any
validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are
valid derive all their force, and all their authority,
mediately or immediately, from this original."

(Source: William Blackstone,
"Of The Nature of
Laws in General"
)

Therefore, there are times when
civil authority must be resisted. Either governmental
abuse of power or the violation of conscience (or both)
could precipitate civil disobedience. Of course, how and
when we decide to resist civil authority is an entirely
separate issue. And I will reserve that discussion for
another time.

Beyond that, we in the United
States of America do not live under a monarchy. We have
no king. There is no single governing official in this
country. America`s
"supreme Law"
does not rest with any man or any group of men.
America`s
"supreme Law"
does not rest with the President, the
Congress, or even the Supreme Court. In America, the
U.S. Constitution is the
"supreme Law of
the Land."
Under our laws, every governing official
publicly promises to submit to the Constitution of the
United States. Do readers understand the significance of
this distinction? I hope so.

This means that in America the
"higher powers" are not the men who occupy elected office, they are
the tenets and principles set forth in the U.S.
Constitution. Under our laws and form of government, it
is the duty of every citizen, including our elected
officials, to obey the U.S. Constitution. Therefore,
this is how Romans Chapter 13 reads to Christians in
America:

"Let every soul be subject unto the [U.S. Constitution.] For there is no
[Constitution] but of God: the [Constitution] that be
[is] ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the
[Constitution], resisteth the ordinance of God: and they
that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For
[the Constitution is] not a terror to good works, but to
the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the
[Constitution]? do that which is good, and thou shalt
have praise of the same: For [the Constitution] is the
minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that
which is evil, be afraid; for [the Constitution] beareth
not the sword in vain: for [the Constitution] is the
minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him
that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not
only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this
cause pay ye tribute also: for [the Constitution is]
God`s minister, attending continually upon this very
thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to
whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom
fear; honour to whom honour."

Dear Christian friend, the above is
exactly the proper understanding of our responsibility
to civil authority in these United States, per the
teaching of Romans Chapter 13.

Furthermore, Christians, above all
people, should desire that their elected representatives
submit to the Constitution, because it is constitutional
government that has done more to protect Christian
liberty than any governing document ever devised by man.
As I have noted before in this column, Biblical
principles form the foundation of all three of America`s
founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the
U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

(See

here
. )

In addition, if Christians (and
others) had been properly obedient to the Constitution
(and Romans 13), they would also have submitted to the
Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which
recognizes the authority of the States in matters not
specifically ceded to the federal government. In other
words, the Constitution intended that the authority of
the federal government be small and limited, with most
authority residing within the States and among the
people themselves.

As submission to the Constitution
and Natural Law have provided a haven of peace and
prosperity in these United States, Christians (for the
most part) have not had to face the painful decision to
"obey God rather
than men"
and defy their civil authorities. However,
as it is obvious that a majority of our government
leaders currently have almost no fidelity to their oaths
to defend the U.S. Constitution, it is becoming more and
more likely that we–like our forefathers–will need to
rediscover Benjamin Franklin`s declaration that


"Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."
(Of course, this effort, too, must be
accomplished within the scope of law, both divine and
civil.)

The problem in America today is
that we have allowed our political leaders to violate
their oaths of office and to ignore, and blatantly
disobey, the
"supreme Law of the Land,"
the U.S. Constitution.
Therefore, if we truly believe Romans Chapter 13, we
will insist and demand that our civil magistrates submit
to the U.S. Constitution.

Now, how many of us Christians are
going to truly obey Romans Chapter 13?

P.S. I invite readers to listen to
my interview with Dr. Greg Dixon regarding Romans
Chapter 13

here
.

Dr. Chuck Baldwin is the
pastor of Crossroad Baptist Church in Pensacola,
Florida. He hosts a


weekly radio show
. His
website is


here
.