There are two major teachings in the New Testament, one from Peter and the other from Paul, that reveal God’s instructions for the church regarding submitting to governing authorities. And both of these seem to give blanket commands to submit to them for the sake of the Lord and the gospel. The first one is found in 1 Peter 2:13-15.
Therefore submit yourselves (to place under in an orderly fashion) to every (pás) ordinance (to create, form, or found) of man (why) for the Lord’s sake, (examples) whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for (1) the punishment of evildoers and for (2) the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good (what) you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men - 1 Peter 2:13-15.
And, even more direct, the second is found in Romans 13:2-4.
Therefore (since God is sovereign regarding governing authorities) whoever resists (antitássō – to set an army against, to arrange in battle order, to go to war against) the authority resists (anthístēmi – to stand against in both deed or word) the ordinance of God, and those who resist (anthístēmi) will bring judgment on themselves.
For rulers are not a terror to good (agathós – excellent, best, upright, virtuous) works, but to evil (kakós – wicked, vicious, bad in heart and character). Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good (agathós), and you will have praise from the same.
For he is God’s minister (diákonos – servant, one who runs in the dust) to you for good (agathós). But if you do evil (kakós), be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister (diákonos), an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil (kakós) - Romans 13:2-4.
But what happens when the governing authorities no longer serve as the protector of good and the punisher of evil? What happens when the authorities reward evil and persecute good? How are we to obey these passages? Or should we?
How does this command relate to the COVID mandates and the coming vaccine passports? What is the difference between a just or unjust law? Are we required to obey an unjust law? And if we do, doesn’t that make our actions unjust? Or, based on the truths cited above, does it even matter to a believer if a law is just or unjust? Are we to obey outright, with no concern for the morality of what we are obeying?
Are there ever any exceptions to submission to governmental authority? Or does this blanket submission apply in all cultures and at all times, such as during the holocaust in Nazi Germany or in our country today?
And it so, why did Peter and John refuse to submit to the governmental order to stop preaching or teaching in the name of Jesus in Acts 4:18-20? Were they wrong? Or is there another principle at play here? And if there is another principle involved, what is it? How are we to determine if obeying God means disobeying our authorities? And how is that being played out in our nation, and the church, today?
The answer is found in our duty and calling to stand for others who are too weak to stand for themselves. We are to give voice to those who have no voice. Consider the following:
Deliver (to rescue, to free from harm or evil, to snatch away to safety) those who are drawn (to grasp, take, or seize by an outside force) toward death, and hold back (to restrain, to refrain, to keep one from doing something), those stumbling (to move without being stable, to waver, to cause to be shaken in one’s resolve) to the slaughter (an event that causes someone to die) – Proverbs 24:11.
Remember the chilling words of Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) in his prophetic poem, First They Came.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Join us today as we learn the great price of silence in the face of evil and our responsibility to be light in the darkness (Matt. 5:14).