Everyone is annoyed at times by a stupid rule or a bad decision by a leader. But lately, conservative Christian responses to government rules look and sound about the same as non-Christian attitudes on the political right: they’re dominated by anger, harsh judgments of motives, mockery, and defiance.
Sanctimonious defiance is still really just defiance. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still… etc., etc.
Christians are called to better attitudes—ones fueled by a different focus. Keeping some realities in mind may help chill the anger and judgmentalism and foster something closer to our duty to “honor all” and “honor the king” (1 Pet 2:17, KJV).
Observing how life works can lead to wisdom (Prov 24:32, 8:1-3). Observe that mailing or transmitting your tax return at one second past 11:59:59 PM on tax day is late. Going 70.00001 mph in a 70 mph zone is, technically, a violation. One second before midnight on the eve of your 18th birthday, you’re a minor and you can’t join the Army. One second later, you’re an adult, and you can.
"This guy, angry that Grace Community Church yielded to the 9th Circuit Court's ruling banning church meetings in California [last] weekend, Tweets at me: "An unjust law need not be followed. I'm appalled at how many people who profess to believe Scripture echo that sentiment." - Phil Johnson
"...if we rail against the government, communicate that we think these rules are stupid, thumb our nose at their spoken desire to protect us, and refuse to heed their orders or guidelines, then we are telling our children that we only listen to authorities whenever we agree. If we do this, we’re setting a horrible example." - Mike Leake
I saw it again the other day, a bumper sticker that said, “Question Authority.” That’s the prevailing mood of our day, perpetual skepticism towards human authority and the notion that we should question and challenge it at every opportunity. This is hardly surprising given the rebellious nature of humanity, but it’s puzzling to see many Christians join the chorus.
In our adamic depravity we all have a natural distaste for authority. Resistance can run the gamut from mild to intense, but this basic sentiment lurks in the shadows of every human heart, “Ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to do!” Rugged individualism can digress into sinful anti-authoritarianism almost imperceptibly.
Personal independence is lauded in movies, television, and popular songs. Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way.” Society makes heroes of those who defy authority, whether parental, ecclesiastical, political, or economic.
The story has almost attained myth status in our culture. Brainy, often-bullied, tragically-parentless adolescent has accidental encounter with dangerously powerful lab experiment. Bitten by an unnaturally fortified spider, he soon begins to develop spider-like qualities himself. He discovers that he has faster-than-human reflexes, can climb walls, and can do amazing things with webs. (Fortunately for him, compound eyes, extra limbs, and complicated new mouth parts are not part of the package.)
The youth struggles to come to terms with his new-found abilities and how his life must change. In most versions of the story, he has a conversation with his foster father, Uncle Ben, who delivers the famous aphorism: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The good uncle was almost right.
The voice of wisdom in the tale correctly recognized that power and responsibility go together. And certainly when individuals come upon power unexpectedly they ought to ponder what responsibilities they must also have. But by putting power first, Uncle Ben expressed a popular misunderstanding—a reversal of the actual order of things. And because we are so prone to be confused about power, the difference is important. Scripture reveals that responsibility comes first, and then power. And this is true for power in the sense of ability as well as power in the sense of authority.
First appeared at SI in July of 2011.
Something doesn’t add up. We refer to July 4 as Independence Day. We refer to the war that followed as the Revolutionary War. But if we viewed ourselves as independent of British rule on July 4, how could we have engaged in revolution after July 4? Revolution normally precedes independence. Either the day or the war is a misnomer.
For Christians the incongruity raises deeper questions. Given the response to government that Scripture requires, shouldn’t we oppose the whole idea of revolution, regardless of the circumstances? And if we’re opposed to revolution, can we rejoice in independence?
Genesis 9 is understood by many to represent God’s re-founding of the institution of human government. The NT emphasizes submission to that institution as our Christian duty.
And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” 17 And Jesus answered and 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. (Mark 12:16–17)
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work… (Titus 3:1)
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:13–15)