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JEFF SESSIONS CITES ROMANS, CALLING BELIEVERS TO OBEY GOVERNMENT — DOES HE HAVE A POINT?
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, recently, Jeff Sessions was asked to come and address the Southern Baptist Convention. When he did, he quoted the apostle Paul, Roman 13:1-7, which overall instructs Christians to submit to the government. This really opened up Pandora’s box with critics of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions saying that is the same scripture that certain individuals used to justify things like the Nazi regime.
Harry, let me ask you a question: if you were living back in the 1700’s during the American Revolution, no doubt, there were probably times where you had certain people saying that those living in this new country of America — which was still under the king’s rule — should be submitting to the king of England and not engaging in a revolution.
DR. REEDER: We just celebrated our July the Fourth holidays. Were the Christians who participated in the Revolution — the Christian patriots — were they sinning against God? And, by the way, many of the Tories were actually believers in America that quoted this and said, “We can’t rebel against the king.”
PAUL AND PETER AGREE ON THIS POINT IN MIRRORED WRITINGS
Peter, almost verbatim, says the same thing when he’s writing in 1 Peter 2:13-17. In fact, he even goes on to say that we are to be subject to every human institution and to those in authority, as Paul does, and to those who are ruling over us, for the governing authorities are established over us by a sovereign God and they are there, called to be ministers of God.
One of the things that is being stated in this is that government is an act of God post-fall that has been given as a blessing of common grace to punish evil, restrain evil and to promote what is good and that is the role of the government. The government is not the church and, by the way, the church is not the government. The government has an intersection with the church and the church speaks to the government and its members participate in the government.
THE GOVERNMENT IS GOD-GIVEN TO KEEP ORDER AFTER THE FALL OF MAN
And how is it that Christians live their lives? Well, we who have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of life, we who are sojourners and exiles as we fulfill our mission to be ambassadors for Christ, we see ourselves answering to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, but that does not promote anarchy in our life — that promotes order in our life and that our call is to be in subjection to every human institution.
Are there exceptions? Absolutely, but don’t start with the qualifiers; start with the principle. The principle is, before I was a Christian, it’s all about me and I do what I want for myself. Now that I’m a Christian, it’s all about Jesus and I do what He wants and He tells me. The direction of my life is to be submissive. Churches are submissive to one another, Christians are submissive to one another, members are submissive to elders, I’m submissive to my employer, I’m submissive to the civil magistrate — that is the direction that we are called to live.
THERE ARE CASES WHERE LAWS ARE NOT JUST
Are there qualifiers? Absolutely. Notice the text does not say that every law is just or that every governing authority is just but it simply says that it’s there by God’s sovereign appointment. My initial response is to be in submission.
Are there times in the Bible that my submission is to be forfeited because of the government’s law — the law itself? When they told John and Peter they couldn’t preach in the name of Jesus, well, now we got a conflict. King Jesus says go and preach the Gospel and they just passed a law on me that I can’t preach the Gospel. And so, what did they say? “We must obey God rather than man.” Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not bow down to the king’s image and commit idolatry, but they were still submissive — they willingly took their punishment.
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR HAD BELIEVERS UNITED UNDER THEIR LOCAL GOVERNMENT, NOT INDIVIDUAL CHAOS
Concerning the Revolution, you’ll notice it was not a collection of guerilla and it was not an act of vigilantism. They established a government in America which they were submissive to, which then informed the government that was exercising tyranny against them that this government in America would not submit to that government. In other words, the Christians were obedient to the governing authority in America which declared to the tyrannical government that was attempting to coerce and control through the mechanism of taxation without representation that they would not do it.
Therefore, it was not an act of individual revolution; they were submissive to the government that had been established in the colonies that then said to the government that would control them, “We no longer will allow you to oppress and take away people’s God-given inalienable rights.”
The same thing would be true in a Nazi Germany. Yes, did Hitler quote this text to try to control Christians? Yes, but Christians could say, “Yes, we will be in submission to the government but, when you exercise your laws, if your laws cause us to transgress the law of God, then we must obey God rather than man.”
IN NAZI GERMANY, THE LAWS WERE UNJUST AND THIS VERSE WOULD NOT HAVE APPLIED
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, I remember in the book “The Hiding Place,” Corrie Ten Boom wrote where she was challenged by a Nazi officer quoting this verse saying you are to obey the governing authorities. In that kind of situation, would it be proper for a Christian like Corrie Ten Boom to perhaps take an officer like that to Colossians 4 where it says, “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you, too, have a Master in Heaven whom you have to answer.”
DR. REEDER: That’s moving from the civil government to the civil relationships in society but the principle would be the same. What I would say is go back to the Romans 13, “You’re a minister of God,” God called you to imprison people just because they are made in the image of God and reside in a certain ethnicity?
For Corrie Ten Boom, when they come and said, “Do you have any Jews in your house?” is it okay for her to say no? Absolutely it was okay because the whole question was, “Do you have Jews in your house that we can imprison and exterminate?” and that answer is no. She also realizes that here is a law that stands against the law of God, “You shalt not murder.”
WE MAY BE CALLED TO CIVILLY DISOBEY AND SUFFER CONSEQUENCES IN OUR WORLD TODAY
At the moment, my country is guilty of allowing the murder of unborn infants. If they ever get to the point that they tell me, “You have to pay for it. You have to participate in it directly,” then I tell them, “No, I will not,” and I’ll have to be ready to take the punishment for it. In fact, I am called of God not to obey an unjust law. I actually have a moral duty before God to disobey that law in the context of being submissive to governing authorities.
When Sessions quotes that text, that text is rightly quoted but its right application always realizes that, if that governing authority has an unjust law, then Christians, in submission to that authority, are under obligation to the Lord, the Giver of the supremacy of the Ten Commandments and the Law of God that we cannot disobey the commandments of God within a nation. Yet we don’t do that in terms of personal rebellion; we do that under authority and, ultimately, under the authority of Christ, Who is our King, in which our citizenship ultimately lies.
WE HAVE BEEN LEFT A LEGACY OF OBEDIENT CHRISTIANS TO FOLLOW
When Peter wrote his text that’s parallel to Paul’s text, it’s interesting that he also adds directly, “Honor the king,” and the king at that time is a lascivious, immoral, ungodly, unconscionably evil person, Nero, who in just a few years is going to kill the man that’s writing this “Honor the king and honor the emperor,” Peter, and will also decree the death of Paul who also said the governing authorities are to be obeyed and who, in their submission, went to death for King Jesus because of their faithfulness to the call of Christ to spread the Gospel of His Kingdom throughout the world. Of course, history is full of those who have followed their steps of martyrdom.
The rule of believers is you move from the rule of self and the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ and now the rule of Christ in our life and it’s manifested in our submission to God-ordained authorities, always declaring the supremacy of our obedience to Christ. If those rulers take upon themselves the authority to tell us to disobey Christ, then we must obey God rather than man.
COMING UP TOMORROW: LEADERSHIP BLOOMING IN ARMED FORCES
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, on tomorrow’s edition of “Today in Perspective,” I want to take you to a blog by Chris Bollinger. In this blog, he notes that there are certain members of a certain branch of our military who share a unique quality.
DR. REEDER: And are being called upon in a disproportionate measure for leadership in our country and there may be a reason why this is happening that we can explore tomorrow.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.