The Bible Does Not Promote Civil Disobedience

Christianity Under Attack

Christianity has been under heavy assault lately from athiests, non-theists, materialist, free thinkers and agnostics. I’very seen them flooding Christian forums online and on social networks with their propaganda. I normally don’t engage in debates about my faith but I’ve felt compelled to defend it when I’ve seen their posts on Christian forums. So I’m going to be doing a few articles in response to some of these inquiries into the validity of the Christian faith.

I’ve noticed that most people seem to center their attacks around moral claims focused on the past sins of the church. Claiming that religion is a poison and such things like this. Even those who claim scientific evidence for God’s non-existence, when they are presented with scientific evidence for God’s existence, always come back to the failures of the church, or what appear to be moral failures in the Bible.

The following is a quote from one such argument I’ve seen recently:

“The bible says you should obey the word of god before any earthly law or instruction. Does it follow that promoting the bible is illegal?”

This may seem like a valid thought to the non-Christian and possibly even to the untrained Christian. We are to be obedient to God before we are to be obedient to any earthly law or instution. Right? Which would mean civil disobedience can be properly sanctioned by the Bible.

Not exactly. Contrary to popular thought, the Bible not only encourages obedience to civil governments, it demands it. And it places it on the same level as obedience to God. In other words, to be disobedient to governing authorities is to be disobedient to God. We have no room to talk about how “spiritual” we are if we are not in subjection to governing authorities.

What Does The Bible Say?

Christianity was actually the first religion not instituted by the governing authorities that still called for obedience to the governing authorities. Examine the Scriptures below:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 12:1,6,7)

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:13-14)

And when the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful for the Jews to pay tax to Caesar he answered them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

Biblical Examples of Disobedience

A cursory examination of the two most popular and most often quoted Bible texts related to this issue provide us with a better understanding. Of course, that is if they are examined properly.

The first is in Daniel 3:1-30. King Nebuchadnezzar had made a golden image of himself and commanded everyone in the kingdom to worship it. Three Jews (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) refused to. They did not do so at the risk of inciting civil unrest. Rather, they did so at the risk of their own lives. And when they did they spoke to the king with honor and respect, letting him know that they would serve him, but they would not serve or worship his gods.

The second is in the book of Acts chapters 4 and 5. Peter and John were taken into custody by the temple guard for healing and preaching in the name of Jesus. Technically, this wasn’t even the governing authority. Because Rome was the governing authority at the time. This was just the high priest and his buddies getting all upset because these Christians were throwing their religious system all out of whack. So the high priest sent his thugs (the temple gaurd was really more like thw high priest’s personal body guards) to bring John and Peter in for questioning. Then they demanded them (even though they really had no authority to in the first place) to stop preaching in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John answered them and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) And again in chapter five the high priest had his thugs bring them in because they were still preaching and Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

This is where non-Christians usually get their ammo for saying Christians are rebellious problematic glitches in society.  Because we Christians assert that “we must obey God rather than men” as the apostles did here. However, as has already been pointed out, in this case in Acts these technically weren’t even the governing authorities. Just some powerful Jews whom the Romans allowed to have their own body gaurds. That’s the equivalent of a rich normal citizen who – because of his money, poltical influence, and own personal small army guised as body gaurds – has the ability to make my life a living hell if I don’t do what he wants me to and I say, “You’re just a man buddy. I really don’t have to listen to you.”

Disobedient but Submissive

In either of the only two cases in the Bible, the disobedience was never wrought with a rebellious heart and hinged upon religious freedom. In Daniel, while they agreed to serve the king with honor and respect they also respectfully refused to worship him or his gods. And the case in Acts is really irrelevant because they weren’t standing before governing authorities. They were simply stating that some rich powerful bully would not stop them from believing what they had witnessed with their own eyes and from sharing it with others.

As stated from the previously quoted Scriptures from Romans, 1 Peter and Mark, the Bible commands Christians to be obedient to governing authorities. From just the two examples given we see that the only exemption to that command is when the governing authorities demand us to worship idols, to stop believing in Jesus, or to stop talking about Jesus. And even in those cases we see in both illustrations that the exercise of their faith in God, while in direct disobedience to the governing authority, was still carried out with respect for those authorities.

This is a far cry from the claim that the Bible promotes civil disobedience because it requires obedience to God before any earthly laws or instution. Here is another way to look at it. What if the Senate passed a law that said everyone had to believe in God and go to church on Sundays? Now they may be able to impose stipulations (like a tax or jail time) for those who didn’t go to church or didn’t confess belief in God. But ultimately they cannot use the law to make you believe in God.

Belief Cannot be Regulated by Law

Belief is something that takes place in the heart and mind. Law can only regulate behavior. It cannot change what the heart and mind believe to be true. This is what we see with Christianity. If the legal system started passing anti-Christian laws to punish us for believing in Christ, worshipping Him and talking about Him with others; then we Christians would be forced to take those punishments whatever they may be. Because the law cannot change what we believe with all of our heart and mind to be true.

Would that make us rebellious problematic glitches in society because we can’t help but believe in God, worship God, love God and share that with others regardless of what the law says? Would the atheist be a rebellious problematic glitche in society if the law said he had to believe in God and yet he cannot find it in his heart to do so?

We can’t just simply stop believing in God, loving Jesus and sharing that with others because the law says so. That’s not how it works. The law can’t change what’s in our hearts. But if the law ever crosses that line to tell us how to believe we won’t stand in defiance of it with rebellious hearts. We will stand in respect of it with submissive hearts and humbly inform those enforcing it that we cannot change what is in our hearts. At least, that would be the biblical approach to take.

– Joseph Sterling

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