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Does Romans 13 Demand Unlimited Subjection to the Government?

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

Last year I read an article published in a Mennonite daily devotion (Beside the Still Waters) that encouraged practical and passive non-resistance towards civil authorities, and castigated Christians for embracing Matt 5:39 and resisting the powers, something allegedly forbidden in Rom 13. Do these passages contradict? They do not. The writer mentioned that “the Bible is not a cafeteria for taking what we want and leaving the rest,” to which I would agree, but that is ironically occurring when they encourage complete nonresistance and not given to the entire picture and balance of what Scripture teaches on the subject. There are definite limitations to our submission to the powers that be (Rom 13).

Obedience to civil authority never usurps obedience to God’s Word, nor alludes to pacifism. And that is where that article came short of presenting the truth. It portrayed a form of blind submission, where the author took what he wanted and left the rest, not rightly dividing Gods Word but privately interpreting the scriptures. The Bible is sufficient for all areas of life, including politics and government (Rom 13; 2 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible teaches that we should honour God in all areas of our life—including how we employ our legal privileges as citizens and our conduct under civil authority who are given an office that is ordained of God (Rom 13:1-5; Ti 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-16). There should be reverence, honour and subjection to the office.

Does that then mean we obey whatever they say? No. We discern by scripture and never obey human authority at the cost of disobedience to Gods Word. “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” (Pr 29:29). “Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.” (Jer 17:5). Our freedoms are being forfeited by the minute, fought for freedoms by valiant men who even died for them, freedoms that are hard to obtain, and easy to lose. Our leaders are bent on destroying our nation, our freedoms, and Christianity itself, and the Chinese manufactured virus was the planned excuse they needed. Like the corrupt politician says, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ Of course this isn’t anything new, but it’s ramping up and people are kowtowing. We shouldn’t be.

The numerical and social restrictions and 😷 compulsion are completely arbitrary in nature. There has been no proven scientific or medical data to show us what “number” of people that gather together are a danger to society or closing businesses stops the spread. The numbers have varied and no study has ever shown masks to be of any benefit for healthy non-infected people but the contrary. Masks have always been a sign of oppression and forced submission. The entire Chinese virus fiasco is a political scam to thwart our freedoms and give increasing control to the government. When politicians shut down businesses and prevent social gatherings, they are not only reducing our right to freedom of religion but freedom itself. Don’t be deceived; there is more here to what meets the eye.

To deny a Christian his right and obligation to gather with his congregation is to put him at odds with a Biblical tenet of the faith, and the government is testing who we will obey. With whom is our allegiance? Who will we fear? This sort of pressure to disobey Scripture while tyrants exert their fist of fury stimulated by the wrath of the Antichrist has never changed, and it’s found throughout the history of the world as described in the Bible. Although it may seem commendable to protect society from the Chinese virus (just like influenza right (?), the local congregation of believers are to meet in His local visible church (Matt 18:20; Eph 6:18) on His appointed day (Ac 2:1).

It is true that the government hasn’t forbidden the preaching of the Word of God (yet), but biblical worship and church is far more than preaching. Would God see it fit for a pastor to shepherd the invisible, “universal church” by preaching into a microphone to an unseen audience. This feeds into the heresy of “the universal, invisible church” doctrine. Although I may be criticized for being uncaring or unloving about the physical health of children, the elderly, and the weak, one should consider the Lord’s perspective toward Israel, “But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised” (Nu 14:31).

What is at biblical stake when the Lord’s scriptural churches are denied assembling?

Firstly, the assembly is the designated place (physical assembly) on the designated day (Sunday) when the God of Order and Redemption wants to meet with His people (Matt 18:20; Rev 1:13; Ac 2:1).

Second, the pastor (bishop or overseer), must oversee the visible flock: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Ac 20:28). Overseeing the flock cannot realistically be done via live streaming. Corporate accountability and congregational authority is also quickly diminished.

Thirdly, the assembly must come together for fellowship and for the practice of the ordinances, even the Lord’s Table: “Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another” (1 Cor 11:17-34).

Although other biblical arguments could be put forth, we must recognize the ultimate goal of Satan behind social health concerns is the attack upon the Lord’s institution of the local church. One’s spiritual health is far more important than physical or financial health. Our desire must be obedience to Gods Word in all things (Jn 14:21-24; 1 Jn 2:3-5), to be “valiant for the truth” (Jer 9:3), for “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” (Heb 13:6b).

A timeless principle runs through both Testaments that civil disobedience is appropriate at times. There is even times when God commanded His saints to do so. The following list shows numerous examples of saints from the Bible who resisted civil authority and ended up getting in serious trouble with the government. These ministers of the Lord God (which all born again believers are—2 Cor 5:18-20) directly resisted the powers that be, and then received the blessings of God for doing so:

  • Elijah defied the king of Samaria in 2 Kings 1, even barbecuing his messengers!

  • John the Baptist was imprisoned & beheaded for telling the truth to a State ruler about his adulterous relationship & his other evils (Mk 6:14-29; Lk 3:19).

  • Moses broke civil laws by killing a taskmaster for abuse and attempted murder of a Jewish slave whom he nobly and valiantly defended and protected (Ex 2:11-12; Ac 7:24-25) and God made him the first leader of the nation of Israel. Moses had the love of God in his soul like as his parents, who also defied Pharaoh by hiding him as a baby in a “ark of bulrushes” in the river (Ex 2) to prevent his death.

  • Daniel resisted the State by refusing to keep silent in his prayers (Dan 6).

  • David refused to submit to the government authority of Saul's troops (1 Sam 19), and Saul was the Lords anointed. There are other examples of David that could be given.

  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defied the king of Babylon by refusing to obey the decree of worshipping a statue (Dan 3). They defined the kings commandment and twice were arrested and then thrown into the furnace of fire. But God the Son delivered them.

  • Jonathan refused Saul's order in 1 Sam 20 to summon David. That wasn’t only disobedience to a civil authority but also to his own father!

  • The Hebrew midwives blatantly disobeyed their authorities, even lying to them (Ex 1:15-22). “The midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.” (v 17). God blessed them greatly for it (vv 20-21).

  • Rahab defied and misled the king of Jericho about the Jewish spies (Jos 2). She did this because she was a true believer and feared God and loved her Jewish brethren. God so highly exalted her, she, along with Abraham, is given as an example of true saving faith (Jam 2) and even found a place in the genealogy of Christ (Matt 1:5).

  • Apostles were forbidden to preach (Ac 4:19-20) and thrown in jail for refusing to obey the governing rulers and council (Ac 5:17-18) and for breaking local laws (Ac 16:16-24), even killed for it in some instances (Ac 12:2).

  • Peter disobeyed Caesar’s edict of Ac 4:12, boldly proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven whereby we must be saved.

  • Christians were rounded up and thrown in jail for resisting government authority (Ac 8:1-3).

  • Christians defied the governor of Damascus who was attempting to apprehend Paul, and helped him escape through a window in a basket by a wall (2 Cor 11:32-33; Ac 9:23-25).

  • God commanded the wise men to disobey the State ruler (Matt 2:7-12), which consequently resulted in the slaying of all children in Bethlehem and area two years old and under (Matt 2:16-18).

These all chose to obey God rather than man, and yet there are much more in scripture. What’s fascinating about all these instances of saints defying civil law, is that they had the protection of the Lord God. We need to understand that just as we are subjected to the authority of government (Rom 13:1-3), government is subjected to the authority of God (Rom 13:1, 6) and to the authority of the people they serve and minster to (Rom 13:4-5), and there are many circumstances where the authority of God trumps that of government.

Resistance to tyranny does not contradict Rom 13. Rom. 13:1 states: “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.” "Be subject" doesn't mean "submit." It means, "place yourself under." There are higher powers and even higher powers. The highest power is God and when someone places himself under higher powers, there is always the very highest power God, that arbitrates all subjection. At some point, a church that submits itself to civil government can see that it clashes with the highest power. Right then, in accordance with hierarchicalism, it circumvents or bypasses the higher power for the highest power.

The church is still subject to civil authority, but does not submit to civil authority because that contradicts God. Civil authority does not define the exercise of religion. At least according to true religion, God does. Civil authority does not have power either to define the exercise of religion or to regulate it. Today the civil government has far overstepped its authority. It blatantly violates the free exercise of religion. It does that instantaneously when it says a church cannot meet, intruding upon God-mandated rights as churches.

Furthermore, it’s also hard to take serious the same government who now claims to prioritize the health concerns of citizens while presently having no issue with but rather support and protect (!) the murder of innocent helpless babies and the elderly. Not sure what else could define hypocrisy so clearly as this!

So Churches must apply scripture and submit to God rather than men (Ac 5:29). They are subject to the higher powers, but not at the expense of the highest power. Churches must submit to the highest power when higher powers—lesser powers than the highest power—violate the highest power. Obedience to God is our rule, not obedience to the government.

As long as the civil authorities don’t ask of us to go against God's Word, then we obey. When they do, we obey them not but scripture. It’s that simple. It’s worth noting some of the same Mennonites and others that decry resistance, will ignore all the resistance that occurred with our forefathers. For instance, many believers deceived the authorities about the whereabouts of Menno Simons while on the run as a Baptist minister the last of his life, after his dramatic conversion. Is that not resisting the authorities? Some even lost their lives because of it. Many defied the authorities of that day in rebaptizing (always by immersion) those that had been “baptized” prior to their conversion. That was against the law. Death was the end of many of them as well.

God clearly does want us to have an attitude of obedience and respect for human authorities, and to pray for those in positions of earthly power. But Churches today should be defying their government when the government is commanding them to defy Gods Word in certain areas. They have the right to do this and are ordered so. It proves where your allegiance and love lies. Unfortunately many people who call themselves Christian, don't look at what Jesus, the Apostles, the prophets, and others did. They value their own opinion greater than exegesis, I guess thinking that they have inspired opinions, one of the negative effects of an environment of continuationism in Christian culture and blatant disregard for faithfulness to Scripture.

In the end when you faithfully obey the whole counsel of God as regenerated saints filled with the Holy Spirit of God, if you are summoned to pay the price for such obedience, whatever that price may be, you are commanded to:

“love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you . . . and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” (Matt 5:44; Lk 6:35).


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