A note from Lead Pastor Todd Malone
Church and State
If Scripture only reinforces what we already think, something is wrong – with us. God uses His Word to challenge us, convict us, and transform us into new ways of thinking. If all we see in Scripture is confirmation that we are correct and that there is no reason to change, we are not open to what God is trying to do in our lives through His Word.
Romans 13 highlights an area in which we tend to resist Scripture’s corrective ministry: how we think about government. Our strong opinions about authorities do not change easily. Therefore, it is important to revisit Romans 13 as we enter the election. Paul opens the chapter with these words: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” We cheer this verse when our party wins elections but ignore it when the other party is in power. What if God wants us to take this verse seriously at face-value? What if He means it when He says, “those [government authorities] that exist have been instituted by God”?
I think God means exactly what He says in these verses, and that reassures me. I am reassured by knowing that if my party doesn’t win, God is still the highest authority and He is active over all authorities under Him. God does not stress over election results. I am challenged that my starting point with every governing authority must be submission, which is what “be subject” means. Remember, Paul wrote this to a church who had many members lose their homes, livelihoods, and status in the community because the Emperor exiled them for no good reason. Now they are back in Rome after being treated horribly by government, and Paul tells them to submit.
Of course, that is not the whole story. Paul wrote many of his letters from prison – he himself did not always obey the government. The Apostle Peter famously told the High Priest that the apostles must obey God rather than man. When I preached this passage in September, I suggested that there are four reasons that people in Scripture disobeyed government. First, there were grounds for disobedience when the government commanded them to stop doing something that God requires. That is what was going on in Acts 5 with Peter and the High Priest. Second, they disobeyed when government commanded them to do what God forbids. Think Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They disobeyed the government’s requirement to worship an idol. Third, they disobeyed when the government abandoned its God-given responsibility to support godliness and restrict evil in the society it was meant to protect. Finally, they disobeyed when the government became unjust toward a segment of society. Queen Esther did this to protect Jews within the Persian empire.
To claim such a reason to disobey, Scripture must be very clear, and it must be very clear that government is in violation. The point is that Scripture sets a high bar for obedience. We tend to try to find ways to justify our disobedience by either stretching Scripture’s meaning or overstating the extent of the government’s resistance to God’s Word.
Our default position toward government must be submission. This is not because of anything about government itself. It is about our trust that God is truly the highest authority, and we can trust what He is doing with our leadership.