By this time next year, if my math is correct, the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby should owe the federal government somewhere around $7.8 zillion in fines for refusal to play a part in the Obamacare mandate.
Two facts are certain in regard to Hobby Lobby’s decision. First, there will be more businesses and organizations who find themselves facing similar fines because of their beliefs. Second, in critiquing Hobby Lobby, many people, some of whom would otherwise never refer to a Bible passage, will cite Romans 13 as evidence that Christians should always fall in line with their government.
But is this what Paul was really saying?
We can answer that question by asking another one.
Is the State god or is the State a servant of God?
If the State is god then our discussion is over and Christians must obey every government mandate.
But we know that this is not the case because the Bible, which does not contradict itself, tells us that we are to have no other gods before the One, True God (Exodus 20:3).
This leaves us with the option of government acting as the servant of God, a message that is actually quite clear in Romans 13 where Paul tells us that “there is no authority except from God,” and that the government is “God’s servant for your good.”
This calls for another question.
What if the government that has been instituted by God has essentially removed God from the equation in an attempt to take his rightful place? When this happens, do believers have a biblical obligation to resist that government?
Three Hebrew young men would tell us yes.
“But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:18 (ESV)
Their friend, Daniel, would also say yes.
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
Daniel 6:10 (ESV)
John the Baptist would say yes.
For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Mark 6:18 (ESV)
The apostle Peter would tell us yes.
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Acts 5:29 (ESV)
And finally, Paul, the Spirit-inspired author of Romans 13 would say yes.
But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?”
Acts 22:25 (ESV)
These examples, along with many others, show us that the Church has an obligation to resist rulers who, in their megalomania, have disregarded the rule of God and the rule of the very laws they were charged with upholding. Francis Schaeffer tells us, “The bottom line is that at a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty, to disobey the state.”
American Christians tend to think of persecution as something that only happens to believers who are quietly tucked away in their prayer groups. While this is sometimes the case, it is more often the result of Christians who stand up against tyranny. Tyrants, it turns out, don’t care much for opposition and resistance. Schaeffer gives us another good word here.
“The Christians said they would not worship Caesar, anybody, or anything, but the living God. Thus to the Roman Empire they were rebels, and it was civil disobedience. That is why they were thrown to the lions.”
Sadly, even in the land of the free and the home of the brave, Caesar is still demanding to be worshiped.
Christians must not take the bait of an authoritarian government that tries to convince us that we are still free because we are allowed to continue our Upward basketball programs and evangelistic crusades. If the Church remains silent in the face of tyranny, history will remember that silence as the approval of tyranny.
This world is not our home and a better one does await us. But it is important to resist tyranny and authoritarianism, even though we are just passing through.
This is the first in a two-part series of posts regarding Christian resistance to governing authorities. The next post will address the boundaries of our resistance.