My heading will make some people angry. They will tell us that, of course, Christians must always obey the authorities, but is that correct? We can gain some insight by knowing what the early Christians did as well as being aware of other scriptural precedents.
The First Century Christians could never rightly be accused of being wicked or dangerous, although they were accused by Roman officials of being both. That was obviously untrue since they were the most kind, dedicated, and committed people who ever lived. Many Christians sold themselves into slavery or went to debtors’ prison for the sake of the less fortunate. Even the ungodly emperor, Julian, admitted that “the godless Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own,” so evidently the Christians were generous, gracious, and godly people. (Note that Julian called them “godless” because they refused to worship his false gods!)
We must always seek to emulate Christ and be concerned for others; however, we must never confuse meekness for weakness as many Christian leaders are doing. We must also be very careful about being identified with far right “nuts” such as the American Nazi Party, KKK, and other hate groups. I’m convinced that we have not been quick enough to condemn some who are simply haters of others whom they fear.
I cringe when I hear small children spew out hatred against “niggers,” “Jew-boys,” and others, while their parents smile approvingly! Don’t ever put me in the same “camp” with such people even though we may agree on a few issues. After all, even the “nuts” can be right on some issues. I am critical of feminists, homosexuals, liberals (of both parties), and black leaders, but I don’t hate anyone. Not one! And any and all can trust Christ as Savior and be a changed person.
It is very simple: If any law is passed that conflicts with God’s law then Christians have an obligation to disobey that law. Of course, we must never use this principle as an excuse for personal rebellion when no scriptural issue is involved.
It was illegal for First Century Christians to attend meetings at night, but they broke that law. (Some preachers in our day have obeyed authorities when told that they could not use their own church buildings except on Sunday! But I suppose, during those permitted Sunday services those same pastors waxed eloquent about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who wouldn’t “bend, bow or burn.”)
The Roman Empire fought the Christians, considering them “criminals,” “desperate and forsaken people,” “lawless men,” “public enemies,” “dregs of the nations,” and “monstrous phenomena.” The Christians submitted themselves to the emperor but only after God; however, it was illegal to put God first and breaking that law required them to be ready for martyrdom at any moment.
Meanwhile they built strong families and strong churches. They supported widows and orphans among them, and they insisted that everyone work! No idle person was permitted among their number. (Should modern churches permit anyone in their membership to remain on welfare?)
Christians became the most productive citizens in the Empire, but they were persecuted off and on for more than two hundred years. While some Christians fled into the temples to burn incense to Caesar, (as many are doing today), many others stood valiantly for the faith. And the churches grew.
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All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. Isaiah 40:17
Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity. Psalm 62:9 Wherefore come out from among them, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 2 Corinthians 6:17
“whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it”
Lysander Spooner—Constitution of no authority