By Bill Burchett
Churches of Christ are careful to stress the Biblical concept of submission to duly constituted authority. Not only is the Christian to submit himself to God, he is to be subject to those agencies which God has authorized and ordained. Only in his submission to these is he showing true submission to God.
The Christian is a citizen of two kingdoms – one earthly and one heavenly. Some would argue that since our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), we have no obligation to any earthly government. The apostle Paul, who penned the preceding passage, certainly did not limit his citizenship to heaven. He was a citizen of both Rome (Acts 22:26-29) and the kingdom of our Lord (Colossians 1:13), and obviously did not see an impossible conflict.
An attempt was made to ensnare Jesus on this same subject by the Pharisees (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus, however, showed that instead of a conflict of duties, there was perfect harmony. He not only escaped the snare, but in his answer, he laid down a law for all time, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." Christians, disciples of Jesus, those who are obedient to God, should take their stand for law, for loyalty, and for order.
GOVERNMENT ORDAINED OF GOD
Both the Old and New Testaments state vividly that earthly rulers have authority from God. "Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever; for wisdom and might are his. And he changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings, and setteth up kings" (Daniel 2:20-21). To Nebuchadnezzar the statement is made, ". . . for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, Power, and strength, and glory" (Dan. 2:37).
In the New Testament Jesus makes it clear to Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11). Paul, an apostle of God and a Roman citizen, writes to the Roman church, "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. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Romans 13:1-2). In verse 4 of the same passage the apostle twice refers to civil power as "the minister of God," and repeats the thought again at verse 6.
Clearly civil government is ordained of God. Anarchy is not the Father's will for men.
SUBMISSION TO GOVERNMENT
Christians are to be obedient citizens. In fact, of all people, Christians ought to be among the very best citizens. The disciple's relationship to God is the decisive factor in all his other relationships. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, but while in the flesh we are citizens of these nations as well. God has ordained civil government for these nations, and so we have a duty to Caesar as well as to God. In our relationship and duty to God, we find ourselves with various responsibilities, including submission to civil law.
Early Christians lived under a totalitarian form of government – the Roman dictators. Yet, God's word commanded and encouraged them to be obedient citizens. Paul wrote to the evangelist Titus concerning matters that should be preached to God's people. Among many other things he was to "put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, … " (Titus 3:1).
The apostle Peter likewise stresses the importance of submission. "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God…" (1 Pet. 2:13-15). In looking again at Romans 13:1-7, we see that Christians are to be in subjection to civil authorities. This is so not merely because of fear of the sword, but also for conscience's sake.
This submission or obedience to government, however, is not without qualification. It is qualified by our duty to God. If there arises a conflict between obedience to God and obedience to civil rulers, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Jesus, in responding to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:15-22, did not define the specific duties to either Caesar or God, but he left no doubt that we have a debt to both. When government is carrying out its God-ordained responsibilities (Rom 13:3-4; 1 Pet. 2:14), and when we are receiving the protection of the government as well as the privileges provided, then we are certainly under obligation to support that government.
In addition to civil obedience and submission in general, there are some very specific duties and responsibilities pointed out in the Scriptures. The Christian is to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for government leaders (1Timothy 2:1-4). Further, the Christian supports the government by paying his taxes (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:6). It is not ours to refrain from this duty because a government is not perfect, or because there is waste in government, or because we do not agree with all the programs of the government. Neither Jesus nor Paul qualified their tax remarks by such notions. On the other hand, Christians living in a democratic society should certainly participate in the betterment of government as they have opportunity.
Jesus teaches his followers to be attitude-conscious in all their dealings. It isn't surprising then to learn that his apostles encourage the development of a good attitude toward rulers. Christians are to respect and honor their governing authorities (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17).
Among the more controversial areas of responsibility is that of service to one's government. How is one to serve? Where is one to serve? What about the Christian and military service, police work, jury duty, etc.? Can he serve? Must he serve? While each individual should be fully persuaded in his own mind (Rom. 14:23), we do have examples of government service in God's word. The reader is encouraged to study carefully the cases of Erastus (Rom. 16:23), Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11), and the Philippian jailor (Acts 16).
PRIVILEGES AND RIGHTS
The Christian in a democratic society has the great privilege of helping in the formation of good government. He can vote on issues, help elect good officials, and assist in the influencing of proper legislation. To this writer, such should not only be seen as a privilege, but also as a duty.
Since the government is to punish the evil doer (Rom 13:3-4), the citizen has the privilege of enjoying a sense of security brought about by law and order. While enjoying this privilege, the Christian will do those things which contribute to the preservation of law and order.
Another precious privilege is the right to due process. It is not wrong for the Christian citizen to respectfully demand his right under the law (Acts 25:6-12).
And, certainly, the Christian can exercise his right to protection (Acts 23:12-35) as well as make his legal defense when accused (Acts 24:10).
Our God does not authorize anarchy and chaos for the inhabitants of this world. It was no accident that Jesus came into the world at a time of strong government. In this world of Roman peace, Roman roads, and Roman law and order, Jesus established his church and sent his disciples into all the world with the gospel. His followers thus became citizens of two kingdoms. Nearly two thousand years have not diminished the truth which Jesus spoke, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." An obvious separation of church and state, yet a solemn duty to both.
What is the importance of authority in our world?
What is the ultimate source of authority? Why?
Discuss the Christian's attitude toward all duly constituted authority.
Did Paul consider his Roman citizenship to be a matter of importance?
What was behind the Pharisees' question to Jesus about taxes?
How is civil government the minister of God?
List some Christian duties to government.
Can a Christian serve as a policeman or a soldier?
Does obedience to civil government have any limitations?