After a busy weekend, I have some time now to post, and that means part three of my commentary on potential persecution of Christians here in the United States. The question I want to examine briefly is the subject of resisting such persecution i.e. whether such resistance is justified in a biblical sense. It's a tough question — for me anyway.
One of the linchpins in this debate is the proper interpretation of Romans 13. Here is the specific passage in question . . .
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:1-8).
Some theologians interpret this passage to mean that believers are to submit to their governmental authorities no matter what, unless the authorities are trying to compel them to disobey God. Such an argument is compelling, especially when it is tied to how the Lord Jesus conducted Himself before the authorities, and how the Apostle Paul conducted himself when imprisoned. However, are the examples of Jesus and Paul appropriate examples, or are those examples merely an example of apples and oranges? Is this the only way to interpret this Romans passage?
Other theologians have a different view, and most of our Founding Fathers here in America had a different view. They focused on a logical syllogism within this passage — that a legitimate government is intended by God to be a terror to evildoers. But when the government ceases being a terror to evildoers and begins being a terror to the righteous, it is no longer a legitimate government and can be resisted in good conscience.
Another thing that makes this a difficult subject for me is understanding the principles on which this country was founded. In the days of Jesus and Paul, the Roman emperor was supreme and his word was law. Here in the United States, "we the people" are the final authority, at least under the constitutional system put together by the Founders. Our founding documents -- and especially the Declaration of Independence -- presuppose the right of a people to rise up and throw off tyranny. In our Constitution, the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights were recognized as inherent, and not granted by government. These rights were viewed as being granted by God Himself, and could not lawfully be taken away by the government.
There was even a significant dispute over whether to include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Supporters of the Bill viewed it as necessary to codify these rights so they'd be spelled out for everyone to see. Opponents believed that if these rights were codified, they would be viewed as government-granted and subject to repeal. Both parties, however, agreed that these rights were inherent human rights and could not lawfully be taken away by government. I am afraid we have lost that notion today.
This debate takes some interesting twists and turns. Some of those who hold the earlier view of complete submission to government view the Spirit of 1776 as the spirit of rebellion, and that rebellion is as "the sin of divination" (1 Samuel 15:23). It's hard for me to take that harsh a view, because one of the things that prompted the Pilgrims to come here was their desire to worship God as their consciences dictated. By the time of the War of Independence, the chief concern had become economic, but there was still a spiritual concern over what the colonists believed to be tyranny. England was not innocent when it came to religious persecution, with "Bloody Mary" being a good example.
As you can see, this isn't an easy question. My emotional, gut reaction is to fight for the rights that so many have died to uphold. But my final position must not be driven by emotion. It must be driven by God's Word, illuminated by His Holy Spirit, and must result in glory and honor to the Lord. When it comes to persecution, will said persecution be for political beliefs, or will it be over religious, spiritual principles? Can the two be separated?
That's all for now. We'll keep exploring this subject in the days and weeks to come, although posts will not necessarily be in direct succession to each other.