Every day we are reminded of the incompetence of government. We hear it on the news and from our co-workers. We remember it when we’re stuck in traffic or waiting for a bureaucrat to answer the phone. Misguided policies and wasteful programs are commonplace. (I speak as a long-suffering New South Welshman) Whether it’s a local, state or federal issue, dodginess is something we simply expect from government.
Our authorities are not only “tricky,” they are increasingly at odds with the Christian stance on issues such as the sanctity of marriage, the value of human life, education, or vices like gambling. As the power of government encroaches further into private life, Christians have good reason to be suspicious of the direction in which that authority is moving.
Don’t Dodge Romans 13:1
This tension between believers and the state is nothing new. The Bible is full of bad governments, with historical examples from Israel’s kings to pagan nations up to the Roman era. Some administrations were financially oppressive (king Solomon), others were spiritually menacing (Assyria, Babylon, Rome), or unstable (short-lived king Zimri), or divided (Israel & Judah).
In the New Testament, Christians were growing restless under the hostile Roman empire. In that context, Romans chapter 13, verse 1 is God’s primary instruction concerning our relationship with and attitude toward civil government:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”
To be subject is to recognise the superior authority over us, so that we seek to respect and obey that authority. This command applies to “every person.” God requires such submission to civil rulers because God has established their rule. Our government is ultimately God’s delegated government, so our submission to government is a reflection of our submission to God. Submission normally results in obedience.
Even in situations where we may need to “obey God, rather than men,” * the Bible demonstrates that we can keep a submissive spirit. For example, Daniel served in pagan governments as an administrator, yet he is recorded as refusing on only two occasions to comply with regulations, because personal compliance with those orders would have been direct disobedience to God. On the whole, he remained subordinate to the government of his day.
When the apostles Peter and John were commanded to stop preaching, they did not challenge the office of the Sanhedrin. They submitted themselves to the Sanhedrin’s authority to judge, while resolving to preach Christ.
I think this command to submit is harder than it seems. It’s easier to complain loudly about the flaws in the system, or to fret over the godless direction of godless leaders, while forgetting our faith in the sovereign One who appoints those very same officials and sees the end from the beginning.
We may also be guilty of picking and choosing which laws to obey, not because we’re in a situation where we “ought to obey God” but because we would simply rather (for example) speed when it suits us, or copy music without regarding copyright.
The current Parliament is hung. A carbon tax is looming. Since the federal election, the Greens have already promoted a bill on euthanasia and propose a national law to permit same-sex marriage. We’re living in interesting times.
Submission does not necessitate silence; you still have the opportunity to speak out. If anything, we are so accustomed to our “nanny state” that we tend to be passive when we could be more aggressive. Instead of muted grumbling, here are three ways for Christians to effectively speak out and make a difference:
1) Pray for the government. We should be praying for our local council, for state MPs, for the Prime Minister, and so on. The instruction from I Timothy 2:1-4 is a good start.
2) Email your representatives directly. Respectfully and clearly explain your concern. For practical tips on effective letter-writing to politicians, click here.
3) Talk about the Gospel. Parliaments and politicians come and go, along with the issues of the 24/7 news cycle. But soon the kingdoms of the world will become “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” * What will truly save and transform people — the next government, or redemption through Jesus?
* Acts 5:29; Revelation 11:15