Christians and Civil Disobedience
Can you imagine the anger?
Acts 5:29-32 – Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles tell the Sanhedrin that they have to obey God rather than man. The Sanhedrin believed they were appointed by God Himself to bring about God’s will on this planet.
Later in the Bible, however, Peter tells us that we are to submit ourselves to every earthly power.
1 Peter 2:13-14 – Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
Where is the balance?
Both statements were made by Peter.
It is very easy for someone to look at Peter and say that he is simply switching his view. I mean, here is the man who told Jesus he would not betray Him ever and then turned around and betrayed Him three times in one night.
But I don’t believe Peter is simply flip flopping here.
Both statements have been cause for great problems along the timeline of history. If taken out of context, Christianity can turn into an extremist religion blowing people up for a cause or it can turn into a Sanhedrin-like party that favors politics over Christ and believes that the two are interchangeable.
Neither translation can be helpful to the cause of Christ.
There has got to be a middle ground that maintains the identity of Christian, providing an uncomfortableness to the world around us without blatantly disobeying every authority that comes our way while not turning Christ into the next GOP candidate.
There are 2 very simple litmus tests to determine if your civil disobedience is Christ-honoring.
- Is it Scripturally-based?
How many times have you “felt” like you were being oppressed? An African-American man is shot by a police officer or a homosexual is told they have to use the bathroom of their birth-gender or a Christian is told they must provide a wedding cake to a gay couple getting married. In all those cases, we find people who are standing up against the status quo in order to make their cases known. You feel angry, upset, sad, or hatred.
Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
But if we look deeper, could there be more to the feeling?
What does Scripture say about it? We know what the laws and the constitution of the United States says about everything a person does or does not do in America. But what would Jesus have to say about it? What situations can you pull from Scripture to defend your feeling?
If you are simply angry because another Christian seemed to get the raw end of a deal because they wouldn’t make a wedding cake and you saw the entire story on Facebook, then you are missing the point of having Scripture.
Scripture is given to us, in this case, to determine if our feelings are justified.
The apostles were not following their feelings. They were following direct orders from Christ Himself.
- Can you carry out your civil disobedience with humility?
If you are acting out in civil disobedience and expect the government to turn a blind eye to it, then you are following a spirit of entitlement, not the Holy Spirit. The apostles disobeyed many of the leaders of their day but fully expected to be punished for it. Many were jailed, beaten and even killed for their disobedience.
Romans 12:3 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Are you prepared to do the same?
Or do you simply want to be heard and have repercussions?
Whenever you see someone in Scripture disobeying the government for the higher power of Christ, you always see them do it without anger or violence or bitterness. They do so in humility to the One who is owed all glory.
So how about you?
What are you fighting against in this day and age?
Could it be liberals? How about Republicans? The church? The anti-church? TV, movies, video games, fashion, attitudes, laws, rules, authority?
Test yourself before you start trying to enrage others with you to determine if it really is Christ-honoring.
I read this with some interest since I have just written a handful of blog posts on the subject of Christian civil disobedience.
I probably wouldn’t use the phrase “middle ground,” although I think I understand your meaning. As I see it, the commandment to obey civil authorities is clearly limited. Only God deserves unlimited obedience.
You’re right when you suggest that being known for frivolous disobedience is not Christ-honoring. There has to be an answer, a principle, a dividing line that we can understand and put into practice. One that doesn’t destroy the concept of authority, and yet doesn’t grant license to government to do evil.
Interestingly enough, the concept of civil rights is entirely based on limited authority. It’s a shame that we sometimes know our rights only on the basis of feelings and tradition, the Bill of Rights, etc.
Thanks for the post.