Relationship with governments

This is a really tough topic to navigate. Many countries in the world practice democracy which was not the form of government during Biblical days. Hence, how should Christians respond in our current era?

We don’t promise that we have all the answers that will satisfy everyone but will attempt to draw principles from what we learn in the New Testament.

We ask you to be magnanimous with us. If you think we have missed the mark. please give us your feedback. Thank you.

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    B107 - Obey those who rule over us (except when they force us to disobey God)

    Acts 5:29; Acts 4:19; Rom 13:1; Heb 11:23, 27; 1 Peter 5:5, Titus 3:1;

    Acts 5:29,

    “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”

    That was the breaking point for the apostles. The apostles were eye-witnessed to the account of the resurrection of Jesus.

    In Acts 4:19, Peter and John said,

    ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’

    In another earlier incident, Heb 11:23 reported how Moses’ parents broke the law by hiding Moses.

    The Prophet Daniel did not submit to the pagan government of his days on two occasions – once when he was asked to eat food from the king’s table (Dan 1:12) and again when he was asked not to pray (Dan 6). In both times, Daniel refused to compromise his conscience.

    The same can be said of John the Baptist, who spoke against Herod’s adultery and for that he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded. Yet, Herod was fascinated by the good conscience of John the Baptist (Mark 6:20). 

    The general guideline for believers is submission to the authority. Rom 13:1 says,

    ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.’

    In Titus 3:1, Paul again reminded believers ‘to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient’ because even those authorities are ‘instituted by God’ (Rom 13:1).

    In Rom 13:2-5, Paul expanded on the two reasons for submission

    1. The consequences of judgment (Rom 13:2), and
    2. ‘For the sake of (our) conscience’ (Rom 13:5).

    We need an internal moral compass of our conscience which is grounded in the Word of God. Titus 3:1 says the same thing,

    ‘Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.’

    Jesus himself submitted to authority. At the Garden of Gethsemane when he was betrayed by Judas, Simon Peter drew out his sword and cut off the right ear of the High Priest’s servant (John 18:10). Jesus intervened and explained,

    ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels.’ (Matt 26:53)

    The general guideline for believers is to obey the authority UNLESS THEY FORCE US TO DISOBEY GOD. We will examine the role of civil uprising as we progress through this section.

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    B108 - Obey a policy even if it does not make sense (generally)

    Matt 17:24-27; 1 Peter 2:13-17

    The general principle is to honor the king (government) and fear God (as seen in 1 Peter 2:13-17).   

    Jesus demonstrated that even if some policies did not make sense, if they did not involved believers to disobey God, it is alright to abide.

    In Matt 17:24-27, Jesus asked Peter who the authority should be collecting its poll tax from – foreigners or locals. Peter’s reply was that poll tax should be collected from foreigners. Jesus, while agreeing with Peter, replied:

    However, not to give offense to them … (let us pay our taxes).’ (Matt 17:27).

    The poll tax policy did not make sense to Jesus. Yet, he chose to pay.

    However, there was another incident when a set of parents decided NOT to obey their ruler. Heb 11:23 says –

    ‘By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and THEY WERE NOT AFRAID OF THE KING’S EDICT.’

    It is at times like this that we need to be guided by the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.

    See B107, Obey those who rule over us.

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    B109 - Honor the king

    1 Peter 2:17

    1 Peter 2:17 says,

    ‘Honor the emperor.’

    The Greek word is timao or value at a price, honor, esteem. In fact, the verse says honor everyone.

    A kingship is established by God – even one which we do not like (Rom 13:1). 

    Peter might have singled out the king as Nero, the most heinous king who subjected Christians to all kinds of sinister tortures including burning them alive as torches for his night parties. Amazingly, Peter’s counsel was to honor the position, even if the person is very anti-Christian.

    How do we ‘honor the king’?

    1. We should speak of the person respectfully.
    2. We should pray and bless the person.
    3. We should engage the political process in a non-violent way (more on that later).
    4. We should obey the government as much as it does not contravene our Christian core beliefs as defined in B107, Obey those who rule over us.

    But it does not mean that we cannot speak out for truth and righteousness. It does not prevent us from challenging the person within legal jurisdiction to change policies that we don’t believe are righteous, especially in a democracy. It also does not also mean that we cannot express where we feel he might have done wrong. Finally, it is not an excuse for believers to leave their brains behind in order to follow the king blindly with unquestioning obedience.

    Christians must speak up especially if, as in Acts 18:10,

    ‘there are many believers in the city’

    and if it forces us to contravene God’s word.

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    B110 - Be peaceable and gentle

    Rom 12:18; Heb 12:14; Titus 3:2; 1 Tim 2:2

    Rom 12:18 says,

    ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ Christians are called to be peacemakers and to be gentle.

    Heb 12:14 says the same,

    ‘Strive for peace with everyone’

    and Titus 3:2 reiterates,

    ‘to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.’

    So does 1 Tim 2:2 which adds,

    ‘(Pray) for kings and all who are in high positions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.’

    The Greek word in Rom 12:18 is eireneuo and it is used to for peaceful, or keeper of peace. ‘If possible’ implies that at times, it will be difficult. Then, Christians will act but never in the scenario of ‘an eye for an eye’.

    Christians are peacemakers and violence is not within our DNA.

    Christians can, however, choose to run away from persecution as in the Book of Acts (Acts 11:19) when the church of Jerusalem came under persecution. See B380, If we can run, then run (from persecution).

    And Jesus, in Matt 24:15-16, told end-times’ Jewish believers that if they saw the Anti-Christ standing in the Holy Place, then, they were to ‘flee to the hills.’

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    B111 - Pray for kings and those in authority

    1 Tim 2:2

    1 Tim 2:2 reads,

    ‘(Pray) for kings and all who are in high positions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.’

    So, what do we pray for?

    For a peaceful and quiet existence to live life in a godly manner.

    We must always pray for our government and, in a democracy, good and righteous government to rule over us so that ‘we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.’

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    B112 - Do not resist government. Do not be involved in civil unrest

    Rom 13:2; Acts 23:3-5

    Rom 13:2 reads,

    ‘Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed and those who resist will incur judgment.’

    Believers accept the authority of a government even if they have to suffer for doing good. Believers do not physically fight back.

    In B107, Obey those who rule over us, we mention even Jesus submitted to authority and chose non-violence.

    At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said,

    For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels.’ (Matt 26:53)

    Jesus never challenged the legitimacy of the Roman rulers. He submitted to their law, including his own crucifixion.

    In addition, throughout the Book of Acts, when the Apostles were confronted by the authority, they did not suggest violence but chose submission. They might have argued their case strongly before the rulers and elders (Acts 4:8-12, Acts 7), end up in prison (Acts 5:18), gotten killed (Acts 12:2), and the church might have continued praying (Acts 12:12) but they never championed violence as a solution.

    Of course, it was not a democracy during the days of the Apostles. And we have different forms of government at the moment.

    Just to be crystal clear, DEMOCRACY IS NOT CHRISTIANITY. It is but just one form of government. Christianity is all about kingdom ruling, with the King as the final authoritative figure.

    In a democracy, we are allowed to persuade others in regard to our course and to remain silent may NOT result in the best outcome for believers. Citizens are, in fact, encouraged to stand up and speak out for their rights. as their opinions matter.

    In America, for example, women’s groups organize themselves into a movement, simply termed as the ‘Women’s March‘, and once a year, they parade in major cities. Their goal? To gather the political power of diverse women and their communities to create a change in the society. They also believe that a woman’s body is hers and therefore she has every right to abort a fetus (NB: Interestingly, it is addressed as a fetus and not as a pre-born baby. It is a fetus when a woman does not want a baby but it is a baby if a woman wants to prevent a natural or forced abortion). 

    Meanwhile, around the same time, another group of conservatives also come together and make their voices heard through the ‘March for life’. Their stand? To defend the lives of pre-born babies and to march against abortion in every state.

    Should Christians take a passive view of pre-born babies based on Scripture guidelines or should we be involved? Refer to B116, Expose the works of darkness, for more information.

    Additionally, Christians can be elected to be part of the government and therefore influence policies favorable to the kingdom.

    In a democracy, Christians can speak up and present their ‘biblical’ views to the voting public. If there are ‘many in this city who are my people’ (Acts 18:10), then with the Lord’s guidance, we can indeed win souls and be the ‘salt of the earth’.

    Within a democracy, here are some principles that believers can abide by:

    1. Christians are aliens and pilgrims passing through this world (1 Peter 2:11),
    2. Christians are peacemakers (Matt 5:9),
    3. Christians represent love (1 Cor 13:2),
    4. Christians must be prepared to expose evil (Eph 5:11) – See B116. Expose the works of darkness,
    5. Christians are not rebellious and, hence, do not exact civil unrest (Gal 5:20),
    6. Christians should follow the laws of the nation as long as we are not asked to contravene our beliefs (Acts 5:29), 
    7. Christians should not resist arrest if confronted (Acts 23:3-5),
    8. Christians should be respectful regarding the decisions (even anti-Christian ones) of legitimate authorities, e.g. courts (Acts 4),
    9. Christians can be assertive without being disrespectful before the authorities (Acts 26),
    10. Christians should be prepared to suffer for doing good (1 Peter 3:17).

    Look at the full section around ‘Relationship with governments’ to get a complete picture on how the New Testament views our relationship with governments. Pay particular attention to B116. Expose the works of darkness.

    There is always a fine balance and we might not get it right all the time. Hence, we will require the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    PS:  This is particular to those who believe in the values of Americans.

    The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

    ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.’

    The Amendment is controversial and protects the individual right of Americans to keep and bear arms. It came from the values endorsed by America’s founding fathers.

    But does it contravene the teachings of the apostles and Jesus? After all, Americanism may not necessarily be Christian although much values of America is derived from within the Bible. The official motto of the US dollar, for example, reads – ‘In God we trust.’

    Yet, we have just highlighted that civil unrest does not seem to be supported in the Bible. 1 Peter 2:18-23 said,

    Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.’

    We suspect this may mess with the thinking of our fellow American Christians and their sympathizers but we must equally be mindful to separate Americanism and Christ-likeness. There are parts within them that are mutually exclusive.

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    B113 - Be bold but yet polite to confront authorities when it relates to our God

    Acts 4:17-20; Acts 5:29; Heb 11:27

    Twice in the Book of Acts, both Peter and John were adamant that they would ‘obey God rather than men’ (Acts 4:17-20 and Acts 5:29).

    The disciples had given believers a model on when a choice would have to be made:

    The TIPPING POINT – when a government FORBIDS believers from teaching and sharing the Gospel (Acts 5:28).

    See also B116, Expose the works of darkness.

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    B114 - Pay our taxes

    Rom 13:6-7; Matt 17:24-27

    Rom 13:7,

    ‘Pay to all what is owed to them; taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.’

    Christians are not tax evaders. Neither are they bad debtors. See B106, Do not withhold wages through fraud.

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    B115 - Do not follow the bad examples of some government officials

    Matt 23:2-4

    What if the ruling government demonstrates bad examples, e.g. corruption?

    Jesus shared about the bad examples that the scribes and Pharisees were showing to the people; the scribes and Pharisees were leaders of the Jews even as the Roman Empire was running the country.

    Jesus was obviously irked by their behaviors and exclaimed,

    ‘Do and observe whatever they tell you but not the works they do. For they preach but do not practice’ (Matt 23:3).

    It is for believers to follow and maintain the integrity and behaviors as defined in the Bible and not follow the crowd.

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    B116 - Expose the works of darkness

    Eph 5:11; Mark 12:40; Luke 11:46

    Eph 5:11,

    ‘Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose them.’

    What strong words.

    John the Baptist (Luke 3:19) spoke out against Herod’s adultery and for that he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded. But could John the Baptist had chosen not to speak about the adultery and spared himself from being beheaded?  

    Could Jesus have kept quiet about the behaviors of the scribes and Pharisees but instead poured scorn on them knowing full well that the latter hated him? (Mark 12:38-40). And he continued on despite being told by one of the scribes,

    ‘Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also’ (Luke 11:45-52).

    For Christians, there is a time to speak up and another to keep quiet. Jesus spoke up against the religious leaders of his days who were misleading the people. 

    John the Baptist spoke up against the king because of a moral issue. 

    How will we react if we see similar occurrences at our time?

    We will, of course, need to pray and be guided by the Holy Spirit, especially in such matters but if our spirit is right (without being judgmental), will we have the courage to speak up?

    How do we know we are doing the right thing? Did John the Baptist ever realize what he had done was ‘the right thing’?

    Christians are the salt of the earth and if we lose our saltiness, then we are no longer ‘good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless’ (Matt 5:13).

    Eccl 3:7 says,

    ‘(There is) a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.’

    We may even have Christians (even our closest friends) disagreeing with us but if after prayer and we still feel that it is the Holy Spirit moving us, we must respond based on what we sense is the guiding hands of the Spirit.

    The rise of Hitler is a reflection of Christian passivism and an unquestioning obedience to those in authority. For further information, please click HERE.

    In 1933, Adolf Hitler was able to manipulate the Protestant Church to his favor. Through a pro-Nazi sub-group of Christians calling themselves ‘the German Christians’, Hitler was successful in gaining the appointment of Ludwig Muller, his personal adviser on religious matters, to the position of Reichsbischof (Imperial Bishop) in the national church called the German Evangelical Church.

    By April 1938, at the height of Hitler’s popularity, Muller secured an oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler from every single pastor in Germany. Those who were not prepared had to go into hiding or be imprisoned.

    The late German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, who spent seven years imprisoned in a concentration camp (termed as ‘protective custody’) for opposing Hitler, penned this poignant poem to reflect on those passive German Christian leaders who did not speak out during the Nazis’ rise to power and their planned ethnic cleansing:

    First they came for the Socialists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist

    Then they came for the trade unionists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a trade unionist

    Then they came for the Jews
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Jew

    Then they came for me
    And there was no one left
    To speak out for me

    Christians have a call from God to defend the weak and those who are vulnerable. Psalms 82:3-4 reads,

    Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.

    Here is an example of how one church leader at the start of the church age ‘exposed the works of darkness’ and ‘reprimanded’ an emperor of the Roman Empire.

    In AD 388, when Ambrose was a senior bishop as well as the bishop of Milan, a pious Christian Roman emperor, Theodosius, the most powerful person in the Roman empire, massacred several thousand citizens of Thessalonica in order to punish them for murdering one of his commanders.

    Ambrose was at a council of bishops when this news came through to him. In the eyes of bishops, mass murder was a grave sin and the emperor must do penance for his deed.

    Instead of direct reprimand, Ambrose wrote and delivered a personal letter to the emperor, spelling out that he would ‘not to put you to shame … but to put this sin away from your kingdom.’ He did not wish to humiliate Theodosius nor to diminish his authority.

    Although Theodosius was the emperor, Ambrose insisted that he was not above the discipline of the Church. At a time when the Christian faith could have become a department of the imperial administration, Ambrose was courageous enough to draw clear boundaries around the church and took up the charge to ‘expose evil’ even at the highest level.

      • Wilken, Robert Louis, The First Thousand Years, London: Yale University Press, 2012, page 127-135.

    See also B263 – Have the courage to challenge and point out the wrong.

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