The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Is It OK for Christians to Push Back Against Authoritarian Governments and Other Wickedness?

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Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
But such as keep the law contend with them (Prov 28:4).

A righteous man who falters before the wicked
Is like a murky spring and a polluted well. (Prov. 25:26)

The Left is always pushing back against government policies they do not like. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. Burning, looting, and killing are not the right ways. Our constitutional system permits pushback. The Constitution is a pushback document. In biblical and constitutional terms, we do not have to submit to the political status quo. We can change it. We are not commanded to remain silent or passive. When we see evil, we have a right and duty to push back in numerous ways without violating any biblical or constitutional directives.

What about cultural pushback like we are seeing every day in the United States? Should Christians remain silent and do nothing and just surrender to unbelievers at every level of society? Absolutely not.

Last year I saw an article posted on Facebook with the title “We Must Surrender.” It was written by Carlos Chung, a lawyer, who serves as an elder at Grace Community Church. The article is badly argued and dangerous. Here’s how it begins:

As soldiers of Christ, we are to surrender to unbelievers at every level.
We are to surrender in public and in private, at the macro level and on the micro level, on a national scale and on a private scale. We are to surrender to every secular authority that is placed over us.
As the world becomes more and more secularized, the government will become one of the primary, if not the dominant, aggressors against Christianity. The question becomes, how do we battle against the government when it declares war against Christians and Judeo-Christian values?

Chung quotes 1 Peter 2:13–15 for support of his position:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as to one in authority, or to Governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God, that by doing right, you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Notice that Peter says, “every human institution,” not “unbelievers at every level.” Unbelievers at every level do not have “authority” to punish evil doers or to rule over us. The United States government is a “human institution.” The Constitution is our national “Caesar.” Based on the Constitution, we can “petition the government for a redress of grievances” (First Amendment) in terms of religion, speech, press, and assembly.

In addition, the Tenth Amendment limits the power of the national government. This means there are governmental remedies at the state level that Christians can be involved in. According to 1 Peter 2:13–15, all the above are biblically permissible since Christians are acting within our nation's system of government.

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Too many Christians believe that the Bible is irrelevant this side of heaven. Due to mistaken interpretations and applications of popular Bible texts to contemporary issues, the Christian faith is being thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matt. 5:13). While the homosexual community, which makes up about 1% of our population, exercises tremendous impact on our culture and laws, Christians, who make up about 35% of the population, have voluntarily abandoned the culture war, electing to hide the gospel under a bushel instead.

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Chung’s article is typical of Christians who claim that Christians should acquiesce to civil authorities no matter what they tell us to do and be quiet about it. Chung does point out that there are exceptions:

The only time we are free to disobey the institutional authorities is when they command us to disobey our Lord and Master, but short of that, we are to be exemplary citizens, submissive and reverential to the authorities over us. That’s because every authority has been placed there by God Himself. This is what Pastor MacArthur refers to as evangelistic citizenship.

Peter himself makes this point in two places in the book of Acts:

  • But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19–20).
  • We must obey God rather than men (5:29).

Notice that Peter does not cite these exceptions in his call to “submit … to every human institution.” Did he change his mind? Not at all. Peter’s admonition tells us that we must evaluate our submission to authority (not surrender) in terms of the entire Bible.

Anyone familiar with what we call the “Old Testament” would have known that there were specific exceptions to Peter’s absolutist comments.

Did Paul, as a Roman citizen and a Christian, “surrender” to the Roman authorities in everything? He and Silas were taken by force. Consider what happens when they were brought before the Roman “chief magistrates” (Acts 16:19–20):

The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks (16:22–24).

According to Chung, Paul and his associates should have “surrendered” and taken their punishment in peace and left quietly. But that’s not what happened. There was an earthquake, the jailer was converted, and later the chief magistrates sent their policemen to release Paul and Silas.

Chung might say, “See, God used their persecution and surrender for good.” Yes, He did. Notice what Paul does next:

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying,The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore, come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.”
The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed (16:36–40).

Was Paul damaging his Christian witness by such a demand? Not at all. He was exercising his rights as a Roman citizen. Will some people take exception to him? Most certainly. They took issue with Jesus when He healed and fed people. The book of Acts shows different reactions to the message of Peter and Paul. God’s Word causes division, and Christians are going to be attacked no matter what they do. Consider the following from Paul:

But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (2 Cor. 11:21–29)

Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, Saint Paul Stoned in the City of Lystra

Paul was simply expounding God’s Word, and yet he was attacked. Prior to writing about submission “to every human institution," Peter wrote, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12). Even the practice of good and right (constitutional) deeds and actions Christians are going to be attacked like Jesus, Peter, and Paul were attacked. Submission to authority does not mean silence, inaction, or "surrender to unbelievers at every level."

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